Monday, 4 December 2017

10 Downing Street - An Opportunity for Change

"Waiting around for something to change can be a really bad habit. How long have you been here? Check the time, don't wait, make the change happen now."

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A few months ago I received an email from Sir John Randall (the Prime Minister’s newly appointed special adviser on the Environment) inviting me to meet up with him and a small group of other young environmentalists at 10 Downing Street. What an opportunity.

So on 23rd November I travelled down to London for the meeting with an open mind on what to expect.  I spent the journey making notes on all the points I wanted to raise, distracted only by the wetlands just before we passed through Stafford station.

Arriving at Euston I felt the familiar buzz of energy that hits as soon as you step off the train in London.  We had a few hours to spare, which we spent with some good friends, and then it was time to walk down that famous street.


The other people in the meeting were Josie HewittGeorgia Locock and Jordan Havell.  We met with Sir John Randall in The Study (Mrs Thatcher's old office) at No 10. We talked about many environmental issues during that time and discussed the changes that are desperatley needed.  

As a follow up to the meeting I emailed a thank you to Sir John and a summary of all the points we discussed.  He replied in detail and it is some of those communications that I would like to share with you here. There are of course many parts of the conversation that are confidential and that I will not be publishing, as it could jeopardise Sir John's chances of getting the changes he is pushing for.

So here are parts of the notes I shared with Sir John, and some of the responses I received from him (in italics) that I will share.  I was reassured about just how many ways in which Sir John is trying to tackle things, and I am sure more of these will be made public in the months to come.  

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1. Driven grouse shooting
I was reassured that you see this as a serious issue. The shooting industry must put the effort in up front and prove they are willing to change things.  It would be great if you could get the removal of gun licenses made law for anyone found guilty of shooting raptors. Please could you get a meeting to re-look at the Hen Harrier plan as we both know that brood management is not going to work. DEFRA need to step up to the mark and do more to prevent wildlife crime.

As I hope you appreciate, I personally take the issue of the continued illegal killing of birds of prey very seriously. It is of course something not exclusively associated with grouse moors and persecution also occurs elsewhere. It is high up on my agenda as it is totally unacceptable.

There are other environmentally harmful practices associated with some moorland practices that also need to be addressed. However there are positive signs within some elements of the shooting lobby that they now recognise that urgent changes in practice need to happen and a culture change is required to ensure that the criminal element is exposed and brought to the law.

One of the big problems is the difficulty in obtaining prosecutions and indeed getting successful ones. I am looking at how evidence gained on private land could be allowed. This is potentially an issue for the Ministry of Justice, the Home office and the police forces. I am proactively looking at this.

As part of this as you know I seeing how we might increase sentences for wildlife crime as well as removal of firearm licences for wildlife crime and other crimes. You all shared with me the desire to prevent and prosecute wildlife crime. As I state above the Home Office and Ministry of Justice probably have an equally important if not more important role than DEFRA in that. Ultimately the various police forces and particularly the Police and Crime Commissioners have to be made aware that this is seen by many people as a policing priority. So that’s where people can write in to their PCC to emphasise the point, anything that can be done to encourage the public to do that would be most welcome..

I share concerns about the “industrialisation” of some pheasant shoots, a view which I understand is also of concern to many within shooting.


2. Banning the use of lead shot
I really hope this can happen as habitats are getting littered with this poison. 

As we discussed I have serious concerns about the continued use of lead shot which has been banned in many countries. It is currently illegal to use it over wetlands but as a recent editorial in Country Life admitted it is still practised by some. It is not only harmful to the environment but can have health concerns for some human beings who eat a large amount of shot game. I am looking into ways which could change behaviour in this regard including encouraging retailers to promote lead free game.

A potential ban on the use of peat is also something I’m looking at. In the meantime I am considering whether we can use the mechanism of levies to influence the behaviour.


3. Education
Getting the serious facts and statistics about climate change and world wildlife population declines into all subjects at secondary school. I believe that it must form part of the curriculum if we are going to get people to face up to the situation we are in.

If we are going to get people to understand about the links between our choices and the declines in world wildlife/climate change then we have to educate the masses and this must start in schools. We don't have time on our side and climate change will be one of the biggest things that impacts my generation. Could you link up the environment minister and the education minister to talk about this maybe.

I really agreed with you and the others about the need to persuade people of the real threat of climate change to our world and wildlife specifically. Education can be a key part of this but there will be a need for the teachers to be educated too. Just making it another subject to teach on an already crowded curriculum may not be the answer. I am already looking at how the Department of Education can get involved. Incidentally I am also speaking to Health Special Advisers as the natural world can provide a great deal to improve both our physical and mental well-being. I really think that are good sound economic and health arguments for encouraging participation in the natural world.


4. Re-newable energy and the need to invest more in it
I mentioned my concerns about the budget and that funds would not increase beyond 2020. I didn't get chance to get all my concerns across though. We will never find the next big re-newable solution unless we invest more into renewable energy research. The next big thing probably hasn't even been invented yet, it could be just round the corner, but it will never happen if we don't invest. Technology moves on so quickly, there must be more we can do to generate cleaner energy.

I am still concerned that while climate change is often talked about we need to continue to get the message across about how serious the situation is.

4. Strengthening the laws that protect the natural world as a part of Brexit rather than weakening them
I would have voted remain if I had been old enough, but Brexit does give us a chance to strengthen environmental/wildlife laws

As you rightly say, within the many challenges of Brexit, there are some possible big wins for the environment if we are bold enough to take them. At the moment I am cautiously optimistic that they are being taken seriously.

5. Plastics  
I asked for an all out ban on single use plastics rather than the increased tax put forward in the budget.  You quite rightly pointed out that it is not that simple to ban something that is used all over the place. The trouble is we are just making the plastic situation worse and worse, and we don't have time on our side anymore. 

The continued use of single use plastics is also something we are working on a great deal but I am very conscious of the need for action sooner rather than later. I think there will be much more being announced in the coming weeks and months.

6. Climate change
We talked how we can see this over a short time period in the birds now breeding in the UK and through the increase in flooding etc.  I talked about my #Think500YearsAhead campaign and how a 5 year term was not enough to change things and that a lot more forward thinking is needed. I am keen to see the 25 year plan.

I hope that you will be pleased with 25 year environmental plan when it is published, which I hope will be early in the New Year. I was interested to hear about your #Think500YearsAhead campaign. Of course the real urgency is how to start these processes and while it is easy to set targets the question is how to achieve them and how to monitor progress. Also of course we have to consider what to do if those targets are not being achieved. 

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I came away from the meeting feeling that Sir John Randall had really listened to us and that he had been genuinely interested in what we had to say. I feel optimistic about some of the changes that will hopefully start being made, but also frustrated at how long these changes can take to make. We don't have time on our side anymore.

Before leaving the meeting, I gave Sir John some of the "Thought Provoking Hen Harrier" cards that I had written out for some of the MPs, and I particularly liked this part of Sir John's email to me:

I gave your Hen Harrier card to Michael Gove in person today, he sends you his thanks and best wishes. It gave me the opportunity to talk about the issues – so thank you from me too. 




Saturday, 11 November 2017

Parking Revision at Parkgate

My blogging has slowed down a lot now that I am in my final GCSE year at high school, but last Sunday was an escape from all the hard work and a chance to enjoy some quality time with great friends and some very special birds.


Parkgate is an amazing place in any weather (even in the hail, wind, rain and sun we experienced over the course of a few hours).  That vast salt marsh is home and wintering ground to so many species and everywhere you look there is something to hone in on.


The marsh stretches for miles and every bit of light and cloud changes it's appearance and draws you into it.


After another season of Hen Harrier campaigning, it was great to enjoy views of the male and ringtail over wintering at Parkgate.  The male turned up shortly after we arrived and flew close to the edge of the incoming tide, whist the female turned up much later in the day, hunting closer to the promenade near one of the many pools on the marsh.  

Raptors were the highlight of the day, with more than just the Hen Harriers putting on a show; Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, Peregrine, Buzzard, Sparrow Hawk, Merlin and a Barn Owl all drifted in an out of view; some just giving a brief appearance, but still great to see.


The Great White Egrets were plentiful and a "blizzard" of Little Egrets were spread across the marsh. Pink Footed Geese flocked by and large mixed groups of finches dipped up and down throughout the day.


There was of course lots of catching up and talk about the Hen Harrier Days earlier in the year and some plans for next year. A few Hen Harrier cards were handed out of course and it was great to meet some blog friends like @NannyBirds.

The tide was no where near reaching the promenade wall, but it did flush the birds closer and gave us some great views. Who knows what species we missed in the middle of all that catching up!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Those Thought Provoking Hen Harriers - Part 2

A picture paints a thousand words, or so they say; but what about a picture made of words?

Earlier in the year I posted a blog titled Those Thought Provoking Hen Harriers.  That blog captured the thoughts and feelings people had when they first saw a Hen Harrier (and it's well worth another read).   

What you don't know from the blog is that I also asked those people for the first word that came into their head when I said the words "Hen Harrier". I asked the question on twitter too and received over 150 words from a broad range of people.  A massive thank you of course to all those people who took part.

Those words were so powerful and a picture started to form in my head, and this is the image it led to. All the words forming the very bird itself:


 And what an interesting picture it paints. The largest words are the ones that were said the most. I couldn't let these words go to waste of course, I had to find a way to use them.....in fact a way for all of us to use them.

So I have 250 cards ready to send out to anyone who wants one (or two or more). The front of the cards look like this:


 This inside of the card has this message:


I don't want any money for them, all I want is for the Hen Harrier story to keep being told and for awareness to build.  So if you would like a card to send to a group or individual, then please email me your address (findlaywilde@gmail.com) and I will send you some cards.

If they all get used up, I will happily get more printed.  You must of course add you own message in the card and talk about how you feel about just 3 successful breeding Hen Harrier pairs in England this year. 

So who would you send them to; MPs, landowners, NT estates, upland estates, parish councils, rural police groups......the list goes on.  

The picture will only turn more positive if we all keep the pressure for change building. 


Sunday, 24 September 2017

Wader Fix at Frodsham Marsh

You may (or may not) have noticed that my blog posts are not as frequent as they have been in the past. The simple reason is school work, as I am now in the final year of my GCSEs, so school work and revision is my main focus at the moment.

However, everyone needs a birding break from work.

The last few weeks at my local patch Winsford Flash have been great and have included scarce species such as Caspian Gull, Sandwich Terns and a Yellow Legged Gull all passing through.

Caspian Gull at Winsford Flash

There have been a few waders too, but I have been missing seeing those big flocks of waders and the variety that you can get in some locations. So I was determined to get to Frodsham Marsh today and enjoy some wader watching. I wasn't bothered about chasing anything new, I just wanted to enjoy the spectacle of big numbers of waders. And I wasn't disappointed.

On the walk to No.6 Tank there were 2 kestrels hunting over the paddocks and several Chiffchaff calling from the hedgerows.  The water in the ditch was covered in weed, but you could see trails through it where the Moorhens had half clambered, half swam through it.  An arable crop yet to be harvested had attracted a big group of Reed Bunting and there were large flocks of Meadow Pipit flying overhead.

As we got closer to No. 6 tank several large flocks of Canada Geese flew over and large groups of Starlings were feeding in the fields. 


No. 6 Tank itself held a feast for your eyes. I counted counted 3 Snipe, 110 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Little Sint, 1 Golden Plover, 200 Lapwing, 150 Black-headed Gull, 2 Lesser Blacked Backed Gull, 7 Common Gull, 3 Redshank, 28 Ruff, 18 Pintail and 11 Wigeon. 


Something (I didn't see what) spooked all the birds and they took to the air in a huge flock, but staying in their unique groups to form layers of different species low over the water. The various duck species stayed closest to the water, whilst the gulls formed a middle layer as the Lapwing danced above the others putting out their alarm calls.


The perfect break from revision for a few hours.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Friday, 8 September 2017

Arriving in Portugal - Porto

After arriving back from 3 incredible weeks in Portugal, it is now time to attempt to summarise what has been one of my most memorable holidays to date, in a series of posts that will be live on the blog over the next few weeks.

DAY 1 - PORTO

 After a long and difficult final term of year 10, I was delighted to wake up on the 11th of August knowing that in a couple of hours I would be jetting off to spend the final 3 weeks of the summer break in the beautiful north of Portugal.

'Hot' was an understatement on arrival in Porto, however despite the intense heat the birds were already performing well with Crag Martin and Red Rumped Swallow observed during the short walk between the plane and actual airport structure! Not a bad start, for me anyway.

We then headed into Porto where we were spending a night in a hotel right next to the River Douro with a fantastic view of the river and parts of the stunning city, including the monastery.



The rest of the evening was spent in the heart of the city of Porto.  A Portuguese meal in an amazing tapas restaurant called Jimao, great street entertainment and screeching Pallid Swifts acrobatically negotiating the historic buildings of the city concluded an absolutely fantastic first night in Portugal.


The next morning allowed just a hour or so to enjoy the Yellow Legged Gulls along the river before we headed back to the airport to collect our hire car.



I had seen so much in just the first 24 hours, but nothing could have prepared for what was still to come.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

3565 Thank Yous

As most of you will know, the Inglorious12th thunderclap went out on 12th August, and it spread it's message far and wide.

"I want to see an end to raptor persecution in the uplands. Criminal activity needs to be stopped #Inglorious12th"

By the time the message went out at 9:30am last Saturday, 3565 people had signed up to the thunderclap and we had created an outstanding social reach of 11,093,561.  When I first set up the thunderclap, I was hoping to beat the numbers of previous ones I had done, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect such amazing numbers.

I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported the thunderclap. Every single sign up has helped spread the message further and helped it to trend on twitter. People from all different backgrounds signed up, so we really did reach out to a lot of people who may not have even heard of a hen harrier before.

I wish I could do individual thanks to everyone, I have tried to on twitter.  Your support has meant everything and is the reason that the thunderclap was such a success. I must say a special thank you to a few people (and I am really sorry if I miss anyone out). 

Mark Avery - Mark, thank you so much for your constant support throughout the thunderclap. Your blogging, tweeting, talks etc have made a massive difference, and all the emails, DMs and encouragement are very much appreciated. I have some more ideas for another campaign, but it can wait until I get back from Portugal!  Chris Packham, Rob Sheldon, Blanaid Denman, Jeff Knot, Nick Miles, Natalie Bennett, @JW4926, @NannyBirds, @SheffEnvironmental - thank you for using your power to spread the message further.

There are also some groups and organisations that must be mentioned; RSPB, Wildlife Trust, BAWC,  Raptor Persecution, Team4Nature, League Against Cruel Sports, Rare Bird Alert. Thank you for the constant pushing of the thunderclap and for signing of course.

Again, sorry if I have missed anyone, I am grateful to each and every person that helped make a difference.  I know as soon as I post this that I will think of a load more names I should have mentioned.

So what happens next?  Well for me, I will let the impact of the thunderclap settle and hope that it has given some people food for thought. But awareness raising can be done in so many different ways and must be steady and constant to keep the message reaching out to more people.  Earlier this year I collected a whole list of words from people. I asked then to tell me the first word that came into their head when they think about hen harriers.  I have kept that list of words safe, and it will form part of my next awareness campaign and I will be asking for you help. But more on that when I get home.

We will win.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Hen Harrier Day 2017 - Sheffield

2014 was the year that the first ever Hen Harrier Day event was organised. Many of you readers will recognise the name "the sodden 570".  570 people turning up at a Hen Harrier Day event in the Peak District (quite frankly in the middle of nowhere) accompanied by the tail end of a hurricane is really rather impressive. Since that first inspiring Hen Harrier Day, every year more and more Hen Harrier Day events have been popping up across the UK and this year has been no different.

This year I attended the Sheffield Hen Harrier Day event. Arriving in a good time, after a reflective journey across miles of moorland, we had chance for a spot of breakfast before heading over to the main event organised by Sheffield Environmental (@SheffEnvironment).

Before the talks took place, it was nice to have a good hour catching up with friends and fellow conservationists, some of which had travelled many miles to be there,  which really emphasises the support these events have gained over the past few years and how much outrage people feel towards the illegal persecution of upland wildlife; including the hen harrier.


Each and every speaker perfectly explained their feelings towards the illegal persecution of the hen harrier (and other upland species). Their talks put into words the feelings of everyone listening; that the illegal persecution of the hen harrier and other upland raptor species must be stopped. All agreed that steps must be taken to safeguard native upland species from the continued, short sighted persecution.

Liz Ballard (CEO at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust),  Dr Ross Cameron (Senior Lecturer Landscape Management & Design at the University of Sheffield), David Wood (Chair of Sheffield Bird Study Group),  Dr Mark Avery (author, conservationist and so much more), Bl├ínaid Denman (RSPB Hen Harrier Life+ project manager), Natalie Bennett (former Green Party leader) and Iolo Williams all delivered heartfelt and fact filled talks.


It was great to listen to Blanaid Denman talking about her fantastic work with the RSPB Skydancer project team, but it was sad knowing that this was her last talk in that role. I first met Blanaid at the 2014 hen harrier day, and we have both seen so many changes since then. I'm sure many of you will share the same thoughts that I do regarding the amazing part she has played in hen harrier conservation and awareness raising over the last 6 years. I wish her all the best for her new job role and the new addition to her family.

2014 with Blanaid, Harley & Harry

Mark Avery gave yet another absolutely fantastic speech and also gave me the chance to promote my thunderclap to some of the folk who may not be aware of what a thunderclap is or how to sign up. It was however encouraging to see the majority of the audience raising their hands to the question of "who has signed this thunderclap".


The final speaker of today's event was Iolo Williams. His speech really did delve deep into our hearts. He started by discussing some of his personal experiences with the iconic hen harrier and ended with a really powerful, dramatic, anger filled rant based on why anyone would want to deliberately harm such a special species. His speech honestly did echo everyones thoughts and feelings.


I'll end my summary with a quote from Iolo's talk stating "we will win", words that I have heard again and again in the fight against raptor persecution. After witnessing all the emotion crammed into today's event (and I am sure this was mirrored at events across the country), I have hope that we will indeed win. Our voices are getting stronger and stronger by the day as more people are becoming aware of the devastation taking place in the uplands.

If you have not already done so, please sign the #Inglorious12th Thunderclap scheduled to go out on 12th August to keep the awareness going.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Hen Harriers - Only 3 Successful Breeding Pairs

The RSPB Skydancer team today announced the number of breeding hen harrier pairs in England this year.  Last year there were just 4 breeding pairs, and Finn was the offspring of one of them.

I did not expect the numbers to be great this year, but I had hoped to see a small increase. However, only 3 pairs of hen harrier have successfully bred in England this year. 

Just 3 pairs! 

It's sickening isn't it.

The habitat is there for them, the food is there for them. Other ground nesting birds do well in the uplands.  The uplands are lacking natural balance; the legal and illegal persecution of red grouse predators goes on. Although technically a wild bird, the intensive rearing of red grouse in the uplands devastates the other native species. 

Please don't just sit and think how awful it is and do nothing. Please speak out against the on going persecution taking place in the uplands. Please make sure that future generations get to witness the spectacle of a sky dance.

The cycle of death in the uplands has gone on too long. Hen harriers, peregrines, buzzards, foxes, mountain hairs are just a handful of the species killed and culled (legally and illegally) to boost unnatural numbers of red grouse that will then be shot. How can anyone fail to have a problem with that.  

So please join the 1675 people that have already signed the #Inglorious12th thunderclap which will go out across social media on 12th August and raise mass awareness about the persecution that continues in the uplands, our uplands.

Your natural inheritance is being stolen from you so please CLICK HERE and help spread the word that what is happening is wrong. 


Friday, 21 July 2017

Finn Update - The Next Generation

Last year, thanks to Ecotricity and the RSPB LIFE project, a young female hen harrier called Finn was fitted with a satellite tag before heading off on an adventure into the unknown.  She fledged last August from her nest in Northumberland.

Finn and her brothers

Normally, a freshly fledged hen harrier would hang around it's breeding site for a while, but not Finn. She showed determination from the start. Shortly after fledging she had crossed the Scottish border and then stayed in Scotland and over wintered in South Ayrshire.  And she has stayed that side of the border ever since.

And so began 11 months of apprehension! I get a "Finn update" every 2 weeks to let me know where she is according to the satellite tag. The updates are always a few weeks behind for Finn's protection. But every time the email is slightly late (for very valid reasons each time) I start to worry that maybe she has become just another statistic and become one of the many hen harriers that seem to just "disappear" over the uplands.

Hen harriers, and other raptors, are not well received in the uplands. Red Grouse form part of their diet and this does not go down too well in certain communities.  Shooting season for red grouse starts on 12th August and there is a lot of money to be made, so of course, the more red grouse there are, the better the shooting. So this is what I call the "cycle of death"! Red grouse numbers are boosted by ridding the uplands of predators, much of which is done legally, but there is a dark side too that sees raptors illegally persecuted.  So raptors are persecuted to protect a bird that is then shot and the process is repeated the next year and the next - a cycle of death!

I am sure you can understand why my heart wanted to see Finn soar, but my head told me to be realistic about her chances of survival.

So imaging my utter delight when the news came through that Finn was showing all the signs of starting a family of her own. I was shocked to say the least. It is after all quite unusual for a hen harrier to breed in her first year. 

Positive news is always welcome and Finn has a healthy chick due to fledge very soon. 


The excitement of receiving updates on Finn will of course continue and I can only hope that her chick has a long adventure ahead, but I will never know that for sure. Once the chick fledges, I will forever be hoping that it makes it, but every new illegal persecution story that comes to light will always make me fearful. 

You can all help speak out against raptor persecution on the #Inglorious12th by signing up to this thunderclap




Friday, 16 June 2017

#Inglorious12th Thunderclap

Thank you for arriving at this blog post.

The so called Glorious 12th (August) sees the start of grouse shooting season in the uplands. 

You may hear lots of stories about how the uplands are managed and all the benefits that come with that for some breeding birds like Curlew for example; but there is of course a darker side to all this in the form of raptor persecution.  Grouse moors are intensively managed to produce unnaturally large numbers of Red Grouse, many of which will then be shot.  But anything that would naturally prey on the Red Grouse is not welcome on the shooting estates and it is worrying to see a lack of natural predators in these areas.

Don't let my opinion sway you though, take a look through some of these links and decide for yourself.

Alleged illegal killing of a protected hen harrier


Shot Cumbrian Peregrine found at same location as dead Hen Harrier

Police investigating hen harrier death in Ravenstonedale area

Golden Eagles disappear too – mostly over grouse moors


Something I am learning is that where there is big money to be made there can also be criminal activity. Wildlife crime is not something you hear about enough in the news, as the environment and natural world are so far down the list of priorities in government, business, education etc. 

 The evidence just keeps getting clearer and clearer that serious wildlife crime is taking place in the uplands.  Modern day technology is helping to bring these activities to light more and more.

Just one more statistic for you. In theory, the uplands in England could support over 300 pairs of hen harriers. Last year we just had just 4 breeding pairs.  Only about 1% of what could be there. Not really a statistic to be pushed down the priority list. And this year's number of breeding hen harriers in England is not looking promising either. But even if the numbers doubled to 8 pairs, it still wouldn't be acceptable. 

So as the social media posts about the so called Glorious 12th start flooding in, wouldn't it be great to see #Inglorious12th trending and raising much needed awareness about the criminal activity that continues to plague these important breeding grounds.

All comments are welcome, whether you agree or disagree. It's always good to hear a wide range of opinions and ideas to move things forward.

Please sign up to the #Inglorious12th Thunderclap by clicking here and help raise awareness.

Last year 482 people signed up to a similar thunderclap and we created a social reach of over 1.3 million people. It would be great to reach even more people this year.


Thank you.

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Updates Since Blog Posted

This blog was only posted weeks ago, and yet the illegal raptor persecution continues. Including this one:

Short-eared owl shot on Leadhills Estate
https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/short-eared-owl-shot-on-leadhills-estate-police-appeal-for-info/

Since this blogpost was first published, the RSPB Skydancer team have published this year's hen harrier breeding numbers.

Only 3 pairs of hen harrier have successfully bred in England this year
https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/archive/2017/08/01/hen-harrier-breeding-numbers-in-england-2017.aspx 

Friday, 9 June 2017

An Open Letter to Theresa May

Dear Mrs May

Firstly, congratulations on almost being voted in. I wonder how you are feeling right now. I hope you have a sense of the massive responsibility you have; and not just a responsibility for the next 5 years, but for the impact your decisions will have for many, many years to come.  As I am only 15, I couldn't vote this time, but the decisions you make will still have a big impact on my generation. I would not have voted Conservative by the way, as I do not think your party sees the world in the same way I do.

It must be a huge task to prioritise what to focus on, with everything seeming to be so important when you look at it in isolation. Brexit, NHS, Global Conflict, Education, Economy, Energy etc will undoubtedly take up your time and be talked about the most and in the news the most. And not to forget of course dealing with the aftermath of the hung parliament result.

We live in a very complicated world now, with so many different layers of "stuff"! And by stuff I mean everything that the human race has created; laws, business, manufacturing, transport networks, communication systems, housing, energy supply, farming....the list is endless.  But there is a massive cost to all of this, and I do not mean a financial cost.  The cost is to our planet.

Even though evidence clearly shows what we are doing to this planet, looking after the natural world seems to be the lowest of all the government's priorities when you look back in time.  I have said it so many times before, and sadly I will have to say it many times again, but we really are living in a "take culture".  The odds are very much stacked against the natural world, as we keep on taking more than we ever give back. Not just in the UK of course, but globally.

Given the way the election has just gone, I am sure that the environment, climate change and the natural world in general will be way down your priority list, but they cannot keep being pushed to one side.

I am sure you will have sleepless nights over Brexit facts and figures, but here is a figure that keeps me awake at night:


Just pause and think about that for a minute. Over half the world's wildlife lost in just 40 years. This is mass extinction on a global scale. Look closer to home, our native animals, birds and invertebrates are struggling. Here are just a few simple facts that show the negative impact we are having:

Hedgehogs
"We appear to have lost around 30% of the population since 2002 and therefore it seems likely that there are now fewer than a million hedgehogs left in the UK"
Our native wildlife is fading in front of our eyes. Each species plays an vital part in eco-systems, so if one is struggling, then others that rely on them will be too.

Birds
Only 3 pairs of hen harrier bred in England last year, when the uplands could support over 300 pairs.  A massive cause here stems from greed and persecution to allow a select few people to shoot for pleasure. Greed. Other bird species, especially migratory birds, are also showing us that global warming is happening, with breeding patterns changing as the planet warms up.

Butterflies
Overall, 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterfly species declined in either abundance or occurrence (or both) over the past four decades.
One out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible by a pollinator, we cannot survive without them.

So let's park the complications of the man-made world we are living in and simplify things a bit. Here are two basic facts that no-one can argue with:
  • The human race is responsible for devastating the environment/natural world.
  • The human race cannot survive without the natural world.
It really is that simple. Peel away all the complicated layers of "stuff" and this is what we are left with.  We have to reverse the destructive cycle, and we have to do it now.

The free fall of species declines is desperately upsetting and your new government must not to be vapid about these serious issues. According to WWF statistics, up to 10,000 species go extinct every year, and almost all of this is down to one species, mankind.

The natural world is not an inheritance to be taxed or taken from, it is something to be nurtured, respected and safeguarded. Politicians must think further ahead than just a 5 year term. Engage with my generation, let us in, we have a freshness of ideas and a desire for change.

So please, please for the sake of all the generations to come, please have the environment/natural world at the heart of every single decision you make.  For example, don't let leaving the EU weaken our environmental protection laws, instead use it as an opportunity to strengthen them further.

Don't have environmental issues as a stand alone policy. Instead make sure they are built into every decision making process to ensure that negative impacts on the natural world are avoided. Put the environment in to every school curriculum, as part of every subject, and make sure that we are teaching each generation about the importance of our responsibilities to the natural world.

Think 500 years ahead, not just a political 5 year term.  Tackle the big issues like over population, global warming and greed. And yes, greed is a massive issue; it is the route cause of the position the natural world is in today.

I don't expect you to reply, I fear that your priorities are already set, but I hope at the very least that this message reaches you and that you will think of the generations to come.

Kind regards

Findlay Wilde


Sunday, 4 June 2017

North Wales - Breeding Birds

I feel rather privileged in the sense that every school holiday I have the opportunity to spend a certain amount of time relishing the beautiful Welsh countryside and the rich array of natural diversity it holds. I feel even more privileged in the sense that my Grandparents own a very small part of it, leaving this area free from the destruction of human society.

During the course of this half term school holiday, I have thoroughly surveyed the habitats at my Grandparents and the various species they hold; from ancient oak woodland to open pasture, every area has thrown up pleasant surprises and sparked ideas for future conservation projects.


I arrived at my Grandparents on the Tuesday and spent the majority of the afternoon covering the woodland sector. Over the past few years my Grandparents have been working hard to develop the habitat for many ancient oak woodland specialist species; and this year the work has noticeably payed off. 

The sheer variety and density of some species this year has really astounded me; Wood Warbler, Redstart and Pied Flycatcher are all present and breeding within this woodland site. The former two species seem to be in good numbers, with at least three singing male Wood Warbler.  On the surface this may not seem that impressive, but some areas across Wales have in recent years lost breeding Wood Warblers altogether, so it is encouraging to have seen as many as three pairs at this site.

I have also observed at least seven different male Redstarts in various territories across the woodland, many of which being accompanied by the female, again showing a breeding population. All the Redstart pairs this year have decided to nest in natural sites (I only noted four in the previous year) and not in any of the nest boxes put up around the wood.

The most impressive figure for this woodland site though is indeed this year's Pied Flycatcher population.


During the Winter months my grandparents erected seven nest boxes in the woodland within a relatively close proximity to one another. At the time, I thought getting 1 pair to take up residence in one of the new boxes was a bit of a dream; however when I came to check the boxes over the course of the school holiday, I was chuffed to bits to discover five active Pied Flycatcher nests. However the excitement doesn't stop there, as after a thorough stroll through the woodland I found there to be well into double figures of Pied Flycatcher pairs ... and possibly more.


Based on only six observed pairs last year, this is indeed a remarkable increase.  Due to this success, this Winter much of my time will be spent designing and building numerous nest boxes to be put up at this site to enable me to monitor this species in more detail and possibly increase the number of pairs present during the breeding season.

Pied Flycatcher nest

Last year I was delighted to witness a Garden Warbler spending time for a couple of days feeding alongside the margin of woodland and pasture. This was my first and only sighting of a Garden Warbler at this site in 5 years and I couldn't quite believe it. This year however a similar sort of habitat does indeed hold at least 5 pairs of Garden Warbler, yet again an increase, but not just an increase in numbers, it is now a recognised breeding species for the site! I also succeeded in finding one of the nests located in a dense bramble patch.

Garden Warbler nest

Whilst spending time in the woodland I did on one occasion hear and see a solitary Marsh Tit.  This species makes regular visits to the feeders in Winter; however this holiday was the first time I had witnessed one in the breeding season. I suspect that this species could well also be breeding. 

As you can tell from what you have just read, I have good reason to be excited about this area of land  now and for future seasons.  I mentioned before, it has brilliant potential for future projects that could extract valuable data for a variety of species, some of which are not currently monitored in detail. The work put in to the site is really paying off.  I can certainly report a successful breeding season at this particular site so far!

Wild Bird Wednesday


Friday, 2 June 2017

Light in the Darkness

Have you read the RSPB Skydancer blog this morning? If you haven't, then you really should. It is great to see such a positive update on the 5 remaining RSPB Life Project satellite tagged hen harriers from 2016, but this blog post will focus on one of the birds in particular, Finn.

Here is the statement from Blanaid Denman from RSPB Hen Harrier Life team on Finn:

"Finn – our one remaining English bird, Finn left Northumberland very shortly after fledging and has made a steady westward tour of the Scottish Borders, ultimately settling in South Ayrshire for the winter months. Unlike DeeCee and Harriet though, it would seem she didn’t need to travel quite so far to find an attractive breeding site, as in the last couple of weeks, she has been discovered sitting on a nest with eggs in an area of Southwest Scotland!"

As a reminder, Finn was in a brood from one of the only 3 pairs of hen harriers that bred in England last year. She was feisty from the start and travelled quite a distance in the months after fledging. This was always a worrying time, not knowing where she would be settling, and having to face the normal struggles of being an inexperienced fledgling combined with the ever present risk of illegal persecution.

So what great news to see published this morning. Not only has she made it through all the dangers so far, but she is also making her first breeding attempt.  And how fantastic to be able to track all this with the RSPB team. 

The satellite tags come into their own at this time of year, as they allow the Skydancer project teams to locate the birds and nests quickly and hopefully reduce the risks of illegal persecution. Although, the dangers are always there, as we saw in the numerous males that went missing in the north of England last year, forcing the females to abandon their nests.

So here's hoping that the positive news on Finn continues to come through. The awareness work done by so many amazing people out there from organisations to individuals is starting to turn the tide a little, as seen in these posts this week by Raptor Persecution Scotland and Mark Avery

It is great to see this focus building in Scotland, let's just hope the momentum builds even more and spreads further south. I wonder how many breeding pairs of hen harrier we sill see in England this year.


Saturday, 27 May 2017

Breeding Bird Survey (BBS)

As a young conservationist and birder, I'm always keen to get involved in survey or recording that helps us to monitor the impact we are having on the natural world. This year (as well as all the other surveys I do) I decided to take on my first Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) square in the Winsford area of Cheshire. 

A BBS square is randomly selected in any area of the UK. Whether it's an urban or rural location, both regions supply valuable information on breeding birds throughout the UK. The survey involves the recorder walking early in the morning two transect lines across the 1km square either running north-south or east-west on two occasions. The first visit being between early April - mid May and the second visit, which must be a minimum of 4 weeks later, around mid May/late June.

The transects have to be a suitable distance from each other to ensure that, whilst walking each transect, you don't record the same bird twice. The transect is split into 5 x 200m zones and all adult birds seen or heard in these sections get recorded. Listening for songs and calls helps so much with identifying species accurately.

My particular BBS square is a mix of semi rural and urban environments.  The first transect involved me strolling through a huge wheat field whilst the second was alongside a road through a small village. 


The week before doing the survey, I made sure that I had introduced myself to the land owner and got his permission to walk through the field. I will also make sure that the results are fed back to him too.

It was amazing to be surrounded by the song of skylark and witness foraging yellow wagtail in the wheat field as the sun was rising. On the other hand though, through the village, it was fantastic to walk alongside hedgerows containing numerous singing whitethroat.

Overall I recorded a total of 22 species in my survey square; it was certainly impressive to see the variety of species present and in some cases the quantity of them. My BBS square is 10 minutes away, yet I discovered some breeding species, such as the yellow wagtail, that I didn't even know were present. All in all a very enjoyable learning experience whilst contributing to science at the same time.

I would encourage each and everyone of you to consider carrying out a BBS square, as, for yourself you begin to build a picture of what species are breeding on that site, and on a wider scale you help contribute to our understanding of breeding population densities around the United Kingdom. Find out how you can get involved by clicking here.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

How Much Evidence Will It Take?

Last year, on 1st November, I attended the long awaited debate on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.  You can read my full thoughts on that debate here.  Over 100,000 people had spoken out against the continued persecution of raptors in the uplands, but the way in which these people's concerns were dealt with was disgraceful. I know, I was there.

There are clear facts regarding hen harriers that cannot be ignored. It is illegal to poison, shoot or trap a hen harrier. They are listed on Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive and are protected under Schedules 1 and 1A the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This means that it is an offence to kill the birds or disturb their nests.

For only 3 pairs to have bred in England last year, there are clearly dark forces at work, so you would hope that when clear evidence of this comes to light, punishment would be swift, meaningful and send a powerful message to those intent on breaking the law.

Well clearly this is not the case! Less than 8 months since the parliamentary debate mentioned earlier, another event has opened my eyes to the battle we face to get justice and protection for upland raptors. Almost 4 years ago, a man appeared to flush a hen harrier from its nest and then shoot it.  You can see that video here:



Sadly last week (yes it has taken that long) we found out that no prosecution would be carried out against these actions.

I'm not really sure what shocks me the most to be honest, the fact that we have witnessed such a vile event (hats off to the RSPB for sharing it) or the way the event has been dealt with. We know that illegal persecution takes place because the science and status of the hen harrier tells us that; but it is only occasionally that we actually see the crime in the flesh or on a recording, due to the remoteness of the locations where these crimes take place.

This video clearly shows a crime has taken place. This video shows the truth about what is happening to birds of prey. This video shows people linked to that crime and yet nothing will be done.  What sort of message is this sending out.

So something is becoming very clear to me, the people with the actual power to make a difference and stand up to the illegal activity are not going to; or worse still are they not willing to?

It is more and more important for the public NGO, yes us, to pick up the pace, pile on the pressure and question the decision making that is speeding up the rate of wildlife decline.  The problem with wildlife crime is that there is uproar from the masses when something comes to light like this, but then it all quietens down again and it is just the few hard core people determined to protect and seek justice that keep the stories and awareness going.

This one example of wildlife crime is just the tip of the iceberg.  Strong messages/punishments need to be given to show that it is not and never will be acceptable.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Holiday Welsh Birding

Most Easters I spend my time off in the beautiful locality of Denbighshire that is situated deep in the heart of the North Wales countryside; and much to my delight this Easter was no different. At this time of year birding is at its best with the wooded valleys either side of the house bursting with the recent arrivals of species such as redstart, pied flycatcher and even wood warbler. All of the latter and more can be seen from my Grandma's house doorstep, and yet even more fantastic wildlife sights are just a ten minute drive down the road; bringing you to places like Clocaegnog Forest and Llyn Brenig reservoir.

At the moment revision is one of my major lifestyle factors, which therefore pushes birding and other leisures down the agenda quite a few places; however every opportunity I've had to get out and about during this 2 weeks period, I have grabbed with both hands, resulting in some not bad days out.

As always on arrival not much is done, as the activities are a matter of catching up with my grandparents; however late afternoon I did manage a good hour stroll through the wooded hillside. It was fantastic to hear and see chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap flitting to and fro from tree to tree, all of which seemed to be in good numbers for the site. Of course it is important to remember that some of these birds won't yet be on territory, they may simply be passing through the area to their  breeding grounds.

I spent the my first full day in Wales exploring the glorious Isle of Anglesey. The island has a rich and varied coastline, most of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty, making these areas home to an abundance of diverse wildlife. This allows birders and other wildlife enthusiasts a fantastic opportunity to observe some of the most amazing fauna. As can be the case in this location, the wind was strong, but this did not put us off. We started off the visit at a couple of coastal headlands and bays on the run up to RSPB Southstack. I was delighted to come across my first wheatears and white wagtails of the year; both species sheltering from the weather. I didn't bother attempting a sea watch on these exposed bits of coast, but nevertheless, as we left two chough flew overhead chanting their charismatic call and a handful of rock pipit could also be seen collecting nest material.

The coastal fields alongside the road to Southstack held yet more wheatears and choughs (some of which were wearing colour rings; however as I in a moving vehicle and the choughs themselves were half a field away, I failed to get the full ring combination). The wind at Southstack was no better than further down the coast where I had previously been, but I did finally manage to find a sheltered, secluded spot which gave me chance to admire the mass array of seabirds on offer at this stunning RSPB reserve. Guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes were all relatively close in on the cliff faces allowing magnificent scoped views. Puffins had been sighted earlier in the day however after constant attempts to pick these distinct seabirds up, I couldn't seem to do so. As it aways does, time seemed to be escaping quickly so I squeezed in a brief sea watch before moving on to to my last Anglesey destination. To be honest the sea was fairly quiet, none the less a constant stream of gannet and common scoter were worthy of note, with the addition of a solitary red throated diver that steadily flew past heading north.

The final destination of the day was the one and only Cemlyn Bay. This enchanting curved coastal landform is unique with its shingle ridge dividing the open sea from a saline lagoon. The North Wales Wildlife Trust has control of the lagoon which they manage as a nature reserve. In the summer months, the lagoon provides a sanctuary for its famous tern colony which is indeed deemed nationally important as it is home to the only breeding colony of Sandwich Terns in Wales.

As Cemlyn is quite exposed, I decided to take quick look at what the lagoon had to offer. Immediately I was greeted by the exquisite calls of redshank and curlew flying overhead, whilst other individuals traversed the muddy shoreline feeding. On the slow stroll back, I picked up my first 2 swallow of the day heading inland, and then all of a sudden my first Sandwich Tern of the year!! I watched it for 10 minutes as the bird acrobatically swivelled and dived into the foamy sea water for food. Anglesey certainly was an excellent start to my 2 weeks in Wales, and it just kept getting better!

On the long drive back we took the route back over the moorlands due to terrible traffic on the A55.  And what a choice this was; as we steadily made progress through the unique landscape, a bird of prey caught my eye, rotating my head and having the bird in full view, I came to realise that it was in fact a ring tail hen harrier!!  Well, I am sure you know how I felt about that.

Day 2 of Wales brought me to the remarkable birding destination of the Great Orme. This fantastic coastal lump of rock is an avian migrant hotspot.  In the peak migration zones of Spring and Autumn species such as meadow pipit can be seen in their thousands overhead, whilst scarcer species such as dotteral, lapland bunting and black redstart are annually seen. However that day wasn't all about birding, as compromises have to be made to entertain the younger one; therefore the majority of my time up the Great Orme was actually spent under it. I visited the famous Great Orme Copper Mine, where it was fantastic to learn about the old geology of the rocks here and how the copper was extracted. Of course I did manage to fit in a short walk across the headland where it was good to see choughs in almost every field (this time succeeding to observe the colour ring combinations), there was also a constant stream of meadow pipits overhead, with a couple of wheatear thrown into the mix for good measure (one bird which appears to come in off the sea).

 Beautiful view from the Great Orme

Meadow Pipit

My Llandudno highlight came at the end though whilst sea watching.  A large falcon zipped through my scope view, followed by a square winged corvid.... I immediately got my bins on these 2 species and soon came to realise that a Peregrine Falcon was in fact being mobbed by a Chough!!! "Absolute Scenes" I yelled. Despite the experience lasting only a matter of seconds, it was certainly a highlight of my Welsh birding this Easter. Just before we left my first house martin of the year flew overhead.

The following day I visited what I think is one of the most scenic Welsh forest locations there is, or what I know of anyway; the one and only Bod Petryal. This walkway is part of an extensive forest biome made up of primarily coniferous woodland often with a deciduous outer edge. The forest as a whole is more commonly known as Clocaegnog, and known to many birders for the unique and difficult to find diversity the forest holds. In terms of birds, multiple great grey shrikes spend the Winter in tucked away deforested clearings, whilst crossbills are almost guaranteed to be seen. One of the forests speciality has to be the goshawk. This rather secretive species is difficult to catch up with in Clocaegnog due to the forest covering such a large area with not many public access spaces. Nevertheless on occasions you can see them gliding above the forest canopy, or glimpses of them skilfully zipping through the network of tree trunks.

As per usual, my visit to Bod Petryal proved fantastic, as soon as I arrived on site, I could instantly hear the chatter of crossbills, which are surprisingly rather camouflage amongst the tree tops. Goldcrests were out in force, with their jingling song seemingly coming from every other tree, whilst their wasn't one part of the walkway where you couldn't find siskins. My target species came mid walk though, when I came across a large female goshawk circling relatively high over the pine forest. It gave brief views before rocketing back into the concealment of trees. What a bird!!!!! The day ended with an obliging flyover from a red kite and 3 passing lesser redpoll.

The stunning Bod Petryal

 Grey Wagtail

One of up to 50 Crossbills present

The final part to a fantastic first week in Wales brings us to the upper course of the River Clwyd. The 2 words upper course can probably give those of you reading a good clue that the species I was after today was indeed the one and only dipper. Parking up in a pull in space adjacent to the river, I began to retrace the cars 'steps' back up the Clwyd. Within minutes out of the corner of my eye I noticed a brown blob whiz past my focal view, soon coming to realise this was indeed the bird I was after. It was fantastic to watch its typical bobbing action behaviour at a relatively close range, however what came next was even more incredible. After 5 minutes of the dipper hopping from rock to rock feeding, I observed it starting to collect mosses from the river bank! This particular bird was gathering nesting material, which for the time of year could have been seen as rather late. I enjoyed watching the bird retreating back and forth from its nest site for at least another half an hour from a safe distance (therefore not disturbing the bird). A fantastic end to a fantastic first week!

Dipper

Dipper

I should also mention that whilst I wasn't birding or revising, I spent my time participating in the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS for short) as I do every year. The aim of this ongoing project is to discover more and more information about species' nesting profiles from the start of the season until the end. Due to my Grandmas house being located high up in the Welsh hills, it is generally on average colder than lowland areas, therefore the breeding birds do tend to start their season a little later. None the less, I managed to find a surprising amount of nests of the expected species. The bulk of the nests found were indeed thrushes (an even ratio of blackbird and song thrush, 5 of the former and 5 of the latter); however 3 long tailed tit nests were also found during the course of the week. I was particularly surprised and pleased to find 5 song thrush nests as genuinely speaking, they are quite a difficult bird to catch up with around where my Grandma is based.

Song Thrush nest

Blackbird nest

Song Thrush nest

A brilliant start to my Easter break.

Wild Bird Wednesday