Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Driven grouse shooting debate, Westminster Hall, 31.10.2016

As many people will know a debate was held at Westminster Hall on Monday in response to the E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the fact that it had received more than 100, 000 signatures, in fact 123,000 + signatures.

As I promised in the initial response I put out afterwards the following links provide the means by which you can access the proceedings yourself and, likely as not, conclude for yourselves what a tawdry process it turned out to be in the end. The somewhat dismissive and even personalised tone of the event at times brings the whole process into disrepute in my opinion. This is a process whereby we, the Electorate, are encouraged to indicate our concerns about a particular issue and bring it, more generally, to the attention of MP's. It is not a process that provides the latter with an opportunity for recriminations to be voiced or personalised asides to be issued. Given it supposedly deals with genuine concerns of the public then the political antics of the bearpit that constitutes the main Chamber should be set aside to allow a more respectful form of politics to be engaged in. This is an opportunity for the real Parliamentary process to be put on display and assist in informing "us lot" how measured discussion can lead to changes or the retention of the status quo .  It failed miserably !

What it indicates is that efforts to improve the status of the Hen Harrier that, as a breeding species, has been systematically depleted by actions of some of those operating shoots, must now be intensified alongside the undoubted efforts to ban grouse shooting that will continue to take place. The RSPB must now step up to the plate and actively campaign for change beyond the considered commentary and less than zealous position it appears to occupy currently. It was evident from comments made within the above proceedings that the offence of Vicarious Liability would be resisted robustly.  This must be seen as the first of several aspects upon which immediate targetted action ( not deliberation ! ) should be taken. But more of this later !!

Ban driven grouse shooting debate.....filmed proceedings

Transcript of debate on proposed ban on driven grouse shooting.

The necessary document will be reached through the Westminster Hall link given.

Spurn Visitor Centre proposal.......short clarification.

Given that a good number of people have already read the entry yesterday on this subject I'm putting this out as a quite separate entry in the hope it will catch the eye of a proportion of those people. Adding a footnote to yesterday's entry would have lost that opportunity !

I rang the East Riding of Yorkshire Planning Department the other day in order to clarify a couple of points. It is important that people appreciate that the current, resubmitted application is being dealt with as a completely separate entity, not as a continuation of the application previously. This means that objections are not "carried over" as the application is deemed to be new and separate and people should register their objection to the proposal as if it was a completely new set of details appearing out of the blue !!  So, everyone who set out their personal thoughts about the proposal need to do so again ( sorry folks ! ). These will obviously be taken into account when the matter is being summarized for presentation to the planning Committee.

Remember, the reference of the resubmitted details is quite unique too.


I'm sure most people will have already realised the above , but after someone said "well they've already got the details of what people accept or object to " a small bell began to ring !!!   Well, yes they have but such will not be used directly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Spurn Visitor Centre stages.

Since the initial planning application ( 15/03947/PLF ) was rejected previously by the Planning Committee of East Riding of Yorkshire Council,  the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Ltd has decided to resubmit its proposal ( current reference 16/03173/STPLF ) and, as such , that application is now working its way through the various formal aspects of the planning system.  Formal details were issued to objectors to the initial application on the 21st October and there is now until the 10th November for people to object or comment otherwise on the details.

Despite such being described as a "revised application" I am at a loss to identify any material differences if the current details are set against the original submission. Revamped presentation is not an indication of there having been any major alterations made to the detail upon which the Committee made its previous decision leading to the grounds of refusal, namely flood risk and visual intrusion.

It's also important to remember that a Council can refuse to consider and reject a resubmitted application out of hand if it is felt that the applicant is simply making a nuisance of itself and attempting to put the authority under pressure by re-applying. Clearly it would seem that that particular hurdle has been avoided despite the difficulty in identifying where the renewed application addresses the main grounds of rejection before.

Now much has been written on this issue. I have put out several Blogs, the content of which I have no intention of replicating here as the various aspects of concern are well known. If anyone wishes to look at the application in detail then this can be examined at         simply by entering the above reference. It is also possible to submit your own comments via the Feedback button on the same site.

Please note.......the mast shown on the above photograph is no longer part of the application.

Now I have made no secret of the fact that I oppose this suggestion for a Visitor Centre. Whilst many grounds for opposition have been raised I simply feel the proposal to be utterly misguided, have no confidence in the visitor attendance projections and, essentially, feel it to be a "White Elephant " that has no sustainable future.  I fully understand the need for income to be generated from the site in order to offset management costs and avoid the "subsidies" that would otherwise be necessary based on the Trust's activities elsewhere in the County. However, following the completion of the first couple of years,  when sheer curiosity might just make the books balance, subsequent years will inevitably see this situation stall and the edifice become redundant whatever new ideas might be being tried on what otherwise threatens to be a "Penninsula Playground".  More modest initiatives, coupled with redirected support from its funding partner, Eon,  could achieve the necessary financial situation linked to management obligations and avoid habitat loss, what amounts to an all out war with the community, disturbance to key areas and the inevitable deterioration in quality of areas into which visitors are concentrated on a repeated basis.

What might seem strange is that I can also sympathize with the Trust over the now imposed responsibilities they have relating to people management and the relatively recent breach in the peninsula, which might indeed get worse as easily in the near future as way beyond. Maintenance, habitat management given the area is a National Nature Reserve, health and safety requirements are all factors which come into the mix. However   I sincerely reject the need for these to be addressed via a large visitor centre  ( Faulty Towers !! ). Such is little more than a speculative venture to address a financial management problem that should have sought out a different solution !  But there, we are now poised at what must surely be the final act of this continuing saga. I would sincerely hope that this is simply not a product of stubborn arrogance, a wholly unnecessary head to head that results in the wrong circumstances emerging.  I would also hope that the Planning Committee has itself done the necessary homework that allows it to clinically appraise the revised details and arrive at a fair outcome.  Such will not please everyone, but the current situation is one which now requires resolution and proper closure.

UPDATE.  1730 hours 1.11.2016
I understand that the YWT LTD are likely to be addressing the visitor attendance subject when they hold a TV session at Kilnsea on the 2nd Nov and reveal what they believe will be the benefits arising to tourism.

Democracy and Hen Harriers........really !!

This is the first of what I imagine might be a number of related Blogs I shall issue linked to the actual televised proceedings of the hearing and debate associated with the E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the lessons to be learned.  Eventually, I'm told, anyone who signed the petition will be sent a video of the proceedings. At that point I shall be able to see the very latter part of the debate, which unfortunately I missed, and give a more rounded reaction to the whole episode. If feasible I shall ensure the video is part of that final contribution !

Well, I suppose it was everything that we might have expected.  Even the MP introducing the proceedings, himself a member of the Petitions Committee, took an intervention that all but accused him of bias in his introductory remarks. However, in the hope that during the final stages things did alter from what appeared and threatened to be a repetitious round of " but we're the good guys" contributions, I'll restrict myself to some immediate reactions and observations.

I do genuinely wonder what planet some of the shooting fraternity inhabit as they appear to have a completely distorted view of what is happening in the uplands. Let's take investment ! It's generally accepted that many upland moors are in a poor state and yet we're encouraged to believe that millions, yes millions, of private investment is being poured into their upkeep, by their owners. I don't actually believe such for a minute , but does it not occur to these defenders of the upland owners that these management practices , whatever the cost, must be questionable as a less than perfect result is in evidence.  And , in the face of such a need for management, who was responsible previously for what are largely a privately held landholding?

Within the proceedings I was reminded of conversations I'd had with upland owners and staff in years past when it was always apparent that they simply couldn't persuade themselves to refer to  "Hen Harriers". Short of successfully avoiding the subject altogether, mention might be made of  "pressures or difficulties" or "the species" , but never was there a willingness to actually discuss the main subject that we differed on, namely raptor persecution. Despite references yesterday to the decimated Hen Harrier population raised by the Opposition there was little or no discernible evidence of this being a problem. Yes, the odd reference to biodiversity, but generally in the context of how good the uplands are for breeding waders , all brought about, of course, due to the wonderful management of the moors and the reduction of mammalian predators and Corvids by the gamekeepers. Despite the polite,  but resolute, condemnation of the petition by Nicholas Soames and Richard Benyon ,who both painted a similar picture of this rural idyll such that a collective rendition of "Jerusalem" from their benches wouldn't have gone amiss, there was a tendency thereafter for rural employment issues and flood management to take centre stage. Interlaced within the whole was the obvious belief that grouse shooting was a jolly good thing and a refutation that there could conceivably be anything happening that contributed , in any way possible , to anything wrong. The regulations were right, the management was right, the rural economy was strong and dependent and it was absolutely inconceivable that anyone would wish to change things.

I'm afraid it was at that point that I had to withdraw, but not before the somewhat personalised tirade from Charles Walker against Mark Avery and Chris Packham and also some colourful descriptive quantification of rainfall volumes based on bull elephants. It crossed my mind, at that point, that I wonder what some of the residents of the Calder valley who had lost so much were thinking. As with the somewhat weighted remarks from the MP introducing the proceedings  I also mused on the message overall this was giving to people who had signed this and other petitions in the past, not necessarily to do with conservation matters, but on human issues too.  Should we take the process seriously or is it simply designed to "draw teeth" and allow people to raise heartfelt concerns?  I hope not as anything which then encourages cynicism results in action at some point and, remember,  all signatories are voters too !!  However, suffice to say at best, I wasn't completely impressed or convinced by the process, at least based on its first part, but perhaps I'm in for a pleasurable shock within the final part of the debate !  Sadly, I somehow doubt it .

ADDENDUM.    I'm informed that , at later stages, there was some mention of Hen Harriers so I'm rather looking forward to hearing what was said. Watch this space.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Call for action connected with the forthcoming debate on grouse shooting in Parliament.

This is a letter I have sent to my own constituency MP, Angela Smith, relating to the current actions in Parliament linked to the E-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Angela Smith has played a prominent role in raising issues associated with raptor persecution, including , in the past, confronting then Minister at DeFRA, Richard Benyon, on the need for the offence of vicarious liability to be recognized in England.

The debate on this issue will take place in Westminster Hall on the 31st October at 1630 hours ( see the Government website for details ). MP's will debate the issue against which evidence was offered on Tuesday last and for which transcripts and other documentation can be read on the above web site. It is important that as many MP's speak as possible and that a wide recognition is gained of the extent and continuation of raptor persecution in England and the means by which this can be combatted, if necessary through imposed regulation. May I encourage everyone to write to their MP, express their personal views on the matter and ask that their MP participates in the debate.  Mark Avery, the originator of the current petition, is monitoring the responses received from MP's and would welcome confirmation of people having contacted their MP's and, of course, to have sight of any response received. Full contact details can be found on his Blog

Thank you.

 Dear Angela Smith, may I take this opportunity to thank you for your continuing efforts relating to eliminating the persecution of raptors in our uplands and for similar support towards the many other conservation topics which are affecting that environment.
We met briefly at the conference event held in Sheffield recently when I mentioned my return to the area after living on the Isle of Islay for several years following early retirement. Previous to that , and for around twenty years, I managed the RSPB's NW Region, whose offices are located in Denby Dale, so my interest and concern in the subject is simply a continuation of what occupied much of the time within those years. Whilst I doubt the following is needed (!), the debate on the 31st October is clearly an important occasion for the continuing exposure of what is a routine, deliberately focussed campaign of persecution of raptors in the uplands. I am sure you intend making a telling contribution to the debate and wish you every success. In the year (1981 ) I assumed responsibility for the Forest of Bowland in my RSPB Region there was 41 nesting attempts by Hen Harriers in that area, now there are none present and only three pairs present in the whole of England. Clearly this focussed, deliberate elimination of raptors must stop and efforts made towards the protection and enhancement of the populations of these birds which comprise such a prominent aspect of our natural heritage.. Why should an elitist, privileged minority "play God " for their own vicarious enjoyment or commercial gain and deny the majority the simple, but pure, pleasure of drawing satisfaction from observing such wildlife ?
Some little time ago I registered an E-petition calling for the licencing of grouse moors, which attracted in excess of 10,000 signatures and gained a rather unhelpful Government response.Whilst I know Mark ( Avery ) has reservations about the efficacy of such an approach I still believe there might still be a role for such a system, although acknowledge that it doesn't address ( nor did it intend to do so at the time ) the wider environmental concerns relating to flood risk and carbon capture. I'm fearful that the shooting lobby will attempt to consign the current concerns to the long grass, as appeared to be the case at Tuesday's evidence session when more time, more money, more research appeared to be the clarion call, all set within the midst of assurances that the system wasn't "broken" anyway !! Ms. Smith, I have been much involved in raptor conservation issues since within the 1970's and can truthfully assure you that the situation is worse now that then, is conveniently referred to by the Countryside Alliance as an "historical problem ", but is as prevalent now as ever with no intention to change being demonstrated. Self regulation has not worked as there is no desire on the part of those who have brought about the catastrophic declines to change their ways ! More research, more time, more money is just playing into the hands of those who have attained the position they now wish to see maintained as a permanence !
I do hope that the forthcoming debate is successful in throwing light on the problem and would again thank you for your own efforts in this regard. Would it be possible for this E-mail to be passed to the Minister, Ms. Coffey, so that an official response to the above concerns might be received from the Government ? Thank you.
John Armitage

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Westminster evidence session relating to the banning of driven grouse shooting.

I spent Tuesday afternoon watching the evidence session associated with the E-petition calling for the banning of driven grouse shooting and found the whole process fascinating, but not necessarily wholly acceptable. Skipping ahead a little, the event precedes the MP's debate on the subject which will take place in Westminster Hall at 1630 hours on 31st October.  Without recourse to a very long Blog I think the best approach to take is to make available at the end of this entry the link to the Petitions Committee website where the written evidence submitted can be examined, the summarized proceedings and other aspects of direct relevance scrutinized and the actual proceedings watched through again.  There is an absolute plethora of material which can be looked at !!  The process stems , of course, from the E-petition raised by Mark Avery that secured over 100,000 signatures and, therefore, qualified for a Government debate on the subject, a matter which has been granted by the E-petitions Committee of which the evidence session and the debate are an essential part.

Taking part on Tuesday were Dr. Mark Avery, originator of the petition,   Geoff Knott (RSPB), who provided supplementary information linked to many aspects put forward by Mark Avery, but who was there primarily to provide an alternative solution to an outright ban in the form of a licencing system. Providing a completely alternative and opposing view to these opinions was Amanda Anderson  ( Moorland Association) and Liam Stokes, a representative for the Countryside Alliance.

The proceedings fell in to two distinct parts with questions being put from members of  the Petitions Committee and EFRA. In all the proceedings lasted two hours so there was a fairly exhaustive examination of aspects linked to the general subject, although the relevancy of some of these could be questioned!  As I've said before I am a steadfast advocate of our democratic system, which is not always perfect and, indeed , such proved to be the case on this occasion. As outlined the overall session fell into two distinct parts with the second element linked to the "opposition statements" being far more informal than the more intensive atmosphere of the first where an outright ban or a licencing system was advocated. This was sufficiently obvious as to be disappointing, although the points raised by Mark Avery and Geoff Knott were well made and, of course, go down on the official record.

One can't be other than critical of some of the claims made by Amanda Andersen in particular.  Seeing Hen Harriers from one's kitchen window every day is no indication of the health of the population elsewhere ! After living in the wilds on the Isle of Islay, until recently, such experiences were commonplace, but provide no contradiction to the fact that, over the last decade in particular, persecution of this and other raptor species has been taking place on grouse moors quite deliberately and routinely such that the breeding population in England of Hen Harriers is now bordering on extinction ( 3 pairs only in 2016 ). One might also have been led to believe that the salvation to all ills in the uplands is being or has the potential to be solved by the presence of grouse shooting enterprises. The romantic drivel offered relating to Littondale might almost persuade one that a new radio programme is hovering in the wings  (  " everyday story of upland folk " )  and that it might even be a contender to displace that national treasure ," The Archers" !

We heard that, collectively, grouse moor owners are investing a million pounds per week of their own money to improve these areas, be it by blocking up drains which might exacerbate  "run off ", or via intensive re-vegetation projects aimed at improving the stability and water retaining properties of the peat.  No recognition was given to the sums of money which has also been forthcoming from the public purse for similar enterprises. As might have been foreseen the answers to many of the problems outlined by Avery and Knott was, more time, more money, more research and, of course, a more than adequate time period to elapse to allow the ill fated Government  Hen Harrier Action Plan to be allowed to prove its worth ( or not as the case might be ! ).  Long grass seemed to be sprouting up everywhere providing a more than apt background to the repeated blandishments on offer.  But at least there was a couple of admissions and acceptances relating to raptor persecution, namely that there was, and had been an issue, and that the killing must stop.

But what of the equivalent questions equal to the quasi-accusation put to Mark Avery that he should have a costed proposal linked to his future vision of the uplands!  It was all so very cosy with no intensive questioning aimed at the justification of the ever increasing intensification of grouse shooting  or the inexorable repetition,  year on year, of raptor persecution and what should be done about it.

The end result , of course, was that no clear cut way forward emerged and, therefore, the overall conclusion of what steps might arise stemming from the debate on the 31st will be more than interesting to say the least. There are some very real problems to address and these must be pursued relentlessly as it was quite clear the shooting fraternity are quite happy to take cover in the long grass and sit things out !!

I'd encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to access the  link below and read what is on offer and then to watch the debate on the 31st, of which I'm told a video record will be available.  Whilst democracy might not be perfect, there is a genuine effort to make its workings available to all nowadays and I believe we should both support and avail ourselves of the output.

Petitions Committee   E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
Within this site there are various links to different elements of the process, the proceedings and the evidence submitted.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Centre no one needs !

Well, I've been persuaded into this by John Law, star of stage, screen, and, now, Birding Odyssey.  For John's sake I hope all this works. This is the first video clip I've ever included/promoted......if it succeeds then you'll get sick of them !!  The topic dominating our thoughts and concerns, skilfully produced and set to music by John ( I've absolutely no musical ability and, therefore, seeing someone master an instrument, sing in time, tune and write the music themselves is next best thing to Nobel prize stuff in my book !!! )

This is most certainly a different take on the Spurn Visitor Centre issue !  Thanks,John.

Hey, it's worked . folks.  Enjoy. !!

Misleading claim relating to the Spurn Visitor Centre proposal.

Now I suppose I'm one of those simple souls who largely sees things in black and white and prefers the world to operate in the same way. I've little patience with "spin", for egos, for manipulation or false claims or for power games , all of which fall into the same category of being petty and pathetic as far as I'm concerned. Last week I listened to a lecture by Professor Steve Redpath ostensibly linked to raptor persecution , but more generally about conflict resolution.  I was impressed with how many of the parameters associated with a conflict, which he showed on a slide that I dearly wish I had a copy of (!), that apply to the current or recent situation surrounding the issues relating to the proposal by the YWT Ltd to build a Visitor Centre at Spurn.

The matter still drags on following the initial planning application being rejected by the East Yorkshire Planning Committee, but the proposal is now to be resubmitted. The surrounding circumstances  include entrenched opposition by a large number of people,  a vast majority of the local community adamantly against anything the YWT might wish to do in future and the YWT assuming a role redolent of a Scottish Laird of yesteryear. Amidst all this lies Spurn, a National Nature Reserve, breached by recent winter tides, but still playing out a key role as a premier bird reserve and unique location for studying bird migration. Since the breach the YWT has lost what was a consistent income stream but still, as owners, have the task and responsibility of managing the site both as a reserve, given its designation, but also somewhat new aspects relating to safety of visitors. This is a predicament that I have some empathy with. Their solution was to propose the building of a Visitor Centre that would attract large numbers of visitors and solve the funding shortfall. Local people are opposed to the intrusion of the structure, many , me included, are sceptical of the visitor projections,  but still the self same claims are being aired despite a total rejection of their application by the Planning Committee who, after all, are representing the interests of the local community besides presiding over the more technical requirements of the planning process itself.  It is felt by many that there are other less intrusive alternatives available than this "must have" solution that is considered a potential white elephant.

With the re-submission being imminent the recent Newsletter issued by the YWT sadly has fuelled further flames.

   As might be expected the statement relating to the proposal being supported by the community has not had the desired effect, in fact just the opposite !  I have in front of me a list of people who live in the local villages of Kilnsea, Easington and nearby who actually objected to the application. They number 44 with only one resident known to be in support. So , who is this "community" claimed by the YWT ?  Does it stem from the whole County of Yorkshire perhaps or from the YWT membership itself, who were directly encouraged to support the application.  Time to stop playing games it seems to me !  Perhaps the YWT would like to provide the details and figures involved for all to see ?

And it also seems that Eon has a very deep parapet behind which it crouches in such times of conflict !  Due to the disruption caused when installing new capital works in recent times Eon pledged substantial sums of money from its Community Fund to various villages in South Holderness as recompense to the residents affected.  Enter the YWT who applied to the company and was successful in being awarded almost a million pounds, which will significantly offset the construction of a new Centre.   But it's a Centre the local community don't want, the very community that was supposed to be benefiting !!  Now it seems to me that, somewhere, somehow, the ethics and ideals of this large corporate business have got a bit confused. Possibly time for a major reconsideration even at this late hour ?  As it is this supportive chum of the Trust has been strangely silent of late and its take on current circumstances is unknown.   I ask again, I've asked before, what would be wrong in Eon awarding the Trust an appropriate sum of money for the management of Spurn which would take the pressure off the Trust to be chasing money, avoid the intrusion of a Centre, but most importantly of all, ensure that all management works necessary at Spurn are completed. The only person to lose out would be the person after which the Centre would be named, but who wants to be caricatured as a white elephant anyway ?

Planning proposal for a Visitor Centre at Spurn to be resubmitted.

News has been released that the YWT Ltd is to resubmit its planning proposal for a Visitor Centre at Spurn following the rejection of the original version by the East Yorks Planning Committee.  The updated details had not been received by the Local Authority when I inquired recently , but are clearly imminent.  This is an interesting development as , instead of being examined by an appointed Planning Inspector, the details could  again be considered by the Planning Committee , ( but see the caveats below ).  One imagines that the previous decision by that Committee has been accepted ( otherwise the process would have gone to appeal ) resulting in a modified application now having been constructed for their further consideration. Given that the Committee's grounds for refusal were based on visual intrusion and perceived problems relating to flood risk, subject areas that require some serious "accomodation" in terms of provision, then the revised application promises to be interesting to say the least !

    Now the mast shown on the above suggested illustration has already been removed from the application but one might imagine Phase 2 of the proposal might also look decidedly different. Why ?   Well, I'm afraid it's necessary to refer to the Town and Country Planning Act (1990 ) and some subsequent revisions.  That sounds daunting, but it is written in quite "straightforward " English  ( as opposed to some legal documents ) and, furthermore, there has been a number of useful revisions on this subject area in recent years.

Basically, the following points are those which, in my view, are the most important.  I've paraphrased the sections but I don't believe I've distorted the meaning in any way.

  • an application can be made for a development which has already been refused
  • however, in declining to determine such an application an Authority must be of the view that there has been no significant change in the development plan since the application was previously refused or dismissed.
  • Section 70A (8) TCP Act (1990) defines a planning application as being "similar" if it thinks that the development and land to which the application relates is the same or substantially the same.
  • when an application is thought to be "similar" the Local Authority is not automatically obliged to determine the application.  ( the purpose of this power is to inhibit the use of repeat applications that the Authority believes, over time, carries an intention to "wear down " opposition to proposed development. ) . Such powers are equally designed to give the Authority discretion to consider "repeat" applications where it is satisfied a genuine attempt has been made to overcome the planning objections.
  • an applicant has no right of appeal against a decision not to determine an application.  

So this would seem to be where things are at at present !  The resubmitted application needs to be materially different to the original , or it can be refused determination, and there is no appeal against the subsequent decision ( although it could be taken to Judicial Review.....expensive I should think ! ).

Clearly a view can't be taken of  " let's have another tilt at a planning application" as various conditions have to be satisfied and relying on nuisance value simply results in the matter not being determined with no right of appeal.  Does this mean that the YWT Ltd will have altered significantly its original proposal ? Well, I should think at least it ought to have done or otherwise run the risk of the matter being rejected out of hand. How many tilts at the process are tolerated is not specified, but given time constraints apply to the submission of applications, its not a system that extends never ending patience to people !!

As the process appears to be conducted along similar lines to previously I would guess all local stakeholders and objectors will be notified by the Local Authority in due course once they themselves have received details. Watch this space and be prepared, if you submitted a written objection, to consider doing so again as, of course, we may be looking at amended details !


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Launch of the Birds of Spurn !

On Sunday I went across to the official book launch associated with the " Birds of Spurn". This was held at Westmere Farm ( where Spurn Mig Fest activities have been held ) and was a roaring success. I admit to having an ulterior motive in that, after living on the Isle of Islay for 16 years, I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces following my return to South Yorkshire. I enjoyed things, thoroughly and absolutely, but no way  was it intended as  "my day " but that of the author, Andy Roadhouse.

And so we all met in the converted barn at the farm in eager anticipation of getting our hands on a copy of the book.  What people need to appreciate is that during the compilation of the book Andy has been ill with terminal cancer. There were times when circumstances were pretty bad , but throughout the whole of those times his doggedness and sheer tenacity have shone through culminating in what is a first class publication.  I'll put out a review of the actual book later, but suffice to say that I am the proud owner of a copy !!  Copies will be available at the BirdFair and , similarly, copies can be ordered via the Observatory. get yours now !!

Here's Andy signing copies for the awaiting throng.  Since the inception of formal activities in recent times, all of which are covered in the book, an amazing number of species has been recorded at Spurn and an unimaginable amount of migration tabulated.  What has not been (dared ) mentioned is that, with the breach in the peninsula in recent years, we may now be seeing the end of Spurn as many people know it and, therefore, this will be a modern history of the ornithological significance of a particularly important area.  Hopefully, Spurn as is at the moment will continue to be in place for many years to come, but things may change dramatically in the next decade or so and so this book will serve as a very detailed , intimate history of an important UK ornithological site. The halcyon days of Spurn, a major contribution to ornithological literature and an absolute gem of a "memory bank" for so many people.  Get your copy whilst you can !!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

E-petition to ban grouse shooting exceeds 100,000 signatures !

As I write this at 1800 hours on the 13th August the E-petition to ban grouse shooting has reached  103,068 signatures !!!!   And all this the day after the so called "Glorious Twelfth "  celebrating the commencement of the grouse slaughter season.


You know 100,000 signatures of opposition reached the day after your "celebration" is like having a 21st party and then, the day after, countless people expressing the wish that you'd never been born !!   Not the endorsement I'd take heart from.

This opposition will grow, without a doubt.  The fact is that it's no longer just opposition to the activity but the environmental consequences now wrapped up in the chosen management of grouse moors, the unrelenting persecution of raptors and the side effects, such as flooding, which the management contributes to.  It all started with the somewhat transparent intention to wop the conservationists and rid the landscape of Hen Harriers......sadly other research has now emerged that hardens the case against the whole activity whose "back is very much against the wall".  The absence of any peer group initiative aimed at improvements to the situation, the rather misguided use of ill-prepared spokesmen and distorted "defence" arguments have gone a long way to pouring further discredit on the pastime.

Arrogance, insularity, thuggish behaviour on social media and an insistence at remaining above the law will simply harden peoples' resolve and intention for change.

This is the time, not to "Go Back, Go Back ",  but to take matters forward and express some sincere intention to clean up an industry whose situation is declining further and more rapidly as each day goes by.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Latest update on the Visitor Centre, Spurn.

Just a brief entry to update the situation relating to the application by the YWT Ltd  to build a Visitor Centre at Spurn.  At its last meeting the East Yorkshire Council rejected the application, following which the YWT indicated via its website that it would take the matter to appeal.

Given that, until recently, I've lived in Scotland for 16 years I suspected that there might just be elements of the appeal process that were different in England nowadays or, indeed, had changed in the intervening period. As it is it must be close to 15 years since I was involved directly in an appeal process and then it was in the Isle of Man !

So I contacted the Council and raised various points of query that were occurring to me and yesterday, I'm pleased to say, I had a call from one of their officers to explain the situation , following which I had the opportunity to raise any further questions. I was impressed !  It was a comprehensive briefing and I hadn't actually any more queries to raise.

Basically the applicant has six months to lodge an appeal and submit the necessary details from the point at which the proposal was rejected. At this point in time no such appeal has been lodged , but it is understood that the YWT Ltd intend to do so as has been indicated on their web site.  Following these formalities being satisfied an Inspector will be appointed who will have full access to all the objections submitted previously. The objectors ( and I suspect local stakeholders  ) will be advised of the process and the arrangements and formalities involved, which includes the opportunity to submit further material as necessary. Details of the appeal itself will also be available and , of course, an indication will be made of the timescale involved.

So, there you have it thanks to an efficient Council.  It rather looks as if the process will extend into the autumn at the earliest and could well extend into the winter before things are finally determined.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pleasure killing and management mayhem - the reality of grouse shooting?

I suspect that, tomorrow,  there will be many Press articles, Blogs, comments on Facebook and such like relating to the "Glorious 12th ", the commencement of the grouse shooting season. Rather than sit alongside  what I also suspect will be regurgitated facts, reworked summaries and repeated statistics I thought I would at least try to present something on the subject which took a slightly different approach, even if it did deal with the self same subject area.  No over emphasis here on raptor persecution,  wildlife regulations, economic relevance or E-petitions. No, I want to try and persuade people to think more deeply about what they believe grouse shooting  represents and to come to a personal judgement of its relevance and what should lie ahead.

 At the Hen Harrier Action Day at Edale on Sunday the question of "tradition" was raised. Now the Oxford English Dictionary states "  Tradition     a custom, opinion or belief handed down to posterity, especially orally or by practice . "  Some see grouse shooting as a traditional activity, but I feel the almost automatic acceptance of any such described activity being allowed to proceed into posterity needs to be questioned. But let's see !  Autumn blackberrying is a traditional pastime, enjoyed by many and harming no one, and can perhaps serve as a useful yardstick for comparative purposes.  By contrast, try a bit of independent grouse shooting and be prepared for the consequences !  So, immediately the availability of the pastime is limited to the central players ( the grouse moor owners and friends ) or to wealthy social aspirants, with relatively little relevance to the public at large.  In some senses the pastime would be described by many as elitism and, indeed, subscribe and be associated with the sector of Society that Herbert Spencer alluded to in his now discredited ideas on social Darwinism. !  Even I don't go that far !  If the story ended there then it might be largely ignored, at least tolerated, but the fact of the matter is that since its inception as an activity in Victorian times things have changed dramatically. Associated practices are now deemed to have negative environmental  impacts and be harmful , need to be questioned and regulated at best.  Nobody would advocate that female genital mutilation,  a "traditional" practice in some parts of the world is acceptable,  but there are parts of  "traditional " grouse management that are outmoded  and no more acceptable in the modern age.  Anxious cries from Uncle Hubert that things have always been done this way are somewhat irrelevant in the face of modern day research evidence that shows such outdated methods as having negative  and totally unacceptable impacts. Indeed some of the activities transgress the line in a legal context too !

   The practice of heather burning in order to provide optimum conditions for the grouse is now considered to be harmful in environmental terms.  The UK plays host to an appreciable proportion of all heather moorland habitat, but studies completed by the University of Leeds show negative side effects occurring via management that are even supported by money from the public purse in the form of Environmental Stewardship payments. Results can be read elsewhere, but show the practice to result in carbon emissions, to affect the potential for carbon capture and to contribute to circumstances leading to flash flooding in adjacent areas. In an era of ever emerging concern about climate change and of changing weather patterns practices which clearly exacerbate such circumstances must surely be held open to review for the common good?  Alongside all this is the assumed rights of management,which sees all perceived predators of grouse being removed and other wildlife such as Mountain Hares being eliminated.  What practice has any conferred right to eliminate our natural heritage in the cause of personal commercial gain and satisfaction and to do so in direct contravention of our laws ?

So it could be said that, in summary, we have an absolute minority, hell bent intent on retaining a so called "traditional "  activity that can be shown conclusively to have detrimental environmental side effects and to
be removing  constituent members of our national fauna illegally , all in the cause of fun or commercial gain.
Uhmm, time for reflection I think !  Where are its redeeming features I ask ?

Now all this ( in my personal opinion ) is bad enough , but there is one aspect of grouse shooting which I consider to be utterly repugnant and I am NOT anti-shooting per se .

Following totally artificial circumstances being created to assist grouse breeding we then see a process emerge which aims to shoot as much of "the product" as possible. No ? Then tell me of a shoot whose activities have been curtailed on the day due to the numbers of grouse shot being excessive. In fact the opposite is quite the case with large bags being the subject of pronounced pride and general promotion. This is little more than organized slaughter on what might be described as the UK's Killing Fields.  Google search the subject and exceptional days can be seen in the literature, held up as if to represent the apogee of success and attainment.  This intended bonanza of pleasure killing exemplifies what the core objectives of the practice is about, what its reputation rests on and what it feeds its commercial success on. And save us the romantic nonsense of being on the fells, the wind and sun on your face etc etc.......I've done that all my life and never raised a gun to a grouse ! And don't give me the " shooting expertise" argument either ! I watched Steve Scott secure his Olympic Bronze medal for clay shooting,  30 out of 30,  brilliant and very impressive.

There is one last aspect I'd like to touch on as it remains core to why circumstances are not being reviewed or improved when it comes to the practices of this industry, as its certainly nothing else. The sheer arrogance in which this industry operates is beyond belief. In fact, "belief" is the word as the constituent members , who in any other context would be judged to be part of the Establishment, have simply set themselves above the law , are proceeding as they think fit with "their" pursuit and to hell with the rest of us. Faced with the growing evidence of associated  " negatives"  any manager worth his/her salt would be looking closely at what might be done to improve matters. Do we see any evidence of that, do we see any peer pressure emerging, do we see any appetite for change ?  I don't believe so.  Sadly misplaced efforts containing misplaced notions, sadly supported by DEFRA, do little other than kick the prospect of an abiding solution into the long grass to accompanying chuckles from Uncle Hubert ( Saves the blighters right! ).

So, on balance , what do you think? Is this something that should be immune from review and regulation or something that deserves serious examination  and change ?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hen Harrier Action Day, Edale, Derbyshire.

With Hen Harrier Action Days now very much in vogue ( 12 is it over the weekend ? ) I suspect all but some in Scotland enjoyed the same sort of tremendous weather which those further south were blessed with, including that in Northern Ireland. A good day, one in which solidarity with the main concern ( raptor persecution ) could stand alongside equally important emergent concerns relating to land management, climate change and flooding risk.

Edale enjoyed fine conditions throughout, a good turnout and the benefit of an informative programme provided by a variety of speakers. Against this there was ample opportunity to meet new friends, embrace old ones and generally enjoy the atmosphere.  I certainly did !  Having been absent from "mainstream" activities due to being domiciled on Islay for 16 years ( my choice, it was great too ! )  many people I bumped into were old friends . Great !!

Alan Davies very ably oversaw proceedings, perched on a ladder, to achieve better sound projection.

This was the beginning of a succession of presentations including, from, FindlayWilde  ( passion, young people, what we need to do ) which very much encapsulated what Hen Harriers represent, the new Police Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire who, in no uncertain terms, pledged both the support and the priority to be afforded all forms of wildlife crime.  A sincere undertaking that I suspect will demand a lot of hard work but which the Derbyshire "force" appear more than willing to confront.

                                                       Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire.

Following this Mark Avery set out the general picture associated with the campaign, its hopes , timescales and possible hurdles, and the immediate objective of achieving 100,00 signatures to the E-petition to ban grouse shooting  ( which has currently reached in excess of 74,000 ! )  at which point it would hopefully then achieve  a debate on the subject in Parliament.


There was more to follow  after a break for lunch and chats!

A presentation by Natalie Bennett ( Green Party Leader ), who'd travelled four hours by train to get there (!), summarized many of the environmental problems we faced , but pledged the Party's support for the banning of the outmoded, outdated activity grouse shooting currently represents, was then followed by Jon Stewart  ( National Trust ), who set out a very attractive vision for the Peak District and its future , followed by not dis-similar points presented by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.   

So, all in all, a great day with friends, colleagues and like-minded enthusiasts. Possibly the next consideration might be moving such days into the urban environment and presenting "the case" to the urban based populace as opposed to the "converted ". Certainly a lot of support for the petition has come from the inhabitants of the Hebden Bridge area, who suffered dreadful flooding in recent times, which they maintain is a consequence of the management techniques associated with the grouse moors located on the high land above their village.

But all such is for future, Today's occasion more than achieved its objectives and much more besides ! My final image is of three friends who have dedicated much to Hen Harriers , and achieved much too.  Mark Avery, the architect of the current initiative to ban grouse shooting and two dear friends, Bill Murphy and Bill Hesketh ,  who, for as long as I have known them since the late 1970's, have dedicated their lives to studying and monitoring raptors in the Forest of Bowland. For them all, this initiative  needs to succeed..

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Natural England...........what have you become?

The news that Natural England had granted a restricted licence to shoot Common Buzzards that were deemed to be causing a problem for a Pheasant rearing enterprise came as no real surprise in many respects but I think, from the outside, the whole subject deserves a critical examination.

Now, for those who might not know, Natural England is the Government's advisory body on all things wildlife and countryside. It has certain powers and duties , one of which is to consider applications of the above sort.  But , somehow, the Natural England of today appears to operate in a different context to its predecessor bodies of yesteryear. I believe one might have been able to predict the feelings of those involved  "in previous times", and the actions which might be advocated ;  now one can seemingly predict the outcome of things  knowing that, somehow, the organization has no longer any individuality, in fact , it has simply become a conduit for Government preferences. Contrasted against the situation of the individual officers I knew and respected, both for their views and expertise, I really sympathize with those now involved and what I believe the situation to be. Doubtless the same personal commitments are in evidence , but the opportunity to exercise real influence and advise on behalf of our natural heritage appears to be a diminishing element. Mild suppression, through the absence of encouragement and support, simply breeds low morale, reduced enthusiasm and an absence of job satisfaction. Sadly, those sentiments must be endemic within Natural England at present. If the approach taken by the previous incumbent, Liz Truss, (within whose tenure the discussions associated with this case undoubtedly took place ),  is anything to go by, then the situation is at a low ebb. Hopefully it will improve.

                                        By courtesy of Ben Hall, ( )   RSPB.

The RSPB has roundly condemned the action, see Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB ) in his Blog of yesterday.  Click on the link below for full details.

Natural England grants licence to kill Buzzards.

Rather than repeat what many have said already, it seems appropriate to simply take a close look at the fundamentals involved, as there are frightening consequences which might yet emerge from what might appear to be a one-off decision. Recent years have provided ample evidence that this Tory Government has little or no empathy with things associated with the environment. The former Chancellor saw the countryside as something little more than a resource to be exploited for financial gain, as opposed to something which harboured a resource we should be taking pains to take care of, namely our natural heritage.  I've no reason to doubt the same attitudes will prevail, particularly as no effective political opposition is in evidence.

The current case basically involves permission being given to kill birds which are claimed to be affecting a commercial enterprise involved in raising other species of birds, which are then shot by people who have paid money for the privilege.   The latter ( Pheasants ) are released in their millions each year, undoubtedly do untold damage to the ecology of the countryside and mere observation of roadkills suggests far more are likely to meet their end in that fashion than being preyed upon by Common Buzzards.  No, it is the biased protection of commercial interests which is the anomaly in all this and the frightening precedent this creates. We've all seen the predictable responses of the NFU to any initiatives which cut across the potential maximisation of profits of their members. And we've all read at times about the proposed "solutions" for perceived " problems" in the countryside ranging from Muntjac, Beavers, Wild Boar, White-tailed Eagles, Mountain Hares, Barnacle Geese such that , if they pose a threat, shoot em !! All such must be opposed , which is a task we must take on as the electorate given the perceived diminished status ( and funding )  of Natural England.

I suspect that Natural England is simply doing the bidding of its masters and independent action is at an absolute premium, however rational it might be. Solutions have to reflect the opportunities for "the big dollar" come what may and the body who is in place to rightfully defend our natural heritage is hogtied. I suspect the objectives within the corporate management manual of our current Natural England probably bear little resemblance to those of predecessor versions. In addition to the spotlight being placed currently on grouse shooting ( may we have a licence the Hen Harriers are killing our Red Grouse ?....think about it ! )  we all need to become more active in ensuring the self serving policies of Government  on behalf of vested interests are called into account.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sting in the tail for Neonicotinid pesticides.

For a considerable time controversy has reigned over the use of Neonicotinid pesticides. The EU banned their use on flowering crops in 2013.  The UK opposed the ban and made provision for an emergency lifting of such restrictions, which were exercised in 2015, although it has rejected similar calls from the NFU  this year. Serious concerns have been raised across Europe at the declines in bee populations and the subject has been pursued in earnest in the UK to little effect, with parts of the scientific community and commercial interests arguing over the veracity of research results.  In other words, within the UK , the situation has been an absolute mess, with DEFRA's role under the stewardship of Liz Truss ( until recently Secretary of State for the Environment ) being an unmitigated disaster. This is certainly a situation where we were not overseen by EU regulation, but that the UK's own chosen path then being ill defined, inconsistent and a near lottery arising usually from  plea bargaining by the NFU.

                                                Red-tailed Bumblebee courtesy of BugLife

Now research, completed by the University of Berne, Switzerland, has placed a new perspective on the whole issue. It has been shown that the use of Neonicotinids cuts bee sperm down by as much as 40%  which clearly will have an utterly drastic effect on hive communities and natural populations and appears to have done so in the last few years.  Click on the link below to read the full article from The Guardian and better explanatory detail.

Neonicotinids under the spotlight

In the light of these research findings it will be interesting to see what the future response of DEFRA might be  given applications for use of the pesticides are usually made in advance of them being applied in autumn. Previously the recent response had been clear (thankfully ), but the situation appears to be even more convincing now and one might even suggest provide the basis for a review of the Government's current stance and the ban being invoked in the UK on a once and for all basis.  Details of the previous attempts to gain emergency usage can be followed via the link below.

Emergency usage of pesticide rejected.

Interestingly, support for the non-use of such pesticides has recently come from ALDI, who have declared they will not make available products where such pesticides have been used.  WELL DONE, ALDI !

Now , there is an even more interesting twist to all this !  Oh yes, and one which appears not to receive the exposure it might well deserve. I first saw details on this on a TV programme , but further research shows it has received regular "treatment" by newspapers, health magazines etc over the past few years. Those wonderful crops of oil seed rape, which admittedly bring a blaze of colour to our countryside, go on to be processed and appear on our supermarket shelves as Sunflower Oil.  Now we've all been subject to persuasive, promotional material vouching the benefits for health of using such cooking oils but there may well be another aspect to it all.

Heating such oil, particularly Sunflower Oil, to 180C releases aldehydes which are deemed harmful to health and a contributory cause to cancer !  I didn't know, indeed I've been a keen advocate of such use. Read the article via this link and  ( possibly ) be surprised.

Vegetable oils release toxic chemicals

Now it seems to me, naive or not, that we are growing particular crops, treating them with pesticides, which are demonstrably harmful  to, if not decimating, the insect populations that pollinate many other flowering crops associated with food we eat and thereby causing a problem, only to be left with a product ( sunflower oil ) that appears potentially harmful to ourselves in the end.   In the meantime, production goes on, profits are made, subsidies paid (? ),  and to what end? Our natural heritage is poorer, our health appears to be involved and yet the likes of the NFU continues to petition for greater usage of such pesticides in order to minimize financial losses by its members (read ensure profits ).  Quite honestly I wonder whether we should feel any sympathy for farmers whose enthusiasm for a particular crop no doubts links closely to the width of its profit margin !!  Time for honesty and the whole shebang to be thought through and clear advice and regulations issued, in other words DEFRA, stop fiddling around and provide the electorate with what is needed.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Release site for Eurasian Lynx reintroduction determined.

Today ( 25.7.2016 ) the Lynx Trust UK has revealed the latest situation with the proposed reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx in the UK.

                                                        Erwin van Maanen, May, 2013.

Following several months of discussions with national stakeholders and the completion of further research, the Trust has identified the Kielder Forest as its preferred site for a reintroduction scheme. Local consultations will now begin across the whole of the area involved , which spans the English/Scottish border.

This forest, predominantly in Northumberland, is huge, has sheep largely excluded, has a reduced human presence and accompanying infrastructure ( roads/railways ) and is viewed as economically deprived. As such it  would undoubtedly benefit from the increased tourism that would result following a reintroduction scheme.

Eurasian Lynx have enjoyed success in recent years in Europe after its population dwindled to around 700 in the 1940's. There has been no evidence of attacks on humans in the intervening period and the population is now thought to be in the region of 8000. Similarly the predation rate on agricultural animals  ( sheep ) has been extremely low ( 0.4 kills per year per Lynx ) and I suspect the income from tourism far outstrips any financial losses in that respect.

The proposal continues to meet with general support and enthusiasm and it is hoped this latest stage of consultation  will proceed in the same vein. This is particularly gratifying for the Trust which relies absolutely on public support and pro bono contributions and receives no support from Government.

RSPB withdraws support for DEFRA's Hen Harrier Action Plan.

I'm in London at present and so my opportunities for direct engagement with "things birds" are a bit limited !  Imagine my surprise on this otherwise mundane Monday morning to learn that the RSPB had withdrawn its support of DEFRA's Hen Harrier Action Plan.  WELL DONE !!

Now I'd be the first to acknowledge that I have criticised the RSPB from time to time for what I sincerely felt was an absence of resolve and direct action when it came to harriers. Various entries on this Blog attest to that and I stand by what was said and what I felt was needed at the time. I now have a feeling that things have changed and potentially for the better. In that sense it is essential that even former critics ( me! ) give the RSPB the encouragement it deserves and for the general membership to offer its endorsement and support. The added declaration of the Society firmly advocating the introduction of a licencing system, coupled with its continuing investigations work, nest protection activities and the wide promotion of the persecution problem , are all direct actions to be pursued and reported on independently.

In early 2013 I launched an E-petition calling for the licencing of grouse moors ( and gamekeepers ! ) which expired on the 27th February , 2014 and had, by then, attracted over 10,000 signatures. The RSPB chose not to offer support despite them now embracing the concept of licencing of grouse moors.

I suspect their position was influenced to some degree by the fact that the Law Commission was carrying out a review of wildlife legislation and there were hopes that both licencing and the offence of vicarious liability ( recognized in Scotland ) might be included in recommendations coming forward. They weren't and I contend such expectations were somewhat naive resulting in time being lost.

The search for a solution to the woeful situation which the breeding population of harriers had now reached in England  led eventually , following wide discussions with a variety of stakeholders , to the appearance of the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan in early 2016. There were areas of broad agreement, but aspects , particularly with brood management proposals, resulted in either condemnation or uncertainty from many others. This played into the hands of the shooting fraternity who were quite happy to see continuing obfuscation occur. However, continuing persecution, with little meaningful peer pressure emerging from the wider constituents within the industry, showed even the wider elements of the plan to be resulting in no cooperative initiatives or carrying any lasting influence. In terms of delivery it was very much a case of "Return to Sender" !  Such is the same situation currently and certainly plays its part in the reasoning behind the RSPB's withdrawal , full details of which can be read in Martin Harper's Blog   (click and read )

Why the RSPB is withdrawing support from the Hen Harrier Action Plan.

This action by the RSPB has drawn a line under events in addition to declaring their own immediate objectives ( which, incidentally, includes encouraging people in Scotland to support the E-petition advocating licencing to apply there. ).  It has also isolated the current proponents of the Action Plan and firmly placed their future commitment and actions under the spotlight. Continuing persecution of raptors within the shooting industry will only serve to reinforce the calls elsewhere of there being a complete ban on grouse shooting. Somehow they don't appear to have made this connection or are simply retreating into the comfort of their own complacency.

I have to say that, at my age, I would prefer to see the introduction of a licencing system in the near future as time is running out for both me and Hen Harriers ( I hope relatively so in my own circumstances ! ).  An outright ban would take a long time to effect, would promote arguments about land ownership/rights, effects on a commercial activity and so on. There is much that needs to be addressed within the practices of the grouse shooting industry ( habitat management of unique moorland areas,  consequences for flood control, ingestion of lead,  persecution of part of our natural heritage ).  The abolition or major alteration of grouse shooting as an activity will take time, a lot of time. The ultimate situation might see such activities banned but, in the meantime , we need some element of regulation aimed at seeing Hen Harrier populations get back on their feet and the isolation of those who still insist on arrogantly following their own selfish agenda, with utter disregard for the law, being identified. I believe the most prudent step forward is to push strongly for a licencing system, whilst placing the above aspects under increasing scrutiny, with the ultimate result being for the industry/activity to be banned if no lasting, sensible solutions are possible.  The extent to which this will be possible given the "new" Tory administration is open to question.   Prime Minister, Theresa May's previous avoidance of the chum culture might not now extend to rapping the knuckles of the wealthy landowners or restricting their activities, we'll have to see.

Still way in the future, possibly, but it's still been a hell of a Monday!  Again, well done RSPB.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

More signs of summer. 23.7.2016

Immediately post dawn it was calm, cool (!) and the waters of the reservoir appeared as a sheet of glass........ Ingbirchworth at its best.  A quick count before " a circuit"  showed duck numbers to be pretty much the same as previously and 4 Grey Herons spread around the waters edge.

Despite the shelter of the fringing willows midges were in short supply,  although good numbers of Willow Warblers and odd Whitethroats were taking their toll!  Again, virtually no visible passage was noted other than a rapidly moving party of Black-headed Gulls SW and a single adult Common Gull west, not always a feature of high summer.  And that was it,  other than six Grey Wagtails ( two adults ) , a couple of Yellowhammer still in song and a single Common Sandpiper.

A walk around a couple of other reservoirs showed much the same circumstances.  Royd Moor did have a surprise in the form of 115 Grey lag Geese, a Lesser Whitethroat and a fly through Tree Sparrow, but that was it. Mid morning gave soaring temperatures and an opportunity to look for butterflies which was then the essence of the day.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Signs of summer. 20.7.2016

Post dawn saw utterly calm conditions at Ingbirchworth Reservoir near home with an accompanying, almost strange quietness.  Along the dam wall at least 7 Grey Wagtails and a few Pied Wagtails fed and a single Common Sandpiper explored the water's edge.  Mallard numbers are now begining to rise and a couple of small, late broods were noted too. Tufted Duck, Canada Goose, Coot, Great crested Grebe and Little Grebe all added to the variety along with three Grey Heron, one of which was a very clear juvenile.

Young thrushes, warblers and the odd anxious party of titmice all signalled the breeding season had perhaps not been as bad as feared. A Lesser Whitethroat was in full song, a late arrival with no mate (?), contrasting with the muted alarm calls of its near relative at various places.  A single Great Spotted Woodpecker called, as did a Common Buzzard , and two Sand Martin made their way south westwards across the reservoir, the only direct evidence of birds on the move.

A visit to nearby Gunthwaite Dam produced little ( Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, Tufted Duck ) although Nuthatch and Bullfinch added variety.  Broadstones Reservoir had Mallard and a group of over 20 Swallows but yielded nothing more.  0830 hours and time for breakfast!  Whitley Common held a group of LBBG's and odd BHG whose numbers altered incessantly.  I was intrigued by a young Kestrel which repeatedly launched itself from a tree in a small plantation and circled low over adjacent grassland. It stooped a couple of times, but I wasn't sure how successfully !  It's efforts at regaining its perch position were less than polished with most occasions seeing it sprawled in the branches previous to a final scramble for safety. No doubt a locally bred bird now facing the rigours of independence!

Moving off onto higher ground the silence north of Tinker Hill moorland was shattered by a Curlew circling around and calling repeatedly. This went on for some time, although nothing else was in view until a large immature female Peregrine rose from the ground and flew off south,  possibly after taking a tilt at a Curlew youngster. Winscar Reservoir had its usual collection of Canada Geese, Mallard  and ferals, all sent into disarray by dogs being walked along the shore, bathing or chasing ducks and geese!!  Time to depart, but in any case given it was now late morning , and the temperature was beginning to rise with a vengeance. After  the odd foray into a couple of areas looking for butterflies I called a halt to proceedings, went home and watched the Tour de France participants battle their way up impossible contours in heat similar to that outside !!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Visitor Centre at Spurn.

Well, whilst I haven't seen anything official as yet I understand that, at the meeting of the East Yorkshire Planning Committee yesterday, the proposal to build a visitor centre at Spurn was rejected ! A vindication for truth and common sense.

Following  the previous planning meeting the YWT did indicate that, should the application be rejected, then they would take it to appeal. Again, as yet , nothing has emerged on that subject to my knowledge.

Well, well, well ! there'll be some for whom this is a triumph, others for whom it represents abject disappointment.  But after all this, the challenge still remains and that is for Spurn to be maintained as the special site it truly is despite its uncertain future from storms and erosion. Time for a collective effort in my book to ensure the final years of a great, great place ( and there may be very many indeed ) are aimed at retaining a truly wonderful site.   

Update 1700 hours 19.7.2016.

I understand that the YWT Ltd are to appeal the decision taken by the East Yorkshire Planning Committee yesterday and   " expect the Secretary of State to overturn the decision ".

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Latest edition of RSPB's "Legal Eagle".

I always enjoy reading editions of the RSPB's "Legal Eagle " and the most recent one , which popped through the post this morning , is no exception.  Essentially it's the newsletter of the RSPB's  Investigations Section and, therefore, very much reports on cutting edge topics and recent events. This one is no exception with articles dealing with DNA techniques being developed to combat the illegal trapping of migrants in Cyprus ( plucked birds intended for ambelopoulia in restaurants are difficult to identify when plucked !! ),   to reportage on the most significant conviction (  ever ) for the destruction of a bat roost involving a total fine of £ 10,000, a jail sentence for a Lancashire taxidermist, and various prosecutions relating to poaching, flytipping on a SSSI, the sale of antlers of protected species from abroad and much , much more.  Whilst it might seem the breadth of wildlife crime has widened over the years I feel personally that the efficacy of those organizations involved in its detection has significantly increased , which is welcome news of the best kind !!

Years ago, when I worked for RSPB ( in the 1980's and !990's ), egg collecting was a problem and it was supposed around 500 active collectors were in existence.  Dedicated and persistent detection work , resulting very often in prosecutions, has changed that pattern of  anti-social behaviour, which seems to have receded to virtually nothing.  What has most certainly shot into prominence is the international aspect of wildlife crime. Such activities are no longer a "domestic" issue but can involve the merciless trapping of birds in some foreign enclave simply to service the demands of the habit of keeping exotic captive species in another. And neither are such  habits confined to birds with mammals, reptiles, even exotic plants, being the subject of such depredations.


The leading article outlines how an internet dealer , based in Kent, offered for sale protected specimens, in the form of body parts ( 134 primate specimens and two leopard skulls ). In what appears to have been a very involved case the person was given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £4724.34 in fines additional to an original imposed fine of £800. The UK Border Force was involved and an aspect that I personally found gratifying, the illegal supplier of the material was apprehended by the East Java police in Indonesia.

Wildlife crime is a far more extensive activity than in previous times, but certainly the RSPB Investigations Section is at the forefront of the fight against such activities. Whilst the cases reported on are the most prominent in a given time period,  the dedication and involvement of the Section's staff  " at home" is in response to an incessant demand than requires countless hours of  application of effort. Much of that grind results in little that is tangible or able to be reported on . Knowing that such effort is unrelenting I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to our colleagues in the " Investigations Section, RSPB" for their efforts on behalf of us all.   Thanks all, and a good retirement to Duncan!!

Do please access the above report on line or contact the Investigations Section at the RSPB HQ at Sandy
(01767 680551 ) for details.  

Spurn Visitor Centre.........decision now imminent !

Yesterday ( Friday )  East Yorkshire Planning Committee members and officers visited Kilnsea and Spurn  and examined at first hand what the implications of allowing a Visitor Centre to be constructed at Spurn would actually be. At their previous meeting concerns had been raised as to the proposed location of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts new Centre,  flooding risks and whether other alternatives premises or ideas  might be considered. In many senses these reflected similar concerns in the very many objections to the proposal that had been submitted to the Council.

Note that the large mast is no longer part of the application, otherwise the image gives a general impression of what a new Centre might look like.

I personally feel such visits are sensible, costly in time and resources maybe, but resulting in a much more rounded appreciation of all the factors involved.  Whilst the likelihood of aspects like the future claims of visitor attendance would no doubt have been only superficially considered  ( I still personally believe the claims by the YWT in this regard are wildly optimistic and support little other than the prospect of a "white elephant "  being the result if the proposal is approved ),  the occasion will undoubtedly have provided the Councillors with a better insight into the situation previous to their meeting on Monday when the matter will be resolved.  At least the process can be judged fair and democratic based on the evidence available!!

Sadly the YWT saw fit to declare,  following the previous planning meeting at which the matter was deferred pending the site visit, that they had every intention of mounting a legal challenge if the Planning Committee turned down its proposal. The reportage was couched in rather naive terms too, " We are the Wildlife Trust".  Uhmm, a product of frustration or a knee jerk reaction from some individual source we shall never know, but unwise in my book given the responsibilities presided over by the planning system nowadays. Surely better to wait for the outcome, and the basis of any decision,  rather than suggest  further action by what came over as a veiled threat, particularly after the open relationship and information exchange between the parties in the run up process.

Whatever the circumstances that prevail, there is only a matter of days to wait now before the outcome is known as the next meeting dealing with the matter is scheduled for Monday next !  Whatever the decision, it must still be appreciated that there is a major job of work to address at Spurn and the YWT has the unenviable task of carrying that responsibility.  As a National Nature Reserve the habitat management work is still required, visitor safety is still a major issue and the "normal" responsibilities of land ownership faced up to. In the background lingers the almost inevitable consequences of the effects of further debilitating erosion to the peninsula , even flooding,  against which such actions need to be carried out.   Not an easy scenario by any means, but not one in which major capital investments should be considered either in my view  ( although such would be of little consequence as Eon is potentially picking up the bill!! ).  Time will tell in all respects!