Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Further thoughts on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

The above petition is now close to reaching 80,000 signatures, a tremendous achievement.   So the next obvious point to make ( of course ! ), is that , if you haven't signed , do so now !.

I'm on holiday at Spurn at present and so have lots of opportunity to consider, again and again, the overall situation as I wander around or complete a slow paced sea watch!  Cutting to the chase, the immediate , most important aspect to address and gain improvement against , is the continuing persecution of raptors.  Many of those affected are iconic members of our wildlife heritage. If there were to be any kind of similar assault on, say, our artistic heritage, there would be an outcry. As yet that hasn't occurred to the same potential extent, but will if the arrogance and self interests of the shooting fraternity continues even given its Establishment associations.

I've little doubt that any call for an outright ban would take some time to bring into being. However, a debate wherein the persecution issue was properly laid bare and the consequences of no improvement arising made apparent could help tremendously. This is where I believe the RSPB could help by encouraging support from its members.  My RSPB Campaign Newsletter arrived this week ,urging people to assist in calling for sustainable farming policies and in resisting  any extension of the large power station complex south of the important Minsmere Reserve.  Laudable both , but some mention of the continuing plight of raptors wouldn't have gone amiss.  To avoid doing so starts to accept the incidents are part of a developing permanent culture and I simply refuse to accept that position.

A recent Blog from the RSPB set out the need for a review of the grouse shooting industry, something I couldn't agree with more. But not all the membership reads such Blogs , a fact I'm reminded of given a series of recent conversations with people  at the BirdFair and elsewhere. The question , in one form or another, seems an inevitable component of any conversation........ " What's the RSPB doing about all this raptor persecution?".     Now I realise that such a demand is simplistic and with no simple answer, but it prompts me to consider whether the RSPB might be a little out of touch with the expectations of its membership ( straight forward demands in some instances).    There's an immensely loyal bunch of people out there with concerns about "its Society " as well as issues like raptor persecution. It seems to me there is an all out need to set out , even repeatedly, the extent of the Society's involvement at any one time and to try and involve the membership wherever possible and curb their frustration.  Incidentally , the one comment that comes through , time and again, is support for the magnificent work of the Investigations Team  ( I couldn't agree more ).  What does seem to go unappreciated are the position statements and summaries of what should be without any accompaniment of action points .

I'd be the first to recognize this is a difficult problem, but let's never accept it as an impossible one, which brings us full circle to the beginning. The need to precipitate action.  ACTION THIS DAY, NOT TOMORROW OR THE WEEKEND.......NOW!!

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Birder's Journey to the Big 300 By Terry Wells.

Whilst I was at the recent BirdFair at Rutland Water I went to listen to Terry Well's presentation about his new book   (pictured below ).   There was a certain honesty, lack of drama and ego about his presentation that persuaded me I should buy a copy.  I'm glad I did  and have no hesitation in recommending it to all. It can be obtained through all the usual channels ( including booksellers listed within Amazon searches ). the full title is as above,  the publisher is Silverwood Books Ltd and the ISBN number is 978-1-78132- 862-0.

For many listers their total is very much a personal matter and not open to being published, promoted,  and details given of successes and failures.  This is where this story is possibly different in that it catalogues a year of effort trying to get to or exceed  the magical 300 total.  But, first of all, let me refer back to the book in general. As might be imagined the first chapters deal with Terry's "development " as a birder, covers the years when other aspects that affect us all  have to be given attention. There are some typical "lad stories" too, the premier one is of Ray Moore and his calculator. I'll not spoil it , but suffice to say I've chuckled every day since I read about it !

But then we come to the real content of the book !   Terry's opportunity , through retirement, to try and see over 300 species in the UK in a single calendar year.   He devotes a chapter to each month and this is where I guess other listers will pore over the strategies, sequence of visits and site details with forensic enthusiasm.  The approach within these chapters , as with the birding approach itself , is consistent and "full on" with honest admissions about the failures, repeat site visits and decisions behind sometimes discontinuing a twitch. Beginners aren't left out either as interwoven in the text are explanations about white-winged gulls, organizations, official approaches to lists that might otherwise confuse people new to birding.  Perhaps a more extended explanation of the RBA Bird Alert Pro facility would have helped at some point.

I'm sure many birders will be enthused by the accounts and dream of, if not plot and plan, an attempt of their own. Setting aside the costs of time and money ( not inconsiderable ! ), the travelling and the sheer unrelenting physical demands, there is the over-riding necessity of turning out almost everyday, whatever the weather, in order to drive the list ever onwards. January and February, even March, might be mastered , but there's a long way to go thereafter and , as Terry's account aptly demonstrates, the effort needed can never diminish.  There'll be doubts and desperate, dark moments , all of which are mentioned , and, inevitably, there'll be occasions totally unconnected with birding that have to be accepted and properly dealt with. Life can't be "put on hold" for birding reasons.

Terry deals with all of this in a way that I felt made the book very human and realistic. There's an obvious love of birds and wildlife, even landscape, apparent within his writing, but also a generosity towards people,  ( but best not to mention it if you're a dog breeder ! ).   And then there's Mary.....partner, bird spotter extraordinaire and general factotum,  even suggesting a trip to the SW in the depths of winter in a quest for certain species.  Clearly that sort of support is crucial too.

I'd recommend this book to all birders, at whatever level, as each and everyone will be able to identify with the challenges it reflects and the stories it reveals.  A great achievement, quietly told in an unassuming style. I've read it , but dipped back into it a couple of times already. Buy it, enjoy it, relive some of your own experiences, perhaps even some of the species and twitches described in the book.  And, if you're new to listing, I'm sure this will be a book that helps with your own approaches and activities.

And, finally, to Terry. Thanks for sharing. A standing testament to a lot of effort, but something we can all enjoy too, time and again I suspect !,

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A call for support from the RSPB !

It's some little time since I put out an entry on this Blog. There are good reasons for this as it happens , but the explanations can wait as the topic below demands urgent action from us all.

Recently the Directors of Wild Justice registered an E-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.  I'm presuming at this point that readers are conversant with the background details and arguments surrounding such a plea.  As I look at the petition site this afternoon the number of signatures stands at 69,153, a truly remarkable response given the little time which has elapsed since it went public. To gain a debate by elected members of Parliament the number of signatures must reach 100, 000 and preferably  be in excess of that figure. As many will probably know there has already been one debate associated with the petition dealing with the same subject matter and based on a previous petition registered by Mark Avery. The ensuing proceedings can only be described as a travesty, if not resulting in a wholly predictable outcome.

Endless details on persecution incidents and their association with grouse moors have been published and there is no justification in repeating those here. What appears to be central to the whole issue is the lack of any intention on the shooting industry's part to cease such persecution despite it being in flagrant disregard of the law.  Now, there are those who say it only a proportion of "bad apples" within the industry who are responsible and giving everyone a bad name. Whilst the main plank of the conservation case has been associated with the targeted activities against Hen Harriers the geographical spread of different species affected and birds shot, trapped or poisoned etc suggests we are dealing with somewhat more than a portion of a "crop", but that the prejudiced feelings against raptors is endemic within the industry.  But even if that isn't the case the fact that, other than a few published blandishments on the subject by representative organizations, the actions by the industry against its own miscreants is difficult to determine if, indeed, any pressure has been brought to bear at all ? 

In my view "enough is very much enough".  I was personally convinced that licensing would address the problem and set out my own E-petition some time ago against which the Government response was little more than a joke.  Whilst the RSPB chose not to support that petition , nor that initiated by Mark Avery to ban driven grouse shooting, it has latterly suggested that licensing should be adopted, although its efforts to gain support for this measure appear a little less than robust. Since then I have changed my position in the face of no indication for change at all being forthcoming from the shooting industry and persecution incidents, if anything, increasing.

Set against this background, and any historical positioning, it occurs to me that we now have a unique opportunity to try and really get this issue in the public domain.

But first of all, a technical point.  Should a General Election be announced the six month period wherein signatures can be submitted on a petition will close and the whole  matter fall by the wayside.   As seems likely, a General Election will be announced at some point this autumn therefore the opportunity to build up the signature total of the petition might be truncated. This surely moves towards an obvious conclusion that every effort , and by whatever legitimate means, must be employed to not only achieve a high level of signatures and demonstrate the public's abhorrence at the levels of persecution occurring . but to obtain as full a debate as possible on the matter in advance of an election and to move the issue into the very territory of subjects under scrutiny at the time of that election.

Whilst I personally doubt that driven grouse shooting will be brought to a peremptory end in 2019, the further exposure of the current persecution levels is not something the Tories would want to be asked of each of their prospective candidates when appearing on the doorstep. Neither would they want the spectre of regulation being discussed widely, particularly given the recent interest taken by both other political parties and a wide selection of the media around 12th August last !  So now is the time to demonstrate the depth and breadth of feeling on the matter within the British public.  The extent to which the shooting industry feels it can set itself outside of the law must be challenged and on as wide a basis as possible. Not only must there be a reverse in fortunes of the Hen Harrier, pictured above, but, as appeared recently, the disgusting sight of a young Golden Eagle flying around with a trap attached to its foot must surely signal an end being brought to such barbaric behaviour by those responsible.

So, enter the RSPB !   It has often been said that the membership level of the RSPB  ( oft quoted in excess of a million )  is the envy of  some of the political parties. I'm not conversant with the current levels of membership of each of the parties,but I do feel that  an opportunity exists for the RSPB to assist in bringing about what could be the greatest exposure of the persecution of raptor problem hitherto. An unequivocal, IMMEDIATE request for its membership to support the above petition , thereby politicising its  membership to take part ( at their own volition ) in a bit of old style campaigning,  could elevate the issues and allow discussion on the merits of banning , licencing, vicarious liability and so on.  The good ladies of Didsbury, Manchester who rose up against the use of bird plumes in the millinery trade would be proud......and look what that led to.

Such action would need to be immediate and not prove to be the subject of endless examination, meetings on the top corridor or a discussion at the forthcoming AGM and so forth.  The RSPB appears to have been somewhat cautious in recent times when it comes to overt action and campaigning and what used to be its "one stop shop" position when it came to matters relating to birds has tarnished somewhat.  I appreciate that such a request comes at the very beginning of the tenure of its new Chief Executive and apologise accordingly, but time is of the essence and it would signal too that the Society itself has had enough given the resources and effort it has placed against the problem over the years.

Just consider what the response might be , and at this time of disjointed political unity too.  Exceeding 100, 000 would certainly seem a reality,   but surely 150, 000, even 200,000 is not beyond reach.   I doubt there is few, if any,  RSPB members who aren't appalled by the continuing presence of persecution of our raptors going on in the background and who wouldn't want the issue to be prevented in whatever way possible. Now is an opportunity to get the issue way up on the agenda.
In this sense the RSPB might be seen as pivotal in terms of improving the success of the current initiative. However, I have to say that, in the absence of overt support, one can only ponder on what, precisely, the RSPB does currently see itself as influencing and what role and positioning it  commands. Without being facetious , I have to say " remember the laws which were drummed into us all at school,    actions and opposing reactions ". The shooting industry is not going to suffer willingly any Damascene conversion and only action by the conservation organizations can bring about change.   In my opinion, now is that time !!!

And a final question! Have you signed the petition ?  If not, use the link and sign without delay.