Nature alert

So far more then half a million people have responded to a consultation showing that they want to save nature in Europe. If you haven’t already, you still have until tomorrow evening to do so.

Right now the vital laws which protect our precious wildlife and nature risk being undermined by the European Commission.

#NATUREALERT

With such a response from both individuals and charities lets hope someone listens. You can add your voice and find out more by clicking here.

#naturealert

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Raptor ringing and monitoring in Wiltshire

Earlier this year I gave a talk at a workshop at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, which was run by Dr Emily Joachim. When I met Emily she told me a lot about the work she does which sounded very interesting! Emily has been monitoring nest boxes for eight years. She has recently been awarded her C license for raptors and owls and was trained by a man called Nigel who set up a raptor and owl nest box project in 1983, I speak more about his work later on. She has completed a PhD on little owl breeding ecology so she’s a real expert! She decided to focus on little owls because they are rapidly declining and she wanted to learn more about their ecology. Few people study little owls in the UK. Emily is fascinated by raptors and studies and monitors barn owls, little owls, kestrels and tawny owls. She has recently set up a UK Little Owl Project which works to celebrate the species and encourage people to record their sightings, you can see more about it here – http://www.littleowlproject.uk/

When I visited she also invited me to come out with her and some others, who are part of the team, later in the year to see what they do and get up to when spending the day ringing and monitoring raptors in the South Wiltshire area. Through the year they monitor and ring different birds at different times, altogether they check around 700 nests. First of all it’s the tawny owls in February, then kestrels in late March, little owls in late April then barn owls in May.  These are just the first checks. If they discover any signs of breeding they record the number of eggs then return later on in the year to ring the young, if the nest has been successful.  As I was visiting later on in the year, the day was all about ringing and monitoring barn owls however we did come across some late kestrels.

On Tuesday morning, we met with the man who runs the project, Nigel, before we all went out together to the first nesting site. Altogether there were four of us but Nigel is supported by a big team of dedicated volunteers. Major (Rtd) Nigel Lewis MBE initiated his raptor and owl nest box project in 1983. The project extends across south Wiltshire, south England. The project covers an area of 700km2. There are a total of 1100 nest boxes for barn owls, kestrels, little owls and tawny owls; 500 boxes are on the MOD land, Salisbury Plain Training Area.

During the breeding season the team spend 3-4 days a week monitoring nest sites. I joined them on one of these days which was a full day of hard work, not just a couple of hours! When we arrived at the first box we weren’t sure what to expect as it was a ‘lucky dip’ so hadn’t been checked this year. Quite surprisingly there were three kestrels in the box, this was unusual as it’s quite late for them. However they were in good condition and doing well. This was great to see as it was such a surprise and I wasn’t expecting to see any.

I’m told it is hugely satisfying to monitor the raptor nests, but can be difficult if there are a high number of nesting failures due to poor weather and low prey availability. This year there are low vole numbers and many pairs of barns owls have not bred. They’ve had a 100 pairs and the average brood size is only 1.2 chicks. As well as this they’ve had 60 pairs of kestrels use their boxes this year and the mean brood size is lower than average due to a shortage of food. Overall the average brood size is only 2.3 chicks. Little owls are also continuing to decline in Wiltshire. This year only 11 pairs used the boxes. They also had 30 pairs of tawny owls using their boxes this year.

After visiting the kestrel site we were then on our way to the next site where we checked three boxes. In one there was some eggs, another had an old jackdaw nest in then the last had an adult, which was already ringed, a chick then an egg which was rotten and hadn’t hatched. We had to empty the box with the jackdaw nest in as jackdaws fill the box up with sticks which would put of an owl nesting in there next year but if the jackdaw went back next year it could build the nest again in no time at all.

Whilst travelling around to the different sites we travelled across a lot of privately owned land to get to them. This was a great experience as we got to see areas of the countryside which many others won’t. I also felt privileged to be travelling around this this area of the country as the views were amazing. The team work with 100’s of landowners across south Wiltshire. Many manage habitat for wildlife and try to ensure that strips of rough grassland are kept for barn owls to hunt for their main prey, which is short-tailed voles.

Throughout the day we visited 11 boxes at 9 different sites. They normally visit more but these were all at the edge of their study area so it took longer to travel. I got a brilliant first hand experience of the work they do which was fantastic and very inspiring. I also got a detailed view of the life of the barn owls, from how they look close up and small details like the parents brood patch to how their nests look. You can see some of the photos I took and what it was like below.

The volunteers were incredibly dedicated people who do some amazing work in the area and contribute to records from the rest of the UK. They send their records to the BTO.

Their nest box team won the MOD’s Silver Otter and Environmental Project Awards in 2014 and Nigel has won Wiltshire Life’s 2015 Outstanding Contribution to Conservation Award. Very well deserved for a fantastic project.

IMG_8201Emily ringing a kestrel.

 

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Adult barn owl with young.

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The talons of a barn owl.
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The brood patch of an adult barn owl.

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On the way back we stopped off at the little owl area to change the camera and found two of this years young roosting in there.

A big thank you to Emily and the rest of the team for letting me come along!

 

Downing Street wildlife protection demo

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”

– Ghandi

This was the message that I had on the placard I made for yesterdays wildlife protection/anti-hunting demonstration outside Downing Street. Why did I chose this quote? Because it says it all. If a Government is prepared to savage a wild animal in the most inhumane way they can possibly think of in the name of sport then what makes you think they’ll treat humans any better. We all know that animals are innocent creatures which have been on this planet a lot longer then us and at the end of the day their main aim is to survive. They may do small harm to humans but certainly not as much harm as we do to them.

Over the last few days there has been two big protests in London against any amendment or repeal of the Hunting Act. Unfortunately I really couldn’t make Tuesday’s demo but I made sure I was there yesterday to join those in making it clear that we want British wildlife to be left alone and not be a victim of cruelty. People from all different backgrounds joined yesterday to show their support, whether they were young or old or from different areas of the country, we all united outside Downing Street to show that not only us but around 80% of the country do not want any repeal or amendment of the Hunting Act.

As well as this, it wasn’t just the welfare of foxes that we were protesting for. It included all British wildlife like hares which would be affected by a repeal due to hare coursing, deer, they’d be hunted, badgers, a creature that has been heavily targeted by government policies in the past few years and can be affected by hunting in many different way, and many other species. However today was mainly to do with the repeal of the Hunting Act after the weeks commotion.

I say repeal or amendment but repeal is the word I should be using. Even though the Government and the media are saying amendment it is basically a repeal. The Tories are saying that they want to change the law so it’s in line with Scotland, where they use a limited amount of dogs unlike England where two dogs can be used. By doing so it would make it almost impossible to prosecute. Due to this animal charities, like the RSPCA, are accusing the government of approaching an abuse of power with its efforts to bring back hunting by the back door.

On Tuesday though the vote was called off after SNP announced it would be voting against a repeal. When they first announced it this was fantastic news as it was obvious that the ban would stay where it is. However Cameron didn’t seem to like this so spat his dummy out and cancelled the vote. Even though this may sound like good news, especially as under the current EVEL policy SNP would still be able to vote, it’s obvious that Cameron and his chums have some slimy plan up their sleeves. This will be one to watch. In the mean time, as the vote has only been postponed, please get in contact with your local MP and try to make sure that they will not be voting to repeal.

Yesterday, at 12.30pm everyone began to gather at Richmond Terrace which is opposite Downing Street. By 1pm there was a good crowd and the speeches began. Everyone who was there looked great, they either had banners, posters, placards or they were dressed up, wearing hats or had fox masks and overall looked the part. We made a great impression as lots of people walked past. We were also joined by one delightful (sarcasm) man who was a master of a few different hunts and showed no shame whatsoever.

First to speak was Chris Williamson (ex-Labour MP for North Derby). He spoke at the BAWC conference earlier this year which was a great speech and so was yesterday’s. Next to speak was Dominic Dyer, CEO Badger Trust, who normally speaks at the stand up for wildlife and badger marches. Followed by Lynn Sawyer who I’ve also heard talk at past events and then Peter Egan who is an actor and animal welfare campaigner. This was then followed by Luke Steele, animal welfare campaigner, then Anneka Svenska who is a wildlife and Eco presenter. Finally it was Peter Martin who is the chairman of the Badger Trust and an animal welfare campaigner.

After the array of brilliant speeches we then gathered opposite Downing Street for a while before crossing the road and standing right outside the gates. Whilst doing so everyone was shaking their banners and signs, shouting VERY loudly, blowing whistles and much more. Overall we made lots and lots of noise which was fantastic! I thought it was great that we could stand here as we definitely got some attention by people passing by and tourists. Again, even though the vote had been postponed it was still very important to make it clear that we don’t want any repeal now or in the future. This was also made clear by some of the chants. A few were “shame, shame, shame on Cameron”, “blood, blood, blood on his hands”, “No excuse for animal abuse”, “No more killing, no more fear, we don’t want fox hunting here” and a few more too.

Here are a few photos I took.

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Contacting your local MP and the Hunting Act amendment

As I stated in my latest blog and you may have heard in the media, the free vote for MPs on the repeal of the Hunting Act is next Wednesday. This has all come very suddenly and is no doubt going to cause a lot of chaos in the next few days. Even though 80% of the public want the ban to stay in place there is that few that want to repeal it. However it’s not the public that will be voting, it’s the MPs therefore as constituents we need to make our voice heard to our MPs and make sure they vote no!

So, contacting your local MP is very important. They may be a tough nut pro-hunter and you may think it won’t work but it’s worth it and you’ve got nothing to loose. Along with this it takes no time at all to simply send an email, letter or maybe even a tweet just to see if they will be voting for or against the repeal. A few weeks back I put together a template letter which is free to use and edit if you wish, find it by clicking here.

Meeting with my local MP

A few weeks back, running up to the general election, I got in touch with all my local candidates about the issues around young people not engaging with the natural world with the blog I did for A Focus on Nature. The Conservative candidate, Michael Fabricant, got back to me and said if he was to be re-elected he would be willing to meet me. He was re-elected and I met with him this morning for an informal meeting in my local city centre. Coincidently the vote to repeal the Hunting Act is in just a few days so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him about his views. I already knew that he wouldn’t vote to repeal it as he’d stated it on Twitter but I asked him a few questions about his points of view on this matter. What he said was quite positive and great to hear.

The planned topic was actually about the education of nature in primary schools which he was in favour of and I plan to take this further. This issue is very important to me as less children are becoming connected with nature, in fact it’s believed just 1 in 5 are. You can read more about what I’ve said in the past here – https://georgiaswildlifewatch.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/my-visionfornature/

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