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. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU16006

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    rspb-images.com

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?

Cairngorms sojourn.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 8, 2016

A day of little change ! 8.4.2016

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Migrants on the move! 6.4.2016.

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A varied introduction! 4.4.2016.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"The day" finally arrives. 23.3.2016

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

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

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

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