Thursday, July 21, 2016

Signs of summer. 20.7.2016

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Visitor Centre at Spurn.

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

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

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

Update 1700 hours 19.7.2016.

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Latest edition of RSPB's "Legal Eagle".

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Spurn latest.......democracy in action !

Well , it seems East Yorkshire has been swept up in the maelstrom of change and uncertainty just as much as other parts of our democratic processes!!

Today at the East Yorkshire Planning Committee meeting it was resolved to defer a decision on the Visitor Centre proposed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for erection at Kilnsea at the head of the Spurn Penninsula. Not an outcome that would have been predicted with any confidence, but what major issues can be nowadays it seems?

Following short presentations by representatives of the Trust and local residents, and consideration of the recommendations by the Planning Officer, it was decided a site visit should be held to examine the location at first hand.  Concerns were raised over the location of the proposed Centre and associated flood risk,  and perhaps more importantly, that there needs to be certainty over the lack of ANY other possible alternative location. This is an important point for consideration as it has been repeatedly suggested suitable alternatives do exist more in keeping with development within the area but, perhaps most importantly, more realistically linked with the likely visitor attendance associated with the presence of a Centre. This is not a point the Trust appear willing to accept given their more ambitious commercial objectives and expressed confidence in visitor projections, the latter considered vastly overstated by many !

So, what next? Well, no date for a visit has been determined, so a further period will elapse before the final outcome is known.  It is democracy in action after all (! ), but for those who raised objections or doubts about the proposal there is now some room for optimism.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Conservation in chaos !

I can't say I'm pleased or comfortable with the outcome of the Referendum, particularly as I suspect the implications for "the environment" will be worse than for other sectors.  But , the malleable majority have spoken and got what they wanted. Or did they ?  I've a horrible suspicion many just voted Exit in the hope they'd take a swipe at the Tories as they didn't really understand the process in the first place !

But I'm not going to have the temerity of forecasting this, that and the other as others appear willing to do way before the process has even got under way. That, to me,  is foolish and likely to be seriously misguided given there are no precedents or comparisons to go by.  However, even sticking by the facts, the future situation appears not to be good when it comes to "the environment".

To some great extent, in my view, the EU has very often tempered and adjusted the somewhat lukewarm commitment to our natural heritage that recent UK governments have exhibited.  The EU regulations have provided some constancy when it comes to environmental standards to the extent that Member States have been criticised, even fined, for given actions, all of which will now end!!  The EU Birds and Habitats Directives will no longer apply. Two major pieces of legislation which have been a bedrock against which planning and performance was often judged. They weren't perfect, what system is , but they were better than  what we'll  have now and, worse still, better than anything one can imagine a UK Government might institute, particularly a Tory Government.  And other environmental subject areas benefited too......Clean beaches, the Marine Environment, climate change, toxic chemicals....the list goes on.

And don't forget the research and conservation grants and programmes the EU funded. In this respect the RSPB and many other NGO's will find things more difficult than previously and will have to work hard to meet the financial shortfalls which will become evident, particularly if any of the predictions of austerity bite!

In my view the influence that NGO's have had on our "Government machine" in recent times has been waning rapidly.  There's been a misplaced impression within their thinking that, somehow, they've been making inroads into the thinking of their chums in Government. What thinking ?  There is and has been no empathy or intent when it comes to our natural heritage, particularly within the last six years ( Thanks, Dave ! ) and effusive thanks born of breeding and upbringing aren't enough set against the inputs made available and a lack of action.

My main fear in the future maelstrom of uncertainty, which is bound to follow, is that the Establishment, as always, will seek to protect its own interests ( First Principle ), but that it will deliberately exploit the opportunities that now come from a relaxation or absence of controls aimed at preserving our natural heritage.  No, you might say ! Well, let's see what happens with fracking and the opportunities wee George Osborne has oft extolled in terms of economic development. He may not be directly involved, but adherence to pursuing the opportunity to create wealth will apply come what may ( Second Principle ) with little regard for the environment.  OK, dismiss this as predictive rubbish if you will.  I say , come back in five years and see what is in place !!  Concern and provision for environmental matters will be bottom of the pile in the upcoming years and the weak approaches of NGO's in recent times need to stiffen significantly in response, otherwise their support will reduce. Let's see, it could be the making of them!!

So, a bleak picture in many senses for the environment if the current Government remains in place,  They might not be, of course, but we need to ensure any alternative is better and I confess not to having a deal of confidence in that direction either. At the moment the Westminster village appears to be playing the game of " Secure a place in history, fall on your sword " which might be even something to encourage except the personalities never actually go away !

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Spurn Visitor Centre decision imminent.

After quite a long period for the application from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust for its proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn to be scrutinised by the Local Planning Authority I understand there is to be a meeting of the appropriate Committee on the 27th June, 2016 at which the details will be considered.

It's over forty years since I was more closely involved with planning matters so, whilst I suspect the circumstances will be broadly similar, there might well be aspects that are new and will not necessarily result in a decision being forthcoming on the day.

The above image may not be an accurate depiction of precisely what is now being considered,  but gives a general impression of what is being decided upon. I suspect, since the details were submitted in December , 2015 , that more than a few queries have been raised by the Planning Authority leading to a great deal of work and clarification by the applicant ( YWT Ltd ). I presume it is upon this updated and "refined" situation that the decision will now be taken.

So, whether we agreed or dissented as far as the details were concerned, we can now await a decision in the not too distant future. After being involved in some pretty big planning cases in the past , e.g. the Mersey Barrage, I hope that people will respect the process. Yes, there'll be elation from one side if things go through and utter disappointment, tears even, from the other side if their hopes are dashed . But the system is all we've got and far, far superior to that in many other places where no democratic system is in operation !  A few years ago I discussed the situation with several people involved with the reserve/observatory at Eilat, and discovered that Israel has no planning system equivalent to our own, no local plans, in fact, not much at all compared to our own approach. Worth thinking about and respecting ........ if that begins to be a problem, just think of some of the road systems in Spain with several  main roads running in parallel to the same eventual location !!  We do try,  even if the system appears to be imperfect at times !!!

Whatever the outcome I hope the best outcome is worked for as far as Spurn is concerned. Given the changes that won't be easy,whatever the outcome, but it is necessary in my view.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Lynx reintroduction a step closer.

The reintroduction of the Lynx has taken a step closer to realisation with a meeting of national stakeholders recently that addressed the possibility of releases within 2017.

Last year the Lynx UK Trust issued plans for a trial reintroduction of the Lynx, which has been absent from the UK for 1300 years. Research has shown that there is enough suitable habitat in existence for these shy animals and that the populations of deer upon which they feed are also sufficiently abundant.  It is known that the animals favour large ( commercial ) forest areas and rarely stray outside of these, which results in predation on livestock being very low and of there being no recorded incident, ever, of an attack on humans.

                                                   By courtesy of  Erwin van Maanen

The results of a public consultation survey showed 90% support towards the release of no more than ten individuals, which then would be the subject of intense monitoring.  This week 20 of the major stakeholders came together with the Lynx UK Trust to discuss the proposals and research in more detail. The discussions were held at the University of Cumbria and covered a diverse range of subjects from eco-tourism, the potential impacts on deer populations, the selection of release sites and so on. Further discussions are to take place and will intensify once a decision has been taken on where the first potential release site will be located. It is hoped this decision will be made by mid-summer.

All success !

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What goes round, comes round !!

                                                      Photograph courtesy of RSPB

In an extraordinary twist to the story the Moorland Association put out a release today that the gamekeeper involved in the setting up of poletraps on the Mossdale Estate, which actions were caught on camera by the RSPB, had resigned his appointment with the estate concerned.

Furthermore they revealed that the Mossdale Estate, owned by the Van Cutsem family, had  resigned its membership of the Moorland Association. Whilst I suspect we shall never know the real background "ingredients" to either of these aspects, the revelations are quite telling in themselves. The gamekeeper may have been sacked, a situation I suspect we shall gain confirmation on in due course. Undoubtedly he brought a focus of attention on the Estate that would certainly not have been to its choosing. Whether or not he himself was a member of the National Association of Gamekeepers and, if so, what their reaction might be requires more inquiries.  As importantly, whether he will gain similar employment on another Estate is also of interest.

The situation with the Moorland Association is intriguing to say the least.  Having being a participant in the compilation of the DEFRA ill fated Hen Harrier Action Plan are they finally beginning to feel exposed by the
actions taking place in the grouse shooting industry by estates where persecution is proven to occur ?  Are they feeling let down by their peers or are they commencing to exert peer pressure themselves on those who are letting the side down ?  We shall never know I suspect until a similar incident occurs and we can monitor what happens in the aftermath. Given their lukewarm  " support"  for recent events , i.e. the actions by the National Trust in the early termination of a shooting lease in the Peak Park,  I somehow doubt this current event has been entirely of their own making, but we'll see.  It would be nice to believe that they had made an approach to the Estate owner concerned and suggested that continuing membership of the Association was untenable. But, at the end of the day, from any Estate owners viewpoint, does membership really confer any absolute benefits?  I doubt it ! The converse is possibly the more important whereby the membership of the Moorland Association by estates where persecution has been proven to take place brings into doubt the credibility of the organization and its ability to be involved or included in initiatives that might affect its members ( and past members of course ! ).

The whole story may yet have a few furlongs to run!!!  The review by the Police on why the gamekeeper involved was simply given a caution, and not prosecuted, has yet to make its appearance. Its eventual details will no doubt bring renewed focus on the incident and provoke further comments and inquiries.

Monday, June 13, 2016

International Flyway sites for shorebirds even more important than first thought.

I don't think there is anything more exciting than seeing a large flock of waders wheeling about in flight over the expanse of an estuary. I'm sure we've all had that experience and have also to admit that it never pales in its effect ! Over the years a large amount of time and energy has been directed towards such sites by conservation bodies, ever conscious of their importance to shorebirds moving on their migrations over various parts of the globe. Certainly in the UK the RSPB has put in a huge amount of work and resources aimed at gaining the recognition and designation of such sites and the BTO continues to place emphasis on their importance by organizing counts of birds under the WeBS ( Wetland Bird Survey ) and, in particular, the Low Tide Counts scheme. Similar work is carried out around the world by differing organizations.

One of the imperatives which continues to focus attention on such sites is that they are favoured for expansion by the petrochemical industry, hydroelectric schemes and a whole plethora of other industrial interests that require vast spaces on which to base their operations. This , of course, is often the precursor to the alteration of the areas "reclaimed" which, in turn , can have a knock on effect as far as adjacent areas are concerned.

For the first time details have emerged of how important these areas really are.  It's not enough to presume that birds displaced by such industrial activities simply seek out and then continue to use some alternative. Research carried out linked with the East Asian - Australasian Flyway and, in particular, associated with the Saenmangeum reclamation scheme in South Korea has unearthed some disturbing results that show birds don't automatically switch to alternative sites and, as a consequence, pressures emerge on that particular population , with disastrous results. Here is an abstract of the research concerned kindly provided by Niall Moores

Saemangeum in the Republic of Korea (ROK, “South Korea”) was one of the most important shorebird staging sites in the Yellow Sea. It supported at least 330,000 shorebirds annually in 1997-2001 including ~ 30% of the world population of Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) during both northward and southward migration. Construction of a 33km long seawall was completed in April 2006. We show that shorebird numbers at Saemangeum and two adjacent wetlands decreased by 130,000 during northward migration in the next two years and that all species have declined at Saemangeum since seawall closure. Great Knot was among the most rapidly affected species. Fewer than 5,000 shorebirds were recorded at Saemangeum during northward migration in 2014. We found no evidence to suggest that the majority of shorebirds of any species displaced from Saemangeum successfully relocated to other ROK sites. Instead, by 2011-2013 nearly all species had declined substantially in the ROK since previous national surveys in 2008 and 1998, especially at more heavily reclaimed sites. It is likely that these declines were driven by increased mortality rather than movement to alternate staging sites given that other studies have revealed concurrent declines in numbers and survival on the non-breeding grounds. This is the first study in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway to confirm shorebird declines at a range of geographical scales following a single reclamation project. The results indicate that if migratory shorebirds are displaced from major staging sites by reclamation they are probably unable to successfully relocate to alternate sites.

Full citation:

Moores, N., Rogers, D.I., Rogers, K. and Hansbro, P.M. 2016. Reclamation of tidal flats and shorebird declines in Saemangeum and elsewhere in the Republic of Korea. Emu, 116, 2: 136-146. Published by CSIRO.

It would appear that the importance of all such Flyway sites in an international context is paramount to the future survival of many shorebird bird species and that renewed vigilance and targeted protection needs to be the order of the day !!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

National Trust v. RSPB.

The process of competition appears to have descended on us , whether we like it or not.  Brexit  v. Remain, and the now ongoing Euro Championship football matches proceeding in full swing. Is it appropriate to perhaps compare the respective positions and performance of two prominent national organizations caught up in the debate relating to what is needed as far as raptor persecution is concerned and the positive steps to assist what might yet be declared as an extinct breeding population in England of Hen Harrier ?

 If one was to evaluate relevance and contribution towards raptor persecution and conservation to each of the above two organizations, based on Blogs, comments and references appearing on the Web this weekend, then the clear conclusion is that the RSPB's  standing is in a very parlous state. It seems to stumble on from bad to worse and one is forced to conclude that the collective position of its Council and senior management is under siege and unfit for purpose when it comes to the current debate and apparent actions being taken on Hen Harriers. There are always differing opinions , of course, but the repeated low key, cautious, "we know best public" outpourings are not what is felt to be required by many. However, it must be remembered that, standing quite independently from all this , the sterling efforts of the RSPB Investigations Section staff continue against difficult odds and, for obvious reasons, largely remain outside of the public domain.

The action by the National Trust last week in curtailing one of its shooting leases in the Peak District due to , initially, suspicious activities being witnessed on site and, secondly, the fact that there has since been an apparent lack of agreement with the tenant over the National Trust's vision for its land holding and consequent management approach , is to their credit and has brought many supportive messages of congratulation. Chief among these have been the various entries appearing on the Raptor Persecution UK web site, but from various other sources as well. Whilst it is far too early to tell, the National Trust's action might yet have a far more telling influence than the single shooting lease affected. Clearly the National Trust has appreciated the depth of concern expressed by many people at the initial incident and has acted .  It is not necessarily the nature of the final decision, but the fact that the NT responded to public concerns with robust timely action.

If that approach is contrasted against that of the RSPB at present, as far as actions for Hen Harriers are concerned, then the situation is far more diffuse. A far different scenario, of course, but one lacking in any clear cut declarations, intentions, initiatives or robust resolve. After all , we are talking of the Royal Society for the PROTECTION of Birds and ,as such, the body from whom we expect a lead.   I'm sure that there will be endless discussions and debates being held within the Society, but that's where it all seems to end.  Seen from the outside, and I stress that, the fact that widely read Blogs ( Raptor Persecution UK, Mark Avery, North England Raptor Forum ) are all raising concerns and calling for better defined action is surely a clarion call the RSPB needs to pay heed to. If such is ignored I fear the RSPB will be side lined and lose not only support from individuals, but recognition as the body who, hitherto, has been seen as that being primarily responsible for change.  Sadly it certainly doesn't appear to be earning its keep at present, although I've no doubt many of us believe it is entirely capable of doing so.  Perhaps the creation, internally, of a "Task Group", with different personalities to those engaged  prominently in the process so far, might bring different perspectives and approaches to the fore ?

C'mon RSPB,  let's see some of the innovative actions which have secured notable conservation successes in the past brought to bear, made public and carried forward with confidence !

Friday, June 10, 2016

Action points for the RSPB ?

A few days ago I expressed disappointment at the apparent lack of progress exhibited within the RSPB's stance vis a vis the Hen Harrier debate ( see the Blog entitled  " RSPB..... a Legion of Nero's " ) and elected to make further comments later.

Now you might believe I'm anti-RSPB !  You'd actually be very wrong !   I support the Society, worked for it for twenty years and believe in it as our premier bird conservation organization. However, on this occasion I sincerely believe they need to bone up and adopt a much more independent, easily defined stance that is communicated out, not just to their membership, but more widely, and which expressively outlines precisely what they are engaged in to gain improvement to our now extinct (? ) English breeding population.  I've set out below two or three subjects which I know the Society supports, but about which I can find precious little evidence currently as far as ACTION is concerned.   Brutally put, the Society expects its members to continue to provide financial support, sets out its concerns on critical subjects like the absent English harrier breeding population , but then goes anal in terms of outlining in any meaningful detail what it's doing about it ! I don't believe that's good enough.  It may have put its own eggs in the DEFRA basket as far as the Hen Harrier Action Plan is concerned  ( a dismal failure if  2016 is taken as an indicative benchmark  ), but there are surely other initiatives it could be pursuing in parallel?

Introduced into Scottish Law, with at least one successful prosecution since its inception, this was  something the RSPB pursued ( advocation of its adoption into English Law, raised  in the House of Commons and comments made about its potential positive influence ). The Society then trod water awaiting the results of the Law Commission Review of wildlife legislation in the hope, one imagines, that the offence of vicarious liability would be openly recommended and eventually go into law. It wasn't.  Some revisions were advocated but were little more than a reiteration of previous circumstances in the opinion of many people and the whole situation sort of came to a stop.

In the meantime, following a successful prosecution in Scotland , it was seen that the owner involved also had State financial subsidies frozen due to the implications of the proven offence upon the agreement under which he received such support. Surely this is a major goal to aim for in terms of people who wish to tread their own path and risk the outcome. Financially speaking the outcome could be very serious indeed as well as the stigma of having been prosecuted.

So where are we now in England as far as this offence is concerned and is the Society pursuing it any further? There may be good reasons why it shouldn't,  but after past actions and a fanfare of support for something hailed as a real potential breakthrough, the situation appears to have been placed on the back burner at best. Why ?  Don't we at least deserve to be educated on the matter in order to understand why nothing appears to be happening ?  Have I missed something?

When it comes to the current debate about grouse shooting this is the preferred solution of the Society. I have strong feelings of support for this approach, but that debate is for another time and I certainly wouldn't criticise the Society for its decision. However, there are aspects of its approach I just don't understand.

When I registered the E-petition calling for this line of action I advised the RSPB of what I intended, but I never really received back any detailed explanation of their position. They certainly offered no support via the membership, although many did provide signatures and, eventually, in excess of 10,000 people pledged support. I learnt informally that little confidence was placed in the process overall and that may well be the position upon which their decision was based. I've no problem with that, but in their advocating licencing as a solution what have they really done in the meantime to secure any tangible recognition of it as an alternative ?  The occasional supportive mention , contact with obvious stakeholders, but little else one can unearth.  I thought belief in a solution was the precursor to ACTION of some kind?

Some time ago the Society received significant monies from the EU to pursue  harrier protection and combat persecution in an attempt to improve the descending fortunes ( at that time ) of the Hen Harrier population.That situation is now even worse.  In my book such financial support should be used , quite specifically, for new approaches and initiatives and not for offsetting, for example, what one might best describe as routine involvements, ie the undoubted costly elongated discussions , meetings , transport expenses and so on linked to the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan.   I'm in no way suggesting that was an intention, or practice, of the Society, but it would be helpful to learn in what broad areas the Society saw such resources being deployed.  I wouldn't expect them to disclose their plans for additional investigative work, for obvious reasons, and would equally hope that increased expenditure wasn't going the way of contract staff in Hen Harrier costumes cavorting around local fayres in North east England , but , at the same time, there needs to be some recognition that Society membership desperately needs to learn of what "its society " is doing to address a problem the RSPB itself so readily paints a dismal picture about. Given the apparent absence of breeding activity this season the potential expenditure on tracking devices is claerly a non starter. So what constitutes Plan B ?

At the moment things come over as being no better than " business as usual ", but without any definition being offered. The RSPB Blog this week, which conveniently closed with a message that an update would be provided in Autumn I found quite offensive in a way and it certainly didn't assist the declining credibility of the Society.   Details which have emerged today, about which I'll Blog later, of the National Trust's action to curtail early a shooting lease associated with an area where questionable activities had been witnessed are to be applauded  National Trust shooting lease. Click on this link and read full details.   Laudable action from a large organization who have clearly overcome bureaucratic considerations and taken positive action.  RSPB, take note !!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is celebrated each year on the 8th June.  I'm dragging my heels a little on this occasion !!  It was first proposed by Canada way back in 1992 and then officially recognized at the Earth Summit held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the year 2000.  This year's theme is " Healthy Ocean, Healthy Planet "  and draws attention amonst an array of matters to the seemingly ever increasing pollution of our oceans by discarded plastic. Plastic degrades very slowly and there are also chemicals within it that are deemed harmful to life. Microbeads, present in so many products nowadays, are also a developing worry as they can easily be ingested by marine organisms. In 2015 UC Santa Barbara produced a report stating 8 million tonnes of plastic per year enter our oceans from land. It's worth reading the summary through this link as the implications are more than frightening  Pollution of our oceans by plastic

As part of this celebration there are several quite specific stories and initiatives associated with our ocean going  birds that are extremely relevant. Some years ago considerable concern was voiced at the significant losses of albatrosses and petrels as bycatch associated with various fisheries.  What then occurred is admirably documented by Martin Harper ( Conservation Director RSPB ) in a Blog and has to be deemed one of the most notable conservation successes of all time given the idea was only "floated" in 2006. Full details can be read by accessing this link Albatross Task Force

                               Black-browed Albatross  Graham Madge

The initiative was overseen by the RSPB as the representative partner in the UK of BirdLife International. Continuing efforts to improve matters are still being pursued and , for example, the fact that regulations requiring the use of bird-safe methods are in place in six other major fisheries augurs well for the future. Further details on the work being undertaken can be seen here Saving albatrosses from extinction

There are a lot of other links within the latter press release that are worth exploring including the latest ATF Report.

Even in these difficult days,when increasingly complicated scenarios are in place, if a workable strategy can be happened on then the seemingly most intractable problems can be resolved.  Undoubtedly some will linger, but belief and focus can eventually overcome even the worst challenges. Well done all!!  

The Trans Pennine Trail.

Yesterday was MOT day!  I've found a great garage  ( CD Autos ) in the nearby village of Penistone  so off I went to drop in the car.   Even at 0830 hours it was shirt sleeves and hats off weather so I decided to walk back home and return by the same way later in the day. I've done this before and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I opted to use the Pennine Trail, which runs through my village of Millhouse Green, before striking off westwards over the Pennines themselves. The distance for me, including access and egress sections, is between two and three kilometres each way so plenty of time for thought. This section is based on a former railway line, so is flat, enclosed in short cuttings along part of the route and overlooking open countryside along others.  It's lined with mature trees and scrub and is simply a pleasant countryside experience end to end. It's intended for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and is mainly traffic free and with a nice walking surface too.  Mums and buggies, toddlers, dog walkers, joggers , old boys not getting far, but solving the world's problems.......they're all in evidence, but not really that apparent, in fact it's far less crowded that nature reserves I've been to!!

The Trans Pennine Trail essentially links the North Sea and the Irish Sea  and runs from Hornsea in the east to Southport in the west.  It's 215 miles  ( 346 km ) long and a permanent tribute to the local authorities and other agencies who brought it into being. It's never over crowded, but here it does get used regularly by local people besides others taking on longer distances. I'm really impressed by the maintenance, absence of litter and all that this does to provide a really enjoyable countryside experience. This section, as a former "industrial" railway line, has transcended into something else, is quiet, attractive and clearly provides a valued contribution in terms of wildlife habitat.

It's quite good for birds , although I doubt it gets "covered" in any systematic sense.  I mused yesterday on what might be anticipated as a final "Year List " if one walked the whole length once in each of our four seasons.  I'd think a heck of a lot with probably one or two surprises too. At various locations en route it overlooks wetland areas so the potential for species variety is high !  Yesterday song  had begun to diminish, but still assisted in the identification of a reasonable number of birds. Odd warblers still sang but it was the species like Blackbird and Song Thrush embarking on second breeding attempts that I guess figured most. I've written out a list at the end just to illustrate what might be encountered.  Quintessential England one might say and testament to the fact that , perhaps, all is not doom and gloom amidst the all too often sad news of further reductions in bird populations that we read about too often nowadays.

 In our ever increasingly busy lives we're naturally drawn to sites, usually reserves, where we can anticipate seeing a reasonable variety of species for the time invested and probably a few of particular interest. Nothing wrong with that approach at all, but I wonder how much is missed in what might be best described as the "ordinary countryside".  Food for thought, but also something to be explored perhaps when time is limited. Yesterday's bonus was a Grey Wagtail on the river before the village and the welcoming sound of House Sparrows and their seemingly incessant chirping from hidden lookouts within the village buildings.  Not bad for an MOT I thought !!  

I'll use this list as a basis for developing what might be seen locally and endeavour to cover the area on more than one occasion per year, MOT day!!  It's not in any order, just as the birds were encountered.

House Martin, Starling, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, BlueTit,  Dunnock, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Blackap, Wren, Woodpigeon, Pheasant, Greenfinch, Garden Warbler, Jackdaw, Curlew, Collared Dove, Rook, Swallow, Goldfinch, Grey Wagtail and House Sparrow.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Poletraps and all that !

Recent reportage that a gamekeeper had been captured by the RSPB on film visiting poletraps set on Widdale Fell on the Mossdale Estate, near Hawes in North West Yorkshire provides a possible worrying insight into how the owners and managers of these estates view the modern world.

                                   Photograph by courtesy of the RSPB.

These contraptions are designed to close around , and snap, the legs of birds that elect to perch on the "platform" which the device presents.. Given raptors often look around otherwise desolate moors for suitable perching posts one might automatically presume they might be   (  read are designed to be ) attractive to them !   In this recent case the fact that a female Hen Harrier had been seen in the area might even be a very relevant aspect to the issue being considered, who knows ?

Perhaps a relevant aspect to all this is that poletraps were banned by law in 1904.   That someone has such devices available and capable of use well over a  hundred years afterwards is, well, worrying, in terms of the view towards the day to day management approach of the area is concerned. That the person apprehended ( he actually gave himself up to the Police ) was described as a "young gamekeeper " is of additional concern. That such contraptions had been zealously retained over the years . handed down and were capable of use smacks of a retention of values redolent of Victorian times.  Perhaps we might be persuaded to a view that such values are still embraced by those who, through wealth and power, operate most of our grouse moors and who clearly appear to place themselves above the law.  One wonders,  but the evidence of malpractice on grouse moors  begins to be incontrovertible if a trawl though the available record of incidents and prosecutions is made ?  Are we facing not just a flouting of the law, but a concerted attempt, still, despite their much reduced status, to eliminate Hen Harriers once and for all and, therefore, something that is a problem linked to attitudes, social standing and power rather than being simply a transgression of the law.

Whilst one imagines the admission of guilt by the gamekeeper concerned acted in his favour , the fact that the North Yorkshire Police then let him off from such a serious , clear cut offence with no more than a caution raises questions in many minds to say the least. To my knowledge no statement has been forthcoming from the owners of the Estate in question, the van Cutsem family.  Such a selfless admission by the gamekeeper presumably avoids the " complication" of any accusation of employer complicity, although given that the offence of Vicarious Liability has not yet been embraced within English law perhaps this is of no relevance. Perhaps it should be pursued a little more robustly by the RSPB who have paid lip service to its relevance in times past!  The fact that staff of any enterprise are using mechanisms banned such a long time ago is bizarre, anachronistic and downright scary to say the least. What sort of bloody world are these people living in ?

RSPB........a Legion of Nero's ?

It's quite a time since I posted anything on the Hen Harrier debate. Why ?  In many respects because of a personal feeling of  sheer despondency at the depth to which the whole issue has descended. Yesterday was an absolute low spot in the ever downward spiral in the litany of weak responses and explanations being put forward against what is nothing short of a national disgrace.  The posting by Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB )  yesterday on the current situation in England with regard to Hen Harriers bordered on the apologetic, lacked substance, still smacked of the "we know best, but will reveal details in due course " approach , but above all lacked any sign of real commitment to securing change.  I was disappointed, viscerally and uncomfortably !

Let me put one or two things in context.    In 1979 in the Forest of Bowland there was 41 nesting female Hen Harriers.  This figure had been arrived at by a survey carried out by Kevin Briggs and was closely corroborated by Bill Murphy and Bill Hesketh who had identified 39 nesting birds.  The latter are still assisting as volunteers in Bowland today.  What a continuous psychological blow to their motivation the current situation must be given there are now no birds present at all !!!  Even in the late 1990's pairs were breeding successfully in the area and raising young into double figures each season. As a consequence we had managed to achieve SPA status for the area based on its unique value to conservation So what has changed both here and elsewhere in England during the last ten or fifteen years. Well, of course,we all know the answer !

Simply put, the shooting fraternity has decided among themselves to carry out what might best be described as a process of AVIAN GENOCIDE and to rid the uplands of Hen Harriers once and for all.  

Now it's easy to be critical of the RSPB given the current situation , but it must be remembered that it is they, particularly the Investigations Section , for whom I've got the utmost respect, who has catalogued the persecution incidents and brought some of those responsible to justice. In this context the Society is more than aware of what is involved and the real challenge this comprises. And yes, a variety of initiatives has been tried in an attempt at rectifying matters and at no little cost.  But, as time has gone on , the situation has not improved and there are no signs that it is going to alter.

It's at this precise point that my patience begins, and continues, to diminish. The current HEN HARRIER ACTION PLAN is clearly not the solution to the problem. Indeed I would go a step further and suggest that at every post-shoot dinner the Plan is toasted with alacrity !!  It provides the shooting fraternity with precisely what they have wished for. The harrier population has been "pegged", and is likely to remains so, and the offered solutions are unworkable.

But criticizing action plans is the least productive solution. The grouse moor owners, not all I grant you, have conspired to achieve a situation which is in their best interests, in other words they are in control. We are talking of wealth and influence, power and the Establishment. This is a social battle of sorts and will only be resolved by using different tools to those currently being employed. The RSPB still appear to respect the age old approaches of reasoned debate and discussion in order to achieve progress. It hasn't worked , the whole house of cards in the form of respectable solutions has collapsed, it has failed!!  The Society desperately requires to become street wise and to set aside the violins and don the boxing gloves !!  What it appears not to appreciate is that this issue might yet be its nemesis. There are far too many people talking of cancelling their membership, of the Society going to the dogs, of it operating below its weight, of it being scared of confrontation. Worst of all is the suggestion that the Society appears to wish this whole issue could be kicked into the long grass !!  Now I'm sure that the Society is not receiving lots of letters or E-mails on the subject, mainly because most people are somewhat reticent to take action of that sort.  However,if it did but know it, its very credibility is under siege and it would do well to heed the murmurs. I'm also sure that this is NOT what the Society considers to be the case, but importantly, this is the situation as seen and interpreted from the outside. I'll write more on this in the near future, as there is more to be said and much more that the Society needs to answer or respond to.

Despite Martin Harper's righteous indignation when criticisms were leveled at the Society for being cautious and inactive previously, the RSPB needs to step up urgently and  be seen to be pursuing something which is seen to be overtly confronting the problem.  For example, contesting something in court ( I'll not even mention a possible current contender ) might result in the case being lost, but publicity being gained and, above all else, both sympathy and support being generated anew among the membership. The latter desperately want to see "Their "  Society take some form of positive action and not simply be a commentator on the problem.

So, time to put down the violins, dowse the flames and start rebuilding

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?