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

Sunday, 15 April 2018

BTO's Heronries Census - 90th Year of the Survey

Yesterday I had a break from revision and, after a morning of ringing, took part in the BTO's Heronries Census for the fifth consecutive year. I have been counting the apparently occupied nests at the same site in Cheshire since April 2014.  There is actually a concentration of large heronries in Cheshire.

This year the Heronries Census celebrates it's 90th year. According to the BTO website, the census was only meant to be a one off survey back in 1928 for British Birds magazine, but it has carried on every year since and is probably one of the longest running data sets for any breeding bird in the world.  The number of active heronries counted in the UK is now well over 500 each year and around
two-thirds of all heronries in England, Wales and the Isle of Man are currently counted each year.

The census counts herons, egrets and other colonial waterbirds, however this particular site is purely made up of Grey Herons.  The site is a mix of deciduous and pine trees (Corsican and Scots) with the herons preferring to nest in the pines.  On the walk to the heronry, one thing we all noticed was how behind everything seems to be. There were only a handful of Heron chicks calling, the hedgerows were still so bare and the deciduous tree buds were only just beginning to show signs of opening.

It's not until you actually get into the wood that realise just how active a heronry is. The adults are continuously flying in and out, and its quite eerie seeing so many of these pre-historic looking birds circling just above the trees. 

Over the past 5 years, the heronry has had up to 71 apparently occupied nests, so just imagine for a minute the activity of over 100 adults nesting in close proximity!

The count really is a case of looking round the actual nests for signs that they are occupied. There are of course the obvious signs, the adult birds actually landing by their nests or hearing the chicks calling. 

But there are plenty of other clues such as droppings beneath the nests, discarded and predated egg shells etc.

By the end of the afternoon the count of apparently occupied nests was 64. The last 5 years counts at this site show that the numbers appear to be quite stable:

2014 - 70 
2015 - 64 
2016 - 71 
2017 - 69 
2018 - 64 

Following the count, we did the important engagement work and called in on the land owner to update him on the numbers and discuss the site generally.

If you are interested in getting involved, then visit the BTO's Heronries Census website page for more information.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Why So Quiet!

It has been far too long since I posted a blog on here, but this was always going to be a difficult time to keep it going as I am in the middle of revising for my GCSEs.

I have still found time to do some writing for other blogs though, so I thought I would post the links on here.

Posted on Mark Avery's blog on 2nd March

Posted on RSPB Skydancer's blog on 28th March

In 2 months all my GCSEs will be done and hopefully I will be posting a bit more regularly again.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Open Letter to Christopher Hope at The Telegraph

Dear Mr Hope,

I was alarmed to read one of your recent articles in the Telegraph, with an even more alarming headline;

There are several reasons for writing this open letter to you, but one of my main points is to let you know how disappointed I am in you as a journalist.  It appears that you have fabricated this absurd headline after reading my blog post and I am very disappointed in your "chief" journalistic approach to my meeting with Sir John Randall.

The first point I must pick you up on is your use of the words "plotting war"! Four people under the age of 20 talking with the PM's environmental advisor about a wide range of environmental issues is not "plotting war", but I am sure you don't need me to tell you that.

I am 15. I genuinely care about this shared planet we live on. We are facing a global mass extinction of wildlife, and yet you ignore everything in my blog apart from the sections on driven grouse shooting and the fact that unnamed "Pro-field sports MPs are privately appalled by the comments". So can you please clarify something for me. Are these unnamed MPs appalled that we talked about tackling "wildlife crime"? Our conversation was about "illegal activity" and sentences for illegal activity. 

As I commented in my conversation with Sir John Randall "it would be great if you could get the removal of gun licenses made law for anyone found guilty of shooting raptors". Shooting raptors is illegal, so surely this is not an unreasonable punishment. It is not in any way "plotting war" it is simply appropriately punishing those who break the law. Mr Hope, do you think it is acceptable that we had just 3 successful breeding pairs of Hen Harrier in England in 2017?

Banning the use of lead shot is not "plotting war"on the shooting industry either. It is simply ensuring that a poison like lead is not spread across our shared rural locations. Lead is a poison. It has been removed from fuel and paint as it is a health hazard, so surely it must be removed from the food chain. This is not plotting war, it is common sense.

But I can take all this in you article as you were clearly after a headline and wanted to create your story. This is not the thing that disappoints me the most about what you wrote. It's more about what you didn't write.

Georgia, Josie, Jordan and I are 4 young people who are genuinely worried about the future of the environment for our generation and for yours. We had the courage to put our heads above the parapet and speak out about our concerns on global warming, plastic pollution, lack of education in schools on environmental issues, marine conservation, investment in re-newable energy and more. You had a real positive story that you could have told. You could have chosen to write that story. You chose not to.

You have the power and influence to help spread our message far and wide. You could have supported us in our desire to tackle environmental issues, but you chose a cheap headline instead.  The surge of young people concerned and engaged with environmental issues should not be undervalued or underestimated.

I don’t think you will,  but it would be welcome if you at least offered some form of apology to my teenage colleagues and at the very least provide the names of the MPs that were “appalled" so that I can write to them also and explain to them how they are alienating themselves from my generation.

If you do choose to respond I would be happy to post your reply as a guest blog so that you have the opportunity to have your say.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Kind regards

Findlay Wilde 

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The A-Z of 2017

Below is an A to Z summary from 2017 describing the highs and lows of what I feel has been an incredibly eventful year.

Alpine Swift roost in Miranda do Douro, Portugal. 
I can remember it so clearly.  We were sitting on a wall over looking the deep valley carved by the River Douro as the sun was setting. Several varieties of eagle and vulture had been flying over, so I didn't notice how the swifts were gathering straight away. As I looked down into the valley it became clear just how many there were, and the numbers kept building. They arrived from all angles, a mix of Common and Alpine Swift. The sound was incredible as they gradually circled lower into the valley before finally roosting in the tiny cracks on the cliffs.

Bonelli's Eagle
Whilst on a river cruise along a stretch of the River Douro we had seen loads of great birds including Bee Eaters, Blue Rock Thrush and a few vultures and eagles, but there was still an eagle I really wanted to see.  I had almost given up hope of seeing one on this trip, but as I looked up, there it sat on the top of the cliff side. An absolutely amazing birding moment.

Cheshire Badger Cull
The badger cull reached Cheshire this year.  There is still no evidence that culling works and yet the killing continues.

Douro region, Portugal
Since visiting Portugal for the last 3 years, I had always wanted to make it to the Douro region.  Our journey there was amazing driving across the mountains in the North of Portugal for hours through stunning scenery. It was 3 days of incredible birding;  Vultures, eagles,  Alpine Swifts, Bee-eaters and more.

Revision has been a big priority for me this year as I am in the final year of my GCSEs.

Finn the Hen Harrier
Finn the Hen Harrier survives the year and incredibly she bred in her first year; successfully fledging one chick.  Her safety is always in the back of my mind, especially when you regularly hear about Hen Harriers going missing.

Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull in early January was the first record of a 'white-winger' for my local patch, Winsford Flash. It was one of those chance encounters. It had rained hard in the morning which may have grounded it for a while. It stood out from the other gulls immediately and was a very welcome visitor to the flash. 

Hen Harriers
What else could there have been for H! I had a great day watching a distant Hen Harrier quartering the marshes of Parkgate with Mark & Rosemary Avery and Ruth Tingay. The Marsh Harriers came a lot closer though and it was fantastic to watch them all with good friends.

Inglorious 12th thunderclap
Between June and August this year 3565 people signed up to the #Inglorious12th Thunderclap.  When the thunderclap went out on the 12th August, it had a social reach of over 11 million.   #Inglorious12th trended on social media for much of the morning and therefore reached people who may not be aware of wildlife crimes committed in the uplands.

John the Hen Harrier (2016-2017)
Finn the Hen Harrier's brother John sadly did not survive the year.  He disappeared on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in early October.  You can read more about John's disappearance here.

Killing and on going persecution of native species.
The badger cull reached Cheshire. The Cheshire Hunt rode out on Boxing Day and this ended up in a police investigation over potential illegal activity.  People often look at the declines in species on a global scale, but it is important to look closer to home too. Every species matters. In a 2016
WWF report Mike Barrett, Director of Science and Policy at WWF-UK said “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife".

Little Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover breed for the first time at Winsford Flash. Sadly they chose one of the lower mud/sand banks to nest on. Shortly after the eggs were laid we had a period of extremely heavy rain which sadly flooded the nest. I am hoping they try again in 2018.

Making a difference 
People like Mark Avery have continued to be a great voices against raptor persecution and many other environmental issues. They are not afraid to put their heads above the parapet. In 2017 it has also been great to see more and more younger people having the confidence to speak out.

Number 10 - a chance for change.
In November I had the opportunity to visit No.10 to talk about environmental policy. You can read all about it here (or the version that the Telegraph published today here).

One hundred and thirty three species of bird recorded at Winsford Flash this year. 
My highest patch total after 3 years of surveying the site.  There has been a great variety of birds and the water ways of Cheshire ensure a good passage of birds on migration.

Pallid Harrier
The adult male Pallid Harrier from Dunsop Bridge was one of my many birding highlights from 2017. 

Quiz question quote
Who said this in 2017?
"We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to our planet. And never before, have we had the power to do something about it."

Ringing in Portugal 
I had 3 weeks in Portugal this year and much of that time was spent ringing. Some brilliant opportunities to learn about new species.

Hen Harrier days never lose their importance. It is great to meet up with a group of people (from all different walks of life) all working together to make a positive change.  The Hen Harrier days are a vital part of the awareness raising. If you haven't yet been to one, please put it on your New Year resolution list for 2018.

Three successful pairs of Hen Harrier breeding in England this year. 
Think about that for a minute, just 3 pairs. The habitat in the English uplands could potentially support as many as 300 breeding pairs, but on-going persecution has left us with just 3 breeding pairs. A bird that is at real risk of going extinct as a breeding bird in England in our lifetime.

Use of video evidence
Remember the video showing the Hen Harrier being shot and then the prosecutors ruling out using video evidence in the case. Here is a link to the video which made the BBC News.

Vultures; consisting of Egyptian and Griffon were incredible to watch in Portugal.  To see the Egyptian Vultures we parked up my a field of pigs, as the vultures regularly visit the field to feed on the placentas after the sows have giving birth. Vultures are a vital species for cleaning up and stopping the spread of disease.

Waxwings invaded the country during the start of 2017 and it was great to have a flock of 50 within 30 feet of my front garden for 3 days.

X-rays are clear evidence that raptors are being illegally shot.
There are injured and dead birds of prey that are found by members of the public and taken to vets.  It becomes clear that many of these raptors are survivors/victims of shooting attempts as the x-rays reveal the lead shot in their bodies.  You can read about some of these cases here, here and here.

Yellow-browed Warbler at Winsford Flash.
Yet another great birding moment on my local patch this year.  It just goes to show the rewards you can get by monitoring an area close to home.

Zero tolerance on wildlife crime.

Hope you all have a fantastic 2018.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas

I just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope you have a fantastic 2018.  Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on this blog, and a massive thank you for the continued support and encouragement you all give me.  

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."


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.  


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. 


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.