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 3 breeding pairs.  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 6 pairs, it still wouldn't be acceptable. 

So as the social media posts about the so called Glorious 12th start fooding 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.


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