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.
In the last 5 years the numbers have not changed as much as we have!
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.
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.
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.
Turning 16. Driving next year hopefully!
March Ringing started on our own site and I look forward to building an in depth understanding of the area over the coming years..
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.
It's a great time of year for birding with lots on the move, with the added excitement of the possibility of finding something slightly rarer. You never know what might turn up; but sometimes it's great to just enjoy a stunning location and the birds you would expect to find there.
One such place is Parkgate on the Wirral. It's vast salt marsh is home and wintering ground to a huge variety of species, but at this time of year it is the raptors that draw me in. There is a good chance of seeing a huge variety of birds of prey during a visit at this time of year; Peregrine, Merlin, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and of course those thought provoking Hen Harriers.
During a hide tide you have the perfect conditions for a phenomenal show of raptors . As the incoming tide floods the salt marsh, the raptors move closer in to viewing areas to feed. Birders and non-birders alike cannot fail to be drawn in.
The RSPB are again doing 6 Raptor Watch sessions starting this weekend and ending in March 2019. The dates are as follows:
Sunday 14 October 2018
Sunday 11 November 2018
Sunday 9 December 2018
Sunday 13 January 2019
Sunday 10 February 2019
Sunday 10 March 2019
They are free events taking place at the Old Baths car park (same venue as the recent Hen Harrier Day) from 1pm until dusk. It's always worth checking the high time times and height as well. Hopefully I will see some of you at Parkgate soon.
Due to various family commitments and other variables affecting my Summer off, this year I was only able to attend one Hen Harrier Day (but what a fantastic one it was). I was joined the night before by Mark and Rosemary Avery to rest up after a long drive from the Hen Harrier Day at Rainham Marshes. This allowed a good chance to have a proper catch up after not seeing them in quite some time.
This year the Hen Harrier Day I attended was a much more local one for me at Parkgate on the Wirral. Readers of this blog may be familiar with the site, as I have written about some remarkable high tide events there in the past.
With the help of some funding from Birders Against Wildlife Crime, we had hired a van to move our homemade grouse butt to the site to be used as stage for the selection of speakers. We were the first to arrive on site and were greeted by a Marsh Harrier quartering over the salt marsh.
Next to arrive was Jeff Clarke who did an amazing job in organising the event and pulling everything together. In a short space of time we were joined by Phil Walton from BAWC, the RSPB Burton Mere team, Wirral Barn Owl Trust, Record and the Cheshire Wildlife Trusts who all had stands at the event.
Once everything was set up the venue looked fantastic and showed just how much effort people are willing to put into these events to raise awareness about the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers. As people began to arrive it was good to catch up with old friends including Ruth Tingay who wrote an excellent poem for the Rainham Hen Harrier Day.
The main event consisted of 7 speakers talking about various aspects to do with the reasons we have Hen Harrier Days and the darkness of raptor persecution. The first speaker was Colin Wells (former manager at RSPB Burton Mere) who spoke about the history of the site and how it is a fantastic place to come and see Hen Harriers in the Winter and what he did as manager of the site to protect it and make it the success it is today.
The second speaker was Colin's successor as manager at RSPB Burton Mere; Graham Jones discussed why he wanted the job as manager and how he was going to continue working with everyone to protect the fantastic site for raptors and the many breeding waders.
Next up was the fantastic Alan Davies who was talking a bit about all the world harrier species he has seen, but mainly he did a brilliant job in lifting the audience in a confident and inspiring protest; addressing the people who kill Hen Harriers and other upland wildlife. He told them that they will lose eventually, no matter how long it takes.
I was the fourth speaker to take to the stage. At previous Hen Harrier Days I had spoken generally about the illegal persecution of upland wildlife and joined the other voices in calling for an end to this barbaric slaughter. However, this time I wanted to tell a more personal story about my journey with a Hen Harrier called Finn who had her life cut short earlier this year in March.
After me it was James Bray from the RSPB who had travelled all they way down from Bowland. He gave a lengthy talk about how there should be far more upland species of raptor such as Peregrine and Hen Harrier breeding in Bowland. These species just aren't there in the numbers they could and should be in. It was good to hear true stories from the front line of raptor conservation.
Next was Dr Mark Avery. Mark as usual spoke very well and told the whole story about Hen Harrier Days and the successes of days being held elsewhere and of course reinforced the fact that we will succeed in banning driven grouse shooting one day.
Finally the selection of brilliant speakers was capped off by Iolo Williams. He also gave a personal story about how he used to go up on the moors and watch Hen Harriers as a child and how it really 'pisses him off' that people are violent enough to kill them. He left the audience feeling angry and hyped up to make a difference.
Between these talks Jeff Clarke did a fantastic job in opening the event, linking all the speeches and closing the sessions. He really reinforced the fact that Hen Harrier Days need to continue and why we were all there all. I should also say thank you to him for a thunderous introduction to my speech and all the support he gave the thunderclap I set up (which went out to 8.2 million people that morning).
One or two anti-Hen Harrier Day people have made comments on social media about the "pointless" numbers generated by the thunderclap and how it makes no difference and means nothing. Well of course I beg to differ. The thunderclap was signed by 1810 people, but when it was posted out to social media, it had the potential to be seen by 8.2 million people. Not only that, as I type this, almost 25,000 people have made the effort to follow the link in the thunderclap and find out more about the dark side of uplands management, something that they chose to do. To me that is a great awareness success story.
After the talks, it was time to catch up with everyone and it was really positive to hear how many people were at a Hen Harrier Day for the very first time.
A good mate of mine, Dan Gornall, had turned up for the event and after all the talks had been done we were having a good catch up. As he checked his phone news came through that a Bonarpartes Gull had turned up at Hoylake just down the road. So after a few farewells (and long walk back to where he parked his car) we were on our way to see this American gull. Sadly though, 5 minutes before we had got there the bird had flown off towards the tideline, which was a good mile out. Therefore on this occasion we dipped it, but it was great to catch up and a big thanks to him for the lift.
I was then escorted back to the Boathouse Pub where myself and the speakers and organisers of the event spent a great few hours eating together to round the day off. As soon as I arrived I was informed that, whilst I was dipping the Bonarpartes Gull, the people who had remained at the venue for Hen Harrier Day actually saw a ringtail Hen Harrier. A fact that Mark Avery will happily keep reminding me about.
All in all it was another very inspirational Hen Harrier Day. A huge thanks to Jeff Clarke for making it happen. At least 300 people had turned up for this event making it the highest attended Hen Harrier Day his year, which couldn't have happened without Jeff's hard work and brilliant organisation.
So who will be coming to the 5 year anniversary Hen Harrier Day next year at Derwent Dam?