2015 over and already the third day into 2016. So far a good start although I’m slightly concerned about my first bird of the year being a wood pigeon, hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come this year. I’m sure it isn’t, after all I did see a buzzard shortly after which was considerably more exciting!
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get out onto my patch on Friday but yesterday I joined about 50 others on a walk around Chasewater in the bid to save our Staffordshire countryside. Even though the weather wasn’t great, as always it was wonderful to be surrounded and chat to others with similar mindsets and passionate about our countryside here in Staffordshire. This is something I discovered for the first time in 2015. Back in February I went on my first ever march which was against the badger cull. At the end of 2014 I remember wanting to go along to a march in 2015 as the ‘badger army’ do an amazing job of travelling the country to put there message out there. As Birmingham is only a 40 minute train journey away I was eager and sure to attend. The march started up by the library, where there were a few stalls, then went down into the town. At this point we went off to have some lunch but I was desperate to go back and join again as the vibe was just amazing.
It seems that day I caught the bug, I realised how easy it was to go along and support what I’m passionate about through peaceful protests. Obviously the marches are just one ingredient for the fight that needs to be continued for what we’re passionate about, whether it be the badgers, climate change or hen harriers. These events attract media attention, make the public more aware and send that powerful message out to those making the decisions. I believe 2015 was quite successful for creating more awareness through such things as social media. We saw trends on Hen Harrier Day, the start of the driven grouse shooting season (Inglorious 12th), for badger Monday, ‘for the love of’ marches, the ivory trade and much more. These are trends anyone in the UK may see. As well as this, the Thunderclaps. Some of these last year reached thousands and thousands, if not millions, of people. Not only that but the signatures on petitions, and so many amazing people going out of their way to tell anyone and everyone about the issues our natural world is facing. One real glimmer of hope and realisation that finished my year was the rally in London back at the end of November to mark the start of COP21. 50,000 people! Incredible and a day to remember. Unfortunately the result of COP21 wasn’t as it could of been but it goes on and the power of those people is obviously not going to be fading away any time soon!
However, could this support and action continue and grow into 2016? If each of us dragged a friend onto a march, persuade someone to sign a petition or even got a few people to write to their local MP expressing concern then that’s a start. On quite a few different occasions I went on a march or to an event and I spoke to someone who was interested in similar issues but was perhaps unaware of other campaigning that was going on or perhaps why the campaigning was happening. Even more so, to just ordinary people who were unaware of ongoings but made angry when they realised.
Above I mentioned about my first march against the badger cull. As you will know it was an extremely sad year for such an iconic and beloved species as the cull went on once again and the blame game continued. The Tory ‘win’ back in March makes the outlook for this year even more bleak. I’ve read and heard already that this year the cull will not be lasting for six weeks but could start June 1st and go through to February 1st 2017. Not only that but in more areas too. This has turned into their long term strategy and therefore needs attacking on more fronts then ever with direct action, campaigning, public awareness and much more. Whether it’s on a national or local scale, everyone can be doing something. Fortunately this year saw the rise of National Badger Day which was a great success and saw many people from all around the UK raising awareness for badgers. From activities in schools and fundraising to the short film created.
The Badger Trust does a fantastic job of keeping up the pressure and working extremely hard. Their events and marches are always very popular and they never seem to have a day off! In 2015, I met many inspirational people within the trust, all of which are very passionate about the animal and show no sign of giving up! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting many of them this year as well as joining them on marches, at the conference and the seminar.
Of course another successful day, and one to remember, this year was Hen Harrier Day. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the event back in 2014 but I know that the numbers grew and more was taking place all around the country. Again, put together and held by fantastic and inspirational people from across the UK as well as those that attended. The persecution of raptors continues in this day and age which is somewhat difficult to believe but as many grasp onto their idea of ‘tradition’ and ‘fun’ the fight continues. However, as I mentioned, after this years turn out at the events across the country and work being done for hen harriers and wildlife upon our uplands, the pressure is always increasing.
Just last week I was reading a review that was published just before Christmas by RSPB Scotland on crimes against birds of prey. From an area in Scotland, the report showed shootings on hen harriers and buzzards, as well as illegal pole traps, poisoned baits left out and, unfortunately, so on. New techniques to catch these criminals are being taken on-board though. After the shooting of the Red-footed falcon, which surprised many birders, a fund has been set up to help catch the criminal who killed it.
We’ve learnt of many acts of crime like these this year but the fight and determination still goes on. A highlight of my year was back at the Birders Against Wildlife Conference in March which was a fantastic day with lots of inspiring speakers, of which I look forward to later on in the year. It’s always wonderful to follow the hard work of BAWC and co as they set out with their strong intentions to end wildlife crime. I’m very certain this will continue into 2016, and beyond, as well as growing support.
One of the very last times I got out onto a local patch last year was with a junior wildlife group I help out with at the National Memorial Arboretum. It feels very odd as I have been going along and acting as a ‘leader’ for almost three years now but it’s something I enjoy very much. They’re a fantastic bunch and no doubt made me realise how important nature is to young people. From when we go pond dipping and the delight on their faces, which is beyond describable, to the stories they share about the wildlife they’ve seen recently. This year the idea around nature and young people has crossed my path many many times and it’s something I’m very interested in as it’s us that will be doing our bit to help nature and give it a home in the future. It’s so important, yet something that has become incredibly apparent to me this year is how scary the situation is. When I go into schools or talk to children that haven’t been given the opportunity to roam free it’s very sad and worrying. It’s as simple as if they don’t know or understand nature then why are they ever going to care about it?
Just before Christmas I received a few letters from a local primary school. The children there were practising their handwriting and wanted to write to me about why they loved nature and that they’d been watching my trail camera footage. The letters were truly heart warming and really made me think and realise how important nature was to me as a child. In one of the letters, my favourite quote was ‘I like nature because it’s not man-made’. It’s such a simple thing to say but just shows their true feelings and illustrates ours too.
Last year I visited quite a few schools, groups, out of school lessons and so on. It was great to have this opportunity and share my interest with other young people, some younger and some my own age, as well as make them more aware of how modern day issues are harming what we all treasure. I couldn’t not mention the young people my own age I’ve met and become friends with this year too, those who are working very hard for what they love, whether that’s through recording, some campaigning, speaking out or just simply doing what they enjoy. I look up to many of these as it can be tough sometimes being surrounded whilst at sixth form or out and about with my other friends and defend my interest which is sometimes not accepted by others. This was more of a big deal in secondary school but I still experience it from time to time. I also read a wonderful write up from a fellow young naturalist about her story last year – click here.
Throughout the year I was all over the place, everywhere! One of the most popular destinations had to be London, not a month went by I hadn’t been down to London a few times, it’s now become the norm’. Amongst many, one of my favourite trips down had to be for the march against the amendment of the Hunting Act. It was quite an exciting day with all the energy about and the amount of people as well as it being around the actual time decisions were going to be made. Luckily the vote was called off but that didn’t call of the reason of why we should of been there.
It will be very interesting to see what happens next regarding the vote. The tories promised one in their manifesto but there’s lots of controversy over whether it will actually happen or if there will be an overall ‘No’ vote as many, even Conservative MPs, are against a repeal. Or as they put it, an amendment.
Another trip down to London which I will never forget from last year was the rally which marked the start of COP21. First of all, I’d never been on a march so big and I felt very proud to have made the effort to be there and show my all-out support. United all around the world but most of all making it clear why this matters. Not for 50/60 years time but now.
It was quite a build up for myself, I’d been ‘looking forward’ to the day and to see what COP21 would bring. Throughout the weeks that ran up I was involved in many events and meetings locally. Although acting on a national scale is very important, locally is too. It’s a way in which we climb the ladder to build up and is all part of the whole process. The outcomes may not be as big but nonetheless, it counts. I went along to a few meetings in the run up, no specific action has been taken just yet but there’s that idea of keeping in touch and sharing information about each others causes or any events taking place.
Above I’ve touched on a few different events, days, times and causes that I dedicated a lot of my time to throughout 2015. This is because they mean something to me and I’m passionate about them. There’s been plenty more but I’d probably end up going on all day. 2016 is yet another year to work and fight back for the hope of our natural world, whatever the aspect may be. However the drive which makes me get up and go is obviously getting out in the first place, understanding nature, appreciating it and wanting to do my part for something which has been so positive for me. This year I had the opportunities to go on lots of wonderful outings. From new species I saw on my local patch and recording them with my camera to watching the conservation work of others when I went down to Bath and spent the day with a friend ringing owls and kestrels across Wiltshire.
I didn’t share it as much as I have in the past but I had a great Spring out with my trail camera this year at a local badger sett. By far I got the best footage of cubs which was the most wonderful thing ever. On one clip I had the mother exiting the sett then followed by two of her cubs, later on another two appeared. After I set my camera up throughout the Spring and well into Summer I watched these beautiful animals grow in size and become more independent. This is why I fight for badgers, the possibility of culls in Staffordshire within the next few years is frightening. It wasn’t just these animals, we discovered a new sett this year where we could watch the badgers from a fair distance but still get an amazing view. I’ve watched badgers before but here I got to have a fantastic sight of them without them realising we were there.
I also had a dream come true when I found peregrine falcons at the cathedral in my local city centre, just a 20 minute walk from where I live. I went down many times to watch them and to see what was happening, especially throughout the breeding season. I remember very well going down the one time and there was calling between a male and female which was very vocal and went on for what felt like hours!
Two other real highlights of my year when I was able to learn about the conservation work of others along with learn from their knowledge and understanding of their topic was my week at Spurn and the day I spent ringing kestrels and owls in Wiltshire.