Sunday, May 29, 2016

Back to the future!

A pretty busy past month that I'm suspecting might be the norm from now on ! Loose ends tied up, work completed, furniture ordered, some old contacts restored and a variety of domestic things sorted out, all leading into what will hopefully now be a somewhat unimpeded period into mid summer.  OK , some things still remain to be sorted out , but none are critical so I can turn to more "local" things.

Having finally decided on a local area to cover as far as wildlife recording is concerned ( birds, migration watches, mammals and butterflies ) I've visited various sites and rediscovered access requirements ( or otherwise ) and I'm now looking forward to getting pitched in and enjoying the rewards. Hey, hey !

I'm actually surprised at how little some areas have changed over the past 16-17 years. The main areas of change are within Barnsley's Centre and in the Dearne Valley, which has "filled in " significantly. West of Barnsley, where I now live, the situation reflects the memories of previously, other than the occasional small housing development, horse paddocks and renovated farmsteads.

How has wildlife fared?  Along with virtually everywhere else, the volume of apparent birdlife is much, much lower, but still very varied.  The ability of utterly minimal numbers of some species to "hang on" .e.g. Willow Tit, is quite remarkable and yet other more positive changes have clearly taken place too, e.g Nuthatch distribution. As one of the aspects that particularly intrigues me it's something I'll comment on in future months and provide some rather more detailed reflections.

Within the countryside itself the provision of facilities is quite noteworthy and welcome too.  Signage, interpretation boards, footpaths , "protected areas" , either prominently  or simply signalled by the absence of change, are to be applauded, particularly as the past few years have not been awash with financial resources. Well done  Local Authorities, NGO's  and local action groups !

So , here's to the future, something I'm very much looking forward to !

But first , there's the question of Barnsley FC's performance today at Wembley, the second in recent times. And their success too !  BARNSLEY.....the real NORTHERN POWERHOUSE !!

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Year of the Moose.

If you missed the BBC 2 Natural World programme last evening at 8pm,   " There's a moose loose",  make every effort to try and pick it up on repeat or elsewhere. It was fabulous !

Moose numbers are reducing in Canada and there are clear concerns as to why this is happening, whether the causes can be rectified and so on.  The programme addresses many of these but, along the way, introduces its audience to much more in the way of wildlife in this part of wild Alberta.

I'll not spoil the main theme of the story by repeating it here, just try and watch it.  The standard of photography is excellent with some very creative shots along the way. It really is mind blowing and I'm certainly not the sort of person usually to be converted that easily. The backdrop of scenery is, of course, dramatic in the extreme and comprises areas that I suspect many of us will never venture in to.

Besides all this we're given a very informative, close up treatment, intimate even , of the life of the Moose. Like many things it seems to be an almost insurmountable dilemma when wildlife populations are reducing, not it would seem because of our actions, but of natural dynamics. What should actually be done, should we intervene or should things be left well alone?.  Whatever your feelings , watch this programme as you'll not regret it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Capercaillie in crisis again ?

Whilst I was in Scotland over the last week I learnt two things....Black Grouse aren't doing badly at all but Capercaillie appear to be up against it!! In fact, simply based on my own experiences the message began to emerge.

This is a rather poor shot of Black Grouse taken previously at a roadside lek site I know which, even though very wet this Spring , still held Black Grouse.  By contrast, despite attendances at the RSPB's Loch Garten Capercaillie Watch,  nothing was on offer.  A male had been seen a few days previous but that was it.  In conversation with the warden I learnt that, last year , no young birds had been reared in the immediate area and I got the impression the year previous had not been dis-similar. Things may have suddenly changed, of course, and I do hope so as I felt sorry for the guy having repeatedly to go through a repeated litany of all the negatives that are currently affecting the species.

So what is the problem?  Capercaillie can lay 5-8 eggs but it appears unlikely that more than one youngster survives. Weather, food, habitat fragmentation all play their part but , to me, only one major aspect is a part of the root cause of failure.

But first, a few word pictures ! Walking early one morning on the main footpath through woodlands near Grantown on Spey I eventually came into what is a very majestic part of this area of celebrated Caledonian Pine forest. There are discrete notices alongside this section advising that the core area for Capercaillie is nearby and, within the breeding season, i.e. April onwards, could people keep to the main footpath and, more importantly, keep their dogs on a lead. Imagine my surprise when a character emerged from the confines of this protected area with three dogs, two of which were loose. He even pushed his way past the sign ! A pleasant chap, but I thought "What the hell " as even I was surprised by his emergence.  As I returned I saw three other people with single loose dogs being given their morning exercise.  I'm sure the collective defence would be that their pooch would never harm a thing......but that's not the point, it's the perception and response of the birds that we have no control over. Surely abiding by the rules for four months in the year is not too much to ask.  My response would be to put contract wardens in the woodlands to promote the need, hand out leaflets  or take further action and to stop willying about!! I suspect the majority would be local , regular users but further suspect any casual tourist would be more than willing ( and interested ) to support the initiative.

As a corollary to this I took a pleasant walk in woodlands near to Boat of Garten and, much to my surprise, came across some rather drastic, but obviously required, management work undertaken by the Estate aimed at assisting Capercaillie, which I didn't even know were there!!  A buttress of lined out assembled tree roots and other detritus had been placed about twenty metres from the path within the woodland's edge to form a very effective visual barrier into the woodland.  Notices explained the logic, namely that attempts were being made to screen the footpath from the view of Capercaillie and any presence of dogs or walkers on it. Given this is Scotland I suppose footpath closure orders are not something which can be called upon, which makes things difficult. If visual disturbance is a determined problem it almost calls for such areas to be placed "off limits" but I guess that's impossible.  The problems being faced by RSPB, SNH and the various Estates began to take better shape and register as something both large and serious.  Again, a contract warden presence would somehow seem to be part of a solution. Expensive, of course, but so has been the amounts of money already invested in improving the situation , which is clearly not working.  I slunk away and felt guilty at my very presence!

The RSPB 's attempts to concentrate birdwatcher interest at Loch Garten has been admirable in both content and result until recently. Encroaching tree growth coupled with fewer birds have conspired to increase the difficulties being confronted. Not all birders want to see birds via a camera projecting its images to a hide ( me included if I'm honest ) but is this purism something which we'll have to swallow in support of the birds themselves?  Birdwatchers can set the standard by not indulging in cold searching for birds , but I think the wider , and probably greater problem of disturbance by dogs , is something which needs to be tackled head on and not merely alluded to.  We're informed nests are very often not that far from paths and, therefore, brooding females and young broods are open to disturbance by nothing more than the family pet gambolling around and enjoying itself. Nobody sets out to be the cause of such a problem and , therefore, that potential gap needs to be closed, explained and diplomatically managed. Such will not be achieved by authoritative direction , but by friendly contact and explanation. Pay heed please and all success with future endeavours!

Cetacean comfort !

Last week, whilst in the Cairngorms, I had an afternoon out on the Black Isle prior to meeting daughters two and three ( Rachael and Katherine ) in Inverness.  I went to an old favourite location, Chanonry Point, both in the hope of seeing a few birds and also the Bottle-nosed Dolphins.

I wasn't disappointed, in fact I was pleasantly surprised all round!  Even in these times of austerity the site has undergone a face-lift, even possibly a bit beyond necessity.

The entrance is formalised, with clear signs, and has an upbeat look which I found perhaps a tad unnecessary but appealing all the same.  The walk to the Point is now paved and has modern ramparts. Parking spaces are set out and all is rather proper it has to be said! 

There's a very good interpretative sign and even a further observation area around the corner.

Click on the image to enlarge and read the information.

The separate observation area can just be seen off to the right. All mod cons !

It was encouraging to see so many people there, even on a Tuesday afternoon !  Camera clout was much in evidence and I hate to think of the accumulated value that was being brandished about . But, whilst previously, many attendees had probably known diddly squat about dolphins , here they were and clearly enjoying the process. As a tourist location it's obviously now very well embedded in the "must have" location list and I guess late summer will see full attendances and no car park spaces available  Boat tours are available from Avoch village I'm told and clearly many supporters are on-side as far as marine life is concerned and that can only be good.  Well done Local Authority ....

The afternoon was hard work at the beginning I have to admit with no "swim pasts", aerial contortions and the like. And then, amidst cheers, a Bottle-nosed Dolphin began to feed just offshore. I was caught up in it all ( daft old bugger ! ) but I have to admit I enjoyed it immensely and that's what its all about, isn't it?

Cairngorms sojourn.

Last week I was in the Cairngorms with a few other personal commitments tied in too.  It was a brisk week you might say with weather at the beginning being better than at the end. By and large it was fine, although a few snow flurries here and there added variety and even culminated in a couple of inches early on the Sunday morning as I left. It all soon disappeared, but the northerly winds throughout the week made it cold and doubtless provided a barrier to summer migrants that nonetheless trickled in.

On the first day, as I travelled away from Rannoch Moor towards the A9,  I came across this fine boundary marker for the Cairngorms National Park, simple, effective and impactive, which also served to remind me how big this particular designated area actually is!!

I enjoyed the week, I always do, from the high tops to the marshes at Insh, the pinewoods of Abernethy and the different lochs and wild moorlands. I managed what I contend was the best ever views of Crested Tit (4m. ) I've had , had enduring views of Black-throated Diver, watched as a female Peregrine repeatedly hassled a Golden Eagle, discovered a new ( to me ) Black Grouse lek, and felt a great degree of sympathy as the female Osprey sat stoically on her nest at Loch Garten on the Sunday morning throughout a snow storm.  Endearing and lasting memories to treasure. My visit to Cairngorm was punctuated by views of the Reindeer herd wandering around the main car park.......what tranquil beasts they are!

So much can be written about this remarkable area, its beauty and uniqueness. There are problems, some more urgently in need of action and attention than others and I'll be putting out a couple more Blogs shortly. In the meantime I'll present what I feel is a measure of the areas abiding beauty, a shot taken one evening of Loch Pityoulish and areas beyond. Shortly afterwards a nice pair of Goosander swam into view!  Magic.

RSPB.........wherefore art thou?

I've been an enthusiastic reader of Shakespeare in the past and utterly apt phrases can often be found within his writings that pertain to a current situation. The choice of the above both pays tribute to the Bard and draws attention to what I feel is a crucial problem.  I hope, genuinely, that what I say below is accepted as sincere, heartfelt and rational.  Yes, I am "having a go" , but not out of any sense of retaliation,  but concern. It's something that bothers me enormously and, as a former RSPB employee of many years , I take no comfort from what I intend to say. I'm still a member and fully intend to remain so but, nonetheless , I have serious reservations about the Society's current "positionning"  and the way that this is undermining its reputation.  It may not be resulting in falling membership or resignations , mainly because members are loyal, somewhat blindly so, but grumbles and comments "on the street" all comprise of the same content.


The role of a campaigning organization, upon which the RSPB's very foundation rests, appears to have been set aside despite serious concerns being expressed about our birdlife within the Society's own literature.  Everything is so benign, so cosy and so polite.  As has always been the case the Society's track record in research and reserve acquisition and management is second to none but, nowadays, things appear to stop there unless you look at what appears to be its main preoccupation, being a parallel organization to the Wildlife Trust movement.  Now I agree with an holistic approach to conservation but the current situation borders on the obsessive in terms of the priority given to the promotion of that particular objective. It would serve the Society well to better explain what its current and future aspirations are in this respect

The RSPB is extremely good in its analysis of conservation problems, inadequacies within statements, policies and reports from outside bodies and always has been. I'm an avid reader of the Blogs put out by Martin Harper ( RSPB Director of Conservation)  which are precisely honed and informative. They very much grasp what is currently of concern and advise of what needs to be done. But there the Society machine appears to come to a halt !!  Is it that it believes it occupies a key position in its access to Government and others and that discussions behind closed doors can secure the necessary objectives ? That upsetting the apple cart occasionally is no longer needed?  I'm convinced the RSPB has held this view of itself for a long time, but I'm not convinced it secures enough set against the challenges in evidence.  More is needed than emphasizing points at various seminars and meetings, which appears to be the default approach. Many members are bewildered at this seemingly diluted solution to everything and also at the lack of what the Society is involved with. In this context communication with the membership is somewhat poor. At one time one, or even more, major aspects in which the Society was engaged was apparent in its literature, its approach, its press releases and within the appeals for action its membership was called upon to support.

Let me give you two examples which I believe underscore all this.  Both are associated with raptor persecution in a wide context which is very much an issue of the moment!

The Hen Harrier, a species radically affected by persecution, but hardly attracting more action than endless discussion.  When is a concerted response going to be forthcoming?

Vicarious liability....... a provision the Society has declared is both desirable  and that it supports. It already applies in Scotland and various initiatives have been pursued and come to nothing as far as its progression into law in England is concerned.  The Society placed its faith in the outcome of the Law Commission Review that included the matter, but precious little major change arose. Discussions behind closed doors that came to naught. Would an all out campaigning position have secured more ? Since then the issue appears to have been consigned to the back burner, even to the extent of really knowing what the Society's current position is on the matter never mind what it intends doing about it !

Licensing of upland grouse moors.  It has been disclosed in recent days that the Society is not going to openly enlist the support of its membership in connection with the E-petition advocating the banning of driven grouse shooting. When I registered the E-petition about the licencing of grouse moors a similar position was taken up by the Society, which I circumvented to some extent by contacting its members groups given their contact details are in the public domain ( BirdWatchers Yearbook ).   Nonetheless , through time, it has indicated, usually in a somewhat muted fashion, that licensing is a solution that it would hope to see adopted. So why not advocate this strongly, campaign for it and demonstrate the Society's resolve in this direction? This demonstration of action is an approach that many members desperately want to see happen as I believe many simply feel the Society has run out of steam. It may be the Society no longer feels campaigns are effective and are too expensive. Then say so and spell out the alternatives, as clearly the E-petition route doesn't find favour either in terms of drawing attention to an issue of concern regardless of what it secures as far as eventual action by the Government.

Criticisms are beginning to emerge elsewhere ( see Mark Avery's Blog and the recent anonymous contribution ) and clearly the Society needs to take stock of its position generally. I'm convinced the core membership of yesteryear still believes in "its " Society, and will continue to pledge its support, but under a cloud of disappointment and diminishing faith.

We live in a time when we have the most ineffective, unsympathetic national government ever, despite its self applied title of the "Greenest Government Ever". What a joke!  An organization which believes it has the ear of an ineffective administration like that could be said to be as culpable in terms of its efforts to secure the best for conservation. I don't want "my" Society to adopt that position, or even be accused of it as I believe in its expertise and skill,  but nonetheless lament its lame approach.  

On a brighter note let's rejoice in the words of the Bard as given in Oberon's speech in Midsummer Nights Dream and hope the very essence of the countryside it describes remains forever as a location where future Titanias can lay their heads!

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows
Where oxslips and the noddy violet grows
Quite over canopied with luscious woodbine
With sweet musk roses and with eglatine.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A day of little change ! 8.4.2016

Today was unproductive, unfulfilling, but quite reasonable as far as weather was concerned. You can't have it all !

I did a circuit of many of the sites I've mentioned previously coupled with a migration watch ( except there wasn't any ! ) from a vantage point overlooking the Little Don Valley, a search for Ring Ousel yet again, but all was in vain.  I had a Chiffchaff in a new location and that was about all . But the weather was nice which is not always the case.

Well, here's a view from a spot less than 5 minutes from my house looking SW/WSW over Langsett Moors and showing reclaimed in-bye land and the moors themselves. There's both a valley and a large reservoir "in between".  I've a feeling I shall use this as a vantage point in autumn given it's so convenient, but it does tend to catch the wind too!! We'll see.

And this is the reservoir in the bottom of the valley ( Langsett ). I felt quite clever at catching the cloud reflections in the water but self -reflection since then leaves me a bit confused, I don't know about you!!  A few Mallard, Canada and Grey lag Geese, but little else and certainly none of the Common Sandpipers that can usually be relied upon.


And finally, a small, partially flooded woodland behind a small dam which I used to visit quite frequently.  Sparrowhawk has bred here and Nuthatch now in residence; Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has bred in the distant past but were certainly not in evidence today. Nice spot though.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Migrants on the move! 6.4.2016.

Off early and whilst the weather was fine, bright, but somewhat blustery, looking westwards showed some rather heavy dark cloud in evidence. Nonetheless another attempt to locate Ring Ousel failed and around 0900 hours I parked up at Winscar Reservoir, had some breakfast and hoped for the odd raptor. It was very quiet so I eventually moved off to check Bowshaw Whams Reservoir.......and then things changed!! The wind picked up to F6, the car rocked and the sleet was horizontal. Visibility plummeted, the car was coated in snow on one side and I thought "this is not what was supposed to happen ! ". Eventually it cleared through and revealed a couple of Teal, Great crested Grebe and odd Mallard........Spring was obviously appearing only slowly hereabouts.

Gradually moving onto lower ground I toured around Whitley Common yet again. The last four days had produced very little so I wasn't hopeful. One field had a reasonable group of feeding Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails ( no "Whites" ). Lapwing numbers were certainly higher, good news in itself.  I moved on to overlook the model aircraft "flying facility"!!!   I objected to the location of this many years ago,  plumped as it was going to be in an area of extensive in-bye land , very wet in places , that carried breeding Common Snipe, Redshank and Mallard and in one autumn had a roost of Short-eared Owl.  It went ahead , of course, and now juncus ridden areas and in-bye are a scarce resource showing the predictive qualities of planners are next to useless.  For once I was caused to eat my prejudice ( am I mellowing ? ) as there were obviously birds feeding on the carefully cut grass square.  The Northern Wheatears I'd sought out over past days were certainly present,  possibly forced down by the winds which had developed overnight and which were now gusting at F5/6.  Several counts eventually produced a total of 21 , all of which appeared to be males. They were very mobile and, around 1130 hours, began to disperse into adjacent fields. Not a bad haul even for a model aircraft field !!!

On to Ingbirchworth Reservoir where I  decided to sit things out for a while and see if any hapless migrants were battling against the strong headwinds.  Other than a female Goldeneye little appeared to be new. However, the next hour saw almost 60 Swallow and 11 Sand Martin move NW , sometimes taking a short time out to feed as they crossed the water before moving on over higher ground. Things then subsided quite abruptly. I checked a couple of other sites but nothing appeared to have changed so I decided to concede and do a supermarket shop!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A varied introduction! 4.4.2016.

With the last few days being occupied with little more than reconnaissance visits to various areas I decided that I'd complete a round of visits to some of the areas nearby to home.  Typical Spring weather looked good to go too.

In time honoured fashion the first location was a sewage farm on the very eastern boundary of my "new area". I'd already been here in late March to try and see the Firecrest which had been around for some time, but today, as then, was unsuccessful signalling that perhaps the bird had finally moved on.  Several Chiffchaffs were in song, Green Woodpecker loudly moving about the area, Bullfinch and a Mallard pair with 13 young on a nearby flooded area were the highlights with even the sewage beds being devoid of wagtails. What was a real joy, for me, was the absolute body of song coming from the general locality......Song Thrush, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Robin, Great Tit and Wren contrasted to recent years where fewer such birds were around within Islay's woodlands and the wind generally swept away the effects anyway.

Visits to a couple more blocks of woodland provided a similar array of species with Chiffchaffs again being in evidence.  A local water body ( Gunthwaite Dam ) held Little Grebe, Coot and Canada Geese and a couple more Chiffchaff. On the approach, via Gadding Moor, a couple of Skylark sang,  a species I've already noticed appears to be in much reduced numbers to previously. Onwards to Scout Dike Reservoir with a fine circular footpath in evidence with accompanying walkers, infants and Labradors, a contrast to what used to be a muddy slog around the more western part of its boundary. Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, plenty of Coot, Tufted Duck and a single Common Sandpiper were of note, plus at least four more Chiffchaffs!.  The most amusing episode was a Willow Warbler entering into song, but occasionally not quite getting the cadence right.  I suspect it was an overnight arrival tuning up after its long journey!  

Ingbirchworth Reservoir had its own Chiffchaffs (2), Oystercatcher, Canada Geese, Tufted Duck, Mallard and Coot but little else. A small group of hirundines, 3 Swallows and possibly 2 Sand Martin, moved off as I arrived but no others followed in the time I spent having a sandwich and wishing for migrants!

A sweep through various adjacent areas produced no Northern Wheatear as I'd expected and, despite the sunny conditions, there was yet a reminder that this was still only early April.  A call to Royd Moor Reservoir completed the day and provided a fine pair of Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Yellowhammer, around thirty Fieldfare which moved off north east, and, of course, a couple of Chiffchaff and another Willow Warbler. Not a bad intro., and a day that brought back many fond memories too.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"The day" finally arrives. 23.3.2016

After a series of utterly exhausting days packing, lugging, visits to the tip, anxious choices applied to the retention or rejection of possessions, "the day" finally loomed large when my departure from Islay was imminent. The removal men duly arrived and then went off to the mainland on the last ferry with the vast majority of all my wordly goods leaving me to a final night surrounded by space and a somewhat strange silence !

Pre-dawn saw me up and completing the very final arrangements before departing for the first ferry.  A rather detached feeling in many respects. I spent the immediate time before and after dawn simply standing outside taking in the sounds and sights, the silence and atmosphere.  Would you believe that, after what I have felt to be a winter of absence, a series of bizarre noises only Barn Owls' can be responsible for came from the nest box within the barn !!  A farewell I shall treasure following the unique experiences of last summer when I could watch these resident birds repeatedly visiting the barn to feed their young.....and all from the comfort of an armchair in the lounge. All too soon, the light began to lift and Common Snipe, Skylark, Lapwing and Curlew added their calls to the pageant of goodbyes from the nearby fell.  A convenient experience not to be repeated in some senses and all the more valuable for that.

Soon I was on my way with Woodcock rising from the roadside, a large Red Deer cascading from the roadside in front of the car, and, at least for some time into the future, groups of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese arriving into their feeding grounds. Emotional, yes if I'm honest, but also testament to the privilege of being able to be so close to a resource of such simple value. But similar experiences lay ahead, undoubtedly different, but evidence in themselves that we should not take such things for granted as a fulfilment of our own vicarious pleasure, but to view such as a special privilege and fight for their retention and defence at all costs against the pressures of our increasingly complicated world. Whilst my return, at some point is in no doubt, I was also looking forward to what lies in front. Better contact with family, travel abroad, more varied birding and access to a whole plethora of other diverse benefits.

After a long and somewhat arduous journey ( try the M60 at 1700 hours ) I finally breasted the high point of the Pennines along the A628 that allowed me to look eastwards into Yorkshire ( Braveheart returns to Yorkshire I mused !  minus the kilt let it be said ) and descended towards my chosen base at Millhouse Green adjacent to the boundary of the Peak National Park.  The move was over !  The next few days saw a not dis-similar pattern to the period of preparation.....lugging boxes, choices of location re possessions and visits to the tip with the empty boxes ( I never want to see a cardboard box or parcel tape again!! ). Finally , and for a break, some form of compensation appeared with a visit to the East Coast and good views of the male Surf Scoter in Filey Bay.  The commencement of a new beginning!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Some afterthoughts relating to Spurn and visitors.

I've been pondering on a problem for several days which has caused me genuine concern!  Setting aside the current debate and details relating to the planning application and the proposed Visitor Centre at Kilnsea, Spurn,  I believe there are some straightforward problems against which there has been insufficient consideration. Indeed, even with a lot of consideration, I suspect no solution would be forthcoming because of the predictive aspects of the situation. This begs the question of whether firm proposals ought to proceed at all or whether a precautionary principle ought to apply.


I think it's a given that , at some point , another inundation event will occur and cause an extension of the breach channel additional to the erosion which successive high tides might also cause throughout any calendar year.  The above picture of the Unimog demonstrates the means by which visitors to Spurn will be transported across the breach and down the peninsula to see the renovated lighthouse and the actual Point itself.  This vehicle has been stuck already on several occasions.  The point above made about the breach extension and ,over time, the ever increasing churned up substrate that undoubtedly will become saturated at certain times, is a worry.  This latter aspect and the extent to which actual damage might be caused is something of which the YWT will no doubt be acutely aware and almost certainly need to take action on as the months and years go by.  I've a vision of areas either side of the breach looking more like a major building site than a National Nature Reserve, but there you go!!  No doubt Natural England ( who actually funded the vehicle ! ) will monitor the situation and the newly formed "Access Group" ( RSPB, Natural England and YWT ) similarly will have the matter under constant review.  A situation might even be envisaged when the YWT needed to suspend the visits with a consequent loss of income and angst for lighthouse enthusiasts, even to the point of them being permanently cancelled.

But all that pales into insignificance in my view coupled, in parallel, with what happens to the day visitors. With little to do other than browse the exhibitions and have a cup of tea at the Centre, those in attendance will not be reduced in number by a proportion then going down the peninsula, but all will be concentrated within a given number of footpaths radiating from the Centre itself.  Increased presence in this overall area will no doubt lead to a lessening of its use by wildlife, particularly birds, due to permanent disturbance and erode the very objective that the Trust is pledged to encourage, namely enhancing peoples' experience and knowledge of wildlife.

Whilst I realise there's possibly an element of pessimism associated with the above remarks,  to actually ignore the possibility is equally remiss too. Similarly, whilst I suspect the Access Group will monitor usage of the footpath network and any associated pressure and damage, what happens in the event of it being concluded that visitor pressure IS causing a problem. With a fixed geographical resource where do you put them or send them ?  Not an easy problem to resolve !  This is one of the reasons I've been in favour of a "Gateway Centre" located at Kilnsea Wetlands simply because it provides a greater variety of activities/footpaths and dissipates the potential problem arising from a concentration of visitors in a honey pot situation.  Time will tell, but not at the expense of Spurn I hope!    

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Barnacle Geese that everyone forgot !

Given that I shall be leaving Islay shortly I've reached a stage of reflecting on various things which have happened, of lost opportunities and issues which still remain.  One of the burning issues on which little progress has been made is a proper resolution of the conflict between farmers and geese. The solution at present, based on Scottish Government policy, is to kill a proportion of the Barnacle Geese which find refuge here at the moment, reduce, and then maintain, that population at a level of around 28,000 birds. In the meantime subsidies to farmers are still being paid out, income still flows into the island from birdwatcher tourists and you eventually get an impression that this is damn all to with conservation or agriculture per se but is simply a question of........ money !  The Government attempts to reduce its subsidy budget, the farmers clamour for subsidies to remain at previous levels despite goose numbers being reduced and our international conservation responsibilities are thrown out of the window.  Cynical? You bet, but read on!

 As these Blogs are basically written for birders let me pose you all a question.  How many Barnacle Geese have been shot on Islay in the last three years.?   5235....were you close?   It also looks as if this years bag limit of 2160 is going to be met which will take this  figure to 7395.  

Saddened, maddened or simply bewildered ? 

Now all of this stems from deliberate policy from the Scottish Government  then enacted via Scottish Natural Heritage, the details of which can be read in the following document.

Access to a copy of this can be gained from the following link  Islay Goose Strategy

Now, whilst you might think this is a lost cause, the matter is being fought against by the RSPB and the WWT.  An example of what goes on behind closed doors despite not receiving the profile it should. In the absence of any other meaningful opposition other than a few mutterings behind closed doors the above organizations have registered a complaint with the European Union, full details of which I'll present below courtesy of RSPB.   Now I need to ask for your support, indulgence, full attention and cussed determination as this might best be described as full on formal conservation stuff !!!!  At least skim read it even if you can't last to the end, but , if you do, I think you'll get an insight into what really motivates different sectors of our population ( MONEY ) with conservation being relegated way down the league table. Oh , there'll be " utterings and splutterings " at that remark but, nonetheless, the start point appears to be finding a way around a conservation problem as opposed to embracing a solution on its behalf.  And it usually involves killing. No ! then read some of the suggestions that have come up elsewhere relating to Beavers, Wild Boar, and Muntjac when they are part of perceived problems.

So here is the complaint document submitted to the EU by RSPB and WWT.      Well done!!

1. Surname and forename of complainant: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a registered charity, operating within Scotland as RSPB Scotland; and
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, also a registered charity
2. Where appropriate, represented by: Director, RSPB Scotland (Stuart Housden) and WWT, Director of Conservation (Dr Debbie Pain)
3. Nationality: Both complainants are charitable organisations based in and primarily operating in the UK.
4. Address or Registered Office: RSPB Scotland, Scottish Headquarters, 2 Lochside View, Edinburgh, EH12 9DH; and
WWT, Slimbridge, Glos. GL2 7BT
(Communications should be addressed to the RSPB Scotland address)
5. Telephone/fax/e-mail address: Telephone: +44 (0) 131 317 4100 (Scottish Headquarters) Fax: +44 (0) 1767 685008 E-mail: email correspondence should be sent to, PA to the Director, RSPB Scotland.
6. Field and place(s) of activity: Nature conservation; based in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but both organisations are active globally, including across the flyways of the bird species affected by the matters that are the subject of this complaint.
7. Member State or public body alleged by the complainant not to have complied with Community law: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, through the devolved Government of Scotland, the Scottish Government, and its agency Scottish Natural Heritage.
8. Fullest possible account of facts giving rise to complaint:
8.1 Context
Islay is the single most important wintering site for Greenland breeding geese that migrate to Europe, with two key populations, both listed under Annex 1 of the Birds Directive: Greenland barnacle geese and Greenland white-fronted geese. Five SPAs have been designated for geese on Islay, covering key roosts on the island.
These birds form mixed species feeding flocks on cultivated farmland on Islay (though much of this feeding habitat remains undesignated). This grazing has, over recent decades, had a negative impact on agricultural businesses on the island, which led to periodic conflict between conservation and agricultural interests in the 1990s. However, an approach based on national stakeholder consensus and Scottish Government investment in a Local Goose Management Scheme, combining management payments and goose scaring, with a limited number of licences to shoot barnacle geese for the purpose of scaring, brought a period of relative political stability and cross-sectoral agreement on the issue of geese on Islay. This in turn facilitated positive relations between Islay farmers and conservationists – with consequent progress on the conservation of other wildlife in the island, notably corncrake and chough.
Over the past three years, however, the Scottish Government has signalled its intent to abandon this consensual framework in favour of the active population reduction of barnacle geese on Islay through licenced shooting, ostensibly as an effort to reduce public expenditure on goose management in the longer term. Scottish Government and agency officials, in partnership with the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland, have produced and started to implement the Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy 2014-2024 (Attachment 1), which aims to reduce goose damage by actively reducing the Islay barnacle goose population numerically by 25-30%, through licenced shooting.
The Complainants believe that the approach taken in the Strategy is insufficiently evidenced to ensure compliance with the Birds Directive, as transposed into domestic legislation in Scotland. We are concerned that the general approach adopted – deliberately reducing populations of protected wildlife species through killing as a low cost-solution where conflict emerges – may, through the precedent now emerging on Islay, become a standard approach to the management of other protected species and populations in Scotland, and thereafter elsewhere in the UK and possibly further afield.
For this reason, we make this Complaint on the basis of important procedural and evidential shortcomings, but with a long term view to precedents for the future management of protected wildlife species in Scotland.
8.2 Background
The population of wintering Greenland barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) on the Scottish island of Islay has increased over the past half-century, stabilising since 2006/7 at around 40,000 birds. The last three years (2012/13 to 2014/15) has seen the population in the ‘decline’ phase of recent fluctuation around this level. This population growth and stabilisation is shown graphically in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Population of wintering Greenland barnacle geese on Islay (mean of winter counts) 1987/88 – 2014/15 (data from SNH).
Islay is the winter home to around 70% of the whole Scottish population, which in turn comprises almost 80% of the world total for this distinct flyway population – thus more than half of the world population winters on Islay (Attachment 2). The barnacle goose is a migratory species listed under Annex 1 of Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds (the codified version of Directive 79/409/EEC as amended)(the Birds Directive).
Islay goose SPAs designated
The increase in barnacle geese, from World War II until their ‘peak’ in the early 2000s, is believed to be caused by a combination of protection under 20th century UK and EU legislation, and the improvement of feeding conditions as a result of increased nitrogen through fertiliser input on the island since the last world war (Attachment 3). However, the relationship between fertiliser input, goose numbers, and thence agricultural damage, is not simple (Attachment 4).
Islay also supports a high proportion of the world’s Greenland white-fronted geese (also listed under Annex 1 of the Birds Directive) in winter. Approximately one quarter of the world population is found on Islay – with another quarter wintering at other Scottish sites, and the remaining half of the total wintering in Ireland (Attachment 5). These geese often feed alongside barnacle geese in mixed flocks. In contrast to the barnacle goose, the world population of this sub-species has steadily declined over recent decades for, as yet, unknown reasons from 35,600 in spring 1999 to 20,800 in spring 20141. On Islay, numbers have declined from 13,560 to 5,093 over the same period (see Figure 2)2.
Figure 2. Total Islay population of Greenland white-fronted geese since 1987/88 (International Counts).
Soil and weather conditions on Islay are, compared to most other Hebridean islands, conducive to relatively large agricultural units and relatively productive operations. The impacts that barnacle geese have on the incomes generated is generally considered to have grown with the population increase.
1 Greenland White-fronted Goose Study annual reports (e.g. Fox A.D. & Francis, I. (2002) Report of the 2001/2002 International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese and Attachment 3.
2 Ibid
Islay goose SPAs designated
Issues with Islay geese (primarily barnacle geese – being the more numerous) have been a long-standing cause of conflict between conservation and agriculture interests. There were public arguments through the late 1980s, and a Judicial Review (successful on appeal) against licences issued to shoot barnacle geese in SPAs was sought by RSPB and WWT in the 1990s (final decision issued in 20003). However, over the subsequent 15 years public policy on Islay geese and the position of both RSPB Scotland and WWT have been generally in agreement. This agreement was primarily driven by a SNH-administered goose management scheme on Islay that provided management payments, funded by the Scottish Government, to farmers affected by geese grazing.
Until recently, this scheme was based on combined management payments to farmers, strategic non-lethal scaring, and the annual issuing of limited licences to shoot Greenland barnacle geese (’lethal scaring’). The complainants have consistently supported this general approach - but have expressed explicit opposition to the barnacle goose shooting licences on the grounds of satisfactory, non-lethal alternatives being available (in relation to Article 9 of the Birds Directive). The complainants’ engagement was maintained via membership of the Islay Local Goose Management Group, a national stakeholders group (the National Goose Management Review Group (“NGMRG”)) and its research advisory group (the Goose Science Advisory Group (“GSAG”)).
In 2011/12, partly in response to tightening financial constraints, Scottish Ministers approved a doubling of the Islay bag limit (i.e. the total number of Greenland barnacle geese permitted under license to be shot in any year) – with the number shot rising from around 500 per year to close to 2000 per year4. This was intended to reduce the financial cost of the scheme – by reducing goose numbers and providing more intensive scaring, it was believed that payments to farmers could be reduced. Accordingly, the budget for the Islay scheme was cut – a decision that was highly controversial locally, and was subsequently reversed (although importantly the increased shooting, under licence, was not reversed).
Soon after, Scottish Government officials explicitly signalled their intention to shift the approach on Islay, moving from the management payment/strategic scaring approach, with limited licences for lethal scaring (killing some birds as a complement/enhancement to scaring), to an approach that seeks to actively reduce, by some 25-30%, the total island
3 The RSPB v. Secretary of State for Scotland, Court of Session: Inner House [2001] Env. L.R. 19,
4 See attachment 1 – section 3.1.4, page 21.
barnacle goose population, and then actively maintain the population at that reduced level, through licensed shooting. This policy shift is enacted through the Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy 2014–2024 (Attachment 1), in which this population reduction is termed Adaptive Management, and which states (see Para 1.16, page 7):
“The strategy proposes that the extent of damage to crops is reduced by 25-35% across Islay. To achieve this it is proposed that the Islay barnacle population is lowered, in increments, to a minimum range of 28,000 to 31,000 geese and is then maintained at that level. This represents a maximum reduction of 25-30% of barnacle geese and it is thought that this, along with continued non-lethal scaring and development of new scaring techniques, will result in a comparable reduction in the current levels of damage to crops”.
Having failed to reach agreement on this new Islay Strategy, the complainants resigned membership of NGMRG and GSAG in December 2014 (Attachment 8).
The complainants do not deny that agricultural damage by wild geese occurs and that it can be serious for some farms. However, the relationship between Islay goose numbers/density and agricultural damage is not well understood. With regard to this limited objective, peer-reviewed evidence indicates that the relationship is not simple (Attachment 4). Despite the complainants’ repeated calls for research in this area to be undertaken, none has been done for almost three decades. This lack of information means that the new Islay Strategy relies heavily on circumstantial, opinion-based and subjective evidence.
8.3 Biological status of the species involved
Historical evidence, though generally anecdotal and requiring cautious interpretation, suggests considerable historic population fluctuations in Scotland’s wild geese, with indications of human factors playing a role as drivers. The species that principally concern us here – the barnacle goose and Greenland white-fronted goose – have both been regular, though to varying extents localised visitors to Scotland for many centuries.
By the mid-20th century, population declines in several wintering goose species prompted the introduction of legal restrictions on hunting. These restrictions were introduced by the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and applied throughout Scotland; however, exemptions
permitting the shooting of geese on Islay were made from 1955-1981. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 superseded these provisions and removed the exemptions for Islay.
The Solway wintering (Svalbard-breeding) barnacle goose population in particular had been reduced to just a few hundred individuals following the Second World War, and showed a strong and immediate positive response to restrictions on commercial hunting. Later legislation is also likely to have benefitted these populations and, together with the post-war intensification of agriculture, which provides palatable, high protein forage for wild geese in winter, barnacle goose populations – both Greenland and Svalbard - have increased over recent decades with, latterly, apparent stabilisation on Islay.
The past two decades have seen a steady decline in the Scottish and global populations of Greenland white-fronted geese (Attachment 5). These post-war agricultural changes have been implicated in providing new, high protein food sources for geese (Attachment 3), leading to populations concentrating in specific areas – notably Islay and the Solway.
Scotland now hosts more than three quarters of the world population of Greenland and Svalbard barnacle geese, and half of the world’s declining Greenland white-fronted goose population (Attachments 2 and 5). This makes migratory wintering geese, in global terms, one of the most important biodiversity features currently occurring in Scotland.
8.4 Relevant legislation
Articles 1, 2, 3, 4 (as amended by article 7 the Habitats Directive5), 5 and 9 of the Birds Directive have been principally transposed and implemented, in Scotland, by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) (the WCA), the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 (as amended) (the 2004 Act) and the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) (the Habitats Regs).
Both Greenland barnacle and Greenland white-fronted geese are subject to the general provisions applied to all wild birds, including those set out in Articles 1, 2, 3 and 5 of the Birds Directive. As a result, both species benefit from the general protection as set out in Part 1 of the WCA and since these species are not quarry species6 any proposed action to
5 EU Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora
6 Neither barnacle geese nor Greenland white-fronted geese are listed on Annex 2 of the Birds Directive – and are therefore not on the list of species that may be hunted.
kill these species requires a licence to be granted in accordance with section 16, the WCA,(which partly transposes Article 9 of the Birds Directive).
In addition, both species are listed on Annex 1 of the Birds Directive due to their conservation status (see above) meaning that “special conservation measures”, and in particular the classification of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are required for them. On Islay, there are three SPAs classified for barnacle geese, and four for Greenland white-fronted geese (there being five in all, of which two are for both species). These SPAs are all underpinned by SSSIs7, notified (now) under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 (originally under the previous section 28 of the WCA).
Any killing of these SPA species, under a programme approved by the Scottish Government and SNH, would constitute a “plan or project,” and must be carried out in accordance with Regulation 48, Habitats Regulations, which transposes the key project assessment parts of the Article 6 the Habitats Directive. In addition, any killing of these geese, by individuals (farmers, or SNH staff/contractors) also requires a licence under section 16 of the WCA (implementing, in part, Article 9 of the Habitats Directive).
8.5 Proposed “Adaptive Management”
The suggested Adaptive Management of (Greenland) barnacle geese on Islay may not be incompatible with the protective legal obligations for this, and other, species. However, it would need to pass all the relevant tests and, in our view, this would be most problematic. As we see it, the key tests are:-
1. Section 16 Licences
(a) Any section 16 WCA licence or any plan involving a number of such licences must be for the purposes prescribed; namely “to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, etc.” and must be fit for purpose thus requiring evidence that the proposed measures will reduce the serious damage to the crops/grass.
(b) Any section 16 licence may only be granted by the licensing authority if it can be satisfied that, as regards that purpose, there are no other satisfactory solutions.
7 SSSIs, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest, are land notified under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 (or its predecessor, the WCA). The operation of this domestic designation, where it is also an SPA, has to comply with requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directives by virtue of the Habitats Regs.
(c) In granting a section 16 licence, as we understand it, the licensing authority must have regard to its overall responsibilities under the Birds Directive, especially the requirements set out in Article 4 for Annex I species including maintaining those species at favourable conservation status both within SPAs and overall within the Member State. Although, to date, the UK administrations have failed to define favourable conservation status at a UK-wide, country or site level for any of its wild bird species based on recent data for these species we think it would be possible to do so.
(d) Although we understand that any section 16 licences would relate to (Greenland) barnacle geese, it should be noted that these species are regularly found side by side with the scarcer and more endangered Greenland white-fronted geese, as they feed in mixed groups. Therefore, this consideration of Article 4 requirements (including favourable conservation status) should include all possible effects on Greenland white-fronted geese from the proposed measures.
2. Reg 48 Habitats Regs Requirements
(a) In addition to the licensing provisions above the proposed measures need to be considered for any effects they might have on the SPAs or the species for which those are classified. This will be needed to avoid disturbance or deterioration to these sites and is required by Regulation 48 of the Habitats Regulations. It is our view that there is a strong likelihood of likely significant effects on the SPAs and their species and therefore an appropriate assessment of the measures must be carried out taking account of the SPA and their species’ conservation objectives. The measures may only be approved if it can be ascertained that there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of the sites and their qualifying species.
(b) Although we understand that any section 16 licences would relate to (Greenland) barnacle geese, it should be noted that these species are regularly found side by side with the scarcer and more endangered Greenland white-fronted geese, as they feed in mixed groups. Therefore, the appropriate assessment, in relation to the SPAs classified for both species or for Greenland white-fronted geese only, should include all possible effects of the proposed measures on Greenland white-fronted geese.
(c) In addition to these Regulation 48 consideration, the requirements of the 2004 Act must also be complied with in relation to the SSSIs. In particular, the general duty on public bodies (section 12), the operations by public bodies (if licensed shooting carried out by SNH staff) (section 13) and consents by regulatory authorities (if SNH licence others to carry out shooting) (section 15). Moreover, Regulation 3(2) of the Habitats Regs, requires Scottish Ministers and SNH to exercise these, and other relevant, functions in a manner that secures compliance with the Habitats Directive.
8.6 Impact on (Greenland) barnacle geese
Below we set out the approach and information/data that, we believe, should have been secured to inform a robust application of these tests in relation to the new Islay strategy, and which we maintain were not sufficiently in place.
(a) “For the purposes prescribed”
Originally produced in 2004, the EU Commission Guidance document on hunting under Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds (the EU Guidance)8 provides guidance on how Member States should be reflecting the principles laid down in the Birds Directive in their national measures for regulating hunting, including guidance on derogations. In 2007, the EU Guidance was updated in light of recent judgments of the ECJ relevant to hunting under the Birds Directive.
Paragraph 3.5.7 of this EU Guidance states-
“The third reason for derogation under subsection (a) concerns the prevention of serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water. This derogation, which is intended to regulate ‘damage-causing birds’, has a number of dimensions. Firstly, it clearly relates to economic interest. Secondly, it is intended to prevent damage; therefore it is not a response to already proven damage but of the strong likelihood that this will take place in the absence of action. Thirdly, there must be a basis for concluding that damage will be serious in the absence of action.” (emphasis added)
Thus, it should be noted that clear evidence of serious damage, or its likelihood, is required and that this evidence must be scientifically robust. It also states (see para 3.5.11) that minor damage is not sufficient and that damage must be serious.
Any scheme of Adaptive Management, or process for licensing further killing, must therefore contain evidence that serious damage is occurring or is highly likely to occur, and that licences are limited to those cases where such damage is occurring or is likely to occur. Furthermore, the damage or likely damage must be likely to be prevented by the actions carried under the derogation/licence. This, therefore, means that a process must be in place to monitor damage/likely damage, and record its nature and if/how it has been prevented. No such evidence or monitoring is in place.
(b) No other satisfactory solution
As set out in section 16 of the WCA Act, no licence is permissible unless there is “no other satisfactory solution”. This implements the provision in Article 9 of the Birds Directive.
The EU Guidance (para 3.4.10-12, ibid) also states:-
"...where another solution exists, any arguments that it is not "satisfactory" will need to be strong and robust...”
“It is...clear that another solution cannot be deemed unsatisfactory merely because it would cause greater inconvenience to or compel a change in behaviour by the beneficiaries of the derogation...”
" seems reasonable to state as a general proposition that any determination that another solution is unsatisfactory should be based on objectively verifiable factors, and that close attention needs to be paid to the scientific and technical evaluation of these..."
There are, at least, two issues raised by this requirement. First, it is important to identify the “problem” to which it is purported that there is “no other satisfactory solution”. If, for instance, the “problem” is a loss of incomes to farmers, it is self evident that another satisfactory solution exists – that is, the provision of payments to farmers. In recent years, until the funding was reduced, the recent goose management schemes on Islay provided such financial payments to ensure that such losses were mitigated. Any
proposal to manage geese by means of licences would need to demonstrate why this erstwhile “satisfactory solution” no longer exists.
Second, for over ten years (in relation to the limited number of licences issued as part of the recent goose management scheme), RSPB Scotland and WWT have been urging the Scottish Government and SNH to undertake research to examine the relative impact on (grass/income) losses of non-lethal scaring against that of lethal scaring (i.e. killing). This has been a basis of our objections to the current issuing of barnacle goose licences, discussions at NGMRG and our formal submissions on the matter (see, for example, the RSPB Scotland response to the 2010 Survey of National Goose Policy Stakeholders – part of the last full review of goose policy in Scotland, Attachment 6). Despite these objections, to date, no adequate research to address this question has been conducted or commissioned9. Without information to answer this question, no decision maker is in a position to determine safely that non-lethal scaring is not another satisfactory solution.
(c) Favourable conservation status
In explaining Article 9, para 3.1.1 of the EU guidance (ibid) states:-
"A limited number of activities normally prohibited under the Birds Directive (Articles 5-8) are permissible by way of...derogations, where particular problems or situations exist or may arise. The possibilities for use of these derogations are constrained. They must be justified in relation to the overall objectives of the Directive and comply with the specific conditions for derogations described in Article 9." (emphasis added)
These overall objectives include those set out in Articles 1 and 2, which should be further read to mean that hunting (or derogations) must be “compatible with the maintenance of the population ... at a satisfactory level” (preamble point 17) as well as the more specific requirements set out in Article 4 for these Annex I species.
9 One research study on the issue of lethal and non-lethal scaring has been commissioned by the Scottish Government – from BTO Scotland (Attachment 7). This did not experimentally assess damage to grazing or to farm incomes, and concluded that it was not possible to answer key questions relating to the relative effectiveness of different shooting/scaring activities, as SNH data had been collected in ways not suitable for appropriate analysis.
(d) Requirement to ascertain no adverse effect on the integrity of the site
As indicated above, three of the SPAs on Islay are classified with inter alia (Greenland) barnacle geese as a qualifying feature. Given the size and geographic distribution of the SPAs classified for geese, any management measures to the population of geese on Islay may affect the sites’ populations. Therefore, as set out above, any such proposals will require an “appropriate assessment” taking account of the SPAs and their species’ conservation objectives in accordance with Regulation 48, Habitats Regs.
As some of the SPAs include roosts (whose geese feed elsewhere) and/or feeding grounds (for geese roosting elsewhere), the assessment will need to take into account such movements, and include any licences outwith these of sites that affect such birds.
Before any decision to approve such management measures, the decision maker will need to show that the proposal does not adversely affect the integrity of any of the SPAs and their species, as mentioned above including consideration of any possible effects on the other SPA designation species particularly the Greenland white fronted geese due to many flocks of barnacle geese including these rarer more threatened species. If it is not possible ascertain that the sites and their species will not be adversely affected, approval could proceed only in the “absence of alternative solutions”, if necessary for “imperative reasons of overriding public interest”, and subject to the provision of adequate “compensatory measures”.
In addition as set out above, consideration (in a manner that secures compliance with the Directives) is required as to whether these operations are likely to damage the SSSI and its features before a licence could be issued.
8.7 Impact on Greenland White-fronted geese
As indicated above, a large proportion of the world’s population of Greenland white-fronted geese also overwinter on Islay, and are often found in close association with the Greenland barnacle geese. Thus, the consideration of the proposals in relation to the overall objectives of the Directives, and the favourable conservation status of barnacle geese, must also consider the impact on, and favourable conservation status of, Greenland white-fronted geese. In addition, for two of the SPAs, both species are
qualifying features and accordingly, the appropriate assessment for any proposal must address the impact on the integrity of these sites for Greenland White-fronted geese.
Other species that are qualifying features of Islay SPA and/or SSSI sites (e.g. whooper swan and chough), which might be affected by any Adaptive Management activities, should also be formally assessed to determine potential effects at the outset and only excluded from consideration if no impacts are identified. Monitoring of these species should be in place so that unforeseen impacts can be detected; no clear plans are in place, to our knowledge.
9. Steps taken at country (Scotland) and Member State (UK) level
The decision to implement this newly adopted strategy is an executive decision by the Scottish Government and/or its agency Scottish Natural Heritage10. This decision was taken, despite the historical engagement by the complainants in the development of public policy towards geese management (see 8.1 above). Furthermore, the complainants have been in regular dialogue, over at least the past two years, with Scottish Ministers (see correspondence, attachment 8), over the plans to develop a new management strategy for Islay geese. This correspondence was complemented by regular communication with officials of both the Government and Scottish Natural Heritage. This communication was both bilateral and through the NGMRG (see above); once the decision to adopt the strategy that is subject to this complaint, the complainants took the view that membership (and implied support for the strategy) was no longer tenable and resigned our membership of both NGMRG and GSAG.
As an executive decision by a Minister and/or their agency, there is no domestic administrative appeal procedure. Moreover, the only legal course of redress available to RSPB Scotland and/or WWT is Judicial Review with its limited remit of procedural and not “substantive” matters11.
10 See announcement, by SNH, at which would have been agreed to by Scottish Ministers – as well as RSPB Scotland correspondence with Ministers at Attachment 8.
11 Article 9 of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters 1998 specifically gives members of the public and environmental organisations, “...rights of access to the courts (or to administrative procedures) to challenge the legality of decisions by public authorities to grant consent for a wide range of activities affecting the environment, as well as other acts or omissions which are contrary to national environmental laws. Article 9(4) provides that these rights of access should meet a number of requirements, including that they “provide adequate and effective remedies” and “are fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive”...” (page 21,
In addition, Judicial Review of this change of policy position could be premature as it is not yet known exactly how the change in policy will be implemented and therefore the full extent of all potential issues. However, to wait for the first licence application decision could potentially be too late as well as insufficient due to the limits of Judicial Review considering just one (the first) licence. Moreover, Judicial Review is a potentially very costly mechanism (or, at least, risks very high costs). For reasons of cost (or risk of costs), neither RSPB Scotland nor WWT engage lightly in Judicial Review, especially as (for RSPB Scotland) at the time when possibly a review of this issue might be sought, it was already engaged in another case with potentially high costs12.
Therefore the complainants do not think that pursuing these issues through a Judicial Review of either the policy decision or once licences are considered would resolve the issues outlined above. In addition, notwithstanding the appropriateness of Judicial Review, such a remedy would have been (or could have been) “prohibitively expensive” to one or both of the complainants. The combination of the narrow procedural basis of Judicial Review as well as the potentially “prohibitively expensive” nature of such proceedings is, in our view, a failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention13 (as adopted by the EU).
Thus, in our view, the complainants have exhausted all domestic, administrative available to them to address this issue. with the main grounds for Judicial Reviews being illegality, procedural unfairness and irrationality (as explained at pages 11-12).
12 In the event, the costs for this other case have been limited by a Protective Expenses Order (attachment 9). However, it should be noted that such PEOs are individual to each case and it could not be certain that such would be granted in another case such as a Judicial Review of the decisions complained of here.
13 United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters 1998
10 Conclusions
The Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy 2014–2024, now approved and being implemented by the Scottish Government (and its agencies), represents, in the opinion of the complainants, a breach of EU legislation. In particular, the granting of licences to shoot Greenland barnacle geese in fulfilment of this strategy will, we believe, contravene the EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC), as:
• The purpose for which they are/will be issued is either unclear and/or is not permitted under Article 9 and, in particular, has the explicit objective of reducing populations of an annex 1 species by 25-30% with insufficient evidence or justification linking this to purposes permitted under Article 9;
• They have been/will be issued when it is unclear and unproven that there is “no other satisfactory solution; and/or another satisfactory solution (that is, a fully resourced management scheme) is available;
• They have been/will be issued without a full appraisal on the favourable conservation status of the species concerned (and/or the Greenland white-fronted geese that occupy similar areas); and/or
• They have been/will be issued without an appropriate assessment on the impact on the SPAs classified for the protection of this species (and/or Greenland white-fronted geese) nor consideration of likely damage to SSSI features.
In addition, the UK and Scottish Governments’ failure to comply, in full, with the Aarhus Convention (as adopted by the EU) makes it impossible for the complainants to challenge the substance of this decision except by making this Complaint.
Documents attached for reference.
Attachment 1 Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy 2014–2024
(produced by SNH).
Attachment 2 Mitchell, C.& Hall, C. 2013. Greenland Barnacle Geese Branta Leucopsis in Britain and Ireland: Results of the International Census, Spring 2013. WWT Report, Slimbridge.
Attachment 3 Percival, S.M. 1993. The effects of reseeding, fertiliser application and disturbance on the use of grasslands by barnacle geese, and the implications for refuge management. J Appl. Ecol. 30: 437-443. Courtesy of JSTOR.
Attachment 4 Percival, SM. & Houston, D.C. 1992. The effect of winter grazing by barnacle geese on grassland yields on Islay. Journal of Applied Ecology 29: 35-40. Courtesy of JSTOR.
Attachment 5 Fox, T., Francis, I., Norriss, D & Walsh, A. 2014. Report of the 2013/2014 International Census of Greenland White-fronted Geese. Report of the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study.
Attachment 6 RSPB Scotland response to the 2010 Survey of National Goose Policy Stakeholders.
Attachment 7 Douglas, D., Austin, G., Wernham, C.& Rehfisch, M. 2009. Analysis of Islay goose datasets to determine the effects of scaring and management factors on goose distributions: Phase II. BTO Research Report No. 529. BTO Scotland.
Attachment 8 Copies of correspondence from RSPB Scotland to the Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, including letter of resignation from NGMRG etc.
Attachment 9 Opinion of Lord Jones in the cause of RSPB v Scottish Ministers, 12 May

Still with us?   Congratulations and I suspect there are aspects outlined in the complaint that you never guessed were or could be associated with conservation!!   Now this is a layman's view of the current subject and I make no excuses for that. This subject has gone quiet, very quiet and, in the meantime, geese continue to be shot. I've never felt that a solution to this problem should be, or could be, shooting and I've never felt convinced by the ever upward revision of costs arguments that are put forward by the farming fraternity.  The real problem is , "What should be done".    I'm afraid, with Brexit raising its head, the possibility of a UK exit might bring about this complaint being kicked into the long grass. But what of possible Scottish Independence, EU membership and the like?.  A newly recruited member state ( and how long will that take ? ) would doubtless be welcomed with open arms and little done at the onset to criticise that member's position on a matter like this.  So, is this issue dead in the water ? Why should it be? That is down to us and continuing sustained pressure on EU representatives, polite letters of enquiry to appropriate Ministers asking for an update on progress might help too. The real task is keeping the matter alive......and the geese too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Good news of the California Condor.

A statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday gave very encouraging news about the California Condor. Last year more young birds were hatched and fledged in the wild (14 )  than adult birds which died (12 ).  Whilst the margin may have been small it's most certainly a welcome indication of success.

In 2015 there was a total of 27 condor nests in the wild  and the current population is held to be 268 birds in the wild and 167 in captivity.  This has been a very dedicated "act of faith" as it must be remembered that, at one time, all surviving birds were in captivity. The nesting birds now range from California (19 ), the Arizona-Utah border (3) and Mexico's Baja Peninsula (5).  Nests are present in several national parks, including the Grand canyon, which undoubtedly helps to promote the cause given the high level of visitors.

By courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Around 20-40 of the captive bred birds are released into the wild each year.  Here more than 20 can be seen soaring over Tom's Canyon, Hopper Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, near Filimore in Southern California. Following release birds can expect to live for 60 years.   Despite birds having federal protection under the Endangered Species Act ( 1973 ) this highly successful scheme is faced with negative factors that work against the overall success of the programme.  There is still a problem with lead poisoning and two of the twelve deaths which occurred last year could be put down to this cause.   The lead is picked up when birds eat bullet fragments from within animals which have been shot with lead bullets. Why such animals are shot and then simply left in the wild is not commented on , but it's a sad reflection that such success with this iconic species is then undermined by what one imagines are indiscriminate activities !

Congratulations to the US Fish and Wildlife Service !!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Record amount raised for conservation.

News has emerged that the BirdFair last year raised an awesome £320,000 for BirdLife International's proposed initiatives to tackle problems associated with migratory birds in the Eastern Mediterranean. Absolutely tremendous.  I think we all need to thank the "background staff" at Rutland for making it such a successful and enjoyable event ( repeatedly too !! ).

Each year it gets better, each year it gets bigger and each year targets are met or even exceeded. How's that for a track record...... a commercial company would be over the moon!!

Congratulations to Tim Appleton and ALL his team. Much deserved !  I've worked in conservation all my life, or did do, and whilst there was the odd successes guaranteed success year on was hard to come by and somewhat different. I think any of you looking back and considering what you have contributed to in the cause of bird and habitat conservation over the years should make you feel very proud. Go on, feel smug and fill another glass,,,,,, we all owe you a drink!.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Watch this space !

With the ad nauseam news of the moment about BREXIT, different campaign groups and the individuals involved none of us are likely to be unaware of the impending Referendum on the 23rd June. But from an environmental viewpoint what might we lose if we do withdraw from the European Union ?   For me the Birds and Habitats Directive sits prominently at the forefront as something which surely is beneficial to our natural heritage.   But how can we evaluate as the electorate what benefits or losses lurk around the corner?

The answer might lie in the announcement made by RSPB that they are co-operating with WWT and the Wildlife Trusts to produce an impartial document weighing up the pro's and cons from an environmental and conservation  viewpoint of being an EU Member State or otherwise. This is due out in March and it's my belief that all people with an interest in wildlife and countryside should read it once it's available and weigh up the situation and what their own preferences are .

Sadly the current Tory Government has little empathy, interest or intention with a majority of conservation issues despite protestations to the contrary.  Just examine the fracking issue, the associated powers of Local Authorities  ( or otherwise on the issue ) to gain an insight into the arrogant and dismissive attitudes displayed by Government.  Consider George Osborne's oft repeated statement advocating a simplification of planning regulations in favour of economic development and the clear implications for our wildlife heritage as has already been highlighted by a few "skirmishes".  Would we be better off as an independent , sovereign nation in the light of these self serving declarations or would the long stop protection afforded our wildlife sites via EU legislation offer a more positive alternative ?   I don't know but I believe it's something we all need to think about and why the above document could be pivotal to the thinking of the many people who value our wildlife heritage.    

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The legacy of Martin Garner.

Recently we all heard the sad news that Martin Garner had died.  Since then the tributes have been appearing at an increasing rate and all pay testament to the loss of a truly remarkable man, a very special person with very special skills.  There are many who are better qualified than I to set out the qualities, the work and the personality of a man who will clearly be sorely missed and who had so much more to give. The following is not intended to address such personal  issues but to emphasize how we might all take on board a particular approach to birding and gain more from it, but , most importantly, to ensure the legacy that was Martin Garner is put into practice.

I didn't know Martin at all well, indeed  I'd only spoken with him a few times or attended a couple of talks.  One over-riding , most noticeable thing was that his style of communication was motivating and inspiring......he reached people!  All this coupled with laughter and an ability to listen too.  His presentation at last year's Bird Fair relating to the most recent book, "Winter"  in the Birding Frontiers Challenge Series was absorbing. He encouraged a more open-minded approach , almost an upturning of the apple cart in some senses, aimed at learning even more from our birding but, at the same time, for us to thoroughly enjoy that journey of exploration.  The message is further advocated in the book itself.

The birding world will clearly be much the poorer for his absence;  the patient diligence which clearly led to the initiation of the Challenge Series, and the energy and "teaching" encouraging us all to embrace a more inquisitive approach to our birding.  I find the assemblages of comparative photographs and illustrations absolutely absorbing and suspect more of us will feel additional confidence when examining various species in the future.  Previously, friend and colleague, Andy Schofield and I had often discussed the nature of migration through Islay and the origin of its migrants. I'd long advocated that, whilst many of our birds arriving on Islay originated in Iceland,  some species  might be expected from Scandinavia after travelling SW, spilling down the Great Glen and then appearing in places like Islay, elsewhere in Argyll , Ayrshire and so on.  Last autumn half the story was confirmed with this obvious Icelandic Redwing conveniently posing on my garden wall and allowing itself to be photographed ( not terribly well ! ), a replica of several of the plates in the Winter book  ( see page 77 ).  Simple stuff in many ways but I took great enjoyment from the episode !


Over the past few months several Blogs were put out by Martin Garner that advised on his personal condition, his sentiments and beliefs.  Whilst I suspect many birders wouldn't normally have read such material I also suspect that many people did read them because they came from Martin and reflected privately on the content. Few comments appeared but, nonetheless, I guess the outreach was quite wide and caused more than a few of us to consider issues we wouldn't normally visit. I think he'd have been pleased at that!

Finally, it would be nice to believe that someone from the "Challenge Team" might elect to complete the series. A big ask and a difficult job no doubt, but a very fitting tribute and something that I believe would be respected and supported by the birding community. Coupled with all of us taking on board the various messages set out on Page 11 of the Winter book, I guess the collective output from our birding is in for some very exciting times ahead, largely by courtesy of Martin Garner.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Visitor Centre at Spurn soon to be determined by the planning process.

I'm conscious that's it's almost a month since I last put out a Blog, a month that's been a bit hectic to say the least. I'm back on Islay at present , but will soon need to be away for another short period.  Set against all this has been the announcements today relating to arrangements associated with a deal for us to have a reformed basis of membership with the European Union and for the UK to vote on our continuing membership or otherwise on 23rd June.  Changes indeed.

Running parallel to all of this, and of particular portent to many, are the final throes of both the application and objection process associated with the Visitor Centre  at Spurn.  This has gone by so quickly and certainly my own commitments have meant I've not been up to date with events throughout the last two-three months. Previous recent posts can be viewed by referring to Labels opposite and more historical entries are available too.

Perhaps the most immediate change to note is that the communications tower for ABP associated with monitoring the shipping offshore and in the Humber  has been withdrawn from the proposal.  Whilst no official information appears to be available the withdrawal from the proposal is thought to be linked to campaigning about its possible effects on migrant birds, its visual intrusion and various, as yet undisclosed, political aspects.

The closing date for objections is Monday, 22nd February., although the application details ( 1400 hours ) have now been taken down. As this possibly means the process has been closed early I'm not sure what to advise other than to adopt the solution I fell back on (see below ).I confess to having left things to the last minute because of other matters and was somewhat alarmed to discover the cut off point was so close. Whilst in some respects this was because of other personal matters taking precedence, I also became conscious that my disquiet regarding the application was growing despite reading a lot of associated material that, in effect, should have been allaying concerns. I have now registered my opposition to the proposal after a lot of thinking about it. There are site management issues to address since the breach occurred, but I'm not convinced erecting a big Visitor Centre and attempting to attract increasing numbers of visitors is what is good for the site.  Ironically I had problems registering on the Planning Dept website ( a warning against leaving things to the last minute!! ) but hopefully I've managed to arrive at a solution by submitting it through Customer Services (  ) as an Urgent Communication and asking them to forward it to the planner concerned ( Mrs Abbas ). I did receive a dated /timed receipt.

Details of my objection are as follows;

Dear Mrs Abba
Ref 15/03947 /PLF Erection of Visitor Centre at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire.
May I register my opposition to the above application and provide additional comments below. Besides being employed professionally in conservation for most of my working life I first started visiting Spurn in the late 1950's and so am conversant with the various changes over the years.
Whilst I acknowledge the management challenges which face the YWT LTD relating to Spurn since the breach in the peninsula I feel the current proposal to construct a large Visitor Centre and accompanying approaches for visitor management facilities are entirely inappropriate. I have given due consideration to these matters over several months but, finally, feel that the proposal will not lead to an enhancement of the wildlife value of the area , but quite the opposite. Forefront in our minds must be that the area is unique, carries various designations ( Ramsar, SPA, SSSI, SAC and NNR ) and the requirements, in order to retain the very substance upon which such designations are based, must be the primary concern and objective expressed within any future provisions for the area. Sadly, an examination of the proposal and an evaluation of the implications arising from the contents lead one to conclude quite the opposite is likely.The recent "blind" expressions of support , bereft of any evidence to justify the situation, do little to clarify matters other than to suspect such are a product of an orchestrated attempt to improve the numbers of submissions in which "support" is mentioned.
Claims that the future proposals are aimed at wildlife protection and enhancement are erroneous if examined against some of the data associated with wader roosts which has emerged recently. Such points, and many other linked to the wildlife heritage of the site and its contribution it makes to current bird research, have been exhaustively dealt with by other submissions , the contents of which I endorse utterly, but instead of repeating such information I would wish to dwell on the following.
I feel the visitor statistics quoted or sought for by the YWT Ltd are wildly optimistic. However, of more concern is that, if realised , they would lead, not to any improvement of wildlife communities, but a deterioration. Research has shown that visitors to any formal facility, whether a Visitor Centre or even a car park, are unlikely to move very far from that location. A significant proportion of visitors to the proposed Centre would undoubtedly then move southwards to view "the breach" area and , in so doing, provide disturbance to the crucial feeding and roosting area for waders which extends from the Tank Blocks area to the Warren. If the upper limit of visitors could ever be realised this concentrated "footfall" would be deleterious to the overall area. The concentration of visitors is being advocated and directed at an area of value, of restricted extent and is likely to encourage the informal distribution of visitors and an associated diminution of value, which runs counter to the declared objectives upon which the proposal is supposedly based..
Since the breach many people would agree that better visitor management is required, not least from the point of view of safety. However, expressed preferences by any managing organization are not necessarily subscribed to by visitors and indiscriminate access developing by the increase in attendance being sought for would be a threat to the very fabric of an area the Trust is pledged to protect and improve. Promoting the Visitor Centre as a major facility is erroneous in its thinking as precious little is then available for visitors to do afterwards, whatever might be developed, as only a small proportion are likely to elect to walk to the Point. A more modest development based on the Blue Bell would be preferable and provide for what I believe would be a more realistic level of visitor traffic.. Offered predictions that the area is under threat from future inundation cannot be accompanied by any firm timescale for obvious reasons. Dismissing the idea is illogical as an inundation event might drastically affect the more general area and the road access to the proposed Centre with concomitant effects on visitor numbers. If a really imaginative proposal was under consideration then a "Gateway " development at the Kilnsea Wetlands, where footpath networks could assist in diluting the concentrated effect of visitors, might be preferred. The stubborn adherence to the Spurn Visitor Centre providing an all encompassing answer is driven by a need to generate funds via the provision of parking facilities at the potential expense and loss of wildlife value due the concentration of visitor traffic.
In summary I feel the whole scenario needs a drastic rethink and that the management needs of the NNR should come first, with visitor facilities being a secondary element, not being seen as the means by which funds can be raised for a site whose fabric and value will diminish as a result. The primary objective can be achieved in my view by a much more modest provision, which I'm persuaded would adequately ensure the retention of the wildlife value of the site, not by providing an inappropriate edifice which has the potential to become a white elephant, but have disastrous consequences in the meantime.
May I raise what might best be described as a quasi-legal point? The Eon financial support for the Visitor Centre proposal is a product of that company's Community Fund. The funds were granted as recompense to the community for disruption and visual intrusion associated with the company's own industrial developments. Given that the communities of both Kilnsea and Easington are adamantly opposed to the development of the Visitor Centre and the intrusion, in a variety of ways its presence could have on the area, does it not suggest the offer of support to the YWT by Eon flies in the face of the spirit and intent of the core principles of the Fund and, as such, should be challenged ?
May I thank you for your consideration of the above and may I apologise for the somewhat unconventional means of its registration to the process. I would draw your attention also to the various Blogs which have been issued on the subject on the web site and encourage your reference to these if time allows.