Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Outsiders update on the Spurn Visitor Centre proposal !

You could be excused for thinking the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn had somehow disappeared into the ether, but you'd be wrong.  I suspect the silence is simply a product of efforts now being put into preparations that will eventually lead up to the planning application being submitted, on mopping up on PR problems that remain, and the sheer hard work that accompanies a major project being brought into being! In that context a YWT Project Manager has now been appointed. And it's also the family holiday season after all with all that that means for staff absences.

So nothing sinister, untoward or even unexpected.  The public meeting came and went, raised various problems and questions that doubtless will be being dealt with but, above all, provided the platform that now allows the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to move forward in assembling the necessary details for the planning process. Few in attendance were convinced.  The designs have now been revealed  ( I still don't like the palisades!! ), the intent announced and I guess things will now enter into a bit of a vacuum until the late autumn.

Now, I believe the amount of opposition will grow as the usual visits to Spurn of birdwatchers from far and wide takes place this autumn in the hope of connecting with some notable drift migrants. This should be reflected in the signature total of the petition. That's to be expected and, doubtless, people will fall into two camps, those who are adamantly opposed or those who are pretty sanguine about the whole affair. Virtually all local residents are thoroughly against the proposal and their position is unlikely to change. Due to there being no compelling case for actual destruction or disturbance of wildlife ( a view not everyone will agree with, but it is difficult to construct a data-based case on those grounds ) , hence the reason why the RSPB and Natural England are sitting in the back seats of the stalls!

My view remains unchanged.  I genuinely worry the proposal has no future, to the extent that there should be decommissioning provisions within any planning permission that might be granted.  Jono Leadley ( YWT ) has been very helpful in going through the general background details and kindly set out the link on this Blog where such information could be accessed. Spurn between November and March inclusive is a "winter desert" and visitor attendance is minimal to the extent one doubts routine costs would even be covered. The first year's  "high" months of summer might see greater numbers of visitors initially, but will there be a repeat footfall, and will income sufficiently offset the barren times of winter?   Spurn sits to the south east of an underpopulated hinterland,  is 30 miles or so from Hull and similarly spaced from resorts to the north.  A glimpse of Withernsea's main street and its bargain stores hardly suggests it will be a productive source of visitors then faced with the prices for parking and Unimog journeys!   This is an exercise in common sense, not revolving on the precise location argument.   I understand the YWT's need to upgrade facilities since the breach and consequent loss of income, but this is not the solution in my view. I'm sure the curiosity factor and promotion of the new facilities to the YWT membership will result in sufficient visitor traffic in the first couple of years. Beyond that , I doubt it , and that's when the rot will set in.  Restricted opening times, periods of closure in winter.......it's all the features of a closing down sale!  Whatever our feelings, the proposal will doubtless move forward to be considered within the planning process given YWT's obvious commitment to the idea.  I still believe a sensible option could be constructed around the Blue Bell complex, even if this can only be envisaged for 10-15 years !


If you have serious doubts about the proposal  this interim period can be used to good effect to put your arguments in order, which is precisely what I suspect the YWT  ( understandably ) will be doing too. Submitting your thoughts to the Planning Authority is a necessary step, although dispatching them off can probably wait until late October when the planning application might first be submitted ?   It's essential this time isn't squandered and that objections are put together so that they can be submitted as soon as the notice of the planning consultation is released.   So, it's essential they don't contain emotional remarks, are factual and have some semblance of argument within them. Simply stating the idea is rubbish is a waste of time!

I recently came across an article in a local group newsletter announcing the new Centre proposal and remarking what a fine idea it was. Well, I suppose such inevitable outpourings can be dismissed as sycophantic nonsense as clearly little thought had gone into the consequences of the Centre's  ( unnecessary ) presence, the feelings of local people, the financial implications or the fact that consideration of an alternative could release major resources for actual conservation work. But such reactions make the point that it's absolutely necessary for everyone to consider the wider implications and not simply fire from the hip and welcome what inevitably would, of course, be a "nice" new centre.

Clearly the situation is in a state of impasse and will inevitably be resolved via the planning process, which is perhaps how such things should proceed anyway. In the meantime, if you have doubts, then please use this time to prepare and honestly set out your opposition to something you believe is wrong.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Concerns relating to farmland birds.

The latest edition of BTO NEWS magazine has a fascinating article about the continuing decline of some of our farmland birds and the need for further research.  Some of the research carried out in the past has paid off and declines have either stabilized or reduced. Other species have not, such as the Skylark, Yellowhammer , Lapwing and Grey Partridge.



Since the 1970's the average decline in farmland birds is 62%. Some of the declines slowed after the 70's , but then have accelerated again in the last ten years.  The BTO has launched an appeal ( The Farmland Bird Appeal ) to generate funds for additional future research.  Support is ever critical and, if you're not a member, now is the time to step forward.

Contact can be made with the BTO via its web site ( www.bto.org ) or simply by contacting them by telephone, 01842 750050.  I've been a member for years and have never regretted the decision. It's research work addresses cutting edge problems , both at home and abroad, and helps in finding solutions to conserve the birds that we all take our enjoyment from.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Barn Owl bad hair day!



I'm beginning to wonder if this bird is haunting me!!  There it was first thing this morning dozing alongside the fence adjacent to the barn, the white down on its head waving around in the light wind. As I reversed the car to set off, it crouched deep behind the grass tussock and was surprisingly obscure.

Seawatching was somewhat disappointing with calmer conditions early and fewer birds on the move. Rather more Kittiwakes plied their way northwards, but both Gannets and Manx Shearwaters were in reduced numbers. Auks strangely enough almost exclusively were moving north prior to 0630 hours ( again, to  Colonsay one imagines ) but , then , things changed and birds moved southwards to feeding grounds we know exist off SW Islay. Actually little else occurred so , after 90 minutes, I started birding generally in the local area.

Several areas showed Common Sandpipers still to be present with some birds clearly feeding young. By contrast the screams of local Arctic Terns were non-existent, as if they had moved away already, contrasted to a couple of days ago. A few feeding House Martins were located yet gain , but try as I might I couldn't trace them back to their breeding sites, which would have been useful given the BTO Survey being carried out this year.  Already some young birds appear to be around  ( Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch, Stonechat (2nd broods ), Pied Wagtail ) but no warblers have been seen on the move as yet. Various people have expressed the opinion that the overall season has been about three weeks behind normal up here.

I spent a time watching for the Laughing Gull, but to no avail, ( with a similar stake out in late afternoon being unsuccessful) . This seems to link with the pattern previously when the bird only turned up for short periods and then left.

Late morning saw me at home preparing to be engrossed in my other passion at this time of year, the Tour de France. What an afternoon!  When I did return from checking out the Laughing Gull in the morning the owl was sitting out in the sun doing a lot of preening, followed by a period with its head on its chest taking yet another doze.  ( a bit like me after an early morning birding session ! ). Come mid afternoon it suddenly disappeared, so watch this space. What I can confirm is that there is still another one in the nest box as I could hear it snoring when I went to check for the "absentee" after being down at the harbour in the afternoon.  Strange neighbours!!!

Routine surprises. 24.7.2015.

At the point of setting out to go seawatching early this morning I opened the back door to find a young Barn Owl perched precariously on the edge of a water butt and staring at me intently. I ushered it off and it dropped onto the concrete apron between the house and the barn, but then "ran" with a rolling, high stepping gait into some long grass. I caught it up, surprised that it was so light and skinny ( the runt of the brood ? ) and put it close to the barn , but it had other ideas and disappeared round the corner into a nettle bed. And so ended the latest chapter in the Barn Owl saga.

At lunchtime I carefully peered around the corner of the barn, given both sheep and cattle had been feeding there. Not a sign , but then an adult ( the very white one ) shot out of the entrance hole into the barn's nest box and sailed off down the track. Strange behaviour, I thought, given everything had been done so quietly! I decided to leave them all to it, but kept an eye open at dusk for any signs. Not a thing !

Having finally got on my way just before six o'clock the next couple of hours sea watching were good , but not exceptional, and mirrored other occasions recently.  Just under 600 Manx Shearwaters flew south ( none north ) , as did a similar number of Gannets, although a few birds were plying there way northwards too. Doubtless all birds noted at the moment are on feeding movements, including the parties of Auks speeding their way southwards. A small number of Kittiwakes flew northwards, returning very probably to the breeding cliffs on Colonsay. Little other movement was in evidence other than of local birds ( Shag, Fulmar).
At a time when movements of waders are certainly ongoing, was of a single summer plumaged Turnstone flying south. the only evidence.  A bit surprising but making the anticipation of what is in store all the more enjoyable. A cast around the local area was equally frustrating except for a few feeding Sand Martin and House Martin. The latter are likely to be local breeders but an attempt to find out where proved impossible.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Our Greenest Government Ever has now turned its preferred colour to Gold!

What a joke, but what a tragedy.  As each week goes by it becomes infinitely clearer that this Tory Government has no interest in our natural environment , our natural heritage or anything that might be tinged with green, particularly Government policies. Where is that Greenest Government of yesteryear so loudly proclaimed by David Cameron ? In a nutshell, sidelined by the avowed contestant for the next position of Prime Minister, George Osborne, whose primary intention is to debase planning regulations and supportive policies for our environment in parallel with his functions as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

One wonders where the cuts will come in the £40 million spending review of DEFRA's budget. Natural England has already been cut to the quick and reduced to an emasculated caricature of its former self , so surely no further savings should be expected. But let's see!

In a fascinating piece on the Guardian website today, see this link Nine green policies killed off by Tory Government , Adam Vaughan and Terry Macalister reveal nine green policies that have been scrapped or are about to be.  Read the full details as it's an interesting article.


  • scrapping support for onshore wind projects
  • solar subsidies to be axed
  • biomass subsidies hit
  • the "green deal" killed off
  • selling off the green investment bank
  • reducing the incentive to buy a green car
  • giving up on zero carbon homes
  • fracking to be allowed in SSSI's 
  • goodbye to green tax target
Speculation is also rising about tidal power falling from favour and subsidies being withdrawn. And foremost amongst remaining contenders are offshore wind schemes, which are more costly than onshore facilities and already have a phalanx of critics.

A statement recently saying George Osborne was an astute politician was somewhat banal in my book. Stripping out Government expenditure to such a degree that it's inevitable the deficit will look more healthy in five years time is pretty superficial stuff, but will paint its architect in a favourable light. In the meantime our environment will be much the poorer and our heritage placed under siege, but certain people , the favoured minority, will be appreciably more wealthy either through relaxed regulation or enhanced opportunities. Such facilities encourage its constituents to worship enthusiastically at the altar of Mammon and ensure our Greenest Government Ever can rebrand itself and clothe everything in GOLD ( !!!!!! ) including Goldfinger George. He and others may yet have time to turn to more meaningful aspects of Government, such as a revocation of the Fox Hunting Ban as a token feature of countryside values. Where will it all end?

DEFRA lifts ban on neocotinoid insecticides.

DEFRA.............DOING EVERYTHING FARMERS REQUEST, ALWAYS !

With predictable coincidental timing the Government rushed through its announcement to allow oilseed rape seeds to be sown this autumn to be treated with the bee killing neocotinoid insecticides as MP's and their staff scuttered from Westminster for the summer recess. Admittedly the decision will only apply to 5% of the area where oil seed rape is grown. This , according to Government Minister George Eustace, is predominantly in Suffolk. Is it a coincidence , I ask , that the constituency of our Secretary of State for the Environment ( Liz Truss ) is South west Norfolk whose support for farming and cheese production know no bounds. Perhaps we should persuade her to engage with honey too.

Conservation organizations such as Buglife ( http://www.buglife.org uk ) are outraged at the decision and feel it to be a flagrant disregard for our native wildlife and a convenient ignoring of rules we have in place to safeguard our environment.  DEFRA  maintains that , whilst they have applied the precautionary principle, there is still a lot of ambiguity about the evidence. One suspects that was lifted from a "Yes Minister" script.


Bombus terrestris.  John Mason courtesy of Buglife.

The National Farmers Union despite alluding to their original application for a ban to be lifted referring to a restricted area ( see farming press ) are now waxing large about what will happen to other farmers in other places, that the decision is too late and  " that future work is intended with regulators towards more efficient authorization ".

It needs to be remembered that , in 2013, the European Union placed restrictions on the use of these pesticides based on scientific research. Since then further research has reinforced that decision. The fact that these pesticides kill our pollinators such as bumblebees and honeybees, but also other useful insects, appears not to concern the self acclaimed Stewards of our Countryside who, along with others in the past also appear to believe they should aspire to "Special Case Status".  Uhm, well I'm old enough the remember the utter cock-ups surrounding pesticides in general use in our agricultural environments last time round and what it all resulted in. But , of course, those who plead necessity and  compromise will be nowhere to be seen when that day comes round.

Apparently the specific areas where use of this treated seed is to be used has not yet been determined but, according to the NFU,  it will be those areas where most damage has occurred previously. Whose running this show I wonder.  I also wonder if the Government's Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP ) will now be allowed to publish the Minutes of its meeting wherein the decision to advise the Government to uphold the ban was determined. To date the Government has refused to allow them to publish these or reveal other details. One imagines the decision to review the situation will conveniently be sidelined in the plethora of matters which will accrue over the summer recess.

In the meantime please continue to campaign for the blanket banning of these substances and raise issues relating to the above with your own MP ( as several of them who had inquired about the matter had not received any responses ).   Government at its best!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In the end it was quite a laugh!

Having been away quite a bit this Spring opportunities to follow up , or even receive, details of what might be around have been a bit limited.  Since returning from Turkey my eldest daughter's hospitalisation and the need to keep abreast of developments have restricted "mobility" a little. Thankfully , all is now proceeding well on that front, if slowly.Similarly the  Spurn Visitor Centre has been a bit time demanding too.  For relaxation I've turned to seawatching , a favourite pastime at this time of year into late autumn of which there'll be more reports later I promise.

So, imagine my delight when, on Sunday evening I had a phone call from a friend to say that a strange gull was appearing from time to time at Portnahaven and was showing well. A scramble resulted in my missing it by minutes,but a photograph convinced me we were looking at Laughing Gull. Now we need to back track a little. This report had resulted from reports from "eagle eye " Ian Turner of Portnahaven, who' d seen the bird intermittently for around a month.  Such reports are not to be ignored ! The last I'd received was of a large bird that kept scattering the gulls around the village and proved to be, when I finally located it, a Gyr falcon. Such tips are the equivalent of 100 to 1 punts on outsiders given confidentially by the trainer involved and need to be taken seriously when Ian is involved!!

A long vigil yesterday morning and again in the afternoon produced nothing. A phone call later from Ian resulted in a scorch down to the village and missing the bird by minutes! A similar pattern today produced nothing but I thought I'd give it a try again this afternoon.  A necessity to park outside the toilets in Portnahaven was a questionable aspect ( has he a problem? ),but resulted in my eventually spotting the bird sail in.


It landed on some rocks after circling around a couple of times and spent its time preening. For no apparent reason it suddenly did various circuits around the harbour and then landed on rocks where it continued preening. It actually remained in situ for ages which is where I left it. Apparently this was the longest period it had happily spent in the area as its appearances have been haphazard, with no real pattern associated with them. Clearly there is another area ( several ) that it resorts to to feed and roost as its appearances here have been few and far between.



Hopefully these photographs ( I'm no photographer ) bring out a few of the diagnostic features. Bill shape, plumage characteristics, long legs,the long wings and attenuation. All in all , a great bird!!

What public relations manual does the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust use?

Recent days has seen various comments being made about the Visitor Centre proposal at Spurn. The public meeting held last Friday  ( yes... only three days ago now ) I felt was a good idea in that it would provide an opportunity to get a lot of the grumbles out of the way. Residents and others came away feeling that the YWT had at last heard about many of the issues which were concerning people. Not all , let it be said, due to time constraints, but such can be raised through other means.

It's never easy managing the timing and procedures of initiatives where polarized views are in place. Yes, it can get personal due to the passionate opinions held by opposing sides.  In this context it is therefore absolutely necessary for all concerned to try and attempt to be completely transparent, to be on the top of communications required and their timing and to be seen to be honest and fair. These principles have either been deliberately rejected or irresponsibly ignored in this instance and set the situation back once again.  It does raise the thought of whether the organizations involved are fit for purpose.

I missed the following news coming out last evening as I'm afraid I'm an early to bed , early to rise person and I'm not best pleased this morning at having , immediately ,to respond to the following and miss out on a sea watching session!!  Just imagine that within three days of an important public meeting a new set of plans emerge that finally show the visual impact of the tower associated with the development and the adoption of a boundary fence that would not have looked out of place around a fortified position in medieval times.


Is this really what the YWT consider apt public relations to be ?  Why was no mention of updated designs becoming available soon made at the meeting?  An announcement simply saying that new designs were imminent, but not yet completed, along with an accompanying apology would have gone a long way towards suggesting that the YWT was finally giving due consideration to the feelings etc of local residents. I suppose one might ask the simple question of why the designs weren't ready for the meeting ?  Such matters, timing and communication are matters that senior management should be in charge of. One can only conclude the issue of the plans by Salt Architects was based on a deliberate decision following their completion. But wouldn't you think someone might just have cautioned against it and suggested such was left for a few days given the seats in the meeting hall were still warm!!!   Incompetence, ignorance or just don't care?

Is this the structure anybody wants in a National Nature Reserve ? Given the apparent emasculation of Natural England in recent times it seems unlikely that any opposition , or even comment, will come from that quarter. From a design/planning viewpoint I'll offer one comment. If the development was centred on the Blue Bell complex the impact of the above "tower" could be minimized by it being sited adjacent to a gable end thus reducing the impression of the vertical impact.  I'm afraid these latest shenanigans, or sheer acts of incompetence,  leave me with a reducing recognition  for the YWT's position. Whatever the reasons behind the timing of these details being released the immediate conclusion of many will be either of incompetence or deliberate manipulation.  Little sympathy can be extended to YWT if a mistake has been made, but it is incumbent on them to make some effort to put things right. An absence of such will provide the answer and confirm what many have accused them of for a long time. Is that what they want?

What I don't want, and more adamantly than before, is the above structure at Spurn in the location suggested. I , too, am now utterly opposed to the location and will work towards it being rejected. As an immediate token of support please sign the petition by simply clicking on this link and entering your signature. Oppose YWT's Visitor Centre proposal.  591 signatures already....... more are needed. Thank you. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Barn Owl extra!

Last evening I'd been visiting friends down in the local village so it was a little after ten o'clock by the time I returned home. Up here that means it was still light, although beginning to become a bit dull and mist was forming in many of the hollows.

As I came up the track I scanned for owls but saw nothing. As I approached the house I could hear young Barn Owls "snoring" quite loudly. At first I thought at least part of this noise came away from the barn and was encouraged that these might be from the bird that had fledged away from the nest. Later I changed that view as it was obvious ( from within the barn ) that at least two youngsters were still in the nest box and very vocal.

Watching from the car an adult soon returned with prey, flying very deliberately in a direct line towards the barn. It landed on what is a small "step" at the entrance hole and immediately a young owl lunged out and grabbed the Field Vole. The adult bird then went in the aperture itself but soon came out and flew off.

So at least two youngsters remaining and clearly doing well. It might be speculated that the young bird found previously had found its way back to the nest as it was sufficiently independent to do so. Otherwise , with the weather conditions we've had since Saturday morning, I feel its chances of survival are pretty low. That said it's very encouraging to consider at least two young have been raised to this stage, possibly more!  More news later.

Serious questions raised about Eon's involvement in the Visitor Centre issue at Spurn.

Since writing a blog about the meeting relating to the proposed Visitor Centre at Spurn a further tranche of detail has been revealed, this time associated with the initiative's sponsor, Eon.

Eon, as a major commercial energy supplier, operates a Community Fund. Where it recognizes that communities have either experienced disruption due to the construction of wind turbines in their area ( construction traffic, noise piling activity and so on ) or lost a previously valued view of a local landscape, it offers "compensation payment" to the overall community to be used on facility provision locally, which is very laudable and positive.  Within such provisions it pledges community involvement in the choosing of schemes and acknowledges that any scheme should have the backing of the community.

Well it would seem such has not quite operated as closely to the guidelines as might be expected. In the above case, for example, over 90% of residents at Kilnsea village are against the proposal.  Similarly it seems the views of the community weren't tapped into as assiduously as one might expect. Eon maintain that they had contact with the local community on this specific matter, but the Parish Clerk maintains this was not the case. Whilst Eon apparently did have contact with the ERY Council, the latter asserts it advised Eon that the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust was very unpopular with the community and little expectation of a "buy in" to the proposal could be expected. This was apparently confirmed later by a Freedom of Information enquiry. Given that the "buy in" principle is claimed to be basic to the funding process something appears to have gone horribly wrong within the progression of this whole affair.  Time to start again ?

Little things mean a lot in rural communities as change is not as constant as in towns and cities. The assertion  by the Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust that  the Visitor Centre would be the making of the village has caused an upsurge of fury. For a village that was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, one that has a thriving pub ( not necessarily the case nowadays ), at least two caravan sites and bed and breakfast enterprises, it's not exactly dying on its feet.  The thought that the YWT was viewing itself as some latter day saviour has not gone down well, particularly in view of its poor reputation anyway, and demands to be publicly rectified to avoid the issue causing a rift.

Similarly the assertion by an Eon representative that the attendees at the meeting weren't representative of the opinions held by the majority of the local community is somewhat flawed. as the above quoted figure suggests. If matters are to move forward smoothly such opinions and public statements need to be fully explained rather than left hanging.

In my personal opinion much appears to have emerged at the meeting which requires attention and pretty quickly at that. The idea of providing an opportunity for grumbles etc to be aired was a good one and is generally felt to have met its objective. However,it would seem unlikely the views of the local residents will change dramatically because of newly emerged issues and their continuing opposition will lead to a costly demand on time and resources by all other organizations involved. I think I'd be thinking also of the potential aftermath should the proposal move forward as any form of local support and recognition in the future will be in short supply.  Again, does all this suggest a new start is required?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Public meeting last Friday re the proposed Spurn Visitor Centre.

As quite a number of people have read the posts I've put out on this issue I thought it only fair to give a summarized report on the proceedings that occurred last Friday. The various comments below are based on what I have received from friends, as I wasn't at the actual meeting. It is hoped that a full record of the meeting will shortly be available on YouTube.  Over one hundred and fifty people attended the meeting, which was chaired by the local MP. In summary it was felt that, finally, the concerns of the local people, all of whom were in opposition to the scheme, had reached their target source . There are clearly a number of issues that the YWT is still felt to be unclear on and that require further clarification ( see below ).

Two major aspects need airing very firmly as it is hoped both the media and officials and Trustees of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust will see this post and, indeed, officials at Eon too. Whilst I share many of the concerns about the need and viability of a Centre I would hope the following would be seen as an attempt to set out a current picture of the situation in a wholly independent manner from someone who has concerns and an interest, but who has diligently gone through the various material made available from each party.

The conclusions that the media drew ( both print and television )  of the attitudes of Kilnsea and Easington residents is flawed in the extreme and derives, one imagines, from a desire to generate a storyline that catches the public's eye!  Local residents have no problems in welcoming visitors to their villages and to Spurn, but they do adamantly oppose the erection of a new Visitor Centre.  It is not a question of "nimbyism", as has been suggested, but of the insertion into the local landscape of something that is felt to be unnecessary and highly likely to fail.

The recent past has seen a measure of bad feeling and mistrust develop on all sides. It is hoped that the meeting has dispelled much of what existed and that it provided an opportunity to air such complaints and misgivings on the one side and for the constraints within which the Trust feels it has developed the initiative to be better described. Clearly some of the "Public Relations" approaches have been wanting and some of the resultant reactions have perhaps been seen to be inaccurately focused.

It has to be accepted that the storm surge and resultant break through of the peninsula generated immediate difficulties in a management context for the YWT and for a visiting public too, who no longer had an easy means of access down the penninsula.  Spurn is a difficult enough site anyway, is very much out on a limb, has lost the obvious means of income generation to the Trust formerly achieved through access charges and , consequently, faces problems with the sourcing of the necessary monies required for management and maintenance work. It is not a case of amending what applied previously. There is a firm body of opinion that visitor traffic will not reach what was achieved previously and income forecasts and, therefore, the viability of a new Visitor Centre, funded or not, will quite soon reach a point of abject failure.  Optimism borne out of desperation is not a sensible path to follow!

There is a firm body of opinion locally that the Blue Bell premises should be further developed and serve as the centre of operations for the Trust , but set out on a more modest scale compared to the proposed Visitor Centre.. Besides the aspects of the presence of a new structure being eliminated by this proposal it is felt the economies of scale achieved via this route would be more than adequate to cover costs and would also allow some of the funding to be diverted into management work.  One of the sticking points appears to be the  "estimated lifespan" of the property given the ever encroaching threat of coastal erosion. The Shoreline Management Plan advises that the Kilnsea Floodbank will not be maintained in the future and that, ultimately, the Blue Bell premises will be inundated or require to be demolished.  Estimates of this timescale differ. The YWT has recently extended its own estimate from ten to twenty years and, on this being referred to at the meeting, an Environment Agency official produced details of a prediction of 60 years, which rather threw the discussion into disarray. It must be remembered that, at whatever point the boundary of erosion extends to the Blue Bell, the road leading to the proposed Visitor Centre is just outside those premises and would itself be "under siege". The YWT countered this concern by saying that the proposed Visitor Centre is designed to be moved ( not an easy task nor cheap ) but, when asked said they had no idea where to, which has hardly generated confidence within community thinking.

Whilst it would seem the Trust is adamant its proposal will stand scrutiny and Eon appears confident its decision to fund the project is still grounded in good sense, the overwhelming feeling locally is still that the whole concept is seriously flawed and that the investment for new facilities should be minimized and concentrated on the Blue Bell. The latter's future is limited, but so is everywhere else under consideration!!! At least the various representatives have met and provided a basis upon which future discussion might be based. It's a bit difficult to predict what the next steps might now be but the local community remain resolute in their opposition and will continue to communicate such to all parties.

Why do Tories want to kill everything?

I don't know about you but I'm beginning to be heartily sick of any problem arising within the natural world being threatened with a solution that involves killing!! Think about it.....

Badgers
Foxes
Muntjac numbers in Thetford
Wild Boar numbers in the Forest of Dean and elsewhere

And now, Herring Gulls.   The Leader of the "Greenest Government "ever has decreed action needs to be taken against these marauding predators that steal ice creams and such like.  I'd suggest we also activate a "job cull" against any advisor or official who presents a knee jerk solution involving culling members of our natural heritage prior to any sensible consideration of the factors involved and what solutions might be on offer.

From time immemorial gulls at the coast and elsewhere have taken advantage of tasty snacks where the vigilance of the owner has waned a little. I'm sure I had the odd cornet top snaffled at Scarborough or Bridlington within the sun hat days of yesteryear so the problem is not new. A wailing infant, an anxious Mother and Grandma keen to rectify the situation and get a replacement Cornetto........and bystanders having a chuckle with accompanying comments " Hey, did you see that". And who hasn't seen resort visitors offering up tasty morsels in outstretched fingers for swooping gulls to pluck at and satisfy their hunger. Chips are the usual fare , but I suspect other remnants figure large within the available menu.  And as for dogs being injured, might it be the case of them competing for discarded food and losing out?  Please don't tell me little pooch is not attracted by having a snuffle in wrappers and seeking out the odd tasty morsel!! Let's modify our behaviour to begin with and see what results  So, first of all, lets ban feeding the birds along the promenades,  leaving food remains strewn about and, secondly, lets up the clearance of favoured areas be it by litter bins being emptied regularly or areas being swept.  And what of the cost cry the local authorities? Culling birds will not be cheap and will not make the problem go away either while ever food is available.

Let's just think a bit instead of seeking to eliminate things!

My summer with the Barn Owls.

Regular readers will have picked up comments from time to time about "my" local Barn Owls. It all started last year with a bird taking up residence in the barn and being seen occasionally. Pellets suggested it wasn't always in residence and had an alternative roosting site.  Activity locally, when it used to fly around and "scream", now suggests it was advertising its presence and seeking out a mate.

Earlier on this year I walked into the barn and, hey presto, sitting on one of the higher beams was not one , but two , Barn Owls. Success! On a separate occasion when a pair of Chough had shown interest in one of the entrance holes to the barn ( there access and a nest box at either end ) an intensive period of activity ensued, which was reminiscent of the Brian Rix theater comedies of many years ago with constituent players rushing around and appearing and disappearing into and out of different access and exit points. It was also a bit aggressive and somewhat noisy!

Things then settled down a while ago with only one bird being seen from time to time.  It would be very easy to conclude you hadn't any in residence as the birds are unobtrusive to say the least. And then proof positive that something was going on when, presumably the male bird, went into the nest hole with prey. Over the ensuing nights the frequency of prey delivery grew except when weather conditions were poor. I only ever believe I saw one bird involved in this until very recently when two birds were seen out hunting locally. On one fine night the male bird was appearing back every twenty minutes or so with prey. These largely comprised of Field Voles, but with the occasional Field Mouse. Obviously darkness brought observations to a close, but it was a rewarding experience throughout. It also raised the point of how many Field Voles there are "out there" when hunting was depleting there numbers night after night.

I never went and sat in the barn whilst this was going on as I'd taken a decision to keep disturbance to an absolute minimum. What you have to consider is that all this was done from the comfort of an armchair whilst watching TV, the observations usually starting around 2130 hours and ending midway during the "Ten o'clock News" !!



Now I don't claim this is a good picture, simply an illustration of what could be seen through the back window. Not bad , eh?

On Friday night (17th ) this week we had high winds and some rain and it occurred to me that hunting would be impaired and what might happen to the young should they have to withstand a night of hunger. Yesterday, first thing in the morning, I went out to retrieve the refuse and recycling bins as they had been flung across the yard by the high winds. As I came back in a movement caught my eye and, lo and behold, an obvious young Barn Owl flew a short distance from below the car. It was fully feathered, but long strands of down hung from its underparts and poked out from elsewhere. It sat quietly on the ground towards one end of the barn and I idly thought it might possibly attempt to return there. Instead it rose and flew off about thirty metres and pitched into a gully full of vegetation. I looked in the barn to see if any less well developed youngsters were perhaps still around, but all was silent. Last evening I watched in vain for any signs of the adults, but there was none and no apparent activity locally either. Youngsters still give out begging calls to there parents even after fledging so I hoped all would be well. Sadly last night was stormy with a lot of rain, ( although the weather now is bright and sunny as I write this ) and I'd have serious misgivings about the ability of a bird to survive out in the open.  I can't believe that was the only youngster based on the amount of prey being brought back so will keep an eye and ear open for any remaining members of the family. I'd rather hoped I'd see them having regrouped last evening and to be sitting out in a row on the fence shown above, but such was not to be.   Nonetheless a privilege to have been associated with and some good memories.                                                                              

Is DEFRA set to let bees down?

In early July 38Degrees, the campaigning organization, circulated its supporters with a statement advising that the Government's Advisory body had provided a view that the ban on neocotinids should be upheld. Additionally it advised supporters that a massive 425,000 had signed a petition urging the Government not to withdraw the ban.  Good news indeed.

In a previous post I mentioned that I had watched the Secretary of State for the Environment, Liz Truss, receiving questions at Westminster on the 18th June. Within that occasion a couple of questions alluded to neocotinids. These weren't adequately answered under the guise of the details being confidential. In part it seemed that the NFU had applied for the ban to be uplifted in certain parts of the country this autumn.

Now neocotinid pesticides were banned in the EU in 2013, on the basis that substantial scientific evidence indicated that the nerve agents in such neocotinids cause serious harm to the bees.  As we all know bees play a crucial role in the pollination of crops and the cataclysmic depletion of their populations in recent times gives rise to more than a little concern! Differing views have emerged on the subject , in my view until such time that we fully understand what is causing the declines a precautionary principle needs to apply.

The Expert Committee on Pesticides  (ECP ), which is part of the Health and safety Executive, had recently revisited this topic and had advised the Government not to lift the ban. It had furthermore refused to back the application by the National Farmers Union to lift the ban on bee harming chemicals.  Now what you need to appreciate at this point is that the Government Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees  is that they should expect to operate free of influence from the sponsoring department or Ministers.

On 20th May the above Committee held a meeting after which a statement was issued advising that they were not prepared to back farmer's requests to use banned neocotinids, as stated above. They have been advised by Government, presumably DEFRA, not yet to publish the Minutes of that meeting online, as is usually the case, and neither has the agenda for the meeting on 7th July been issued.  The excuse issued by Government is that they didn't want a deluge of opposition from campaigners on a subject that had already received a good airing. More like the Government buying time and not wanting to commit itself !!

The National Farmers Union claim that it is beginning to be impossible to grow oil seed rape without the use of neocotinid pesticides and applied for the use of two types to be permitted as set out above.  These applications have been kept secret from MP's despite requests following the issue being raised on the 18th June.  Figures released in July show that oil seed rape yields increased by 23% in 2014 following the ban on neocotinids the year before. The NFU have countered by saying the seed used for these crops had already been treated and that sowing took place in the autumn before the ban became applicable.  An urgent request has now been submitted to DEFRA by the NFU asking that neocotinids should be used in two parts of the country this autumn where the threat of flea beetle is highest. In the NFU's words, the use of neocotinids is a "vital weapon"  !! Surely the solution is to not proceed with sowing oil seed rape in these areas and leave production to other parts of the country ?

It's worth mentioning that on the 1st July an announcement was made by DEFRA that, within the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, a sum of £80 million was to be set aside to support initiatives with bees. As all this controversy ebbs and flows we get closer to the summer recess at Westminster and the opportunity for unobtrusive statements to be issued by Departments.  Given Liz Truss's apparent mission to turn DEFRA into a replacement Ministry of Agriculture, Fishereis  and Food and pursue a complete lack of initiative on wildlife and natural environment issues, the outcome of all this is a worry. Previous to her undoubted round of planned visits to farmers markets, County Shows and cheese producers this summer one hopes that there will be some serious consideration on the above issue, that the advice of the expert committee will be upheld and that the UK will put both intent and force behind retaining our bee populations.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

House Sparrow........a survival conundrum?

I'm a real fan of House Sparrows! These entertaining, ebullient, ever enthusiastic little creatures used to be a very prominent feature of our landscape in the UK but, in may places, their background chirping is a thing of the past as their populations have plummeted. Such has been documented at 69 % in the period 1977-2010 ( BTO Bird Atlas 2007-2011 ). By contrast they seem to be "hanging on" in other places and even increasing in some. In urban areas ( not rural where probably different factors influence matters ) the lack of nest sites, air pollution and poor breeding performance due to lack of invertebrate prey are felt to have influenced things dramatically.

When I spent some time in New York in May I was pleasantly surprised to find House Sparrows generally spread in the areas visited, and not just parks.


Now New York is a pretty congested , noisy place ( compared to Islay ! ) but I was intrigued to often hear sparrows chirping away at road junctions , hiding away somewhere within the suspended traffic lights. Whilst Manhattan, Times Square etc have many places totally unsuitable for breeding, there are still enough more traditional buildings that must provide breeding sites.


 Similarly, with America's fast food culture, coupled with an ample number of parks and similar places  where people can take time out for lunch, and doubtless provide food for these outright opportunists, it's not difficult to see why they are succeeding at least for most of the year.. But where is that different to London or some of our other cities? We've clearly got a more defined problem than appears to apply in New York where one might just have concluded  a more hostile environment was present in some ways.

One aspect which did intrigue me and that was, "What happens in winter"?  Eastern America can be subject to some pretty ferocious winter weather and low temperatures, coupled with deep snow cover which can persist for quite a period. This aspect is certainly something we're not conversant with in recent times where our winters in the UK have become far more mild than previously. There'd certainly be no sitting out in New York's parks for some considerable time during that part of the year which suggests that House Sparrows might take a "hit" in what might be described as the low season. But clearly they bounce back and are doing reasonably well, which is good news. Given there are a number of people who read this Blog from time to time, and who live in America, please feel free to comment as there might be something obvious which I'm missing!!

I have to say, and I'm being utterly flippant here and certainly not critical,  that with New York's ability to provide novel solutions, flexibility and approaches to many things I wouldn't be surprised if even House Sparrows are provided for!!  Noticing some plush seating outside a restaurant I was intrigued as to its use. Apparently it's where  you tie up your dog,  have a hassle free meal inside, whilst the pooch sits outside on the settee and watches the world go by. Brilliant!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tremendous success by NASA.

News has emerged that NASA's New Horizon spacecraft has arrived near Pluto after, wait for it, NINE AND A HALF YEARS of spaceflight. Just imagine how long ago the design elements of this initiative commenced.  I suspect some of the key technology now available to us hadn't even emerged then , which makes the whole undertaking even more remarkable.

Like many, I'm in awe of all this and simply dwell on all the possible problems that might have arisen. I'm sure there must have been the need for a few "technology tweaks" along the way, but otherwise this is a real tribute to man's abilities. The first photograph of Pluto has already been shown and I'm sure more will follow.
Well done NASA.  Our knowledge of the Solar System continues to grow apace as does details about the wider Universe.

So what comes next?  Well, after passing Pluto the craft will apparently continue into the Kuiper Belt to examine some of the other bodies at the edge of the Solar System.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Is the UK set to welcome back the Eurasian Lynx ?

The successful reintroduction of the Iberian Lynx in both Spain and Portugal has encouraged the Lynx UK Trust to consider applications to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage at some point during this summer for the necessary licences to release 4/6 Eurasian Lynx at each of three locations in the UK.  The latter has been extinct here for around 1300 years, is slightly bigger than its immediate relative in Iberia and is thought to have a good chance of establishing viable populations that will attract wildlife tourism and photographic tours.

These animals are very secretive and solitary and are not a threat to humans.  Their main prey will be woodland deer species,  Rabbit and Brown Hare.  They are not an animal of open landscapes and are likely to remain within the cover of woodland ,indeed it has been dubbed " The keeper of secrets" due to the nature of its secretive habits.


This photograph is supplied by courtesy of Erwin van Maanen, via the Lynx UK Trust.

Already three privately owned, unfenced Estates have indicated a willingness to be part of such an introduction scheme. These are located in Norfolk, Ennerdale, Cumbria and near Huntly in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  Certainly the species could have a positive impact upon deer numbers in some areas and thereby limit the economic damage that they inflict by browsing young trees and growth.  Deer have no natural predators at present in the UK and the re-introduction would essentially introduce a more balanced situation than at present. Casting our minds back to the recent calls for action in reducing Muntjac numbers in Thetford Forest to thereby reduce economic damage and  hazards to traffic links positively to this suggestion in my opinion, as opposed to the cowboy tactics that would be likely to ensue by calling for numbers to be shot! It might well be that the presence of Lynx might bring about a reduction of feral cats in these areas. Many rural areas have a problem ( including here on Islay ) that people are unwilling to acknowledge and for which no official policies are in place.

Of course there has been predictable warnings from vested interests about the " inevitable" damage that would arise through attacks on livestock, none of which is determined from any sensible studies or evidence.
Such claims inevitably, if not immediately, then lead to the suggestion of a subsidy programme  being set up!!  It would seem the NFU are sceptical and that concerns have also been expressed by pet owners, parents, and gamekeepers.

Under the European Habitats Directive there is a section advising constituent Governments to "study the desirability of reintroducing ( threatened ) species that have become extinct in our region".  This proposal fits closely with that ideal and deserves every support. Such an introduction would , necessarily, have to be  closely monitored and it has already been disclosed that any released individuals would be fitted with GPS collars and their movements tracked. Simply to consider the potential benefits is quite astonishing. Reducing the deer population and the damage it causes in woodlands, reducing the need for deer fencing, reducing the incursion onto farmland by deer and the resultant damage arising are all potential benefits. Even the increase in the amount of undergrowth in woodlands and the concomitant benefits to other wildlife would be beneficial.

So, on balance, I do hope that the Trust is wholly successful in its endeavors to reintroduce the Eurasian Lynx to the UK.  Just to consider the possibility of seeing one in the UK  someday is an enthralling thought as far as I'm concerned. The joy that an increasing number of people get from simply watching wildlife grows by the year and this initiative would be yet another positive action that would enhance and extend those activities.  All success.

For updates in the future please refer to the Trust's website   www.lynxuk.org

A notable final day. 2.7.2015

A pre 0700  hours departure for our eventual arrival at Adana airport in early afternoon. First of all we had several sites to visit all of which were along the route. A couple of stops were unproductive,  but a river bridge provided a good vantage point and some good birding. An overflying Pygmy Cormorant, Smyrna and Pied Kingfishers along the river, Night Heron hiding away in a tangle of tree roots were welcome sightings as we made our way to a large wetland area adjacent to the coast.

Whilst it was now quite hot, with accompanying heat haze, the expanse of wetland habitat was a veritable treasure trove of birds providing a challenge of where to start.  A close Rufous Bush-chat was an immediate attraction and perched up for good views. Waders were everywhere ........Little Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Greenshank, Redshank, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover and Greater Sand Plover.  Little Tern,  Sandwich Tern, Slender billed Gull and Yellow -legged Gull together with a couple of Spoonbill.  It left the impression that , the longer one could remain there, the more that would be found!!

All too soon we just had to retire to a nearby fish restaurant where we had a simple, but delicious, meal of grilled fish. On our way into Adana a few Laughing Dove were in evidence and, then, we were at the airport, saying goodbyes to Soner and the driver and going through the usual formalities. An uneventful transfer to Istanbul, a transfer to the International Terminal and a timely departure to the UK.

And that's where the problems started!  Unfortunately, within the first hour of flying, one of the passengers had a heart attack and we had to divert to Belgrade in order to effect a transfer to hospital.  Commendable actions by the cabin crew and flight crew and a useful experience to relate to. Another late arrival at Heathrow ensued with it being too late for the Hoppa service.  After goodbyes to all, Tony Pollard and I shared a taxi with my being the first drop off at Novotel, only to find they were full and that they had arranged a transfer for me to their sister hotel , the Mercure , the very one that Tony had just departed to!!!
A taxi whisked me off, after a complimentary pint of lager, and I eventually got to bed well into the day after that on which I'd got up previously ( again).

This is a trip that everyone ought to try if they have never done Turkey before. It's not a great commitment of time and is seamlessly organized by Wildwings in their joint promotional role with BirdWatch magazine. Early suggestions are that it will be repeated in 2016, so now is the time to consider and take that positive step. It's certainly worth it!!!

Great mountain birds. 1.7.2015

This was to be the second major day for a key species ( Caspian Snowcock )  and required an 0400 hours departure to be transported by tractor and trailer up into the nearby high mountains.

 

Our eventual destination was absolutely breathtaking ( literally, at 7000 feet, if you rushed around! ). We were there at first light but the sun rose behind the mountains very slowly and didn't light up the main faces surrounding us until 0900 hours.

Basically the Snowcock call at dawn, work their way down the steep faces to the high slopes and then commence to feed whilst moving up towards the higher crags again.  We heard them at first light and eventually located one static bird and saw another flight down to a lower section.



There's actually Snowcock on that face.........

The most amazing aspect was the sheer amount and variety of birds in what might best be described as a pretty hostile environment.  Crimson-winged Finch, White-winged Snow Finch, Red-fronted Serin, Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Thrush, Ring Ousel, Wallcreeper, and even ( YES!! ) a Radde's Accentor. Only slightly lower down Shorelark , Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear and Finch's Wheatear were present and both Chukar and Nightjar were heard.





As we left for a very late breakfast a lone Golden Eagle sat on a prominent outcrop and nonchalantly watched us from a relatively close distance scour the slope for Finch's Wheatear. It was a real wrench to leave such a wonderful area that warranted a much more extended visit.

Visits later to other locations  in the Aladaglar area produced Tawny Pipit, both Chough species, Eastern Orphean Warbler, Red-backed Shrikes, Red fronted Serin, and Rock Bunting. A prolonged watch then paid off with a definitive, albeit distant, view of a Lammergeier ( Bearded Vulture ).



Some of us went out again in the late afternoon/early evening and had good views of Chukar and Finsch's Wheatear besides Ibex and Red Fox.  A memorable day  marked by a fine curry ate whilst we sat out on the open balcony with the moon rising up over the high mountains opposite.......we'd been up there!

Wetlands and uplands. 30.6.2015

It would have been good to have had more time to spend in the areas adjacent to the hotel as there appeared to be some very attractive habitats nearby, as it was Common Whitethroat, Hoopoe and Tree Sparrows were located as we departed.

Early on in our journey we had a Black Kite, but also a flock of Rose-coloured Starlings ( Rosy Starlings) previous to our arrival at Akyaka Lake. The morning was cooler as we walked along the edge of the lake to locate Lesser Short-toed Lark of which we got very good views. Taking up a higher vantage point we saw various waders including Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper besides a large group of Greater Flamingo, Common Swifts overhead and nearby Hoopoe.

Eventually we reached the Sultan Marshes and prepared for a walk out along the extensive boardwalk.





Whilst we'd seen Marsh Harrier, Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Gull-billed Tern and Citrine Wagtail even before we accessed the boardwalk we then had the delight of absolutely phenomenal views of Moustached Warbler as it fed on and adjacent to the actual structure.  Not always the easiest species to see "out in the open" this bird was a real show off and entertained everyone concerned. After walking the length of the boardwalk, and seeing Little Bittern in an inlet, we entered the second hide . Overflying Red-crested Pochard, Little Grebe, Coot, Bearded Tit and, finally, two male White-headed Duck .

Returning to the Centre for lunch we watched a Penduline Tit pair feeding young in the nest and located a couple of Little Owl before having a great meal. We then journeyed to another area of the marshes. These are vast, internationally designated and replicate what previously were similar tracts of habitat in Turkey that have since sadly fallen to development schemes for agriculture. Thankfully this area remains and contains both varied and valuable bird communities.  Assuming another vantage point we had a succession of single specimen records;  Northern Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, White-winged Tern whilst Common Terns quartered a nearby dyke and both Jackdaw and Black-headed Gulls were seen in the distance.

We then began our journey towards Safak, but not before calling in at two separate areas in the foothills. The first , a confined valley with rolling, fairly steep sides, well grazed but with some scrub.  A large flock of sheep and goats had their accompanying guard dogs which were upset by our presence. These dogs are large, aggressive and wear the large spiked collars aimed at giving them some protection whilst they, in turn, guard the flocks from Wolves. Not to be taken lightly , but usually deterred by a few well aimed stones , one in particular took an intense dislike to Steve and held its ground for some time.  Certainly something to avoid if you're on your own!

Dogs apart the area was tremendous for White-throated Robin ,of which we got some great views, but also for Upcher's Warbler which, again, we saw very well indeed. We then moved on to a not dis-similar area , but this was cultivated in parts, either with crops or young olive trees interspersed with unkempt tracts. This was located at around 4000 feet and provided us with good views of Turtle Dove and excellent views of a pair of Lesser Grey Shrike and our quarry, Bimaculated Lark of which we gained unbelievable views. Soon it was time to leave for our overnight stop ( Safak Pension ) where we would be based for two nights.