Monday, 31 August 2015

13 Years Wilde - Peter Cooper

There has been a short interval in the 13 Years Wilde guest blogs due to Hen Harrier Day build up and birding in Portugal for 2 weeks (but more about that later this week). 

Today's 13 years Wilde guest blog comes from Peter Cooper. I have met Peter quite a few times through A Focus on Nature Events and at Birdfair. Peter is a Zoology undergraduate, a nature writer, Editor of Life Nature Magazine and a Focus On Nature.  He is also a very keen badger watcher. But what Peter is most famous for are his amazing animal impressions!!!!!!

I really appreciate the strong words of advice at the end of Peter's post and it is something I will keep in my head as I head back to school this week.


Casting my mind back to the age of 13, I suppose it was relatively bright, but to get there I have to wade through a tangle of metaphorical brambles and nettles to be honest – because when I really look back on it, 13 was probably the last time memories of childhood (or rather teenage-hood at this point) were the wistful nostalgic sort, rather than wincing and trying to skip over what came later. 

I was still fascinated by nature, and therefore my family had probably decided by now I was going to be like this for life rather than just a youthful phase (though to be honest I suspect they figured this much earlier, probably by the time I was 3 and identified everyone as different species of animal rather than by their names). Like many others of my interest at that age, I was well aware wildlife wasn’t a massively ‘cool’ thing to like, and while I tried not to shout too much about it, my friends and classmates all knew. And even those at secondary school who hadn’t known me from primary days had seen me the year before as the junior ‘animal expert’ on a CBBC breakfast show called Level Up, so I was pretty much as out as one can be. 

My patch was, and still is when I’m back from uni, the wood behind the garden fence. The sight of huge sweet chestnut trees looming over the house, the wild and unknown beckoning irresistibly over the comforts of home life, had been my calling since I could walk, and it was still my refuge even if my other friends were playing less and less in here as we got older. Not only did it back onto my house, but also the school playing field, so after each day I would cross the field to the West while everyone else headed straight on towards the street. I’d hop over the crumbled and rusting chain link into a copse of alders, breath a sigh of relief, and, standing rather dissonantly to the rest of the environment in my navy blue uniform, just absorb the birdsong and the breeze in the canopy while it washed away eight hours of schooling. 

While I spent a lot of time there (and I can remember my first daytime encounter with a tawny owl in that wood as vividly as if it were yesterday), looking back on it I don’t think I really embraced my inner naturalist as much as I could have; I have few specimens to recount from this age, and much of my interest in local wildlife was in mammals and herpetiles rather than the more obvious things – I didn’t birdwatch nearly as much as I do now for example (looking back on it I think this would have been different had I access to a better site for this hobby), and I didn’t have a mentor figure to show me just how much was about. My enthusiasm was mostly directed towards exotic animals, and I was a regular visitor to Marwell Zoo down the road, probably knowing the tigers, giraffes and anteaters a lot better than many of the creatures on my doorstep. Coming here every third Sunday a month was the only chance I got to spend time with people my age with similar interests at the zoo’s ‘oryx club’, and I relished those days greatly. At this stage, I thought my future career would be a zookeeper or, bizarrely, as an actor playing Doctor Who. This has been my only non-nature related aspiration so far, and it was appropriately extinguished within the year.

So although I wasn’t quite as devoted a naturalist as I feel I could have been, I was still very much a nature boy. My bible at the time was Nick Baker’s ‘British Wildlife: Month by month guide’ which I would scour for details on what was about at that time of year. If I couldn’t find it locally, it called for a bit of perseverance, and I managed to wrangle my parents to take me down to Richmond Park each Autumn to witness the red deer rut. This was cleverly disguised as a trip to visit the two eldest of my four brothers who lived in Wimbledon, and I would wolf down lunch at the restaurant while they conversed about things I did not understand, itching to get off to see the deer that formed the actual purpose of the trip! Another Autumn treat was to visit Brownsea Island to see the red squirrels dashing like licks of flame among the golden leaf-fall, while on the estuary we would be awed by the sight of a huge wintering flock of avocet and bar-tailed godwit, the black, white and brown mass looking like a vast sea wall of feathers between the mudflats and Poole Harbour.

Family holidays before had always been preceded by myself devouring a field guide of the area to see what animals lived locally to the venue, while our accommodation itself was often booked partially on it’s locality to the nearest zoo, but this year was the first I managed to get a whole holiday planned with wildlife in mind. It was only a few days on the Isle of Mull at half-term, but resulted in the minke whales I hoped to see. (The following year we went for longer, succeeding this time in eagles and otters).

Yet while I was ultimately happy at 13, it felt somehow like the start of the descent downhill having reached the top – for not long after, probably shortly after turning 14, my self-confidence vanished. Many people I considered friends grew distant as puberty struck, stigma towards things that weren’t ‘acceptable’ grew more critical, and I was generally cast as being a bit of a weirdo from then on. I felt out of place and lonely at school, and increasingly at home too, now that Charlie, the last of the brothers, had gone to uni. Nature became the retreat and one of the few senses of reality in this world, while additionally I feared ever admitting it in school, even if people already knew. Ultimately, I found it very difficult to figure out trust in people who weren’t family. Although this all changed for the better during sixth-form, it’s a time of my life I’ve never completely recovered from.

So my message to Findlay and all 13 year old naturalists is this – just keep on enjoying what you are doing, challenge yourself and make the most of every day, for life will only get busier. But don’t do what I did - do not be shy to admit who you are. There are may be a few others (and believe me, the number will actually be quite small in reality) who may find it strange or even tease, but they mean nothing in the long run. As long as you are confident in what you are doing, and keep the passion strong through what can be a very difficult part of life, then you will be all the better for it. There’s no point worrying in how others may perceive you when there’s all that nature out there to explore.

Peter Cooper

Monday, 10 August 2015

Hen Harrier Day 2015

Ever since the first Hen Harrier Day last year I had been looking forward to Hen Harrier Day 2015. This year promised to be even bigger and better, and I have to say, it didn't disappoint.

For a few months building up to Hen Harrier Day, and with the help of my dad, I had been building huge models to take along to the Buxton and Goyt Valley events. The idea was to make the hidden tools of raptor persecution larger than life, so they couldn't be hidden away. We made a life size grouse butt, a gin trap and a huge 13 ft high poison bottle. The only problem was, by the time we had finished, we really did need a bigger van!  Trying to work out how to get everything in to the van took 5 hours, it was like a really frustrating puzzle, but we finally got it all in (although Harry was not very impressed with how he had to travel).

Harry squashed in upside down!

Full van

We had a great drive over the moors to Buxton on the Friday, in the sun, and stopped to enjoy the view at the Cat & Fiddle, where a Sparrowhawk did a great flyby.  With it being so close to the 12th August, I thought we would have seen a few Red Grouse at least, but we didn't see any. Well Hen Harriers definitely couldn't be blamed for that this year as no pairs bred on that particular moorland.

When we arrived in Buxton, we went straight to The Palace Hotel for a look and to meet up with a lovely lady called Susan Cross, one of the organisers of the Saturday evening event. We checked out the room and discussed where the models would go and all that sort of organising stuff.

Mark and Rosemary Avery arrived, so we had a good catch up and talked about all the plans for the weekend. It was great to meet Peter (Susan's husband) as well, who was a bit more technical that the rest of us.  After some very spicy Thai food (and it really was spicy, I though my mouth would never stop burning) with some amazing people, it was time to head off to our hotel and get some sleep before a big day on Saturday.

Saturday was all about setting up the room at the Palace Hotel for the Hen Harrier celebration evening, and repairing all the damage we had done to the models trying to get them into the van.

Phil and Charlie from Birders Against Wildlife Crime turned up and so did Henry Hen Harrier and one of his special minders (you know who you are). So there was a great buzz as we got everything ready. As a final touch, we placed a single used shotgun cartridge on every chair as a reminder of why we were all there.

People started to arrive for the evening and there were so many great people to talk to, all with ideas to share.  The really interesting thing I found was that although everyone didn't always agree on what could be done to save our Hen Harriers, everyone was united in what the problems and causes of the near extinction are and that we will all find a way to work together to save them. It was great to see new and old faces, like Brian (not old like "old" of course) from Rare Bird Alert who have done a lot to support Hen Harrier Day.  It was also great to see some younger people there like Georgia Locock, Billy Stockwell, Jack and Lucy Farrell.

 Not a spare seat

The talks in the evening were fascinating and they couldn't have been more different; Mark Avery who talked with so much common sense, Water & Stone (Susan Cross and Gordon), Amanda Miller (RSPB) who gave a great talk and also showed the Skydancer video, Mark Cocker (a brilliant writer) and Jeremy Deller ( who designed that epic Hen Harrier carrying the red Range Rover picture), me (I talked about why the models were made so big) and then Chris Packham who just captivated everyone with his passion.  Charlie Moores then closed off the talks and gave everyone all the information for Sunday.

As part of my talk, I also showed a video of how all the props for the evening were made, which you can see here:

I finished my talk with some news I was looking forward to sharing. A few weeks ago I met up with the founder of Ecotricity, Dale Vince at the WOMAD festival. I told Dale all about the plight of the Hen Harrier and asked him if Ecotricity could support the satellite tagging of young Hen Harriers. A week later I got an email from Helen Taylor, confirming that Ecotricity will be funding some satellite tagging of Hen Harriers. I am so excited about working with them on this and so grateful that they are willing to help in this way. I have got them a copy of Inglorious signed by Mark Avery and Chris Packham as a small thank you and to show them why their offer of support is so important.

It was a fantastic evening and so many people stayed on after all the presentations to talk, share ideas and fill you with hope that things are changing.

And then it was Sunday. The main event. The chance for people to shout loud that we want our Hen Harriers back. We had another early start to load up the van and then unload the butt and Harry at the Goyt Valley.

The Goyt Valley was stunning. Redstarts were flitting past with that giveaway flash of red, Willow Warblers were singing, a young family of Wrens were calling to each other and keeping Harley engrossed for ages, and a Dipper was feeding in the stream below.

Beyond the green of the valley you could see a tired, burnt, controlled piece of moorland, a huge reminder of why we were there.

And then they started coming. People arriving from both ends of the valley. People who had walked miles because they care and because they want to make a difference. And do you know what, these people were not just birders, they weren't just wildlife obsessed; they were people who are angry that the nature that is there for all of us, that isn't owned by anyone, is being taken away from us. And they are right to be angry.

There were more great talks on the day from Charlie Moores, Mark Avery, Jo Smith (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust), Jeff Knott (RSPB) and Chris Packham (all supported by Henry Hen Harrier).

Charlie Moores

Jo Smith

Jazzy Jeff Knott

Dr Mark Avery

Chris Packham

The facts are simple, people can argue all they want about whose fault it is, but the one fact that can't be argued against, which ever side you are on, is that Hen Harriers are missing from our moorland in England. And that is where you and I can make a big difference. We need everyone out there to know that extinction of a native bird, a top predator, a ghost of the moors is happening. We all need to step up and speak out as no-one has the right to deprive us of our wildlife.

I will leave you with some more pictures of a great day, and I hope you see all of you at Hen Harrier Day 2016.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Sodden 570 (and more) Rise Again

Can you believe it's almost a year since the last Hen Harrier Day. Those who were there last year are probably just about dried out by now, but what else has changed since then?

We are yet to know the success or failure of this year's breeding season, but one thing I do know is that the tide is starting to turn. More and more people are opening their eyes and ears to what is happening to our wildlife.  I think everyone who attended last year's Hen Harrier day went away inspired to spread the word in whatever way they could to the masses.

For me personally, alot of the Hen Harrier message I spread was through using Harry.

However, I have also spoken about raptor persecution at every opportunity, and that is what I would ask all of you to do too. Let your voices be heard and help make a differences. Let's not let money and greed be the factors that decide which of our natural world lives and dies.  

So please, go and join one of the Hen Harrier Day events taking place across the country on 9th August. I will be shouting loud, in fact very loud, at the Goyt Valley in Derbyshire, but you can find your nearest event by clicking here.

And here is a list of all the other things you can do to make the day a success:

Take your MP with you
Make a placard
Wear a Hen Harrier Day T Shirt
Make a 6ft model Hen Harrier
Take your friends and neighbours with you
Tell your local newspapers to be their
Bring a rain coat
Blog about it
Tweet about it
Facebook it
Vlog it
Share pictures about it
Join the Thunderclap
But most of all be there because your heart tells you it's the right thing to do

Please, please try and attend because the more of us raising awareness about the persecution of Hen Harriers, the better the chances of stopping these ghosts of the moors from going extinct in England.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."
Edmund Burke

Hen Harrier Day 2014