Wednesday, 13 June 2018

#Inglorious12th - Time to Speak Out Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hen Harrier Finn and her brothers

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Link to Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Gone Too Soon

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

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

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

Normally, a freshly fledged Hen Harrier would hang around it's breeding site for a while, but not Finn. She showed determination from the start. Shortly after fledging she had crossed the Scottish border and then stayed in Scotland and over wintered in South Ayrshire. And she has stayed that side of the border ever since.

Once she had fledged, I received regular 2 weekly updates on her progress. Every time the email was slightly late (for very valid reasons each time) I would start to worry that maybe she has become just another statistic and become one of the many Hen Harriers that seem to just disappear over the uplands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the last update was very late coming though.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday

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