Category Archives: education

A follow up: Stafford’s badger celebrations

After the event I helped organise in Stafford that took place last weekend I thought I had better do a follow up post to thank those who came (and helped with organising), celebrate the support we got, and share how well it went. This is only going to be a pretty brief post though as I have a lot of sixth form work that needs finishing for the end of term next week…then the summer – wahey!

The idea of having a march opposing the badger cull and the risk of it spreading to Staffordshire was first brought to the groups attention (The Staffordshire Badger Conservation Group) at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately we had a bit of trouble sorting dates out but then the idea was put forward that the day would mark the end of National Badger Week 2016, which was a brilliant plan!

National Badger Week was a massive success. So well done to all those who helped organise events throughout the week. There was so much taking place around the country from very successful badger watches and coffee mornings to talks and lectures. Lots of money was raised to help The Badger Trust continue with the work they do along with the groups up and down the country, and (just as importantly) a lot of awareness was raised about the badger cull, persecution and to educate members of the public about the badger away from the politics.

There have been many, many marches taking place across the UK over the last few years in an attempt to stop the cull. These events along with the tireless work of individuals out in the field and campaigning hard is without a doubt having a massive impact. Although we haven’t won yet, I’m certain we will one day.

Here in Staffordshire the risk of a cull is unlikely at the moment but if the policy continues it could be dreams come true for those who are pushing for licences. However there are many other factors which are having a dreadful impact on badger welfare. Although badger baiting has been illegal since the 1830s, it still takes place in areas around the UK and we have had cases in Staffordshire too. Some this year in fact. Fortunately the group is extremely lucky to have good relationships with an exceptional wildlife crime force. I must add though; there are many horrific ways we’ve seen badgers being persecuted and killed throughout the UK which aren’t always badger baiting incidences.

I spoke about the protection of badgers in Staffordshire by the group (which has now been running for 30 years) when I stood up in central Stafford and spoke on Saturday afternoon. Not just talking to those who had come to the event but those passing by and coming to see what all the fuss was about. Making the reasons why, what and how we can all stand up for badgers and against the malicious hate some have against them heard. I also made similar points on one of the local radio stations, BBC Radio Stoke, that morning and I also spoke about why culling badgers is not the answer. I will not go into detail about this now as I have in the past, I will in future posts and I really need to get some school work done! However I did get a bit criticised for not mentioning more about the science in my talk. The reason for this was having my talk preceded by Mark Jones and Dominic Dyer who went into a lot of detail about the science and therefore I didn’t feel the need to repeat this again at that time.

Anyhow, you can listen to the radio interview below. It was also brilliant to have others speak in Stafford on Saturday including Dominic Dyer and Peter Martin from The Badger Trust, Mark Jones from Born Free Foundation and Jordi Casamitjana from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare). Each spoke passionately, precisely and with rich knowledge about a range of topics from the politics of badgers and work of The Badger Trust to the science behind badgers and BTb and also the history of this species that has lived among our landscape for over a quarter of a million years.

Being me I couldn’t miss a chance to speak out about young people and the future of wildlife and its protection. I was thrilled to be able to do this after being asked to sit on the panel of the previous evenings debate. The conversation of the evening was much more focused on the politics of the badger and also the impact of the recent EU Referendum result. Dominic and Peter both spoke about The Badger Trust’s response, of which has been published this week. This included that after many funds have been cut from leaving the EU, DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) should reconsider the extortionate costs of badger culling. You can read this in full by clicking here.

The support at the festival over the weekend was incredible but not surprising.

You can listen to the radio interview here by forwarding to the 1.07 mark – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03yhbk6

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You can also listen to the talks from the Saturday here.

Dominic Dyer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbJK18ewuAw

Jordi Casamitjana – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoYhO1ClMsk

Georgia Locock – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I71KiMoIbRY

Mark Jones – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4hDy5lI4MI

Peter Martin – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdjzafUSe0o

Over the next few weeks and months I have some really interesting blog posts lined up as I have some exciting projects planned! Also, not forgetting posts in the run up to the cull this year and Hen Harrier Day at the beginning of August.

BAWC16 – eyes continue to grow

On Sunday afternoon when the conference had finished I headed to Temple Meads to catch the train home. Walking along the docks, I was taking a last look at this area of Bristol where I’d never been to before but had spent the weekend. From the distant colourful terraced houses and what looked like allotments that stacked up on the hillside to the left of Brandon Hill and the Cabot Tower, to the docks I was walking alongside. However with the thoughts from two days of talks and experiences still circling my mind, I was strangely alarmed.

One of the first wildlife crimes I think I was told about when I was a kid is that no one can kill a swan. It’s a bit odd how I remember this, perhaps because I was very young and with it being a well recognised species, but it obviously made an impression on me. As I watched them, unlike my normal reaction which is just to make an acknowledgement, images and accounts from some of the conference talks suddenly came to mind. From the issues involving fishing hooks cutting into them, an accidental but nevertheless careless act, to the x-ray we were shown after one had been shot and the case when 46 were found shot dead within just one area. Something so recognised by all and popular in urban areas yet still threatened by persecution.

Wildlife crime can happen anywhere. Whether it’s a rural or urban place. This was presented throughout the weekend at the Birders Against Wildlife Crime’s ‘Eyes in the Field’ conference in Bristol, starting off with some personal accounts from David Lindo, the Urban Birder. Someone who focuses his time observing urban wildlife and shares that enjoyment and importance with others to inspire them too. I really enjoyed his talk. His enthusiasm was relatable to when I’m out in my city centre watching the peregrine falcons at the cathedral. I often go down, at least once a week, and can spend hours standing around with my binoculars. Across the UK, as Keith Betton told us in his talk, peregrines are doing great in urban areas as their numbers have boomed. However even though they’re considered ‘safer’ here they still face threats. I’ve had a few first hand accounts of this with the pair in my local city centre. A very recent one made some national news and was mentioned a few times over the weekend. This was about a racing pigeon that had been found in a nearby garden with a hook tied to its feet. Another was when a very healthy looking peregrine, one we presume was from the cathedral, was found dead on a nearby school playing field.

From the enjoyment of watching these birds on a regular basis and being fascinated by them, to learning of what some think is acceptable to do which could, and is in other areas, causing incredible harm wakes you up. It motivates you and this was so rightly put by Craig Jones, wildlife photographer, in his talk. His message being we all have motivation to do what we do, fighting against wildlife crime. In his talk whilst showing a selection of simply fantastic images he spoke his mind and of his passion which was an extremely powerful combination and set a lot of the audience to tears. As well as this he gave some very well deserved praises to Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Mark Avery. I was very, very pleased to see the BAWC team receiving the award of ‘Wildlife Success Story of the Year’ for the hen harrier from the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards too. As mentioned, this was not necessarily to do with bird numbers as they are still very much endangered but public awareness and understanding of the issue has soared.

It goes without saying how important public awareness is. Spreading the message far and wide educates those who didn’t know before about the injustice which is going on. With this they may take action by perhaps showing their face at events or on social media, telling others or even just being aware of what goes on, able to recognise this then report. The theme of reporting and being eyes in the field was mentioned by many speakers and is an important motto of BAWC. Without being outside, recognising then reporting wildlife crime nothing will happen to prevent it from taking place and catching the criminal. Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, shared an example about a lady who reported a golden eagle she found dead. She wasn’t exactly a wildlife expect but she’d been told about these sorts of crimes in a talk a few years back. Spreading the message is a vital ingredient however in some cases doing this can be an issue. On Sunday morning the fantastic Mike Dilger opened the second day of the conference and spoke about how wildlife crime is all too often seen as ‘turn off TV’ therefore not broadcasted. His presenting on The One Show reaches a very broad audience, from those who may have interests in the environment to those who have little knowledge of it. Although he told us that including pieces about wildlife crime can be difficult, Mike explained how it is becoming a much more common thing on our TV screens. He even showed us two examples which were a piece on The One Show with peregrines and on Inside Out about deer poaching.

In the clip about deer poaching on Inside Out, forensics at the scene examined the ‘unwanted’ parts of the deer that the poachers left at a road side. They were able to extract human DNA from the animal which was very useful in tracking down who had committed the crime. This put part of what Dr Louise Robinson and her third year student Sally Smith, both from Derby University, had spoken about on Saturday into visual context. Obviously investigating the killing of an animal is going to be different to that of a humans. However this use of forensics is used in a very similar way with a similar purpose which is fascinating stuff and quite exciting in the development of advancing the ways in which wildlife criminals can be caught.

Going back, another type of media and method of spreading the word which was spoken about a lot over the weekend was the use of social media. Someone who was really promoting it was Sargent Rob Taylor in his talk. I’ve followed him on Twitter for quite some time and when I heard he was going to be speaking at BAWC I was quite excited. Just by reading his tweets and dedication to the account you can tell how committed he is to stamp out wildlife crime. The work him and his rural policing team in North Wales has done is incredible and has been so successful, overall in the past eight years they have reduced wildlife crime by 84%. Something even more incredible would be if other police forces in the UK could follow suit but unfortunately that isn’t completely the case just yet. If you take a look at his account you’ll see that throughout the day he tweets about everything from incidents he’s dealing with to giving his followers an opportunity to ask him questions.

As well as the ongoing success story of North Wales, another celebration of the weekend was about the National Wildlife Crime Unit. After the all-too-close threat of this vital unit shutting down completely a few weeks back, it has now been secured until 2020. A talk was given by Ian Guildford from NWCU about how their work goes hand in hand with that of wildlife crime officers by obtaining and distributing information from a wide range of organisations and by assisting police forces in wildlife crime investigations. Many of the speakers went through case studies and examples of what they have to deal with, for some these are on a daily basis. And of course all were infuriating examples, why would anyone begin to think of doing such things. But that’s the thing, they’re examples and as Geoff Edmond, RSPCA, questioned, are there more issues then we realise? Putting the word ‘wildlife’ before ‘crime’ doesn’t make the crime invalid or different to any other offences. Therefore it shouldn’t be acted upon or treated any differently.

Depending on the nature of the crime or how it’s responded to could mean the specie involved isn’t dead but does need urgent care. Preventing further suffering was the key theme of the wonderful Pauline Kidner’s talk. I first properly met Pauline last September at The Badger Trust conference, she is such a lovely lady who does incredible things to help wildlife when in need within her area of the South West. The incidents she spoke about weren’t all related to wildlife crime but many were and she told us about some pretty horrific things she’s had to deal with. From badgers being shot, stuffed in bin bags then dumped to a deer that had been hit by a car and had the back half of its body ripped away. She really does have a first hand experience from these dealings. In her talk, Pauline also spoke about next generations and their understanding and consideration for nature. A very articulate point she made was about young people being able to play shooting games without hesitation to what it actually means as they turn it off and then turn it back on again another time, and everything’s back to normal.

Birders Against Wildlife Crime are very enthusiastic and interested in inviting young people to their conference and other events as well as encouraging them to be the next generation of eyes in the field. This year they managed to get hold of more sponsors to allow more young people to attend as their ticket costs were covered. This is such a big help as for many, including myself, without it they probably wouldn’t of been able to attend the conference. For a student still in education I simply can’t afford it. Therefore being encouraged and supported to go along to events like the BAWC conference is brilliant. Not only making it accessible for more youngsters to come and bring fresh faces, but spreading the message amongst next generations. These are the ones who will be required to carry on the work of protecting nature in years to come to prevent further terrible consequences. Education is the key and unfortunately we do face some battles as young people are influenced by what they see on the TV or on the internet from an early age. Some do believe it. Not only this but the growing disconnection from nature, and organisations that send out almost entirely opposite messages whilst visiting schools, for example the Countryside Alliance. Growing awareness amongst younger generations is just, or if not more so, important then older ones. Lets hope next year there’s even more youngsters at BAWC17!

One campaign that got into schools across the country last year and spread a positive message about a national treasure was National Badger Day with their short film. The day was nothing to do with what is all too often linked to badgers, e.g. the cull, but for the specie they really are. A fabulous striking creature which has lived in the British Isles for thousands and thousands of years. This year the day has been prolonged and changed around a bit by becoming a week and moving to the end of June. The number of activities, engagement and popularity is also hopefully going to grow with a lot more going on. Over the weekend they began to start it all off with a selfie opportunity – ‘I support #NationalBadgerWeek because…’ then photos are and hopefully more will be shared across social media in the coming weeks and months. Below is my contribution.

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Unfortunately the media’s presentation of badgers is almost always linked to either TB, cows or the cull. Too many think of a badger then think about TB or cows when in fact badgers aren’t to blame, therefore don’t deserve this.

On day two of the conference it was a bit of a badger bonanza with many of the speakers giving a mention to badgers and discussing crimes associated with them. From Mike Dilger pronouncing his opinion of the cull to Geoff Edmond, RSPCA, talking about badger digging incidences and Ian Guildford, NWCU, who stated that badger baiting is amongst those wildlife crimes they focus on. Many will know that badgers are amongst the most persecuted animal in the UK. Even with the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 in place, thousands are still persecuted each year and suffer terribly in the process. They have a real tough time as tens of thousands are also killed on roads each year and of course the ignorant cull. However, again, public awareness has been a massive step forward in protecting this species which has been tied up in a political ball game. This has been from many individuals, organisations, charities (etc) but someone who has led a way has been Dominic Dyer. I’ve mentioned him quite a few times on my blog before from the talks he’s given on marches, all equally as eloquent as the speech he gave to mark the end of the BAWC conference 2016.

After Geoff Edmond from the RSPCA finished his talk he held up his glass of water. What does it show? There was a silence before someone answered with ‘it’s half full’. Obviously, keep positive was his message from this. Which is very true. Another point I enjoyed from one of the speakers, who I can’t remember, was that if you compare current day wildlife crimes to 40/50 years ago there are certain issues which no longer occur. For example, egg collecting. Just like many wildlife crimes today, it’s a trend which originated from many years ago, but is now almost none existent. Let us hope this is the case with other crimes against wildlife in the near future. As Mark Avery so rightly said, we will win!

2015: An overview

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.

 

Voles, mice & shrews – a small mammal search

Last Saturday was quite a busy day in terms of getting outside and surrounded by nature. As you’ll see from my latest post, I was on a fungi foray in the morning with my local wildlife group then in the afternoon I was at the National Memorial Arboretum with their Wildlife Watch group, which I’m one of the leaders of.

The Wildlife Watch group here have monthly sessions and at each one they do a different activity. On Saturday Derek Crawley from the Mammal Society came along. He was a real star guest and introduced the group to the world of small mammals and trapping them for conservation purposes (to record and let free again).

On Saturday we had the regular attendees of the group along with the local cubs so there was quite a lot of us but it all ran smoothly and everyone was learning something new along with having a great time!

Around 40 traps were set up the night before in the intention of trapping small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews, and so we did! After we emptied the trap the children were able to have a look at what had been caught before it was released. Data of what was caught was also added to the records for this site.

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