Birdfair 2016

On Sunday afternoon, in the uplands of Shropshire myself and fourteen other young naturalists sat in the heather upon Stiperstones. It was quite strange; the ground we sat on was boggy, we ate bilberries from the bilberry bushes mixed in with the heather, we were rummaging for what invertebrates we could find, and we all discussed the pros and cons of heather moorland, rewilding and driven grouse shooting. It was quite a comparison to the previous day at Birdfair; from lots of excitement to complete calmness. But what you’re probably thinking – very refreshing. Young naturalists talking in depth about conservation issues.

On my first day at the Birdfair (Friday) all three of the talks that I managed to fit in were about similar topics. The first one was early afternoon. It was a presentation from Birders Against Wildlife Crime and The Badger Trust with Charlie Moores (BAWC) and Dominic Dyer (Badger Trust) conversing and being questioned by Mike Dilger. Before I go on and talk more about what was spoken about, I just wanted to emphasis how brilliant it was to see these three inspiring people sitting on the stage together. All being from different backgrounds and groups yet all collaborating with the same desire to protect and defend our wildlife. The Badger Trust who aim to protect badgers from persecution, the cull and raise their profile in a positive way which is away from the politics and media, and Birders Against Wildlife Crime who do a similar job but mainly to expose the wildlife crime which is happening and aim to make everyone and anyone aware so they can be ‘Eyes in the Field’. Then Mike Dilger who is a very well known BBC presenter from his work on The One Show, in which addresses an audience of not just those who do have an interest in nature but those of all ages and interests. Something that is perhaps even more fantastic is the work the organisers of Birdfair have done this year to get topics like wildlife crime onto the centre stage with audiences of over a few hundred people.

Those in that tent on Friday afternoon, yes, may be very keen birders or naturalists but perhaps they weren’t too sure about wildlife crime or wouldn’t of known how to identify one if they came across it. They’re also the type of people who are needed to get out and share the word with family, friends, colleagues and so on.

Anyway, over the 45 minutes Mike asked Charlie and Dominic a series of questions which brought up a range of topics, from the growing awareness of wildlife crime throughout the public, lobbying of MPs and those decision makers to what we can all do. We don’t have to put ourselves into harm or even go out of our way to help tackle wildlife crime but it can be the simple motion of keeping our eyes and ears peeled and not turning a blind eye or deaf ear. As discussed, learn some simple things to remember the three R’s: Recognise, Record, Report.

Later that afternoon in the events marquee was another thought provoking and important 45 minutes but this time it came in the form of a debate. A debate on driven grouse shooting and whether there is a future for it. On the Birdfair programme it was labelled as ‘a chance to hear both sides’ and I did hear some comments after saying it was quite bias. However it was mentioned Simon Lester, Former Head Gamekeeper Langholm Moor, was the only person who accepted the offer to debate the ‘side’ for driven grouse shooting. No one from the Moorland Association, or BASC or any other ‘countryside sport’ organisation took up the offer to share their side. Funny that. However there were a few comments from the audience for driven grouse shooting which did make it quite lively and even more interesting. Saying that, there were obviously some disagreements within the panel from those who are against the impacts of the activity.

It was great to see Natalie Bennett there too. Someone from the audience pulled out that we need to be getting more people in Parliament speaking out against driven grouse shooting, which is very true but it’s great to have a party leader going well out of her way to do that. Others on the panel included Dr Mark Avery (of whom all my readers probably know who he is!), Stuart Housden (director RSPB Scotland), and chaired by Dr Rob Lambert.

Later on I also managed to attend the evenings Rewilding Britain event. It was hosted by Chris Packham with others including Helen Meech, Director of Rewilding Britain, and Derek Gow, a conservationist who specialises in rewilding. To start Chris eloquently set down his thoughts on rewilding. He gave a brief overview of the ecological benefits and the aim of reintroducing long lost native species then handed over to the two speakers who went into great detail about their specialised areas.

To me, rewilding is fascination and anything that will make our landscape a richer place regarding habitat and biodiversity, I’m up for. When Helen Meech gave her talk she spoke about something that I found interesting which was about how anyone can do their bit for rewilding. No that’s not signing a petition or writing to your local MP (well, you could do) but rewilding places locally to you. For example your own back garden. Derek Gow went into more detail about rewilding from many different angles. He was incredibly knowledgeable and undoubtedly very passionate about it, as was Helen Meech. So much so their enthusiasm was infectious and made the whole evening very enjoyable. Points he made included the fact that even though some may not think it, rewilding is simple yet it would be very effective. He went through numerous projects which have been carried out across Europe and have been successful, and there is nothing stopping them from also being successful here in the UK too.

Overall it was a very positive and exciting evening. The thought of our landscape being revitalised similarly to the way it looked when it was thriving with biodiversity and species which have long been extinct should excite anyone! I remember a few weeks ago at Hen Harrier Day up in Edale, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trusts Tim Birch spoke about golden eagles back in the Peak District. Why not?

Saturday was my second day at Birdfair. In the morning, at 11am I was up on stage in the events marquee with the daunting but very (VERY) exciting task of asking Chris Packham some questions on his new book, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar. It didn’t quite work out like that though as Chris ended up asking me a few questions too on some of the things I do. This included my motivation to campaign as I do and also the importance of the young naturalist. This fitted in very well with his book as, incase you haven’t read it, talks about his life and growing up from around the age of 5-16. As time went on I really enjoyed it, I love talking about my interest in nature and it was wonderful to converse with Chris about his as a young naturalist too. It was also fantastic to have a beautiful poem read out even more beautifully by Lorna Faye about uplands, hen harriers and driven grouse shooting. Then afterwards, Chris presented a cheque to Birdlife Malta for their continued work and dedication in Malta for their bird life.

As well as seeing more on wildlife crime spoken out about over the weekend, it was also brilliant to see many other young birders/naturalists/conservationists about and being proactive. Many of these were from A Focus on Nature (AFON) and Next Generation Birders (NGB). The amount of young people in the Saturday afternoon group photo seems to have grown again upon last year too which was obviously great to see.

At the top of this post I wrote about being up in the Shropshire uplands. This was as part of my four day residential at Preston Montford, Shropshire for the Field Studies Council’s Young Darwin Scholarship Award. I had an amazing time and I’ll be writing a blog on this sometime next week. A highlight which I’m still buzzing about though was seeing an otter whilst canoeing on the River Severn – just metres away!!

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Flying higher and higher – 100,000

Straight after Hen Harrier Day last Sunday afternoon, first thing Monday morning I was on my way up to what is probably my favourite place, Spurn Bird Observatory. Once again it was a fantastic few days, as is any time that I spend there. With the highlights of Red Kite, Green Sandpiper and Little Stint on my first afternoon, Tuesday with Sooty Shearwater, Wednesday included a special moment of watching a female peregrine soar through thousands of waders on ponds at high tide, and on my last morning (Thursday) was seeing lots of terns, waders and gulls on wetlands including Ruff, Arctic terns and Mediterranean gulls, and watching an Arctic Skua successfully mobbing terns from Seawatching.

After a long journey back, I arrived home and got my internet connection back too. After browsing through what I had missed over the last few days on social media, I was very (VERY) pleasantly surprised to see that the e -petition to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting had just reached 85,000 signatures! Amazing. What made it even better was that this was on the evening before the grouse shooting season started, the Inglorious 12th.

What can I say though? Yesterday morning saw it reach 100,000!

Everyone knows what that means then, a debate in Parliament! We’ve shown that we want one so let’s have it. Unfortunately it would be quite unlikely a ban would be called upon but something it would do which is still very important is continue to boost awareness of what’s happening to our uplands. For politicians too. The next step is going to be very important and a way which will be effective will be to get in touch with your local MP and let them know your opinion. Tell them you want them there when it’s debated and the view you believe needs to be argued. In my latest blog post prior to Hen Harrier Day I shared the letter that I’ve sent to the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom, but now I’m going to send one to my local MP, Michael Fabricant – could be interesting!

I think I had some doubts that it wouldn’t reach the 100,000 mark before the 20th September. I’m not sure why though and I had certainly lost them after spending last Sunday up in Edale, Peak District for Hen Harrier Day. The day was packed with nothing less then inspirational talks, chatting to passionate individuals and a very empowering buzz. On the very first Hen Harrier Day two years ago in the Peak District, a few hundred people stood soaked but now look at the result. 100,000. The support is growing and we will win.

And I couldn’t not put in a message to all those who have made this happen and I know will continue to do so until we do win. Those repeatedly sharing the petition on social media, going out of their way to tell everyone and anyone, supporting events, lobbying decision makers and those prominent figures who have worked tirelessly; the likes of Mark Avery and Chris Packham, and those behind the scene at BAWC also The League, plus many, many more.

A weekend to inglorify

Last week Natural England issued a license which permitted the killing of up to 10 buzzards to ‘prevent serious damage to young pheasants’.

Pheasants which are going  to be shot anyway, in the name of fun.

So killing a national treasure so there’s ‘enough’ birds for them to go out and have a jolly. Enough birds out of the 35 million they release into the British countryside each year for this purpose.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 killing buzzards is illegal, as is killing any other wild bird. What makes this an exception though?

After reading Patrick Barkham’s article in The Guardian last night it made me think about what the bigger impact could be. For example, look at the badger cull. Since that was given the go ahead in 2013 incidents of badger persecution have rose and many believe this is due to the green light the slaughter taking place in the South West of England gives. Making it the ‘norm’ to go out and pointlessly kill badgers to please a minority and in the case of the cull; who believe badgers are to blame for passing Bovine TB to cattle. However, just this morning there’s been numerous reports in The Guardian, Independent and on the BBC website that new research has found badgers don’t spread Bovine TB. Well there was no real evidence in the first place to suggest they did but I hope this story gets a lot of coverage and isn’t pushed out of the way.

Anyway, buzzards are an amazing success story. Every time I visit my patch I’m guaranteed to see one or two circling above. Their numbers have boomed over recent years which is fantastic and should be celebrated. Instead though, a minority want to ‘control’ them for their own benefit. Stripping our landscape. It’s terrible and it does make me very angry. This is only one example though.

One thing I decided to do to get all my energy into something was write a letter to our new Secretary of State for DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom. I imagine she won’t get back to me until the end of her summer break but here is what I said.

Dear Ms Leadsom

Congratulations on your new role as Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs. There is no doubt that this is a very important department in government at the moment, especially after the recent Brexit result. I am writing to you today though about an issue which needs addressing to halt the destruction of our landscape due to the draining of well-loved symbols.

The pheasant shooting season begins at the start of October and continues through to February. As a result, so that the season is successful with plenty birds to be shot over 35 million are released into the British countryside even though they are in fact a non-native species. This is done with little or even no valuable contribution to conservation or our landscape and even less so when a gamekeeper is given a license to kill national treasures for the sake of a bit of fun for a minority. 

Natural England’s recent decision (29th July 2016) to issue a license that permits the ‘control’ of up to 10 buzzards to ‘prevent serious damage to young pheasants’ is of serious concern. First of all, it is very ironic. Why must buzzards be killed to protect birds that will be slaughtered in great numbers just for the sake of a minority to have a bit of fun. Buzzards are a bird which has climbed back from the brink and are now an icon across the British countryside. They matter much more than the interests of a few.

A ridiculous point of this license is that its been made clear that the control can only be of ‘up to’ 10 buzzards. I find it difficult to understand how this will work regarding how it is monitored to ensure that only up to ten birds are shot. Some may also argue that 10 birds is a very small proportion and would have no damaging effect on their overall population but the fact that the license was issued is a worry in its own. What is going to stop the same gamekeeper from being granted the same license next year or now that the ice has been broken, other gamekeepers from different pheasant shoots. Just like on grouse moors where driven grouse shooting is practised, we could see national treasures wiped from pockets of our countryside.

A similar comparison is the badger cull. Since the cull first began badger persecution incidents have increased across England and not just in the South West where the slaughter is taking place. This indicates that those wanting to either eradicate badgers from their land or for entertainment purposes are being given the green light to do so. As well as this, the persecution of these animals is horrendous and totally unacceptable within today’s society. We live in the 21st century, not back in dark ages.

Obviously badger persecution or disturbance of any kind is illegal. Unfortunately, it still happens though and so does other methods of wildlife crime including raptor persecution. A bird of prey that has suffered unimaginably from being illegally ‘controlled’ for a minorities interest is the Hen Harrier. This year there has been only three breeding pairs when in fact there should be over 300 pairs in England. It is a disgrace and what’s worse is that DEFRA are not doing anything to stop it. Instead on the 12th of August grouse moors will be rampaged by shooters in the hope of a successful year after their ‘hard work’ to prepare. This ‘hard work’ included shooting our birds of prey and trapping wildlife they like to call ‘pests’, burning peat which is in fact contributing to climate change and increasing flooding downstream, and overall sucking our upland areas dry of any life.

Your Hen Harrier plan isn’t working and won’t work. Our Hen Harriers don’t have time on their side and need big change now. This year two radio tagged birds disappeared, both over grouse moors.

Please take a look at the petition to end driven grouse shooting, signed by a majority – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

Yours sincerely,

Georgia Locock

In the letter I couldn’t not include about what’s happening with our Hen Harriers. I really hope she already knows about the danger they’re in but maybe not the true trouble. This also fits in well with me writing my blog about Hen Harrier Day this year. The third year, in fact! Which is amazing, and the growth since that rainy day in the Peak District is also amazing with 12 events taking place across the UK, more people getting involved, more people aware and most of all, more change.

It’s also been incredible to see so much going on. From Mark Avery’s petition, to short films from Chris Packham, The League Against Cruel Sports, boycotting of supermarkets, many individuals doing their bit and all (mainly) from the power of social media. Of which is going to be very important over the weekend with many tweeting, hashtags, images, videos and much more circling round. As the title of this blog says, it’s a weekend to inglorify driven grouse shooting by spreading the truth and clearly stating why it must end.

I’m looking forward to it and will be up at the Peak event in Edale on Sunday.

Below are some more links to take a look at.

Thunderclap (1) – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/45248-inglorious-12th

Thunderclap (2) – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/44802-ban-driven-grouse-shooting

Mark Avery’s petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

The League Against Cruel Sports Crowdfunder – http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bangrouseshooting

The truth of driven grouse shooting videos – http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/news/the-real-price-of-grouse-traps

Hen Harrier Day information – http://henharrierday.org/2016-events.html

More time at Spurn

That time again. Finished a term of school (not exams this time) and I needed something to escape to and wind back down to enjoy my summer break. Properly catch up.

So Monday morning (after the following Friday I broke up) I was off on the train to Spurn. Well it wasn’t that easy with three train changes, a bus journey and a lift in between but it was all worth it as I arrived at what is no doubt one of the most extraordinary places in the UK.

Even though I was immediately transported to pure bliss when I arrived, it was a little bit of a tense afternoon. When I first visited Spurn for a week last year I was amazed; part of me was regretting the fact that I’d never been before and the other was planning my next trip. It was one of the wildest and fascinating places I’d ever been too, and this was especially apt after five hours of chaos on the train when travelling up. After exploring, seeing new bird species, experiencing important seasonal events and phenomenons, viewing fantastic scenery, and learning so much it didn’t just get me properly hooked onto birding and further advance my deep interest in the natural world but I got a bug for the place as many do. After all it is the best place ever!

The word rural is shy of describing Spurn, it’s just plain wild and this is no doubt one of the reasons which makes it so magical and a hidden gem along the British coastline. However, the somewhat tense atmosphere of my first afternoon when I arrived was due to the anticipation of a result that could shatter this.

Spurn National Nature Reserve is part managed by the Spurn Bird Observatory and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust but over recent years division has uprose. Something I’ve never done on here before is openly criticise a wildlife NGO. Quite a few times I have subtly, for example about a need to pull together for conservation concerns as more needs to happen, but when there’s a need to speak up for wildlife preservation you shouldn’t care who’s toes your stepping on. Especially when it involves preserving a place as special as Spurn. Not just a place to enjoy birding but a lifeline for wildlife along the Humber Estuary and the East Coast.

Some may know what I’m talking about but the anticipated result was whether or not the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust would get their application approved for a visitor centre at Spurn. Does’t sound too much of a big deal, does it? A lot of nature reserves whether they’re Wildlife Trust, RSPB or others have visitor centres located on them across the country. The majority of them do a good job too. Attracting new people, welcoming them and educating them about the reserve and the wildlife there. As you can tell I’m certainly not anti-visitor centres and I know for sure neither are others but in the case for Spurn it was all about location.

Even though other alternatives were suggested to the YWT they seemed extremely adamant for their application. An application that was fortunately refused on grounds of visual impact and flood risk. Another failure which was not mentioned by those ruling though was their poor effort to communicate, recognise and engage with individuals who visit Spurn and the very strong local community. All of those are people who know Spurn and have been inspired by its wilderness, values and beauty. In my opinion the power of that passion won by their secure determination. A real community success story from locals and those who have stories from further afield.

It feels as though I’m describing a nasty ordeal between two sides which seems ridiculous with the YWT and SBO both being for wildlife protection and preservation but in this case and having seen the situation from an outside view, the YWT  have really disappointed me.

Anyhow I thought I’d mention this to demonstrate the dedication of those who visit and enjoy the area which no doubt makes my visits even more enjoyable. From learning and being introduced to new species and events to feeling very welcome and at home.

The wildlife though. After arriving on the Monday I was asked to help cover some of the afternoon Little Tern warden shifts which I was all too happy to do! Unfortunately Little Tern numbers are declining and quickly becoming one of the UK’s rarest seabird and due to this for quite a few years now (since the 1970s) wardens have supervised colonies to reduce disturbance and increase numbers. Hopefully the project run at Spurn will have another successful year with chicks surviving. Not only was it exciting to be doing something very important for these birds but the location was brilliant for seeing other terns including Common, Arctic and Sandwich, and spend my afternoons watching waders. One afternoon a Little Stint turned up too which was a lovely surprise to watch scattering around the Dunlin.

Waders were a big delight of my trip this time. Living in the midlands I don’t get much wader excitement, once in a while maybe but being at Spurn last week felt as though I was being spoilt. At the moment wader numbers are gradually building up all round. Whether that’s on the Humber estuary, at high tide on the ponds or in the mornings during seawatching. Species mainly included Dunlin, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Redshank as well as Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, then the highlights which were seeing more unusual Curlew Sandpiper and two lifers; Red-necked Phalarope and White-rumped Sandpiper.

At high tide it was incredible to see so many numbers and so exciting when scanning through each individual bird. One evening on the ponds at high tide there were easily over 9000 waders and sometimes this is equally as exciting as seeing a rarer species. It got even more so when a raptor soared through. A few times it was one of the local peregrines. I’m used to seeing them gliding over my head in Lichfield city centre but to see them easing through flocks of waders with a backdrop of the sea was a fantastic comparison!

On the subject of one of my favourite birds, another I got to see (and in very good numbers one day) were swifts. On my first visit to Spurn last year swifts made it so special for me. Watching hundreds of these dazzling shapes flying over everyday was one of the best experiences of my life. Unfortunately I missed out this year though but I was really pleased when one day we had just the right winds and over 1700 were counted flying south. They really are amazing birds and since I’ve come home my local neighbourhood group seems to have disappeared (see you next year!).

When spending my ten days at Spurn exploring it obviously wasn’t just birds that I had the enjoyment of seeing. Most mornings when walking up to seawatching for waders I came across Roe Deer running around and one of the local foxes. As well as seals out at sea, one morning we must of counted almost ten bobbing up and down in the distant. A highlight though was when I was walking back from Little Tern watching one late afternoon over caged gabions and a grass snake, that had been sunbathing, slithered directly beneath and disappeared between the rocks. As it did so it struggled. With it being quite a large snake it seemed to take for ages to make its way down but this meant I was able to get an up close view. This made an afternoon of sizzling in the sun and being burnt to death all worth it!

I’ve obviously broken up from school for my summer break now and have a lot planned through the summer including a few blogs that I want to get done which I’m looking forward too. I’m also returning back to Spurn next week to enjoy another few days.

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