Sunday 31 May 2020

2020 Heronry Census

Covid-19 has of course had a huge impact on BTO related surveys this year and it was looking very unlikely that we would be able to complete this year's heronry census at a site in Cheshire.  Over the last 6 years that I have been involved in this survey, we have always started the heronry census in April, so hopes were fading for this year's count.  But the easing of lockdown on 13th May gave us a late chance to complete this year's survey.

Land owners permission is of course always a vital part of the survey process, but this year it was even more important to ensure we complied with any additional rules and regulations the land owner may have put in place due to Covid-19.

We completed the count of apparently occupied nests and logged the trees's GPS grid reference on 18th May. We were pleased to see the numbers come back up a bit after 2019's decline.  Perhaps this was due to the lower rates of disturbance as a result of lockdown, for example less water sports and less people generally around feeding areas.

The dry weather has helped with the count, as clues such as white wash were still evident (and not washed away by rain). There were of course the more obvious clues of occupancy from some of the chicks that sadly didn't make it.

It will be interesting to see the final results across the country for this years survey and see if the milder winter, and less disturbance due to lockdown, have had a positive impact on the numbers.

Site Results Since 2014

2014 - 70
2015 - 64
2016 - 71
2017 - 69
2018 - 64
2019 - 47

2020 - 54

You can read the full BTO 2019 Heronry Census report here.

Sunday 18 August 2019

Countryfile Live - Young People Are (part of) The Answer

The last two weekends have given me the opportunity to do something that really motivates and inspires me; engagement.

Hen Harrier Day 2019

Last weekend was Hen Harrier Day organised by the Wild Justice team. You can read more about this year's Hen Harrier Day here.  It was of course a fantastic opportunity to celebrate this iconic species and talk with a real mix of people about how to further increase the awareness of illegal persecution and what are the next "bold" moves needed to ensure future Hen Harrier Days (and we are talking 5 - 10 years here) can be a pure celebration and not dominated by the on going illegal activity.


Last year I was on a National Trust debating panel at the Blenheim Place Countryfile Live event and I was delighted to be invited back this year for the event at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, which I attended yesterday.

The show ground had already had 2 days of cars and feet, so the mud was no surprise, but I hadn't expected such a colourful reception.

The theme for this years National Trust talks and debates was "nature needs me" and the debate I was participating in was titled "Young People Are The Answer".  The information given about the debate was as follows:

Climbing trees and getting muddy knees are memories from childhood we all treasure, but are they increasingly becoming experiences of the past? Recent research suggests that only 1 in 5 children have a ‘connection to nature’. Time spent playing outdoors has halved in just one generation. 

But that’s not the full picture as we’ve seen this year…with events such as the schools’ climate strikes. Many of our nation’s youth are passionate about the planet, the climate, the environment. They want us to leave them a planet that can support them in the future. So how can we harness that enthusiasm and build connectedness with nature? 

Young people are the answer. Many of our nation’s youth are passionate about the planet, the climate, the environment. Climbing trees and getting muddy knees are memories from childhood we all treasure, but are they increasingly becoming experiences of the past?

Presenter: Charlotte Smith
Lindsey Russell - Blue Peter Presenter 
Findlay Wilde – Young Conservationist
Gemma Jones - Green Academies Project 
Helen Kaye Bourne - Action For Conservation 
India Ashfield – Wildlife Trust 

The debate actually started with a great ice-breaker question about the level of confidence we have in people in power to protect the environment. We then went on to speak about our feelings about Greta  Thunberg's climate strikes and the more extreme actions taken by Extinction Rebellion. Of course we covered the topics of how to engage with young people and the fact that they are the generation that will be most impacted by climate change.

It was a fascinating debate and whilst we agreed on most things, there were some areas I was not quite in agreement on. For example, the action taken by Extinction Rebellion has certainly helped put pressure the government to declare a climate emergency, but it also turned many people off the main message, as the media talked more about the disruption and managed to put a real negative spin on what was happening.  I more and more believe in collaborative working and it is really important to take people with you and not alienate yourself from the people you need on side (both now and in the future).

We all agreed on the importance of climate related issues being taught in school to all ages to ensure the generations coming through have the knowledge to make better life choices as they get older. It should also be a hands on experience to ensure children actually feel that connection with nature and don't suffer from "the lost years" as they move into secondary school.   However, I feel that it is just as important to reach out and educate all generations if we want to achieve the big changes needed; just look at the difference the Blue Planet series made to plastic awareness.

Some of the really interesting thoughts and learnings came on the back of the audience questions towards the end of the session. In fact, we ran over quite significantly due to the engagement of the audience and the desire to discuss as many points raised as possible.

It was inspiring to see how many youngsters in the audience had their hands up wanting to ask questions. Their questions were well thought out and came from a real desire to do something to protect the planet.  I hope they head back to school in September and put into place some of the advice given - I'm pretty sure there is one school in particular that will be going all out for a Blue Peter green badge!

But the most poignant moment for me during the session, and the one that I have reflected on the most since the debate, was an observation made by a more senior member of the audience. He asked whether or not the under 25s should change their language to avoid a "them and us" situation between generations. He felt that there was almost a blame being put on his generation and that whilst the younger generations may be more aware then ever before about climate change, they do not have all the answers.

On reflection, it was an excellent observation and of course young people are just part of the answer.  There is a real boldness coming through in the language and actions of the under 25s, but there is experience, knowledge and influence to be found across the generations.  No individual generation is solely responsible for the state of the planet and no individual generation can reverse the crisis.  Yes we need to be bold in our actions, but we also have to be inclusive. 

We're all in this together after all.

Sunday 14 April 2019

2019 Heronry Census

I have been counting active Heron nests with Professor David Norman as part of the BTO Heronries Census at the same site since 2014.  During a break from revision, it was great to get back to the site again today.

2014 Survey

2019 Survey

In the last 5 years the numbers have not changed as much as we have!

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


2019 - 47

But as you can see, there is quite a noticeable dip in this years numbers. It is too early to say why, but it will be interesting to see the results of other counts this year, particularly in Cheshire.

For more information about the census, you can take a look at my blog from last year celebrating 90 years of the survey, or visit the BTO's website.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Discard - a thing rejected as no longer useful or desirable

I live in a very rural setting in the heart of Cheshire and have lived in the countryside all my life.  My passion for wildlife was fuelled by the the everyday birds, mammals and insects I would come across every time I walked out of my front door; but my commitment to campaign about environmental issues was also fuelled by the things I have seen in the countryside (sometimes within walking distance from home and sometimes further afield), inexcusable things.

Several pheasant shoots take place in the surrounding area, and during the season I can hear the shots being fired.

A few weeks ago there was a post on our village Facebook page. The post described a fly tipping incident on a track that leads to the river and it also included the following picture:

I had to see this for myself to understand the scale of the situation. As I approached, I could see the large blue plastic bags and I already knew what was in them.

According to the Facebook post, the bags were originally wrapped in a carpet to hide the contents, but once the carpet had been removed I counted about 30 shot pheasants. 30 pheasants that had been shot for pleasure and then dumped by the side of a country track that families use frequently as they walk to the river.  

But that was not all.  There were also some black bin bags in the mix. Again I had to look, so I opened the bin bags and found the bodies of two Canada Geese. 

According to an 2016 article in Shooting UK, approximately 35 million game birds, mostly non-native pheasants, are released each year.   They are farmed and then many are shot for sport.  Some will eventually be eaten, but clearly not all of them.  The number of social media posts I see about stink pits and fly tipping of shot birds is alarming. Birds shot for pleasure and then simply discarded.

Discard - a thing rejected as no longer useful or desirable.

There are so many dark sides to the shooting industry, but his total waste of life (in the name of sport)  in unjustifiable.  This is not an acceptable part of rural life.  The outrage and disgust on the Facebook post from the local community was clear to see. 

I would be very interested to hear from the shooting community regarding their thoughts on how we can all tackle this.  Regardless of my thoughts on shooting, I am not for a minute suggesting that this discard practise is something carried out by all shoot organisers, but it is widespread within their industry and they have to literally clean up their act.

Saturday 29 December 2018

A Look Back at 2018

Sometimes, it's not until you take a few minutes to look back, you realise just how much you packed into a year (especially when most of the year was dominated by GCSE revision). Here are just a few of my highlights, and a real lowlight, from 2018:


The amazing response I got from people when I posted my open letter to Christopher Hope at The Telegraph following his disappointing article which referenced my visit to No10. Sadly I never did get a response from Mr Hope.

GCSE revision.


Turning 16. Driving next year hopefully!

GCSE revision


Ringing started on our own site and I look forward to building an in depth understanding of the area over the coming years..

GCSE revision


5 day trip to Italy with school.

GCSE revision.


A devastating month as the news came through that Hen Harrier Finn was missing.

A stunning White-winged Black Tern showed up at Budworth Mere, close to home.

GCSE revision


Finishing school and prom night!

No more revision!


Spurn volunteering on Little Terns project, but I also had great views of a Roseate Tern and Squacco Heron.


Taking part in a live panel debate hosted by The National Trust at Countryfile Live.

Hen Harrier Day at Parkgate. A great venue and an amazing group of people coming together to make a difference.

#Inglorious12th Thunderclap was signed by 1810 people and went out with a social reach of 8.2 million people.

Getting my GCSE results and securing my place at 6th Form.

Stumbling across a pair of Black-winged Stilt and chicks in Portugal and experiencing the Algarve for the first time.


Starting 6th Form to study Chemistry, Biology and Geography A Levels (revision resumes).

Great time camping at Spurn's MigFest weekend and great views of my first Common Rosefinch.


A pint and catch up with Mark Avery in London.  Brilliant afternoon.

Attending the BTO Marsh Ornithology Awards at the Mall Galleries in London to collect the Marsh Local Ornithology Award for 2018 with the Spurn Bird Observatory team.


Invited to attend the BTOs Agenda for Change event at the House of Lords.


News just in! Ruth Tingay winning "Conservation Hero of the Year" in the Birdwatch Birder's Choice Awards. Another step forwards in the fight against raptor persecution. Really well done Tingster.

And more news just in, Chris Packham being awarded a CBE in the New Year's Honours List in recognition of conservation work. Great to see important work like his being recognised.

An interesting year to look back on.  Let's see what 2019 brings!

Sunday 18 November 2018

BTO - An Agenda For Change

A few months ago I received an invitation that instantly grabbed by attention.  I had been invited to attend a Parliamentary reception being held on behalf of the British Trust for Ornithology, hosted by Baroness Young of Old Scone at the House of Lords.  So last Tuesday I headed down to London for the evening. 

The BTO have been reviewing what they need to do to step outside the narrow audience they have and reach out to a wider group of people. This has of course all be done in line with changes that may come about from Brexit and of course how they can be more involved in the UK Government's 25 Year Environment Plan.

I never really considered just how narrow the BTO's audience is. I have been involved with the organisation since I was about 10, and therefore have a good overview of the important scientific research they do through a wide network of volunteers; but if I mention the BTO to people I know, I usually have to go on to explain what they do and how they do it.  

The reception was being held to launch the BTO's "Agenda for Change" and included inspiring, rallying speeches from, amongst others,  Andy Clements, Caroline Lucas and Baroness Young of Old Scone.  

The speeches were all important in setting out the need for the BTO to be bolder in it's approach and maybe more heroic, as the advice and guidance the BTO can give is supported by clear scientific evidence. Caroline Lucas in particular spoke of the need for the BTO to be more involved with political leaders and to keep up the pressure to ensure that they are listened to.  Andy Clements then went on to introduced their Agenda for Change what they plan to do.

Even in my lifetime, I have seen the impact of climate change through the scientific study of birds, for example, changes in nesting seasons, changes in wintering species etc.  Birds are one of the first indicators of changes in the environment, so the all the valuable scientific data the BTO holds, and continues to gather, needs to be used with greater force to effect change in environmental policies.

One of the bullet points that caught my eye was this one:

"We will become more accessible and relevant to wider society, inspiring a new generation to participate in the understanding of, and engagement with, the natural world"

I have seen the effort made by the BTO to engage with my generation and it was fantastic to see so many young people at the reception. 

I have had so many great opportunities by being a volunteer for the BTO, but it is a harder organisation to sell to my generation as it is not as tangible as the RSPB with all their reserves and actual places to visit.  I know I have said it many times, but school is the place where the impacts of climate change, plastic pollution, habitat destruction etc needs to be taught, and an organisation like the BTO with science based facts should be linking up with schools and the education minister to see how their research and results can be built into all core curriculum subjects.

It was an interesting evening and a great opportunity to catch up with the BTO team and many other engaging and influential people. I really look forward to being part of a bolder BTO organisation and seeing how they can use the important scientific data gathered by volunteers across the country for an even greater good.