Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Raptor persecution........do you still need convincing?

Recently I received my copy of  Legal Eagle, the RSPB's Investigation Team's Newsletter. It's not a new concept, indeed this is Issue number 73 and one might be led to consider how many persecution incidents have been reported on over the series!!!



As might be imagined the recent incident on the Black Isle, near Inverness where sixteen (16 ) Red Kites and six (6) Buzzards carcasses were found on a single farm is covered in detail. Those examined so far were found to have been poisoned.  Other instances of raptors being killed are cited and an accompanying heading simply states, " The biggest threat to birds of prey in Scotland remains the systematic illegal killing.....in areas managed for driven grouse shooting".  The latter, I would remind you, is a statement referring to a whole country, NOT an isolated incident such as the above.

I would recommend anyone to read the publication as issues usually cover a much wider spectrum of interest than birds. However, it is the continuing reportage of bird related incidents that I'd wish to dwell on.  One of the prominent articles is entitled, "Raptors suffer yet more persecution in Peak District".  The article refers to a Buzzard being found near Winscar, near Penistone with a spring trap still attached to its leg.



I lived nearby to Winscar for many years and know the area well. It's not the first time that activities like this have been investigated.  But for those whose geographical knowledge of the area is a bit hazy, the most salient point is that the above area is not that far away from where the Hen Harrier Action Day took place last Sunday. Nor is the latter location far from where another persecution incident reported on in the same article took place. This involved a female Goshawk found with broken legs, a sure sign of trapping having taken place. Whilst some would seek to convince that such incidents are isolated, then I would seek to assure you that activities like that are widespread, too widespread. Reported incidents in the press and elsewhere continue to provide more than ample evidence to support that view.

There is a problem, an embarrassing problem, that the shooting industry is doing its utmost to deny. Indeed, not only is there no admission that elements within its own ranks are responsible for such incidents , but that the industry is in itself in a state of denial that it has any connection with such persecution despite prosecutions coming forward on a regular basis.

Is there a need for more proof before change is enacted or are we prepared to allow even more of our raptors to suffer such depredations?

Beyond the Glorious (?) Twelfth.

Given the proclaimed hallowed day has now passed, what now I ask?  In the run-up to the Hen Harrier Action Days the predicted media statements from those associated with the shooting fraternity  racked up in intensity.  Some of this was utter drivel ( How can you predict that Hen Harriers will be the cause of the Lapwing's demise ), some , as might have been predicted, praised gamekeepers as being the saviours of virtually everything that lives outside of our towns and cities, including their profession being a vital element in the rural economy. Indeed , this much maligned sector of our Society was held by some to be the " real conservationists".   I'm not sure raptor persecution statistics accord with that interpretation ! And, of course, there was that well developed technique employed of diverting attention away from the core aspects of the overall issue and blaming someone else for the perceived problem and uproar, be it DEFRA or the RSPB.

We are likely to hear much from the shooting lobby that conservationists are calling for change and yet being unwilling to co-operate. This refers largely to the Hen Harrier Recovery Action Plan, developed within the DEFRA group of combined interests, elements of which are being heavily promoted by the shooting interests within the group, but which the RSPB is currently unwilling to "sign off" as it's uneasy about some of the contents. That the shooting lobby has raised an E-petition calling for DEFRA to publish the report anyway is a somewhat desperate measure in my view, but I suspect the latter will meet sufficient bureaucratic headwinds to ensure no progress is made. All this is little more than, when you're not getting your own way, you simply shout loud and blame everybody else, the intention being to draw fire away from the real issues being examined.

Undoubtedly the main topic of conversation over dinner for some for the next few weeks, following  a day's shooting, will be these "accursed conservationists who are championing Hen Harriers and what should be done about the problem". Whisky and port consumption will benefit and entrenched opposition will no doubt be agreed upon.  [ rumour has it that Uncle Hubert is calling for a "Hen Harrier Harrumphing Day", but such needs to be confirmed !].

So, we can expect much more of the rhetoric, no open admissions that this sector of Society has been the sole element responsible for the demise of harriers in England and parts of Scotland, no assurances that persecution will cease and no real expressed intention of being willing to co-operate with anything that really involves a collective effort. Oh yes, there's the idea of retrieving eggs , hatching them and then releasing the youngsters in areas far away from the treasured haunts of grouse, a suggestion that I'm afraid I don't buy into as I seriously doubt it contains one shred of sincerity other than a resolve to deflect the issue.  I'm prone to ask what the reaction might be if, or should it be when, one of those birds strays northwards and takes up residence on a grouse moor?  Such would be bound to happen if the population was ever to achieve its potential status in England?  Would attitudes have changed given the event had sprung from an initiative so vigorously promoted by the shooting lobby?

While ever the arguments range back and forth, no real progress will be made.  As yet no detailed reaction has arisen, at least that I've seen,  relating to the current E-petition calling for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting. That the shooting interests remain unwilling to discuss the fundamental aspects surrounding the collective subject of raptor persecution, upland management and their future acceptance of Hen Harriers as a legitimate part of out national, natural heritage, then pressure must remain in place.  If you examine their outpourings then nothing really is being offered, no real concessions proposed.  What they remain oblivious to is that their repeated entrenchment will eventually lead to far more stringent changes being called for, such as the abolition of upland shooting and a call being made for land reform. Maybe not in my lifetime, but much has and is changing in terms of how an ever growing, urban based part of the electorate see the countryside. Privilege and past awards for good deeds to the Monarch, resulting in great swathes of land being offered into the hands of an absolute minority, might count for nothing in future times.

But for the present we need to achieve change via our more immediately available parliamentary process!! In
 turn, this means that if you haven't already signed  Mark Avery's E-petition , now is the time to do so and, more importantly, to promote it far and wide. Use the link below to access the Government site

Ah!  Sadly, I have to advise that my DNS server facility is not allowing direct access to the link at the present time.  So, simply key in the following
www.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627.

Many thanks.

 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Waterbirds in the UK 2012/13.

The above report arrived yesterday and holds a fascinating array of articles associated with waterbirds. As usual it is produced to a high quality, contains some fine photographs and is packed full of information.



Access to this and much , much more can be obtained from www.bto.org/webs-reporting and copies can be downloaded from www.bto.org/webs-publications site. Each page or double page holds an account of a particular species or an aspect of waterbird monitoring plus there is a more extended treatment on the current contribution that gravel pits play in terms of "hosting" waterbirds. But there's more, much more and it certainly is deserving of anyone's time if they have an interest in waterbirds.

Whilst I'm not going to undermine its appeal by revealing full details of its total contents there's some pretty impactive conclusions set out which are derived from the WeBS Count data.


  • Shelduck index dropped to its lowest level for forty years
  • an August count of 127 Garganey at the Ouse Washes was unprecedented
  • the winter population of Great Crested Grebe has declined by 25% in ten years
  • Little Grebe has also shown marked short term declines 
  • Gadwall has tripled its population in 25 years
  • numbers of Redshank are at their lowest point for 30 years
And so it goes on.   "Pink-footed Geese....have there numbers stopped increasing ?"  " Non-native waterbirds in the UK" and even a short piece, which I found quite fascinating, entitled "The Arctic Breeding Season". So, whatever your personal interest is with waterbirds , please take a look and remember that on the " WeBs reporting" section of the website there's a lot more data and information ranging from Species Trends, Site Tables for all Species and WeBS Alerts.

Well done to BTO and the supporting partners for WeBS, the JNCC, RSPB and WWT !!  

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Atlas of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland.



This recently published Atlas is an absolute tour de force !  The British Dragonfly Society and the Biological Records Centre deserve the congratulations of everyone with an interest in dragonflies for their publication of such a splendid and inspiring volume.

There has been very many other agencies along the way who have supported the initial work, the production process and the funding of the whole venture. To you all , many thanks also.

Within the introductory chapters there is a fascinating array of material including "Environmental factors influencing dragonfly distribution", "Dragonfly habitats", "Recording and data collection", "Mapping the data,species richness and recording intensity", "Trends in the status of dragonflies in Britain and Ireland since 1980", and "Phenology".  Following these are the Species Accounts, which usually include  first class photographs of the individual species and its habitat together with details of its flight period and a well sized distribution map.



I found the latter absolutely fascinating as they are all of a size to make the interpretation of a stable population, recent gain or recent loss easily discernible. As might be expected the "introductory" photograph for each species is probably the best that is available which, in each case, was an absolute delight.  The Atlas includes details of rare vagrants as well as our more established populations and is a pleasure to simply keep delving into. What I hope it achieves is for more people to become interested, including me as I have to admit dragonflies are peripheral to my greater obsession with birds. Looking at the Atlas and concluding that, perhaps, a particular species might also occur in a nearby area for which there are no records, and then getting out there and proving the point will be an ultimate "reward" to the authors who have clearly worked tremendously hard to produce a book of such quality. Might Northern Emerald occur on Jura or Islay I ask myself ? Well, we'll never know unless someone  looks, which is the effect the publication has had on me and one that I hope is a more widely held sentiment that results in even more dragonfly records being generated.

Whatever your obsession within natural history this is a book which should be on your shelf !  Further details can be seen at www.british-dragonflies.org.uk

Hen Harrier Action Day 10th August.......well done to all !!

Yesterday was a dreadful day on which to try and make a mark on anything!  Well, thankfully, a particular "mark ( Mark Avery) did just that despite the conditions, ably assisted by Chris Packham, on a day that did its best to put a damper on things. What am I referring to?  Well, the Hen Harrier Action Days of course.

I have to say that I spent a frustrating day wondering how things were progressing and feeling a bit of a fraud at not being able to be there  ( however, I have to say the outcome of the personal medical appointment which prevented that on Friday came out good !! ). For once the weather on Islay was wet, but not that bad, and I kept hoping that conditions elsewhere were similar. They weren't , they were awful apparently, but not sufficiently bad enough to put people off. Around 570 attended the event in Derwentdale in the Peak District and 100 in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire ( I haven't figures for the Northumberland event organized by Alan Tilmouth ).  Good news too that the E-petition raised by Mark Avery calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting has now received over 13,000 signatures.

Most remarkable of all was to know that the "Thunderclap" message many of us subscribed to went out across the world on time and reached an estimated 2.3 million people.  Unbelievable!! And there I was, crouched over the computer from ten o'clock onwards like some kid, waiting for the confirmation to come through !!!

Various commentators, Bloggers and others have mentioned recently that the mood has changed and that more and more people are calling for the shooting industry, and grouse shooting in particular, to be better regulated.  Given that Barry Gardiner MP , Shadow Environment Minister was at the Derwent event yesterday  ( good for him ! ) the central message will most certainly get back to Parliament.

The need for that central message to be kept alive and circulated further is now essential.  I'm sure it will as more and more people are becoming  aware of the circumstances that have caused our harrier population in the UK to be decimated.

WELL DONE TO EVERYONE WHO PLAYED A PART, PARTICULARLY TO MARK AVERY, CHRIS PACKHAM AND TO ALAN TILMOUTH  ( who conceived of the idea originally to have a Harrier Day ! ).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Reflections in advance of the Hen Harrier Action Days on the 10th August!.

Sadly I am unable to attend any of the Hen Harrier Action Days due to commitments here on Islay. I'd E-mailed and spoken to one or another of the local organizers of the protests and had intended to send messages of support to each.  I'm firmly convinced that all of the occasions will be successful and do much to promote the dreadful situation involved with the continuing persecution of our birds of prey.  I then thought, why simply send on a message of support when putting something out on the Web has the potential to reach many more people and advertise the events further at the same time. And so, the following......

The event in the Peak Park is not very far from where I lived and worked for many years, until moving here in 1999, and where I had enjoyed birdwatching for many more. Conflicts with raptors were always a prominent issue over the whole of the area, to which was added the pressures arising from egg collecting too. Even in the latest edition of the RSPB's newsletter, LEGAL EAGLE, there is an article referring to raptors suffering more persecution in the Peak National Park  Occasional nesting attempts over the years by Hen Harrier never really expanded such that they might be an expected presence annually and the breeding Goshawk population, against which so much protective effort was placed, is now a mere shadow of what it was in the 1980's.  And why, certainly the latter species was targeted by egg collectors and falconers, but there was outright persecution too.  The point being that this is not a new phenomenon , but one that has gone on for years and years. Sadly, for species like the Hen Harrier, those illegal efforts at containment have now seen the English breeding population at an all time low.  It has to stop and that is the core message of the action days!!

If any inspiration is needed then take heart that other radical initiatives have seen their nascence in the area within which the protest is taking place.  Over to the south west the mass trespass onto the Kinder Scout Plateau took place in April, 1932, to highlight that walkers were denied access to areas of open country.  Yet another example of private landowners attempting to wield influence and power over the rights of the majority. Such  has resulted, after many years of campaigning by the Ramblers Association, in the CROW Act 2000 which addresses the problem. Having gained access to such areas, we now see the very fabric of many areas being mis-managed and the natural heritage they support being eliminated, a situation I feel we have a right to contest.

And closer to the protest site it must be remembered that planes of the 617 Squadron RAF, the Dambusters, practised over the self same location below which people will congregate previous to their successful raid on the dams within the Ruhr valley that provided power for the German war effort. Actions that maybe are a little out of context with the intentions of the 10th August, but from which the determination to change what is very wrong can draw strength.

 In the Forest of Bowland the protest will take place in the very heartland of what has been a stronghold for breeding Hen Harriers for many years, until recent times.  There is a very strong message which must be taken away by everyone on the day.  In the 1970's the number of breeding pairs of harriers approached forty, yes forty! Even when I was associated with the area for the RSPB in the 80'sand 90's the number of pairs present each year still  remained high, but enjoyed limited success and most certainly were the targets for persecution.  Birds shot, poisoned, nests trampled on, eggs removed....the all too familiar litany associated with the utterly selfish motives employed by those operating grouse shoots.  And for the ones who did try to do the decent thing, the condemnation and ridicule that one might expect.  For anyone wishing to learn of the sheer challenges associated with such work, please take time out to read the Blog entry entitled
" Hen Harriers in Bowland.....a lament"  which I put out on the 1st May, 2012.  It makes for sad reading and is a testament to how little things have changed, indeed since then we have undoubtedly seen the synchronized elimination of harriers over a couple of recent winters which has decimated the numbers and brought the breeding population in England to the point of extinction.  Thankfully, two pairs have returned and bred successfully in Bowland this year, but such has demanded round the clock protection being provided by the RSPB.  Is that the sort of approach we should need to apply in this day and age, the 21st Millenium for heaven's sake!!  As with the examples above the circumstances demand our support and action and a major call for change to take place.

To ensure that people are up to date with details associated with the Hen Harrier Action Days please access the web site, www.birdersagainst.org, where any last minute instructions will be displayed.

MAY I WISH ALL OF THE HEN HARRIER ACTION DAYS SUCCESS

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Pleasure Killers.

I've meant to write this for some time, but difficulties with broadband/internet facilities has dictated otherwise. That intervening period, however, has allowed me to return to the subject time and time again to ensure that the comments below are really what I think!!  The conclusions are directed absolutely towards the motivations of people associated with shooting, not with wider aspects of their personalities. I know various people who shoot and, in all other respects, accept them as people absolutely, but simply don't understand the real, deep reasons for their interest.

A little while ago a good friend of mine advised that there are some proposed revisions to shooting legislation being considered in Denmark and that the rough translation ( into English) of shooting " aficionados " being considered was " Pleasure Killers".  I didn't pay too much attention at the time but, more recently, I've returned to the subject and attempted to try and determine what my own thoughts on the subject really are.

I suppose I've always accepted the fact that shooting, under the laws of the land, is a legal activity and never taken the subject any further. And summarizing things, I suppose that's the stance that many conservation organizations, not all,  take too. However, increasingly,  I've begun to feel more than a little uneasy about the whole process if I'm honest. I'm not a person  (I hope ) that holds deep prejudices or disagrees with anything without a degree of reasoned consideration, and so I started to consider many of the issues that actually surround shooting.  Setting aside, as a conservationist, the usual subject areas which give rise to concern with the activity, e.g raptor persecution and, seemingly, the mindless slaughter of numbers of Red Grouse, Pheasant and Partridge each season, and moving to what I feel are fundamental aspects associated with shooting, I confess to coming to a conclusion that it's all somewhat dis-quieting!!!

What actually motivates these people and why?  Why?

In order to try and set the subject in context , let us set out why they don't do it!  It's absolutely not because they need the food. I doubt no one attending an urban food bank can afford the luxury of these pursuits!!  Do they receive wide recognition of their prowess in being a good shot?  A few do, I suppose, in the somewhat sectarian publications that support these activities, but , generally, an individual's involvement goes unrecognised.  Indeed,on many occasions fees are paid for the "privilege" of taking part in an organized shoot, which is perhaps a major clue to one of the fundamental drivers of the whole scenario. Is there a sense of tribalism in it all?  Or is there a sense of trophyism?  If not then , is it to exhibit good hand and eye co-ordination? I doubt it unless you've designs on being a member of the Olympic Target Shooting Team.  The list goes on until you arrive at the conclusion that they enjoy going out and pitting their wits against their hapless prey and then, hopefully, efficiently knocking them off,  i.e. killing them. The description "Pleasure Killers" begins to take on more substance!!

Now I'm sure it's also necessary to take on board the feedback from the social melange that surrounds such activities, so we are transported into the realms of ego and " having arrived " ( Oh, well done Charles!! ). Such is perhaps not as elevated as the ultimate accolade of bagging a Woodcock with both barrels!!  Hooray!!  But these are perhaps no more than quasi-social aspects, not what is actually motivating the activity. Surely not!!  I'm sure there are wannabees involved in the process, but that they exert little influence in the greater scheme of things is unlikely.

At the end of the process the activity involves the killing, quite deliberately, of a living entity whatever the extent of the congratulations on expertise or the quality of the port at the end of the day!! Now let me say, at this point, that I'm not a vegetarian  ( perhaps I ought to be ) and that I square the knowledge of how we source our supplies of meat and fish with a desire to keep alive and a varied palate!!  By contrast, I wonder how much, by proportion of the grouse, partridge and Pheasants which are killed each season, are actually eaten?  Am I the hypocrite then?   Do please tell me if you know anything of this as I believe the truth is something we need to have revealed.  Discovering that an appreciable proportion is just wasted adds to the despair surrounding such activities.

Birds reared in their thousands to face no better than a "deliberate despatch" within twelve months is a pretty appalling situation in this day and age.  But it is the motivation of those involved that bears the most scrutiny and I'm led, time and again, to conclude that they are involved simply because they are " Pleasure Killers". Doubtless their need for such involvement is deeply wired into their psyche based on our primaeval beginnings and the need to hunt to survive. But does the need to "bring home the bacon" have any relevance in this millennium?

Out of this is arising an ever more stronger personal feeling now that suggests driven shoots  ought to be banned altogether. If the urge to shoot is so irresistible then why not fall back on Clay Pigeon shooting?  In other words, why is it necessary to kill things?  Now I hear objections from the sidelines, but I suspect all will be confined to those who make a living from the world of organized shooting.   What actually intrigues me is what the shooters believe they're actually achieving when they're engaged in shooting.  Walk up shooting does appear to involve the many basic skills involved in hunting that many of us can more readily understand. The slaughter associated with driven shooting is too redolent of the dreadful circumstances on the Somme to be anything more than comfortable I'm afraid!!

In summary the above, I believe, does raise serious questions about the continuing validity of commercial shoots given their proven association with raptor persecution. Given the apparent, almost shallow motivations  demonstrated above associated with the activity, the continuing  persecution of raptors in order to achieve commercial benefit must surely be little more than illegal exploitation of an opportunity. To that extent the industry has much to answer for in my opinion, not least what really is it encouraging and supporting in the end?

This is a highly emotive subject. Do please take time to comment, to promote these thoughts as widely as possible and to disagree as necessary.  I do think we need to understand what the shooting industry itself thinks its actually achieving and representing in the current Millenium.  We don't want the usual rhetoric that normally surrounds any response to criticism of the industry but heartfelt explanations of what it is really felt is being achieved in the long run.


Is the pendulum finally swinging in the Hen Harrier's favour? 3.8.2014.

Yesterday morning  (before the heavy rain set in) I watched a male Hen Harrier systematically scour the grass moor opposite the house. It was an enthralling sight and one which caused me to ponder long and hard on the current, but long continuing conflict surrounding the species. They are hated by the shooting fraternity, they are persecuted due to their proven predation of Red Grouse, but they are increasingly championed by conservationists,wildlife enthusiasts and critics of the illegality upon which the shooting industry pursues its case.  Certainly the issues surrounding the plight of the species are at an all time high.  Is this a signal that we might , finally, expect some change to the situation?

News this year that three nests had been successful in England is most welcome, but certainly no panacea in the cause of getting the species "back on its feet". The young have yet to face the potential depredations of flying farther afield and facing the widely held prejudices that then put them under pressure. But it's a start! News also that the RSPB intends to fit its own satellite tags to birds is even more welcome given the continuing obfuscation surrounding the results from lost birds associated with the long running DEFRA scheme where birds were similarly tracked. The supposed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan has been both a failure and a farce given the population almost reached a point of permanent extinction within its period of operation. DEFRA has repeatedly refused to release any results from this not inexpensive work funded by the taxpayer on the continuing excuse that the results are to be used for a Ph.D.!!  When has Government policy ever been suspended based on the needs of students I wonder!  More to the point is that it has long been suspected that the results showed that birds lost were closely associated with grouse moors and would be acutely embarrassing therefore for the (Tory dominated ) Government.  Time will tell, but, pessimism aside, the inevitable independent results derived from the RSPB initiative will at least carry the assurance that investigative action will have been taking place in the background !

And so to recent, very recent initiatives in fact!  The creation of Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) ......you can find details at www.birdersagainst.org..........and the Hen Harrier Action Days that will take place on the 10th August in the Peak Park, Forest of Bowland and Northumberland are all signals of both an increasing frustration by conservationists at the lack of progress and a more collective call for action than we have seen in recent times. Whilst the RSPB are endorsing the action days I don't actually see from them a lot of promotion of the detail or intent. Indeed I increasingly begin to wonder if their apparent lack lustre association with public campaigning nowadays is a deliberate intent  based on a more stringent interpretation and adherence to the regulations of the Charity Commissioners. Although this might be disappointing to some there will undoubtedly be endless other initiatives being pursued in the background against which we should provide our unqualified support. Their eventual promotion of an initiative to licence grouse moors is more than welcome, particularly the presentation of a case to each of our current political parties.

With the Government response to the E-petition I organized ( Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers )  being less than competent the fact remains that, despite misgivings by some, the licencing of grouse moors would be a positive step forward. I don't agree it would eventually result in endless legal proceedings as its advent would be based on Government policy and action with all the usual counter claims and battles arising in the run up to the introduction process. Doubtless there would be battles and opposition aplenty, but following its introduction the only people fearful of its accompanying implications would be those who are brought before the law and convicted based on proven persecution activities.  The shooting industry's response to all this is somewhat similar to that of the Government, focussing on the commercial value of the industry to the rural economy without recognising the underlying reason for the call for such measures, namely their own irresponsible management of wildlife resources and habitats.

Against this background yet another E-petition has emerged organized by friend and colleague, Mark Avery, which calls upon the next Government to ban driven grouse shooting   www.epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627
The signature total (10461 ) for this has already surpassed that achieved by the one I organized (10428 ), and in a short time too, which is perhaps a measure of the increasing awareness of people at large and the frustration they feel as well as the success of promotion activities. SIGN THIS WITHOUT DELAY if you haven't done so already.

Any response from "the other side" has been difficult to find, almost as if they feel it doesn't refer to them and that complete denial will in some perverse way exonerate them from facing the reality. The fact of the matter is that they are on the back foot, have demonstrated a lack of willingness to clean up their own act and are simply hoping that their all too usual display of arrogance will see them through. Far from it in my view! Conservationists have nothing to hide or answer for and will continue to raise questions, call for change, expose any future persecution activities and press Government for action. Eventually the bubble will burst....

And in answer to all this? The shooting lobby contributing to the current Hen Harrier Recovery Plan overseen by DEFRA have advocated removing eggs from harriers nesting in the north (!), incubating and raising the resultant chicks and releasing them in suitable areas in Southern England. Who within their ranks, one might ask, are the hitherto undisclosed supporters of  harriers such that they want to support their future success or is this lobby looking towards conservation bodies, the National Trust etc to play host by running schemes on the southern heath lands they manage.  And, of course, such recruits to the population will fly, be independent and might eventually even find their way on to grouse moors!!  Oh dear, what then, permission to shoot, sir ?  The suggestion smacks of an intention to move the problem into someone else's lap as opposed to any genuine intent to improve the breeding population of Hen Harriers for which, incidentally, the carrying capacity in England is calculated to be over 300.

Despite such desperate diversions I still retain a feeling that, gradually, the tide is turning and that Hen Harriers are receiving the attention they deserve.

But their are five things you need to give attention to help all this on its way,

  • sign the E-petition above
  • attend a Hen Harrier Action Day if you can
  • write to your MP calling for his/her support for change and an end to bird of prey persecution
  • ensure all your friends and family are aware of what's happening
  • use social media to promote the initiatives above.

Many thanks.
 






Saturday, August 2, 2014

Birds on the move! 1.8.2014

If ever an updated edition of that excellent TV programme, Fawlty Towers , emerges I think they should add Broadband and WiFi facilities to the advice about not mentioning the war..........

Following a party of Siskin, all males, in the garden yesterday evening this morning showed further species to be on the move. Odd Willow Warblers have appeared over the past few days and more were present today, along with several Chaffinch, Blackbird, a family party of Song Thrush and a small group of House Martin flying straight through. The first real evidence in recent days of actual movement derived from the "bonus" of noticing anything new that appears given the isolation of the house and garden.

A seawatch provided little by comparison. Good numbers of Gannets were moving south on a feeding movement back to Ailsa Craig, and a string of Kittiwakes similarly moved south derived, one imagines, from the breeding colonies on Colonsay but to the north.  A group of around 15 Manx Shearwater fed in the mouth of Loch Indaal and that was it!!  The Outer Loch was virtually devoid of birds, a situation that will no doubt change quite significantly in the near future.

Moving on up the Rinns provided little that was new, although I was pleased to see several young Stonechat suggesting a good breeding season. A check around Loch Gorm to get some early indication of how Grey lag Geese had fared this season produced several small flocks, but no large total, although it's still a little early for the congregation of birds in that overall area. A walk alongside the loch showed numbers of Willow Warblers to be present in the dense shrubbery adjacent to the track, suggesting a mass exodus had not yet begun.

A gradual journey through the farmland of NW Islay produced more Stonechats, Whinchat, and several Wheatear, these latter birds possibly being migrants..  Sedge Warbler and a couple of Sand Martin showed them too to still be around. Parking up alongside a favourite patch of conifers for a late lunch provided further evidence some birds might already be on the move. Several Willow Warbers and 3/4 Chiffchaff, ( which were a surprise ), a group of Lesser Redpoll and a couple of Spotted Flycatcher fed around the edge of a plantation as well as numbers of Chaffinch and Goldfinch.

So, all in all, a suggestion that dispersion and autumn migration may have begun , but that there is more to follow.  When I got back home not a bird was in sight ..........

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group.

Whilst I was away in Speyside around a month ago I picked up a Scottish Provincial Press supplement entitled Energy North.  It's packed full of really interesting articles, to the extent that I shall try and get hold of future copies.

I'd not realised that such a group existed. It's funded by the Scottish Government, SNH, RSPB, Scottish Renewables, SSE, Scottish Power, RES and Vattenfall and £50,000 has already been spent on various studies with research costing another £54,000 underway.

At a recent meeting in Perth the Scottish Windfarm Bird Steering Group ( SWBSG) announced the development of a Good Practice Guide focussing on how bird populations and their related habitats can be managed effectively where wind farm development is taking place. The research itself is being carried out by Stirling and Newcasle Universities the results from which will feed back into advice available for industry and others in the future.

With repeated concerns being expressed about the potential effects further developments might have upon wildlife, this guide promises to be an extremely useful tool and is a good representative example of how industry, government and the conservation NGO's can work together.

A little bit of natural "history".

A couple of weeks ago I returned home after a good spell of birding at a variety of places around the UK. Following a couple of  "domestic days" getting things organized I was ready to enjoy what Islay had to offer. But as with every potential idyllic situation , there was a downside too.

Despite a brief period of working the television then went off ! Now I have to say that I'm utterly dependent on Mr Murdoch's empire when it comes to TV services, as attempts to receive "ordinary" telly through an aerial on the chimney have met with unmitigated disaster. Indeed most of at least two aerials have been spread around the countryside as a result of high winds within fierce storms.  Natural forces at their most potent!

On this occasion the problem appeared to be associated with electricity, not from within a failed supply source, but of an altogether natural variety!! Various parts of the island had been affected and, of course, other equipment was affected too, including computers for some. I escaped that onslaught but suffered from some gremlins which now appear to have fled the circuitry of their own accord.

Well,of course, with all the excitement building around sports events, being without a telly was a bit of a bum deal given it took a fortnight to get things sorted.  And then, with a system restored, and entertainment guaranteed,  the next phase struck.  England's elimination? Oh no, that could be deemed "natural" in a way , I suppose. No, this held more potential than that!   Just after the Costa Rica v. Italy match commenced (our time ) we had not one, but two, EARTHQUAKES !

Just after 1700 hours a distant rumble was heard and slight effect felt , followed a minute or so later by another. See the British Geological Society web site for details ( www.earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk ).  Thankfully , they were seven and six kilometres down and "only" 2.5 and 1.7 in intensity, of which I'm told the UK suffers around 25 per year!!   Was this a portent of things to come ?  Within 90 minutes the final blow was struck?  As for the telly, well, I've switched it off in disgust or in honour of all things natural!!!  

Friday, June 6, 2014

And finally, with apologies, a catch-up!!

I suppose I could give you a detailed catalogue of problems amounting to a collective tale of woe, but I doubt it's the sort of thing any of you really want to read.  Suffice to say, hardware gremlins, inadequate WiFi facilities in far flung places, despite being promised, and simply being away in places where no such facilities operate, have all contributed to an absence of entries.

In that intervening period though I have to admit I've enjoyed some damned good birding. From Fife/Lothian, South Yorkshire and Derbyshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, the Western Isles and the Cairngorms, all have provided a succession of rich experiences and enjoyment. Simply listing out the best birds seen perhaps says it all..........
King Eider, Surf Scoter, Collared Flycatcher, Subalpine Warbler, Dotterel, Temminck's Stint, White-winged Black Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, Corncrake and good views ( again ) of Scottish Crossbill.  All these were supplemented by a rich "supporting cast" of species as wide ranging as Common Crane, White-tailed Eagle, Hobby, Black-throated Diver, both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and many others. A memorable selection and a Spring to remember!

Of course, there was the downside, there always is to some extent.  Moving up to the Western Isles for a period, intent on connecting with the Spring passage of skuas, was a total disappointment as the birds failed to appear whilst I was there!!  Persistent NNE winds worked against any coastal occurrences and although I had the odd Arctic and Great Skua not a whiff of any Pomarine or Long-tailed Skuas was in evidence. However, who can grumble at a period spent on the Machir in good weather and with breeding waders everywhere.  Who can grumble at the spectacle of successive waves of Turnstone, Sanderling , Dunlin,and Ringed Plover arriving with an urgency that saw them feeding frantically along the beaches, whilst others grabbed a short rest from the rigours of their northwards migration. Present in numbers one day,absent and still involved in their northward travels the next, some even perhaps having reached their ultimate destination in Iceland, some still moving on to more far flung locations.  A magical, dynamic, background tapestry that underscores the utter fascination of birding!!

Whilst away I also had an ample opportunity to contemplate the next steps necessary in following up the absolute pathetic response from the Government ( read DEFRA ) to the E-petition I'd registered previously and which had gained in excess of 10,000 supporters. Again, to all those who provided that support, many thanks indeed.  After a lot of consideration I've decided that to try and gain a retraction of the Government's official response, however dismal and patronising it might have been , is probably a waste of time.  Politically the response stands as an endorsement of the shooting industry and the Government's willingness to turn a blind eye to the continuing proliferation of persecution incidents. This could be a drastic mistake on their part given the number of people who are clearly disgusted at the arrogance being displayed and the continuing disregard towards raptor species. Such will come back in the form of reduced support, given the upcoming election next year, and deservedly so!

However, another initiative has also influenced my thinking. Past colleague and friend, Mark Avery, has also been doing a lot of thinking in the aftermath of the above petition. In his own words, despite misgivings about supporting the banning of any activities, he has come to the end of his "personal tether" and set up an E-petition which calls for the banning of driven up grouse shooting in England. In its early days it's doing very well already and rightly so. I shall devote a separate Blog entry to it shortly and provide the necessary means by which readers can access it and sign up in its support.  For the present time I wanted this particular Blog to explain what had been happening in the interim since my last entry in April  ( yes, April !! Many apologies again! ) and to declare business as usual.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

More departures than arrivals. 19.4.2014

The weather promised to provide a good day again, although the SE wind was unlikely to provide the best conditions for seawatching, which soon proved to be the case.  However, well before then I had the experience of being woken by a "double alarm" clock without having set it!!

Just beyond the garden wall, on a small mound, a cock Pheasant has commenced to display each morning. It usually ensures I'm up by six am!!  The penetrating call, and whirring sound of its wings as it jumps in the air to advertise its presence, are extremely effective reminders of the time.  This morning proved to be worse! Immediately below the bedroom window is a bush, indeed "the garden bush", within which a Collared Dove was producing its most metronomic efforts.  Not the best start at a little past 0530 hours, but welcome in the sense that its not every Spring that this species is recorded at home. They're present around various villages on Islay, but from personal experience Spring is the time when the occasional bird can be found outside of these areas too.

A seawatch produced no evidence of birds "on the move" other than Gannets moving north and south on feeding movements and parties of Auks speeding northwards. Driving through the nearby village the sound of chirruping House Sparrows was redolent of what used to be another widespread sound which has ceased to be in many places in recent years. Atlantic Grey Seals were hauled out in the harbour and a small number of Eiders moved around calling quietly. On nearby Orsay island one, possibly two, Common Sandpipiers picked around, whilst Oystercatchers went through their noisy displays and flights, all the while with neighbouring seals stretched out on the rocks around seemingly unaffected by it all.

 Outer Loch Indaal unfortunately proved impossible to cover with morning light from the east producing an excessive amount of glare reflecting from the water surface.  Certainly the odd Great Northern Diver was present.  The various rocks offshore of Bruichladdich produced at least 36 Ringed Plover, Turnstone, a Purple Sandpiper, two Sandwich Terns and a couple of Cormorant.

On to the Loch Gorm area to complete various WeBS counts and give the site a good inspection. Firstly, though, the inner man and breakfast which, on this occasion, was accompanied by a curious Stoat appearing several times to check out what was happening.  Duck numbers were few and far between, but an overflying immature Golden Eagle provided excellent views, floating around in a clear blue sky and showing off its white tail with dark sub-terminal band and its wing markings to great effect.  Willow Warblers are now increasing and a single Grasshopper Warbler and several Reed Buntings added to the scene. A nearby lochan provided good views of a female Goldeneye and, as previously, two flocks of  Golden Plover totalling almost four hundred flew around to the east and again landed out of sight.

Later a male Peregrine replaced the Stoat at a late lunch stop and circled overhead for some time before slipping away northwards. Generally Northern Wheatears still appear in low numbers,  with only Willow Warblers arriving in strength so far.  The mainly clear overnight conditions have obviously allowed migrants to move through and the southerly wind conditions have supported a final clear out of geese. I saw none today ( other than Grey Lag Geese ) compared to a couple of days ago. A check at Loch Gruinart saw fewer Pintail and Wigeon present, the Black-tailed Godwits apparently gone with an altogether more tranquil scene in evidence.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring passage ratchets up ! 16.4.2014

A Phylloscopus that flipped through the garden early on and a Northern Wheatear nearby suggested that there had been passage overnight.  A couple of hours seawatching was somewhat routine, although a succession of large groups of Auks zipped northwards that, in the end, totalled a few hundred. A quite stiff SW wind, accompanied by distant haze, persisted throughout with the sun making little impression.  It's these conditions at this time of year that give rise to worries in my mind when consideration is given to offshore wind turbines!!  This morning showed Red-throated Divers to be on the move northwards.  Whilst some move low over the sea surface , others move in loose parties, but with birds "staggered" at various heights, an appreciable proportion of which are at turbine height. Whilst conditions of good visibility would suggest the birds would miss the structures, I just wonder what the outcome might be when conditions are similar to today?

Beyond low numbers of Gannets moving north and south and the seemingly ever "sailing" Fulmars from nearby colonies, little else was in evidence so I moved northwards up the Rhinns to try and get a general feel of what was around, which is otherwise so difficult to determine from the more random observations usually recounted by visitors. Clearly Willow Warblers were now widespread, although not in the final numbers they'll hopefully achieve. Similarly Northern Wheatears were more obvious than previously, with two large, bright looking male birds at Foreland possibly being the vanguard of what will be the passage of " Greenland" birds. Finally numbers of both Pied and White Wagtails have improved set against what has been a low picture so far. Sand Martins were present in various places with the largest presence being at Gruinart where a few Swallows were in evidence too. Winter thrushes appear to have moved out but there are still some geese around with Barnacle Goose numbers in evidence around Loch Gruinart and at least 430 in the Coull Farm area.  A distant sighting of 400+ Golden Plover in flight in that latter area sadly afforded no further views.

The Loch Gruinart area was alive with birds with waterfowl and waders predominating, but with a pretty absorbing "supporting cast" too. Excellent views were had of Shelduck, Mallard, Wigeon, Pintail, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, all of which were in splendid plumage. Three or four Moorhen were picking about, as were odd Mute Swan  with more Barnacle Geese and Grey lag Geese nearby, all the while being accompanied by an incessant aerial of hirundines. Amidst the constant calling of Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew, a group of almost fifty Black-tailed Godwits sought to find a resting place on one of the islands. The plumage of these ranged from post-winter to almost full breeding dress and provided a great sight! Common Snipe could be found quietly feeding together with a Dunlin in full breeding plumage. At intervals the whole scene was turned into nigh chaos by the appearance of a Hen Harrier quartering along the seawall within which adjacent area two Roe Deer fed in apparent oblivion of all the nearby activity.

Calling in to various other areas produced a couple of Great Northern Diver, Eiders and Red-breasted Merganser besides a reasonable Linnet flock approaching a hundred birds. At various points passing Goldfinch were heard calling, a passage certainly symptomatic of the season. All in all , a pretty good day with much promise for the future!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The E-petition.........current thinking, future action.

I've now had sufficient opportunity to consider the Government's response to the E-petition, "Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers",  see here for link  . In both my own and many other peoples' opinions the response failed to address the core proposals within the petition, simply sought to trivialize and obfuscate the possible benefits that might arise from a system of regulation and , even worse, took the opportunity to promote the economic benefits of shooting and its management activities. No real appreciation of the effects of raptor persecution were acknowledged, quite the opposite in fact.

Recent  years have seen raptor persecution proceed unabated, despite the Government's preferred interpretation, has seen the Hen Harrier driven to extinction as a breeding species in England and, in recent days , has seen the worst poisoning incident ever in the Highlands of Scotland where 14 Red Kites and 4 Common Buzzards have been found in a single confined area.  And yet we are still asked to accept the Government's version of success in reducing the problem and the absence of a need to improve the situation plus, other than a small minority, its promotion of the reputation of the shooting industry!!

Little wonder then that my conclusion is to continue fighting the issue!!  But before raising the subject of raptor persecution yet again, I have decided to take the Government to task on what I believe was not only a tawdry response on their part, but one that failed to embrace the spirit of the democratic process provided by the E-petition system. The dismissive position adopted by the Government, not the tone or even the content of the response, which can be dealt with separately,  bears examination as 10,000 plus people had indicated that, given the prevailing levels of raptor persecution, some form of regulation was desirable. No opportunity was taken to justify why no further action against persecution was necessary, simply that the shooting industry was deemed to be a valuable economic asset ignoring completely the necessary and costly attention continually requiring to be exercised in combating persecution activities by Police Forces and the voluntary sector.

I can only imagine that the expenditure required in maintaining the E-petition system is not inconsiderable. As such its operation ought to reflect the best position possible within our democratic process, which, in some circumstances, might even result in potential legislation being debated. That the process can simply dismiss a proposal out of hand, without a recognition of the need for change in order to eliminate persecution, smacks of arrogance and the process simply being used to "pull teeth" of that part of the electorate passionately concerned about the issue.  In these days of concerns being raised about voter apathy, it might be suggested that the ready dismissal of proposals of this kind is hardly a positive expression of practice !!

Now, you might well consider ,"why dwell on the inadequacies of the E-petition system" when the real subject we're all concerned about is associated with raptor persecution and measures to secure its reduction.
It's my opinion , and I hope you agree with me, that long discussions or presentations about licencing are not, in the short term likely to result in change.  Raising concerns, as a parallel objective, about the handling of the petition is likely to bring to the attention of a wide spectrum of senior elected members and their officials the facts associated with raptor persecution and the likelihood of further action.  In this context I intend writing to  the following,

The Right Honourable, David Cameron, Prime Minister.

The Right Honourable, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister.

Owen Paterson, MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

The Right Honourable, Patricia Hodge, MP,  Chair, Public Accounts Committee.

Natascha Engels, MP, Chair, Backbench Business Committee.  (oversees the E-petition process ).

Maria Eagle, MP, Shadow Environment Minister.

Alan Reid, MP, Argyll and Bute  ( my own MP ).

Following all this the examination and comparison of any responses received can be completed and the necessary steps considered of pursuing the raptor persecution issue still further.

And, best of all, I can take the opportunity to inform the Government that the E-petition is now officially closed , contrary to the comments made in their response !!  Don't lose sight of the fact that , in thirteen months time, there is the General Election.  Now is the time to begin raising issues with MP's and to continue to do so!!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The E-petition......a little bit of background.

Over the last couple of days I've pondered time and again about the E-petition ( Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers )  see here,  which I registered in February, 2013 and what could have been different.  I decided, rightly or wrongly, that , based on my own thoughts and desires, the wording and implications more than adequately expressed what I wanted to achieve. I'd discussed the subject with a wide range of friends and colleagues and come to a view of what was required as far as my own opinion was concerned.  And I truly believed such regulation had, potentially, a part to play in reducing bird of prey persecution.  I'd never any illusions that the signature total would achieve the heady heights of 100,000 or above and lead to a consideration ( Note! ) of the subject being debated in Parliament. In any case, given the later arrogant dismissal by the Government of the support the  petition associated with the Badger cull received, which achieved in excess of 240,000 signatures, one begins to question the sincerity associated with the system anyway!!!. That the above petition then achieved a total of 10,426 was a moment dedicated to the loyal support provided by the people who signed it and them ensuring a Government response was required. To them all, simply , Thank you!!

So, what was the logic associated with the petition?  I've set this out below as, given the tawdry response by the Government, it seems almost necessary to provide an "idiots guide" to the thinking which led to its registration.

I have to say, quite simply , that I've been involved in combating raptor persecution for many, many years, both professionally with the RSPB , and latterly in an independent capacity. So no surprises as far as the origin of the principles involved. I find it reprehensible as an activity, unnecessary, and self serving in so many respects,and not usually very far from commercial benefit either. Given I condemn such activities, am I against shooting as a result?  Read this carefully, as it's not a statement from a position on a fence, but a realistic reaction to an activity accepted within our framework of law and as a result of a democratic process.!!  As long as shooting is carried out within the confines of the law governing such activities, its responsibilities and the law associated with the areas over which it is practised, then I will accept it. At least at present, although I'm beginning to be less tolerant as years go by!!  I don't understand the need and openly condemn the actions of the erring faction who openly abuse such a democratic privilege under the law. So, as I said to various people in Bowland in past times, if you cross the line  I shall smile at you across the Court!!  And the same goes for eggers, photographers, illegal nest examiners and the like. When it comes to raptor protection things have to be black and white, no fudging at the edges!

The petition referred to upland grouse shoots, not shooting in general, although there might be ideas to be gleaned in that direction!!  Given the endless number of incidents of raptor persecution reported on, and my own personal experience, it seemed to me that progress could only be made by some form of regulation. Why?  Because there has been endless discussions , prevarication, academic considerations, campaigns, publicity, tears and frustration, all of which have led to ....what ?  Diddly squat!! And if you believe what DEFRA might still wish to convince you about , such discussions continue. With what hope of success? C'mon, be realistic and stop wasting time and money on empty ideas against which there is no commitment other than from the conservationists lost in a maelstrom of hope and anxiety.  This was an initial attempt to insert an idea that might then be worked up into something more serious.

It wasn't an attempt to stop shooting, far from it.  It was an attempt to isolate those who insisted on following anachronistic methods of management resulting in birds of prey being killed in pursuit of commercial gain. So, licence all practitioners first of all. Any of these which were then prosecuted for any type of raptor persecution under the existing laws of the land had such a licence removed for a period of time as part of the
"prosecution penalty". Simple, straightforward and something which could be directed at the gamekeepers involved too. Those who acted responsibly had obviously nothing to worry about, indeed the length of tenure or duration of their licence might , in the fullness of time have been proudly proclaimed as some sort of kite mark ( even)!!  Reading the Government response and the endorsement of the economic contribution shooting offers, one might be led to assume they were willing to overlook the transitions against the law in favour of the economic returns being generated!!

But this is not a critique of the response, that can come later. This is an open explanation of the thinking behind the petition and a "platform" against which the whole exercise will be taken further. Clearly we are dealing with a government who needs to be taken, kicking and screaming, into any process that will potentially govern or limit its elite minority of supporters as far as this subject area is concerned. Well, .prepare for the battle as it's not going to end here. If the mutterings associated with Maria Miller's departure, and her potential to lose votes, is concerned, such is the front that will eventually bring this subject to the fore. Public opinion is mounting against shooting in general and it would be sensible to at least be seen to be sincerely tackling the subject of raptor persecution, as opposed to ignoring it, otherwise the outcome might most certainly not be as you would wish!!

Bird of prey persecution goes wild!

Anybody who keeps abreast of bird persecution incidents will be thoroughly sickened by the reports of numbers of dead Red Kites and Buzzards found in the Conon Bridge area in Ross-shire, Scotland for which details have been reported on by the  Raptor Persecution Scotland website. To date 14 Red kites and 5 Common Buzzards have been found, all of which are suspected of being poisoned. Apparently Police raids have been carried out on various premises in the area this morning, but no details are yet available.

Despite a plethora of raptor persecution incidents in recent months and years that have been  ostensibly linked to game shooting areas in Scotland, various official bodies linked to such operations, whether gamekeeping or landowning interests, have come out and denied any knowledge of this dreadful incident. Is it that, on this occasion, such obvious candidates are not guilty ?

I'm just a bit suspicious that , at a farm in the vicinity of Conon Bridge, a celebrated feeding facility for Red Kites is operated, much vaunted by RSPB and an obvious tourist facility that earns the operators some income. Envy can be a very vicious motivation and may be the rather heavy handed reason behind the incident. On the other hand the clear targeting of Hen Harrier winter roosts in England, involving Scottish as well as English birds, has led to a demonstrable and noticeable reduction in numbers of this species. The Hen Harrier has been lost as a breeding species in England as a result of such prejudicial action.

So are we looking at commercial envy or opportunity taking?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Back on home ground. 7.4.2014.

Having achieved a semblance of normality on various fronts, the opportunity finally appeared and I could be out for the day!!  After getting up quite early, I was castigating myself for not being out and about before 0730 hours when I looked through the window and there was an immature BLACK REDSTART  just sitting there on the "concrete apron" surrounding the house. I had great views before it moved off onto the surrounding wall and then disappeared. Efforts to relocate it proved a waste of time, which was a shame.  I've had one here before, in June would you believe, and there have been various reports from Islay over the years, usually in mid winter. A nice addition to the Year List and a justification for setting off late in future !!!   Was it a winterer or a routine spring migrant I wonder? I suspect the species is a fairly regular winterer, particularly if conditions are mild. The many secluded sheltered bays along the coast might well provide more than a share of suitable sites, areas that I suspect are often exploited by Stonechat too following their near abandonment of hill land.

The sea was somewhat flat and little was on the move other than Gannets , N and S, a few Kittiwakes flying south, all coupled with a noticeable absence of auks. The local Fulmars were mostly sitting on their chosen sites, epitomising domestic bliss, and appear to have moved slightly  around the cliff yet again so they are now even more sheltered. A White Wagtail was obviously new , but very little else appeared.

Further up the Rinns a small number of Sand Martins raced around over the Easter Ellister loch.  I then had a session scanning Outer Loch Indaal , although the viewing conditions weren't perfect. A few Great Northern Diver, a couple of Red-throated Diver, small groups of both Razorbill and Guillemot, and a couple of parties of Common Scoter provided most interest before a rather fierce squall spoilt things. Off Bruichladdich a single Sandwich Tern grating call loudly proclaimed its presence, two Purple Sandpiper fed close to the car and Eiders fed in the shallows. I spent some time at the head of Loch Indaal both looking and waiting for migrants , but to no avail.  By now it was well into the afternoon so I circled around past Loch Gruinart and was surprised to find appreciable numbers of Barnacle Geese still present at various places. I decided I'd leave having a "session" in that area until later in the week in favour of checking out a couple of raptor sites whilst wending my way home at the same time.  All in all , a pretty good Spring day!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The E-petition is still alive and well, believe me!

Like me I'm sure that you were appalled at the patronising response from the Government towards the E-petition with proposals, given the continuing levels of raptor persecution, to have the  Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers considered. I've now had a few days within which I've been able to give the whole subject quiet consideration, as opposed to what my thoughts were at the very beginning!!  There were clear elements of incompetence associated with the response too, which makes one question the commitment to the process from the Government.

I'll repeat what I said before, and that is " thank you", to the ten thousand plus people who supported the proposals and who ensured a Government response was forthcoming. Given the response avoided addressing the central aspects of the proposals, indeed trivialised them, and was little more than a positive promotion for the shooting industry I feel a great sense of responsibility to try and repay in some way the support which you all made available previously. I have now spent a couple of days developing a strategy within which the Government response can be countered and this is what I am pledged to do.

I am not going to outline any details for obvious reasons at this stage, as I have no intention of being "wrong footed", but can confirm that action will be initiated within the next seven days.  The issue has certainly not been "put to bed" as a result of the tawdry Government response, indeed the latter's clear endorsement of the shooting industry is noted and might yet serve to be a cause of embarrassment for them.  I shall put out full details on the Blog of the initiatives that I have in mind, and the justifications for them, and it may be that, at that point, some of you are able to lend further support should you wish to.

Again, may I thank everyone for their support and I can assure you the fight is not over!!




Return leg! 31.3.2014.

After a bad night I set off northwards intent on trying to make something positive of the day. And then came the next difficulty! I received a call from Caledonian MacBrayne advising that the 1800 hours ferry had been cancelled, but a sailing had been arranged for 1530 hours.  This required arriving by 1500 hours which put serious pressure on my time budget.  Clearly the Snow Goose option had to be jettisoned!  So, with a deal of focussing and upping my average speed, I carried on and actually managed to complete a shop and not miss the ferry either!

It was interesting to see that numbers of both Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese remained on Islay, particularly after not encountering wintering geese in Norfolk. Little opportunity arose to see much else and so the usual domestic activity pattern locked in once I got home. It had been a good time away, but marred by the emergent news at the very end of the period.

I've now spent the last few days picking up on various events, dealing with E-mails and so on. Birding has been limited , but a couple of Northern Wheatears at home on the 3rd were new.  Not having had WiFi access whilst I was away I finally had the opportunity to look at the Government's response to the E-petition relating to Licensing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers, which had appeared on the Web site whilst I was away.  I'm appalled at the ineptitude surrounding the response and , after relaxed consideration at several points,  I've resolved to pursue the matter further. I'll be putting out a short definitive summary linked to this intention and then keeping people updated as things move forward. I'm trying to avoid banging on about the matter but, as you might imagine, I am less than pleased , impressed or satisfied with the response received, robustly which will be contested.