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