Sunday, 18 November 2018

BTO - An Agenda For Change

A few months ago I received an invitation that instantly grabbed by attention.  I had been invited to attend a Parliamentary reception being held on behalf of the British Trust for Ornithology, hosted by Baroness Young of Old Scone at the House of Lords.  So last Tuesday I headed down to London for the evening. 


The BTO have been reviewing what they need to do to step outside the narrow audience they have and reach out to a wider group of people. This has of course all be done in line with changes that may come about from Brexit and of course how they can be more involved in the UK Government's 25 Year Environment Plan.

I never really considered just how narrow the BTO's audience is. I have been involved with the organisation since I was about 10, and therefore have a good overview of the important scientific research they do through a wide network of volunteers; but if I mention the BTO to people I know, I usually have to go on to explain what they do and how they do it.  

The reception was being held to launch the BTO's "Agenda for Change" and included inspiring, rallying speeches from, amongst others,  Andy Clements, Caroline Lucas and Baroness Young of Old Scone.  


The speeches were all important in setting out the need for the BTO to be bolder in it's approach and maybe more heroic, as the advice and guidance the BTO can give is supported by clear scientific evidence. Caroline Lucas in particular spoke of the need for the BTO to be more involved with political leaders and to keep up the pressure to ensure that they are listened to.  Andy Clements then went on to introduced their Agenda for Change what they plan to do.


Even in my lifetime, I have seen the impact of climate change through the scientific study of birds, for example, changes in nesting seasons, changes in wintering species etc.  Birds are one of the first indicators of changes in the environment, so the all the valuable scientific data the BTO holds, and continues to gather, needs to be used with greater force to effect change in environmental policies.

One of the bullet points that caught my eye was this one:

"We will become more accessible and relevant to wider society, inspiring a new generation to participate in the understanding of, and engagement with, the natural world"

I have seen the effort made by the BTO to engage with my generation and it was fantastic to see so many young people at the reception. 


I have had so many great opportunities by being a volunteer for the BTO, but it is a harder organisation to sell to my generation as it is not as tangible as the RSPB with all their reserves and actual places to visit.  I know I have said it many times, but school is the place where the impacts of climate change, plastic pollution, habitat destruction etc needs to be taught, and an organisation like the BTO with science based facts should be linking up with schools and the education minister to see how their research and results can be built into all core curriculum subjects.

It was an interesting evening and a great opportunity to catch up with the BTO team and many other engaging and influential people. I really look forward to being part of a bolder BTO organisation and seeing how they can use the important scientific data gathered by volunteers across the country for an even greater good.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Raptor Watching at Parkgate

It's a great time of year for birding with lots on the move, with the added excitement of the possibility of finding something slightly rarer.  You never know what might turn up; but sometimes it's great to just enjoy a stunning location and the birds you would expect to find there.


One such place is Parkgate on the Wirral.  It's vast salt marsh is home and wintering ground to a huge variety of species, but at this time of year it is the raptors that draw me in.  There is a good chance of seeing a huge variety of birds of prey during a visit at this time of year; Peregrine, Merlin, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and of course those thought provoking Hen Harriers. 


During a hide tide you have the perfect conditions for a phenomenal show of raptors .  As the incoming tide floods the salt marsh, the raptors move closer in to viewing areas to feed. Birders and non-birders alike cannot fail to be drawn in.


The RSPB are again doing 6 Raptor Watch sessions starting this weekend and ending in March 2019. The dates are as follows:

Sunday 14 October 2018
Sunday 11 November 2018
Sunday 9 December 2018
Sunday 13 January 2019
Sunday 10 February 2019
Sunday 10 March 2019

They are free events taking place at the Old Baths car park (same venue as the recent Hen Harrier Day) from 1pm until dusk.  It's always worth checking the high time times and height as well. Hopefully I will see some of you at Parkgate soon.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Hen Harrier Day Parkgate 2018


Due to various family commitments and other variables affecting my Summer off, this year I was only able to attend one Hen Harrier Day (but what a fantastic one it was). I was joined the night before by Mark and Rosemary Avery to rest up after a long drive from the Hen Harrier Day at Rainham Marshes.  This allowed a good chance to have a proper catch up after not seeing them in quite some time.

This year the Hen Harrier Day I attended was a much more local one for me at Parkgate on the Wirral.  Readers of this blog may be familiar with the site, as I have written about some remarkable high tide events there in the past.

With the help of some funding from Birders Against Wildlife Crime, we had hired a van to move our homemade grouse butt to the site to be used as stage for the selection of speakers. We were the first to arrive on site and were greeted by a Marsh Harrier quartering over the salt marsh.


Next to arrive was Jeff Clarke who did an amazing job in organising the event and pulling everything together.  In a short space of time we were joined by Phil Walton from BAWC, the RSPB Burton Mere team, Wirral Barn Owl Trust, Record and the Cheshire Wildlife Trusts who all had stands at the event.

Once everything was set up the venue looked fantastic and showed just how much effort people are willing to put into these events to raise awareness about the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers. As people began to arrive it was good to catch up with old friends including Ruth Tingay who wrote an excellent poem for the Rainham Hen Harrier Day.


The main event consisted of 7 speakers talking about various aspects to do with the reasons we have Hen Harrier Days and the darkness of raptor persecution. The first speaker was Colin Wells (former manager at RSPB Burton Mere) who spoke about the history of the site and how it is a fantastic place to come and see Hen Harriers in the Winter and what he did as manager of the site to protect it and make it the success it is today.

The second speaker was Colin's successor as manager at RSPB Burton Mere; Graham Jones discussed why he wanted the job as manager and how he was going to continue working with everyone to protect the fantastic site for raptors and the many breeding waders.

Next up was the fantastic Alan Davies who was talking a bit about all the world harrier species he has seen, but mainly he did a brilliant job in lifting the audience in a confident and inspiring protest; addressing the people who kill Hen Harriers and other upland wildlife.  He told them that they will lose eventually, no matter how long it takes.

I was the fourth speaker to take to the stage. At previous Hen Harrier Days I had spoken generally about the illegal persecution of upland wildlife and joined the other voices in calling for an end to this barbaric slaughter. However, this time I wanted to tell a more personal story about my journey with a Hen Harrier called Finn who had her life cut short earlier this year in March.


After me it was James Bray from the RSPB who had travelled all they way down from Bowland.  He gave a lengthy talk about how there should be far more upland species of raptor such as Peregrine and Hen Harrier breeding in Bowland. These species just aren't there in the numbers they could and should be in. It was good to hear true stories from the front line of raptor conservation.

Next was Dr Mark Avery. Mark as usual spoke very well and told the whole story about Hen Harrier Days and the successes of days being held elsewhere and of course reinforced the fact that we will succeed in banning driven grouse shooting one day.

Finally the selection of brilliant speakers was capped off by Iolo Williams. He also gave a personal story about how he used to go up on the moors and watch Hen Harriers as a child and how it really 'pisses him off' that people are violent enough to kill them. He left the audience feeling angry and hyped up to make a difference.


Between these talks Jeff Clarke did a fantastic job in opening the event, linking all the speeches and closing the sessions. He really reinforced the fact that Hen Harrier Days need to continue and why we were all there all. I should also say thank you to him for a thunderous introduction to my speech and all the support he gave the thunderclap I set up (which went out to 8.2 million people that morning).


One or two anti-Hen Harrier Day people have made comments on social media about the "pointless" numbers generated by the thunderclap and how it makes no difference and means nothing.  Well of course I beg to differ. The thunderclap was signed by 1810 people, but when it was posted out to social media, it had the potential to be seen by 8.2 million people. Not only that, as I type this, almost 25,000 people have made the effort to follow the link in the thunderclap and find out more about the dark side of uplands management, something that they chose to do. To me that is a great awareness success story.

After the talks, it was time to catch up with everyone and it was really positive to hear how many people were at a Hen Harrier Day for the very first time.

A good mate of mine, Dan Gornall, had turned up for the event and after all the talks had been done we were having a good catch up. As he checked his phone news came through that a Bonarpartes Gull had turned up at Hoylake just down the road. So after a few farewells (and long walk back to where he parked his car) we were on our way to see this American gull. Sadly though, 5 minutes before we had got there the bird had flown off towards the tideline, which was a good mile out. Therefore on this occasion we dipped it, but it was great to catch up and a big thanks to him for the lift.

I was then escorted back to the Boathouse Pub where myself and the speakers and organisers of the event spent a great few hours eating together to round the day off. As soon as I arrived I was informed that, whilst I was dipping the Bonarpartes Gull, the people who had remained at the venue for Hen Harrier Day actually saw a ringtail Hen Harrier.  A fact that Mark Avery will happily keep reminding me about.


All in all it was another very inspirational Hen Harrier Day. A huge thanks to Jeff Clarke for making it happen. At least 300 people had turned up for this event making it the highest attended Hen Harrier Day his year, which couldn't have happened without Jeff's hard work and brilliant organisation.


So who will be coming to the 5 year anniversary Hen Harrier Day next year at Derwent Dam?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Countryfile Live

Saturday the 4th of August saw me attending the annual Countryfile Live fair, which this year took place at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. I had been invited to attend by the National Trust.


  Due to GCSE exams it has been difficult to get involved in anything birding and conservation based, so it was especially good to be joining a panel of conservationists and naturalists to talk about our own experiences in the natural world and how to inspire others (especially the next generation of conservationists). 

The panel session didn't start until 12:15 so I had plenty of time before the debate to have a look around the event and see what it was all about. It was much bigger than I expected, even though I had read that an estimated 100,000 people would be attending throughout the 5 days. It was really encouraging to see that many people were in fact of the younger generation and it was great to see them engaging well with the likes of the RSPB, Wildlife Trust and BTO.


It was also great to meet up with Rosie, a local farmer at home in Cheshire, who runs a fantastic stewardship farm, which has been managed to encourage an amazing abundance of wildlife.


Due to the vast amount of wildlife based stands, it was great to see some familiar faces; the BT0, for example, were attracting a large audience by leading a ringing demonstration.  The previous day they had caught and ringed a Buzzard, which was a bit of a surprise for everyone involved.  Again it was great to see lots of young children being inspired by the natural world. 

Before long it was time to head over to the National Trust marquee where the panel session was taking place. Before the event started,  I got to chance to meet my fellow panellists who consisted of Ray Mears (bushcraft and survival expert), Gwen Potter (National Trust countryside manager), Billy Clarke (young naturalist and TV researcher) and Lizzie Daly (wildlife presenter). It was great to meet these people beforehand and discuss our ideas and share some of our recent experiences.


The panel session consisted of the chair, Tom Heap, asking each one of us individual questions for roughly 40 minutes before the questions were opened up to the audience. The panel session wasn't exactly what I was expecting; however I managed to get in points about the importance of environmental issues being part of the education system and how important it is to raised awareness about environmental issues such as the illegal persecution of upland raptors.

I also talked about the positive sides and power of social media.  There were mixed views on social media, but I still believe that social media was a key part of my engagement with like minded young people. It allowed me to meet up with a peer group (that I didn't have in school) and share ideas, experiences and ideas about conservation.

A few years ago, I posted a series of guest blogs on the "13 years Wilde" topic. A recurring theme in these posts was the lost years. At the age of 13 many people started their disconnect with nature. For me, this is the time to introduce the harder facts and to make people understand how losing important eco-systems will directly impact them.  This to me should be done by incorporating environmental issues into all parts of the curriculum in secondary schools.  But that is another blog in itself.

 I was hoping that we would cover more on careers in conservation and how to get people interested in it; but not surprisingly many of the questions were directed to Ray Mears about his experiences and thoughts on trophy hunting, re-wilding etc. Whilst I did not agree with everything Ray had to say, I did agree that in a case like the Hen Harrier situation, the priority has to be safeguarding the birds.

Overall, it was a fantastic opportunity and it was really interesting to hear quite different view points on conservation, some I agreed with, and some I really didn't.  I would have liked longer to talk with these people and I hope I will get the opportunity to meet up with them again.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

#Inglorious12th Thunderclap Update


My last blog post was to launch the 2018 #Inglorious12th Thunderclap.  As a reminder, the Thunderclap is calling for an end to the "illegal' persecution of uplands wildlife, something that everyone should want to see happen. Currently this year's Thunderclap has reached the following numbers:
  • 850 Supporters
  • 5.5 million social reach
Last year by the 12th August we had an 11 million social reach and 3565 supporters, so we have some way to go to beat that and raise even more awareness.

But we still have 11 days to go, so I am asking you all to help in any, or all of, the following ways:

1. Share the link again on your social media accounts and ask people to sign and share it
2. Email your contacts with a link to the thunderclap asking them to sign and share it
3. Get one person a day to sign and share it whilst you are with them
4. Remind people that they can sign on both their Twitter and Facebook accounts
5. If any of you are at Hen Harrier Day events on Saturday 11th, please ask people to get their phones out and sign there and then.

As a reminder, here is the link to the Thunderclap:

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/70509-the-inglorious-12th

Like a lot of you, I was delighted to hear that this year there were 14 breeding attempts by Hen Harrier pairs in England (up from last years 4 breeding attempts. 9 of these attempts were successful and 34 chicks have fledged.  But I will be even more delighted when we no longer have to campaign against the illegal activity linked to grouse moors.

Thank you in advance for your help with this last big push and I hope many of you can make it to one of this year's Hen Harrier Days.


Wednesday, 13 June 2018

#Inglorious12th - Time to Speak Out Again

It's that time of year again. The run up to what is more and more becoming known as the Inglorious 12th.

On 12th August, the uplands will echo with the sound of gunshots as the grouse shooting season starts.  Thousands of Red Grouse will be shot for sport, but they are not the only wildlife that will suffer in the name of sport.

Grouse moors are intensively managed to ensure that unnaturally high numbers of Red Grouse breed and flourish in the uplands, but in order to encourage these unnaturally high numbers of Red Grouse, other native wildlife is "controlled". Foxes, mountain hares, birds of prey are just some on the species  seen as a threat to the Red Grouse numbers. Whether you like it or not, some of this "control" is completely legal activity. But some is not!

The decline in Hen Harriers across the UK, but especially in England is directly linked to the grouse shooting industry in the uplands.  There is of course some natural predation of ground nesting birds like Hen Harriers, but natural predation alone would not lead to a situation where we had only 3 successful breeding pairs of Hen Harrier in England last year.  Furthermore, the uplands are managed to protect a ground nesting bird (the Red Grouse), so surely this would in theory benefit other ground nest birds like the Hen Harrier. So where are they?

Hen Harriers have been illegally persecuted in the uplands for years and years and this has had a devastating impact on this iconic bird known affectionately as the Skydancer.

Skydancers have the power to inspire deep emotions in people that have been lucky enough to see them. You read some amazing personal stories about Hen Harrier sightings by clicking here.

The RSPBs Hen Harrier Life+ Project has been tracking successfully fledged Hen Harrier chicks as part of a 5 year project. The chicks are satellite tagged and monitored to track their progress. I would recommend that you read the RSPB's Skydancer blog and see just how many of the birds that they have followed have disappeared. 

It became even more personal this year, when the Hen Harrier I campaigned hard for to get sponsored by Ecotricity became the latest bird to go missing. She was less than 2 years old. She has not been found and neither has her tag. There was no reason for her tag to just stop working, even if she had died of natural causes. You can read more about her short, but meaningful journey by clicking here.

Hen Harrier Finn and her brothers

So it is that time of year again when I ask you all to do one small thing, that will take just seconds, and help raise awareness about the dark side of the Inglorious 12th.  Please sign up to the Inglorious12th thunderclap and make sure people understand what is happening to native wildlife in the uplands. It is an intense cycle of death with Red Grouse numbers artificially inflated, natural predators controlled, and then the Red Grouse are shot.  We all have a responsibility to safeguard the natural world for future generations and speak out against the greed, ignorance and denial that is pushing the natural world to it's limits.

For those of you who may question the point of doing another thunderclap, you can find some answers in the blog I posted last year called Thunderclap - What's The Point.  You can also read why it is important to keep trying to drive a change by clicking here

Last year's Inglorious 12th thunderclap was signed by 3565 people and had a social reach of over 11 million.  It reached out to all the followers of the people that signed the thunderclap, many of who were unaware of the battle raging in our uplands.  

Let's see how far we can reach out together this year.  Please sign up to this year's thunderclap and get at least one other person to do the same, and let's make sure people understand that there is nothing glorious about 12th August.

Thank you.


Link to Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Gone Too Soon

Everything seemed that bit duller the day the news broke. The sun still shone, but it didn’t seem as bright. The birds were still singing, but their song didn’t inspire me as it usually does. Sometimes you hear a piece of news that stops you in your tracks. Here is the first sentence of the news I received:

"Apologies for the delay in an update about Finn but it means that I have some rather terrible news.

Finn was a Hen Harrier that was satellite tagged as part of the RSPB's Skydancer project and thanks to funding from Ecotricity. In 2015 I approached the green energy company Ecotricity to ask them to help sponsor a satellite tag as part of the RSPB Skydancer project. The whole team were brilliant, and were quick to agree. It was then a long wait to see how many chicks would be available for tagging after the 2016 breeding season. Finally, in August 2016, Hen Harrier Finn successfully fledged from her nest in Northumberland with a satellite tag on board to track her progress.

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.

Once she had fledged, I received regular 2 weekly updates on her progress. Every time the email was slightly late (for very valid reasons each time) I would 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.

 My heart wanted to see Finn soar, but my head told me to be realistic about her chances of survival. Finn made life particularly worrying for us as she chose to spend a lot of her time in and around the Leadhills Estate. 

At the start of the 2017 breeding season, some amazing news came through from the RSPB Skydancer team:

“I bring some excellent news on Finn, she has a nest on Leadhills.

Her data over the last week while had her fixed to the same area and it was looking really likely that she might have been on a nest. So some of the Scottish team headed out to the area yesterday and saw her indeed rise up out of her nest, take food from her mate, eat her meal and return to her nest.


This is really exciting news, to have a tagged female Hen Harrier on a nest while she is not even a year old yet!”


Unusually for a Hen Harrier, Finn bred in her first year and successfully raised one chick. The satellite tag came into its own during this time, as the Skydancer team were quickly able to locate Finn and monitor her safety to reduce the risk of illegal persecution. 

Throughout the rest of 2017 we continued to get the regular updates on Finn’s progress as she headed away from the breeding grounds. She survived the very cold Winter months, and as Spring approached I started to hope that maybe she would breed again.

But the last update was very late coming though.

 When it did arrive, the news I received was that her satellite tag had stopped transmitting on 25th March, but up until that point the data from her tag suggested that she was alive and well. Her last known position was in south west Scotland near Moffat. She was ranging quite far in her final weeks, mostly over south west Scotland, and never settling in one place for too long. She even visited her 2017 breeding grounds and took a brief visit over the border near Haltwhistle.

For her satellite tag to stop working so suddenly is suspicious, therefore I have been unable to post this blog until investigations have taken place and the news breaks officially.  And that has given me time to reflect.


Finn for me was a beacon of hope. I always knew that following Finn's journey would be a rollercoaster of emotions and I always felt that she was probably living on borrowed time, but she seemed to soar through all the challenges that came her way. 

In the short time we followed her, we went through every emotion possible; from the excitement of knowing she had safely fledged to the nagging worries that she was settling in high risk areas; and then of course to the worst news of all.

As UK Hen Harrier numbers continue to fall (with illegal persecution being high up the list of reasons), she was a vital part of future population recovery hopes.  She made an important difference by successfully breeding in her first year, but her luck ran out way too soon.  Just 2 years was no where near enough time.

But she won't ever be just another statistic; her life mattered; she mattered to me.

...........................

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune with our the words -
And never stops - at all -
Emily Dickinson

..............................

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday