Radio 4 driven grouse shooting debate

It’s been a while since my last blog. I’ll post another one with some updates over the next week or so, but for now I thought I’d let some of my readers and followers aware of something I’ll be doing tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow I’m off to The Game Fair at Ragley Hall, the largest game fair event in the UK and it’s their 60’s anniversary. Known to some as ‘The Festival of the Great British Countryside’, I’ll be joining the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme who are broadcasting live from the event between 7-9am.

It isn’t quite for reasons that the majority of those at the show will be there for though. I’m going to be debating the case for banning driven grouse shooting. Of course, on my behalf, I’ll be arguing with the science and hard evidence on the clear case for banning this outdated past time. Tune in from 7am to listen.

I’ll also be attending and speaking at the Sheffield Hen Harrier Day a week tomorrow, more about that soon though!

Nature deficit disorder: is it having a detrimental effect on kids today?

I only finished my A Levels back in June but they already feel like a world ago after beginning at university. I never thought that I’d say this but I do miss Sixth Form. My interests in ecology and conservation are content now, but I miss the analysing of books and learning about the English language that I did in my English lessons. My teachers were brilliant and I really do miss the excuse to write as part of a lesson.

However, even though I enjoyed it immensely, I got an average grade C at the end of Year 13. I was pleased with this but I didn’t feel as though it justified my passion for writing and the English language. Whilst doing my A Levels, I also did another subject which classed as half an A Level (an AS Level) known as an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This was completed through the school and every A Level student got the opportunity to complete it if they wished. The final grade either contributed towards UCAS points or appealed to the universities you applied for.

I grasped this opportunity. It was an excuse to do a written project of 5,000 words on whatever subject that I wanted to. Compared to the C I got in English, I managed to achieve an A* in my EPQ. For my study, I looked at nature deficit disorder and its effects on children. Nature deficit disorder is a term used to describe the disconnection from nature that children and adults have developed in recent years. I explored in detail what nature deficit disorder is, the relationship between NDD and children, comparisons to previous generations, the consequences of NDD, the causes and what are the solutions.

I don’t use this word often, but I was quite proud with what I produced. As a result, I have decided to publish it on my blog for others to read. Since I submitted it to the exam board, I also decided to go back over it in my own time and add some extra detail and content.

An EPQ takes the form of a dissertation and the subject should relate to a course of study or future career.  As I have stated, my study was on nature deficit disorder. To begin with, I researched the term nature deficit disorder and where it originates from. It was by American author, Richard Louv, with the publication of the book ‘Last Child in the Woods’. Louv’s book was a key tool when researching and very inspiring.

It was then a case of exploring evidence of the relationship between NDD and children today. What I found was as I expected, a strong link which clearly presented that NDD is common amongst today’s young generations. I was curious to work out when this relationship began to occur so I looked at the generation gap between children and their parents, and the amount of time they both spent outside when they were of the same age. It was clear that a child’s freedom to roam natural areas has decreased compared to their parent’s generation and they are spending notably less time outdoors.

Although I was certain why this was the case, I had to find evidence to support why this was. The most reoccurring reason was due to the uprising of the ‘screen-based life’ with easy access and affordability of indoor gaming and activities to children of all backgrounds. The appeal of such activities is strong for children and young people, and parents are choosing to allow them to do so. It seems that this is convenient for parents as they can keep a watchful eye over their child’s activities and ensure that they are safe. The influence of wide-spread news coverage and the media is to blame for this as it is alarming parents of stranger-danger. However, there are many positive impacts that allowing a child to explore can have.

By which I mean, NDD is impacting upon children’s lives in numerous way. This includes its impacts on mental health, like depression and anxiety, and physical health, such as obesity as children are simply choosing to spend more time indoors which means less exercise. Outdoor activities can also be used as therapy for mental health and for those children who suffer with ADHD. A human’s nature is to spend time outside, this relates back to our earliest ancestors. Due to these consequences, it seems humans are struggling to respond to the quick change of spending less time outside. This links to something I researched called the Biophilia Hypothesis, which is the instinctive bond between humans and nature. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this. The whole process of being deep into research at times during was study was very exciting and satisfying.

Finally, I looked at solutions to reverse NDD. In the UK, there is a lack of enthusiasm from the government regarding environmental education and very little appears on the curriculum. However, the work and idea of Forest Schools is very positive. This was something that I explore in my study. I compared the British schooling system to one of the best in the world, the Finnish approach. Finland’s education success is evident and they have a large focus on outdoor education and allowing children to be more relaxed within a classroom environment with less homework, more time outside and not starting school until the age of 7. They allow their children to play and enjoy a pressure-free childhood.

Doing the project was very interesting and I enjoyed it immensely. It was perhaps one of my favourite parts of Sixth Form. My findings were very concerning as NDD is a clear issue and it is seemingly not being taken seriously by the government or the media as little is being done to reverse it. What I also find interesting is the link between NDD and environmental destruction due to our loss of interest for wild places. My conclusion is that schools are the way forward and the attitude of the government and the media at presenting environmental issues and showcasing it as something that is important needs to improve dramatically,

If you would like to read my study on nature deficit disorder, you can do so here – Nature deficit disorder – Georgia Locock

Dangers of a Journey South: the frontline of illegal bird slaughter on Cyprus

This blog post is long overdue. Mainly because it’s been another case of abandoning my blog due to settling into the new world of university life, but I also knew it would be a difficult task to explain and recall the experiences from when I visited Cyprus back in September to learn more about and make some short films on the illegal slaughter of migratory birds that pass over the island. It was incredible to experience the frontline of this issue but also very difficult at times.

In the distance, the sweet call of the blackcap was being projected through an MP3 decoy. It was 3am and five of us were trudging over a ploughed field in the direction of the tape lure and as we approached a shrubby area, the noise got louder and louder. We were in an area known for bird trapping.

The island of low trees and shrubs within an area of open fields, where the traps were set, was around 200 metres from a house. We couldn’t afford to make any unnecessary noise. As one of us went to stand-by in case the trapper came back, we all began looking for limesticks. Speed and efficiency was everything.

This was my first time out in the field since arriving on Cyprus. Most British tourists visit for its hot climate, beaches and nights out. Instead, I was holding a Lesser Whitethroat smothered in the paste of a limestick. Its head was wrapped around the stick, with its beak embedded. It was pitch black, we couldn’t use torches as we’d attract too much attention. Instead, we carefully shone a dim light to work out what state the bird was in and where to start in an attempt to release it. Submerged, it seemed there was little chance. The bird had seemingly been stuck for a long time, but it persisted with the odd twitch. Like a snare, the more it tried to escape and pull itself away, the more it entangled itself. Its delicate legs were clotted. After a careful extraction, we had removed the bird but it was barely moving. It had been there too long, although the bird was free, its legs were still cemented in the evil substance on the stick. I can’t think of a more brutal way for a bird to die.

Two of the birds rescued on that night were taken back to be cleaned and released. Those doing this work and on the frontline in Cyprus are the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS). Volunteers from CABS spend tireless amount of time rescuing birds from trapping sites and fighting against illegal bird slaughter not just in Cyprus but across Europe.

That night we collected around 150 limesticks. The limesticks are made using a small stick, about the right size to place in a bush, then covered in an incredibly strong and sticky substance which acts as a glue to trap birds when they land on the stick. Trappers will place multiple sticks within an area alongside an MP3 player as a decoy, which usually plays the song of Blackcaps. Such calls attract birds to the area, where they then find themselves surrounded by limesticks. Once stuck, they wait until they’re released by the trapper the next morning.

This illegal trapping then continues when the birds are sold onto restaurants where they’re sold for large amounts of money to be eaten by Cypriots as a traditional, but illegal, ‘delicacy’ known as ‘Ambelopoulia’. This black-market trade has been illegal for over 40 years, yet it continues as many Cypriots still believe the practice to be traditional and it is big business for some trappers. Back in 2016, on British Military Base in Cyprus, it was estimated that 800,000 birds were killed during the autumn using limesticks and mist nets.

On another evening, just myself and a CABS volunteer were investigating the sound of a distant decoy. The mix of emotions was bizarre: it was exciting to find a trapping site and taking immediate action, along with being a part of a CABS mission. But it was also terrifying. We were darting across an open landscape of ploughed fields between shrubs at 2am with trappers nearby. It has become a dangerous job for some CABS volunteers, when we were on Cyprus, groups were threatened with knives and at a site just a week before, others were kidnapped and others shot at. Nevertheless, when illegal bird slaughter is taking place, they do anything they can to fight it.

There are two British Military Bases on Cyprus, these are Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Along with spending time in the Republic, we spent most of our time on Dhekelia, which has been renowned for many years for the extensive illegal hunting which takes place here. This has created a lot of pressure on the British sovereignty as they are responsible for the crime taking place and up until recently, they were accused of doing very little about the situation. As I have already stated, in the autumn of 2016, 800,000 birds were illegally slaughtered on British land.

However, change is being seen. CABS stated that just compared to 2016, there had been a decrease in the amount of trapping sites that they were finding each night. This was both in the Republic and on British Military Base. Speaking to the police, their attitude has also changed. They seemed keen to reduce and rule-out illegal bird trapping on their land, and this has been made obvious by clear results so far and methods they are evidently putting into place. For example, the use of drones with cameras to deter and gather evidence to prosecute trappers and removal of acacia trees and irrigation pipes.

Further change needs to be happening in the Republic though. Political will is needed. More prosecutions are needed, especially prosecutions against those restaurants who are selling Ambelopoulia.

It is widely believed that to thaw this tradition out, educational action is key. We went to visit Birdlife Cyprus who are acting in schools with educational programs and approaches to children. They have done this through numerous ways, from lesson plans to board games where children can learn about the birds they see. It is all with the intention of teaching and helping them to appreciate the bird life they see and respect this rather than believe that tradition is more important. Unfortunately, still, it is a difficult task as the trapping is very much traditional and passed down through generations. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see the work that Birdlife Cyprus are doing and to hear from their experiences. After a few bleak days of being on the front line of this horrendous slaughter in Cyprus, to learn and hear about this sort of progress was amazing.

Not only do Birdlife Cyprus do educational work, they are also active on the front line and in the field when it comes to stopping the slaughter of migratory birds in Cyprus. In 2002, along with the RSPB, Birdlife Cyprus set up a Surveillance Programme. This has enabled them to gain long-term records of field data, from which reliable trends have been gathered and an overview of the bird trapping situation in Cyprus.

Although there is a lot of bleakness in all of this, change is happening. The police on British land are taking action, CABS are going strong and education is being taken seriously. Along with those British tourists attracted to its beaches and hot weather, Cyprus also attracts many birders. Whilst on Cyprus, I did get the chance to see some exciting species. It was very odd to think how brilliant it was to see some species, then compare it to the state I’d seen others when attached to limesticks. Especially after CABS volunteers rescued an adult male Masked Shrike. I’d dreamt of seeing one for a long time, but this one was looking back at me from within a bathtub after having its feathers unmated from the sticky glue of a limestick. The mixture of shear excitement and anger was a strange combination.

Whilst on Cyprus, I created three short films that are aimed at younger audiences in the UK to explain to them about the situation. Others that I went with were Chris Packham, Megan McCubbin and Ruth Peacey, below are the links to the films that we made along with other information about the situation in Cyprus.

Georgia on Cyprus: Dangers of a Journey South

Episode 1 –

Episode 2 –

Episode 3 –

Megan McCubbin: Stuck on Cyprus

Episode 1 –

Episode 2 –

Cyprus: Massacre on Migration 2017 –

Birdlife Cyprus –

Committee Against Bird Slaughter –

The Swift total

Some of you will remember that last summer, in July, I walked the North West Way. In 11 days, I trekked 191 miles from Preston to Carlisle. I started by walking along the Ribble Way, then the Yorkshire Dales and Pennine Way, onto the Pennines and finished along the Hadrian’s Wall path in Carlisle. I really enjoyed doing the walk, it was tough at times but, looking back, I had some amazing experiences and I can’t wait to do something similar again.

Equally as satisfying was that I raised £3000 for my cause, this is the work that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are doing to monitor the decline of the Swift. Between 1995-2014, 47% of breeding numbers have declined here in the UK and no one is really sure why. It could be due to the decline in the abundance of invertebrates that are available to them during the breeding season. But little is known about their foraging behaviour during the breeding season. Or it could be something that is happening to them elsewhere in the world and on migration. Or quite possibly, both of these reasons.

To find out more, this is why miniature GPS tags are being deployed onto swifts at breeding colonies. The BTO will be able to track swifts both on their foraging flights during the breeding season and over their annual migration. As each tag will be able to record around 300 locations per deployment, this will allow the BTO to quantify the amount of time spent over different habitats and the distances travelled from the colony through short-term deployments during the breeding season.

The money raised will go towards supporting the BTO with ensuring that these tags are safe enough to be deployed on Swifts and gather data to help them learn more about the challenges they face.

Although I’d posted a few blogs about the walk, I realised that I hadn’t published the total amount, and thought it was only right to do a short blog with the total as many kindly and generously donated and supported me along the way. My original target was £500 but I totally smashed this and raised £2965 through my online JustGiving page plus £40 offline, which added up to £3005.

I couldn’t be any more ecstatic about this. Since the walk, I also did a podcast with Charlie Moores from Lush, where I spoke about the walk, the link for this is here. I was also kindly invited by the BTO to attend their annual conference back in December, free of charge as a ‘thank you’ for my fundraising. This was my first BTO conference, which was very exciting and interesting due to the wide array of talks and presentations.

Final total – £3005!