The effects of people power at its best

Some very positive news was shared across social media yesterday evening. Bradford Council had voted not to renew the grouse shooting lease on Ilkley Moor. The press release on the Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor website stated that an overwhelming majority of councillors voted against, with 61 out of 89 councillors doing so. Bradford Council consists mainly of the Labour Party, who all voted against, along with ten Liberal Democrats and 3 Green Party Councillors. Bradford Council is the last local authority in the UK to stop grouse shooting on public land. Before this was the Peak District National Park Authority.

Since its formation in May 2014, Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor has lobbied the council. During a recent consultation on further management of Ilkley Moor, this was the largest submission to the local authority on any single topic. The group, consisting of passionate individuals who have campaigned against the management and effects of grouse shooting on the moor, range from all ages and backgrounds.  It was always amazing to hear updates about the work they were doing, which was published on their website and on social media. Yesterday’s success is brilliant and just shows the impact a grassroots group can have. It’s a wonderful example and a definite step in the right direction, hopefully an icebreaker for similar situations.

This is a clear example of how people power has been successful and something that should be celebrated. A similar example of the effects of people power, but on a larger scale, was last week when Theresa May made a U-turn on her manifesto promise for a vote to repeal the Hunting Act 2004.

During the General Election campaign last year, Theresa May made it publicly known that, although she’d never been fox hunting, she was in favour of it. And as part of her manifesto, she promised a vote to repeal the Hunting Act. Similar to the vote that David Cameron promised during his term that never actually materialised.

However, in an interview last week on the Andrew Marr show, the Prime Minister backed down on her promise. She stated that although her personal views on fox hunting had not changed, there was a ‘clear message’ from the public that a vote would not be popular. Therefore, she stated that a vote won’t take place before the next General Election in 2022. Recent polling clearly states that 85% of the public are against a repeal and during her General Election campaign, polls suggested that her promise of a vote played unpopular with voters.

Campaigns against the repeal of the Hunting Act have always been very active and widespread. Those campaigning against the Conservative Party during the General Election on animal welfare issues made this fox hunting stance known to the public. The issue appears a lot in the media and there are various campaign groups that persistently pressure the government.

The Tories u-turn on this issue is another example of people power. They have u-turned on a key manifesto pledge that would have swayed some of their rural voters and those that campaigned for the party, for example the Countryside Alliance. However, is this really people power or just another attempt of the Conservatives to scrub up their reputation on animal rights. In the past, they know the pledge has lost them popularity and votes, so is this just another stunt to claw back voters?

Irregardless, if she keeps her promise then this is obviously good news. This links to my last blog with comments on the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which similarly seemed like another way for the Conservatives to improve their reputation on environmental issues. Although these actions are a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough for some species. If they really are interested in the welfare and cruelty of foxes, further steps would be to tackle the illegal hunting that still takes place under the cover of ‘trail hunting’.

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The 25 Year Environment Plan: A picture with no detail

Over the last few months I haven’t had many chances to write any blogs due to settling into the new world of university life. This has been quite infuriating, especially as I’ve felt I’ve not been doing enough of what I’m passionate about. One thing I missed sharing was a very interesting experience that I had back in November. For the first time ever, a special advisor for the environment has been appointed to the Prime Minister. This position has been taken by ex-Conservative Deputy Chief Whip and known birder, Sir John Randall. At the end of November, he invited myself and three other young conservationists including Josie Hewitt and Findlay Wilde, for a meeting and a bit of a chat about our concerns regarding the environment and what we’re passionate about when it comes to conservation.

It was an intriguing afternoon and I indulged in the opportunity, as did the others, to express my concerns with someone who could make a difference. Topics we spoke about included Hen Harrier and Driven Grouse Shooting, our concerns over environmental policy with Brexit, the Badger Cull, environmental education for children in and out of schools and the way that the government lack in expressing their interest in preserving the natural environment. I said what I wanted to and felt as though I had been listened to, the meeting felt successful. I also got the opportunity to discuss illegal bird trapping on British military base in Cyprus, following my visit there last September. Sir John explained plans of actions from the government and made notes, he was interested to hear what we had to say. In addition, it was interesting that the position of a special advisor for the environment has been appointed.

A month later and it appeared something had been stirred when chief Political Correspondent for The Telegraph reported on the meeting between myself, Findlay and Josie with Sir John at Number 10. The article focused on concerns from pro-hunting and shooting MP’s following Sir John’s comments about his stance on firearm licence’s, pheasant shooting and grouse moor management which have been published on Findlay’s blog. Christopher Hope (the Political Correspondent) stated that “Pro-field sports MPs are privately appalled by the comments” and “One Conservative MP said it was “quite extraordinary” that ministers were “promoting removal of licences beyond the already wide powers the police have to remove licences”.

The article can be found here – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/29/exclusive-theresa-mays-new-10-downing-street-environmental-adviser/

Yesterday morning the long awaited 25 Year Environment Plan was launched by the Conservatives. We spoke about this during our meeting with Sir John when we visited Number 10. The 25 Year Plan is a long-term strategy that is designed to reverse long term declines in ecosystems and preserve the environment for future generations. For a few hours yesterday morning, I caught up with Theresa May’s speech and had a read of the document.

My first reaction was that a large chunk of the plan and Theresa May’s speech focuses on reducing plastic waste and pollution. The amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans is undeniably shocking and has terrible consequences, but it seems that they have jumped on the Blue Planet wagon. They are aware of the popularity of disgust from what was highlighted on Blue Planet and it seems they are trying their hardest to appeal to the younger voter and the wider public who they know the issue is very popular with at the moment. She played a similar act last week when she announced her new stance not to attempt to repeal the Hunting Act due to public pressure.

Something else mentioned in the plan is a promise to engage more children with nature in and out of schools, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is something that I am very passionate about. The government has stated that they will do this through extra funding, but the amount they propose doesn’t come close to what has already been cut from this area in the past. The document also discusses development of habitat through a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ and made bold statements about preserving the countryside, such as “long-term approach to protecting and enhancing them in England for the next generation”. However, there was no mention of HS2 which plans to do just the opposite.

Despite other mentions and word choices including ‘hen harriers’ and ‘curlews’, there was nothing about wildlife crime in the UK or Driven Grouse Shooting. Unsurprising. Also lacking, was anything to do with the badger cull, fox hunting or animal welfare and cruelty. Furthermore, after comments about reducing pollution and their commitment to climate change, Fracking is still supported by the government. The plan is all very pretty at first glance and the big picture that’s been painted seems very promising, but with no mention of detail or hard legislation, it is all very underwhelming.

During our meeting at Number 10, one of the concerns that we expressed was about the way that the government publicly presents the environment as something that is unimportant and of no concern. Today’s announcements and plans have created a lot of attention, but for how long is this going to last before it all dies down and little happens. In an attempt to appeal to younger voters and give into public pressure, the Conservatives have painted a nice picture with their ideas but there is no hard commitment or legislation that suggests that they’re going to deliver. There is also a lot missing, it is once again proven that they are not in touch with the immediate needs of our natural environment. Little has been given to the protection of natural areas, wildlife and those species who can’t afford a long-term strategy. Immediate action is needed to ensure that they are there to be enjoyed by future generations.

Dusk till Dawn: 14 hours on the York Bird Race

When I moved to York for university last October one of my top priorities was where would be my new local patch and how was I going to go about exploring new areas to go birding here in York. Having spent my birding life in Staffordshire, moving to a new area was exciting. Despite it still being an inland area, there’s still a variation in the nearby countryside that’s different to what I was used to.

Since moving to University, I’ve spent many afternoons after a morning in lectures cycling or getting the bus to new areas to explore. My methods of transport have slightly limited me and so has the lack of time I’ve had due to settling into university life, but I’m beginning to feel familiar with birding in York, especially after discovering my new patch.

This was all put to the test last Sunday when I joined a team in the York Bird Race. The teams of four dashed around the York area to different reserves and areas to record as many species as possible within the given time. Other ‘mini races’, like the one in York, took place across Yorkshire on Sunday, for example one at Spurn and Scarborough, and numerous others in the county since the start of the year. In addition, ones in Northumberland and Norfolk a few days before. The idea of doing a Bird Race is very intriguing and without a doubt enjoyed by those birders who take part. The day had a very competitive feeling to it but this idea fed the drive and excitement of the day without taking away the core of enjoying and appreciating the range of birds and areas found in and around York. On the day, the collaboration of birds recorded by all the teams was 102, and of course such records are important in reflecting birds recorded in previous years.

However, the extremes of Sunday come nowhere near some of the surreal Bird Race events which take place in other parts of the world. The insane ‘Birding Rally’ takes place over six days across the deserts and jungles of northern Peru. In the 2013 rally, 835 species were recorded by six teams comprising of members from the US, UK, Spain, Brazil and South Africa. Such an event has been described as the extreme of competitive birding.

On Sunday morning, our team (the York Upstarts) started out at 3.30am. This was in the hope of getting ahead by recording some more common species early on and to record Long-Eared Owl with an early morning walk on Strensall Common. Unfortunately Long-Eared Owl didn’t make it onto the list, but the early start was made worthwhile after watching a Corn Bunting roost at dawn as birds awoke and scattered. We were onto a decent start, by 10am we had already recorded 75 species, these were the less stressful few hours as we easily increased our list.

The experience was interesting in terms of noticing those birds you take for granted when seeing daily. On the day, we didn’t see magpie until 2pm, a species which we imagine seeing daily. A common species we missed on the day was Grey Heron, along with Grey Wagtail. On the other hand, one of the highlights of the day was birding an area on the grounds of my university. Here we recorded Common and Jack Snipe. Snipe are one of my favourite birds and to see them zigzagging or flying by the university accommodation buildings was quite surreal!

Another highlight of my day was seeing Hawfinch at Castle Howard, a species I could never get bored of seeing. The day was very enjoyable. In total, our team recorded 92 species, which was in fact down from their counts in previous years. I was still pleased though, a respectable 92 species in a day and having visited new places to bird in York, it was very satisfying and I learnt more about birding in York.

Crush cruelty coalition: Yesterday’s march in London

Yesterday was the 12th of August, also known as the ‘Glorious 12th’ or a catch becoming increasing used: the ‘Inglorious 12th’. The day refers to the beginning of the shooting season for red grouse when over the next few months areas of upland moorland will be used to practise the so called ‘sport’ of driven grouse shooting. The date is a symbol for how many grouse will be shot on the uplands over these next few months. For many, it also represents the ways in which the areas where the shooting will take place have been intensely managed to enable the season to be successful and the practise enjoyed by that very small minority. From the burning and draining of the moors to allow suitable conditions for the heather to grow, to the management of predatory species such as stoats, foxes and raptors. This is all in order for the red grouse to thrive so, ultimately, they can be killed for some fun, games and profit.

I was in London yesterday on a march named as ‘crush cruelty’. It was very similar to other marches that I’ve been on in London and in other parts of the UK. For example, those against the badger cull, the Hen Harrier Day events I’ve attended, anti-fox hunting demonstrations around the time of the election and so on. However, this one was slightly different. Instead of there being one quite specific reason for being out on the streets of London and outside Downing Street, this one was broader. At each of the events and marches I attend, there is normally a few of the same faces that I recognise. Of whom, seem to have their own specific focus on what they campaign for. But yesterday, there was a real contrast of those that I’ve met and seen at all kinds of previous events in one place. Whether these were individuals, those who work for charities or organisations, well known faces, and the list goes on. This was something extremely refreshing and excellent to see. At the end of the day, although we all have slightly different focuses or issues we put more time into, we all care, are passionate and deeply concerned about the future for wildlife here in the UK. And there will always be many more of us then any of those who practise the activities of harming or threatening it, whether that’s those who support cruelty to wildlife, the badger cull or those who still consider shooting and fox hunting as ‘traditional’ and acceptable.

It was an excellent day, the only glorious in the ‘glorious 12th’ yesterday was the sight of 1000’s making their way through the streets of London, having an impact as they did so. Since I first got involved with campaigning and attending marches and events, I always noticed the difference in those faces I recognised at the different events I went to. It made me think how great it would be if we all joined together in the form of a rally or worked together more in the form of a coalition as ultimately, we all want the same thing. To see the force of those fighting for this is frightening the hell out of those who are desperately gripping onto their practises and their slaughter of our natural treasures, which they believe is acceptable. In terms of politicians and those in power, they are already beginning to notice how what they say (and don’t say) about protecting our natural environment will put their jobs at risk. The Conservative Parties result at the last election is a clear example of this. Theresa May promised a free vote on the Hunting Act, and this went down very badly. Many believe that this promise damaged and helped to result in her outcome of not securing a Tory majority. Which isn’t surprising as it was revealed that fox hunting was one of the few policies in the Conservative manifesto that people could remember.

Unfortunately, most politicians are still pretty hopeless at bringing up such topics that relate to protecting the natural environment. On the other hand, it was great to see Natalie Bennett in full force and talking at yesterday’s rally in London. She is undoubtedly a superb spokeswomen for anything that concerns the issues that we were fighting against at yesterday’s march. She has given up a great deal of her time and effort, in fact, just last weekend she was up in Sheffield speaking at one of the Hen Harrier Day events. There were many similarly inspiring and incredibly hard working individuals speaking in London yesterday too. A real array of some of the finest conservationists and campaigners in the UK. Others included Mark Avery, Hugh Warwick, Dominic Dyer, Will Travers, Chris Packham along with individuals from the League Against Cruel Sports, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Hunt Investigation Team and so on. The day felt very special in terms of all those who had come together and the coalition of so many influential, inspiring and important individuals, charities and organisations.

There’s been a great deal going on in the last week on social media and in the run up to the Inglorious 12th. Some of this includes the Hen Harrier Day events last weekend, videos and podcasts released throughout the week, a monstrous thunderclap that went out yesterday morning, news on more positive work with Hen Harriers and the Ethical Consumer campaign asking companies to distance themselves from the practise of driven grouse shooting. Details and links about all of these are below. Along with this, as the next few weeks go on, I’m sure this will keep up and as we approach the start of the badger cull, which is due to begin over the next couple of weeks.

Details and photos from the Hen Harrier Day (HHD) events across the UK last weekend on Mark Avery’s blog – http://markavery.info/2017/08/07/biggest-hhday/

A Youtube video from last weeks HHD at RSPB Arne.

Findlay Wilde’s blog about his tremendous thunderclap efforts and HHD – http://markavery.info/2017/08/09/guest-blog-findlay-wilde/

Work by the Ethical Consumer and their campaign asking companies to distance themselves from the practice of driven grouse shooting in England – http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ethicalcampaigns/turnyourbackongrouse/evidence.aspx

Here are a few photos from the day.

Being at yesterday’s march was a bit of a contrast from the scenes I’ve been used to over the past few weeks. From my remote few weeks on Fair Isle, the wilderness of the Yorkshire Dales and isolation of the Pennines and tranquillity on the east coast and at Spurn to the craziness and hustle and bustle of central London. I’m now looking forward to the next few days with the Field Studies Council at one of their education centres (Preston Montford) where I’ll be helping to run wildlife related workshops for young people.

Opinions, thoughts and adventures of a young conservationist.

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