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.