Sunday, 29 November 2015

Transcript of Westminster Talk

Back in September I had the opportunity to present my thoughts and beliefs on the environment to a group of MPs in Westminster. As a contribution to the climate marches taking place across the world today, I wanted to share the transcript of what I said to the MPs on that day.


It's not very nice being at the back of the queue.  To get to the front can seem a very long way off. It's frustrating and tiring waiting all this time just to get your turn. And I'm not talking about checking in at the airport or being last to be picked at school for the football team.

I'm talking about the natural world we live in being at the back of the queue, always last in line. How do I know this – because the science gives us the facts and 50%, yes 50% of Wildlife has been lost in the last 40 years. Please just pause a moment and think about that – 50% of wildlife lost in the last 40 years.

I listened very carefully to all of your leaders’ debates in the run up to the General election and made a tally on how often the natural world and the environment was mentioned. It was mentioned only twice, - just twice, for only a split second and guess where, yes, right at the end of the debates, last in line again.

Some people when they speak use phrases like “this planet of ours“ or “our planet “  - This planet isn’t “ours“ it isn’t owned by anybody. It’s not our right to keep taking from it and give nothing back.
We have learnt throughout History that you will not fall off the edge of the planet and hurt ourselves – BUT WE are hurting the planet, every day, all of us.

Everything we have comes from the natural world, but the natural world is evaporating rapidly in front of our eyes, and if things are to change we need to act. But act quickly, act NOW, don’t leave it until tomorrow as others have done. Change your attitudes and beliefs that someone else will save it.

I’m asking you all to make a pledge today – a pledge to put the natural world first in the queue when you are making decisions. And please pledge to consult my generation as well. No individual or group or organisation knows best, we can all learn from each other by respecting and sharing our knowledge.

There are fantastic organisations that can help you such as the RSPB of course but also youth organisations like A focus on Nature. I urge you to have a look at the “vision for Nature” report that they are publishing in Autumn and see what the younger generation are talking about.

You will have some tough work ahead and you will have to make some tricky decisions but I ask you before making your choices, have courage in your decision making to think 500 years ahead not just 5 years ahead. Do what you know is right.

So thanks for listening and when you get to the front of the queue to have your turn remember the Planet has been waiting a lot longer than you, so please do the right thing and let it go first."

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

North West Bird Watching Festival 2015

 During the weekend, the annual North West Bird Watching Festival took place at WWT Martin Mere, where myself and Elliot Montieth were volunteering for the BTO. We were volunteering for both days, and our mission, if you like, was to hand out young membership leaflets/cards to the younger generation (under 18s), who had come for the event and had an interest in wildlife.

Our job was to engage with these young people, and make them aware of the BTO Young Membership Scheme, and if we could, actually get them to become members, as the BTO are trying to get more and more of the younger audience involved with their organisation. 

The idea of us walking around the reserve engaging with these young people is great, because firstly it is young people engaging with young people, so the young people we're trying to engage with, are more likely to listen more to us. But being young, we are also a great example of the opportunities  you can get being part of the BTO.

The person in charge of us was Kelvin Jones from BTO Cymru. It was great to meet up with him again, after being such an inspirational man in the past few years.  He has generated so many opportunities for me over the last few years that it was my absolute pleasure to be volunteering with him for the BTO. Kelvin looked after the stand whilst Elliot and I were out engaging with the young people.

On the Saturday the event seemed to have a lot less people than previous years, so this made the job of engaging with young people a bit harder, however despite this we still got to have good chats with quite a few people.  Sunday was much busier though and there seemed to be a few more families about which was great to see.

It was interesting to see that of the young people we spoke to, at least half of the them hadn't actually come to WWT Martin Mere for the Bird Festival, there had just been coming for a day out anyway. Many hadn't heard of the BTO but they were interested in what the BTO is doing once we got taking to them. A couple of the parents we spoke to were already BTO members though which was great to see.  All the children we spoke to had a really positive response to what me and Elliot had to say, and seemed to walk away quite interested, however we shall only tell if our work pays off, when we see how many more young memberships we get during the next couple of weeks.

Now because we were walking around the reserve, I did of course manage to fit in a bit of birding and got fantastic views of a White Fronted Goose, and of course the usual Pink Footed Geese and Whooper Swans. There were lots of young people in the hides as well, so as well as giving them a young membership card, I also showed them some birds through the scope, which I hope boosted their interests even more.

Of course you can't beat a full English on a freezing cold day, working hard, and having a great time. It also gave me chance for a good catch up with Mark Avery who was also in there waiting to give his talk later in the day.

On the Saturday we stayed to about 4pm, and at the end of the day we went over to the Harrier Hide to watch the murmuration of Starlings that has been happening over the past couple of weeks. Unfortunately we didn't get the best views of them coming into roost however a couple of other birds did gave us some great displays including an adult female and a juvenile Marsh Harrier, which are always a delight to see, especially when they put on spectacular displays, and quite close in.  Sadly the Harrier Hide got vandalised that evening after everyone had left for the day. I just don't understand why anyone would even think of doing something like that.

Over the two days, we managed to engage with 23 young people, Saturday having 12 engagements and Sunday 11. It was very good to see the amount of children at the reserve, a great sign for the future I hope.

During the course of the weekend I also got chance to meet up with some fantastic conservationists, birders and friends including: Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery, Kelvin Jones, Charlie Moores, Phil & Rebecca Walton, Ron Thomas, Rob Lambert, Lucy McRobert, Phil Gatley, Adele Montieth (Elliot's mum), Iolo Williams, Stuart Pike, Kane Brides, Dave & Grace McGrath, Don Weedon, Hugh Pulsford, Micheal Miles and of course Henry Hen Harrier.

Over the weekend there were also lots of great talks on, however my time was limited to be able to see any, but I did manage to fit one in. It was Iolo Williams talking about "Wonderful Welsh Wildlife". It was a great talk and one that I could relate to because of all the time I spend in North Wales.

 On the Sunday we didn't stay as late, however we still fitted in lots of bird sightings including 50 plus Ruff and a Mediterranean Gull, all of which showed nicely.

The most important thing during the weekend though was the engaging with young people, which I really enjoyed. I can't wait to see the results over the next couple of weeks on how many new young memberships come through. Of course I must say a massive thank you to Kelvin for giving me such a brilliant weekend volunteering for the BTO.

 A fantastic Bird Watching Festival and I can't wait for the next one at WWT Martin Mere in 2016.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Wirral Wader Festival

Yesterday I was volunteering at Red Rocks on the Wirral overlooking the mouth of the Dee Estuary with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust as part of Wader Quest.  There were a number of different events happening all over the Wirral as part of Wader Quest.

My role in volunteering was to engage with the public; finding out how far they had traveled for the Wader Quest event and if they had come because of the event, but the best bit of the role was engaging with the people who aren't so knowledgeable and pointing out how important the Dee Estuary is for birds, especially waders.

The man in charge of me was Kevin Feaney, who I know through ringing.  He works for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and invited me along to help out, so I have to say a big thank you to him. It was quite a high tide yesterday, and the wind pushing in made it even higher; it wont surprise you that we all got totally drenched!

Kev and I had arrived early, so before we started to set the gazebo up,  he decided to give me a tour of the reserve at Red Rocks.  It was really interesting to see how it came about and the work the wildlife trusts has been doing, as well as the history of the site. I also got to meet the reserve manager who was really interesting to talk to. We spoke about how he is going to manage the site in the future, and about the successful work he and the Wildlife Trust have done for species like natterjack toads. It was also great to see Elliot Montieth again.

Because of the terrible weather,  not too many people turned up; however the few of us that were volunteering were rewarded with some great birding, including over 100 Brent Geese, a Long Tailed Duck, Goldeneye, Common Scoter and a fantastic murmaration of thousands of wading birds including Knot and Dunlin. I was hoping for a blown in Leach's Petrel, however the winds weren't strong enough on this occasion.

Wind, waves and waders.

A brilliant experience and for those of you who couldn't get there, here is a short video of the wader murmurations:

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Good Question 27 - Whose Foot?

Quiz night Tuesday is back again. 

Tonight's question is about a foot and there are two parts to the question. And by the way you can click on the picture to make it bigger.

So, part one:

What species does this foot belong to?

And, part two:

What is special about this foot?

Good luck. I will post all the answers tomorrow night as I have switched on the comments approval function so no-one gives it away too soon.

And the answer is:

The foot in the picture above belongs to this amazing Nightjar I was lucky enough to see in Portugal this year.

What is special about this foot is the comb you can see on the middle toe.  The Nightjar uses this comb to remove any debris from the whiskers you can see round the beak.  The whiskers are used to funnel food into the mouth and help protect it's eyes. Isn't evolution brilliant!

Well done to Professor David Norman for getting the answer totally right.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Goldfinch Survey - Charming to Eat You!

I don't know about all of you, but a while ago I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more Goldfinch in the garden than I remember ever seeing before. After studying the Goldfinch closely, it was clear that they were mainly feeding on the sunflower heart feeders, and not even touching the nyger seeds or other food offerings in the garden.

So I persuaded my dad to let me get a large 12 port sunflower heart feeder so I could do my own garden Goldfinch study.  The feeder needs to be so big, as it will be the only sunflower heart feeder in the garden during the survey to ensure that I can accurately measure how much the Goldfinch are eating. I want to record the volume of food they are eating and compare this against the numbers of birds visiting, national Goldfinch number trends, temperature, weather conditions etc.

Once the 12 port feed arrived, I weighed out 100g of sunflower hearts and measured how much of the feeder this would fill, which then enabled me to draw a scale onto the feeder in permanent marker, making it easier record how much seed is being eaten every day.

On 22nd September, I started recording the results daily; volume of food eaten, weather, min temperature and max temperature.  I also tried feeding kibbled sunflower hearts as well as whole ones to see if that made any difference.

As I now have just over 6 weeks of data, I thought I would take a first look at the results.  The seed eaten on the chart below is all recorded in grams and the Goldfinch numbers are taken from the weekly results I record for the BTO's Garden Birdwatch Survey.  You can click on the chart to make it bigger and easier to read.

So here are some findings from the first 6 weeks:

1. Volume of food eaten. The Goldfinch have eaten a massive 32.2kg of sunflower hearts in just 6 weeks. So this is going to be quite an expensive survey, unless of course any kind bird food companies out there would like to sponsor the survey.

2. Waste! We all know what messy eaters Goldfinch are. From 22nd September until 3rd October, the feeder was hung in the tree and any waste was allowed to just fall on the floor and was not recorded. Even though I know a lot of seeds fall from the feeder, I was still amazed at just how much waste there was on the floor.

Tray attempt 1
The trays you can get with the feeders to catch the seeds really aren't big enough to catch the waste, and the seeds tend to just bounce off, especially on such a tall feeder.

Tray attempt 2
Next we tried cutting the bottom off a large gorilla bucket, leaving a rim round to stop seeds falling off.  This was attached to the feeder with wire, but it had a few problems, especially with portly Wood Pigeons. Every time they decided to perch on the edge, the rubber would bend and buckle and the seeds would fall out. Most mornings and evenings I would find the bucket tray almost vertical and doing no good at all.

Tray attempt 3
A proper fix needed to be put in place for the survey to work, so in the end I had a stainless steel tray made to catch any dropped seed. The tray has a large enough diameter (compared to the height of the feeder) to catch all the falling seed. It also has a big rim to prevent the fallen seeds blowing away. And of course it has drainage holes.

Any dropped seed can now be weighed at the end of each day and taken off the total of the amount of food gone from the feeder, which since 4th October has given much more accurate results for the volume of seed being eaten.  You can see the immediate impact of the new tray on the graph. On 4th October the volume of seed eaten dropped sharply as the waste could be weighed and taken off the volume of food taken from the feeder.

3. Peak! There was a big peak in Goldfinch numbers the week that started on 11th October. It will be interesting to see if this matches any surges in Goldfinch migration numbers.  I hope the BTO can help me with this.

4. Kibble. Goldfinch prefer a whole sunflower heart, they do not like them broken up. The bars in orange on the graph is when the broken up sunflower kibble was fed.  You can see how steeply the food eaten dropped during the kibble weeks. I am not sure, but does anyone know if the very core of a sunflower heat is more nutritious that the other part? The finches do seem to roll the seed round in their beaks, almost peeling off some of the seed.

5. Temperature. Because it has been so mild and relatively dry (apart from the last week or so) there are no clear trends showing up yet in relation to the weather, so hopefully, I will be able to report more on this in my next update.

6. Other birds. Of course this feeder is not exclusively used by the Goldfinch, but they are the main birds feeding on it and the other garden bird numbers are quite consistent, so they don't really impact the results too significantly.

7. 12 Ports. As there are just 12 ports, there is a limit to how many birds can feed at once, although the tray has allowed for more birds to feed on the fallen seeds. So I wonder if the volume of food eaten will reach a set level even if more and more Goldfinch come to feed once it starts getting colder. We will have to see.

8. Sprawk! Our Sparrowhawk has been a more frequent visitor as the Goldfinch numbers have gone up. They certainly are noisy visitors and I wonder if that is something that is attracting the attention of the Sparrowhawk. Again, I will see how this trend continues.  I also have another blog coming soon on my observations of the Sprawk's behaviour in the garden.

9. Hygiene. Finches are quite susceptible to diseases like trichomonosis, so I ensure that the feeder is cleaned and disinfected weekly to avoid any disease being spread from the feeder.

This post was just a quick introduction to the survey I am doing.  At the time of writing, our Goldfinch numbers have dropped off a little, but there is a lot more information to be collected over Winter. I will post the next set of results once we see a change in temperature.

If you are interested in tracking the Goldfinch numbers in your garden, the BTO are also doing a survey that you can take part in. You can find out more by clicking here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Marsh Awards for Ornithology 2015

Recently, I received a letter in the post from the BTO, inviting me to an awards evening in London at the Mall Galleries. The awards evening was last week, on Wednesday night, and as it was half term, it fitted in perfectly, meaning I didn't have to miss any time off school. This was my third time in London, (all conservation related), and it was great to be with the BTO on this occasion.

The journey down on the train passes through quite a few wetland areas. I really need to get to that wetland area just before the train passes through Stafford Station. I say that every time! A stunning Red Kite was the highlight of the train journey.  Once in London, we had time for a quick wander round Trafalgar Square, which was all set up for the Rugby World Cup.

When we arrived at the Mall Galleries, I got to see Andy Clements pretty much straight away. It was great to catch up. We were then shown into the gallery by Ieuan Evans and shortly after that I bumped into Ellis Lucas, (a brilliant young birder) and had a good look round all the art with him. The Natural Eye 2015 Exhibition was taking place at the Mall Galleries, and it was great to be surrounded by so many wildlife related pieces of art work.

It was such an fantastic venue. And what's more the venue was filled with some really inspiring people.  Harriet Mead, President of of SWLA (and the artist who created the Lapwing above)  introduced the awards. Mike McCarthy from The Independent was next on stage to present the first award of the night, the Dilys Breese Award Medal, which was won Ben Hoare, Features Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. You can find out more about Dilys Breese and the history of the award by clicking here.

Next up was the presentation for the 5 Marsh Awards sponsored by the BTO. The awards were presented by Peter Titley, Ambassador for The Marsh Christian Trust, and Andy Clements, Chief Executive of the BTO.

The awards presented were as follows:

Marsh Award for Ornithology - Dr Stuart Butchart (Head of Science, Birdlife International)

Marsh Award for Local Ornithology - Malcolm Burgess &

Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology - Mark Constantine & The Sound Approach

Marsh Award for International Ornithology - Professor Franz Bairlein
(Director of Institute of Avian Research, Wilhelmshaven)

Marsh Award for Young Ornithologist - Findlay Wilde (me)

After the formal presentations were done, there was plenty of time to chat to people, which I always enjoy. I got to speak to all the other award winners, some of the artists, lots of great people from the BTO and many of the other invited guests.

Speaking to the other winners made me realise just how much can be achieved for wildlife and the environment with the right mix of knowledge, effort and determination.

I must say a massive thank you to the BTO and the Marsh Christian Trust. It was a very special evening, and one I will remember for a long time.