Tag Archives: nature

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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Celebrating badgers for National Badger Week in Stafford

So its been a week since Brexit happened yet everyday it continues to send shock waves through the country. I never actually thought things like this happened, complete uproar! Nevertheless as I spoke about in my latest blog (about the results) it’s about battling on now and trying to create something positive. There are many things that we can’t let the vote results get in the way of; from hen harriers, and the upcoming Hen Harrier Day, and wildlife crime (just a few days ago I read an article about an illegal snare set up by a primary school) to badgers with what is very likely to be another season of badger culling later in the year.

At the moment we’re not quite sure how far the badger cull will span further across the UK this year but it’s very likely that new areas will be sucked in and the dreadful killing of badgers will happen. Just north of me in Cheshire an expression of interest in the badger culling licence has been submitted. Cheshire was one of six new counties to apply for badger culling licenses this year. Areas of my home county are also vulnerable and the same could happen within the next few years, if the policy continues. Some of these areas include Eccleshall which is just five miles west of the county town of Stafford where this weekend events will be taking place to shout above those who want to bring a cull to Staffordshire or culling in any area in the UK, and celebrate the badger for the animal it is without being entwined with politics, farming or cruelty.

And so they should be! Badgers have lived in the UK for over a quarter of a million years and therefore undoubtedly a part of our heritage. They may be our largest carnivore but they’re very secretive and whenever I watch them it feels magical! On my patch the local badgers sett is situated in a small(ish) undisturbed clump of old oak trees. Real badger land.

All this week National Badger Week has been running which is a week long celebration of the badger. Events have been running up and down the country with the aim of inspiring more people to realise how wonderful they are, why they so greatly deserve to be a part of our landscape and most of all, why we should be protecting them. I felt really privileged to mark the beginning of this years celebration in Lush, Oxford Street last Saturday, and have the finale organised by my badger group, The Staffordshire Badger Conservation Group, this weekend in Stafford.

Tomorrow evening (Friday 1st) we have an event at Oddfellows Hall in Stafford town centre starting at 7pm. The evening will begin with a talk from wildlife photographer Craig Jones who gave a passionate and emotionally beautiful presentation at the Birders Against Wildlife Crime conference earlier this year. There will then be a town hall debate called ‘The Big Badger Debate’ where lots will be discussed from badger protection, persecution and the impact of housing developments to their ecology and importance within the British countryside. It should be very lively with a panel including Dominic Dyer, CEO The Badger Trust, Peter Martin, chair The Badger Trust, Mark Jones, vet from Born Free Foundation, Jordi Casamitjane, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and myself. We are hoping to have a good audience with a mixture of opinions.

On the Saturday (2nd July) it’s going to be a very full day with a variety of entertainment for children, as well as adults, and a peaceful protest around Stafford town centre. Before the march at 12 noon there will be talks from Dominic Dyer (The Badger Trust), Peter Martin (The Badger Trust), and myself. We will then start at around 1pm from the Market Square and be on our way around the town centre projecting and creating a clear message against the unscientific, unethical and cruel cull. Once we arrive back there will also be talks from Mark Jones (Born Free Foundation) and Jordi Casamitjane (IFAW)

I’m sure it’s going to be a very inspiring and empowering day as we gear up for the high possibility of more culling this year and of course celebrate the importance and greatness of having badgers as part of our natural heritage.

It would be wonderful to see some of you there and have your support.

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My worry, my future, but not my choice

My future has been decided but by a seven month gap, I had no say. I had no say on what my future would hold regarding the direction the country I live in will go, and what that will mean and result in.

Above everything the thing I feel the most passionate and now worried about is our natural environment. Everyday I observe it, record it, enjoy it and it brings me such happiness. Going out onto my patch and exploring what’s about; swifts flying high, chiffchaffs singing, buzzards squawking overhead, badgers tumbling over and sneaking over fields at the dead of night. Campaigning and doing whatever I can to give those species that are on the brink or entangled into the poor decisions and disregard of humans; from hen harriers and turtle doves to badgers and foxes. Trying to spread why our natural world is so wonderful and what we can do to help it has just got harder. Harder in a way that we’ve put 70% of UK environmental safeguards at risk, but we need to make sure this isn’t lost. In a world where nature is not a top priority, this is going to be beyond tough but vital for the future of everything simple in our country which brings us life everyday. 

The combination of shock and worry makes this post difficult to write, and I really didn’t think I’d have too. Yet again I was too ignorant to think that as a country we’d vote for a future, and one with peace in mind. No longer are we a continent of unity, which I believe being a member of the EU represented. By the looks of things, we will no longer be a country of unity either as the results have split us a part. When I woke up yesterday morning, I felt numb from the shock. So much so I had to check if Friday had actually happened, it didn’t feel realistic. Fortunately this morning I seem to have come to terms with the matter but still terribly unsure of whats happened. A reason why I feel ‘better’ this morning was after yesterday and the satisfaction I got from speaking my thoughts a loud, effectively getting it off my chest.

It was the launch of National Badger Week at Lush, Oxford Street and I was very privileged to go along and talk. After what had happened in the last 48 hours it wasn’t just badgers I was going to talk about. Regarding the results I spoke about what this could mean for nature as well as the voice of young people. I further discussed this with Dominic Dyer and MP Kerry McCarthy. Both were unsure of what’s to come, and that at the moment there are no answers. Two interesting points were that farmers have lost 65% of there subsides, which came from the EU, meaning due to the extortionate costs of the badger cull it could be put off this year. Not that’s any reason for us to have voted leave as food prices are likely to go up and this will only be short term, but in the mean time it gives us an opportunity to fight against the cull. The point was also made about the high percentage of young people who voted to remain. Obviously when they voted they were looking to the future; their future jobs, future economy, what their country will look like in the future which I believe included the environment. More precisely issues which are growing in awareness such as climate change. Something we need to work together on small and large scales to tackle, and if nothing is done soon enough it will catch up with us in the future. Instead, older populations decided our future.

Based on what has happened already since the results, the uncertainty, and shock, I have never felt so worried. On Friday morning I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be English. Embarrassed by what our neighbours must think and ashamed because of what we’ve lost. We all worry in life; for myself that may be if I’m going to get some homework in on time, whether I’m going to have time to go and put my trail camera at my local badgers sett later, or whether I’ve got the grades I need to get into the University I want and later a job. However I’ve never felt so worried, this decision effects all this and the thing I care about above everything; nature. I know I’m being very bleak at the moment and (I hope) I’m exaggerating what the situation may be. Of course I don’t want a bad outcome for my country. The uncertainty is making it a lot worse though, I feel physically and emotionally exhausted – what’s to come? After all that blabber from the Leave campaign saying we’ll ‘take back control’, well it feels as-though we have no control now.

We had backing and support from the EU, including in relation to the natural world. From nature directives and environmental laws to a community that could work together to fight climate change and work for progress. We’re out on the other side now though and unfortunately it looks bleak. However bad it looks though and perhaps how bad it’s going to get, then the stronger we have to fight and collaborate for the sake of our natural heritage. That’s what I’m going to do, for the sake of wildlife do whatever I can and more. Making sure that its protection continues but also progresses, through increasing species numbers, richer habitats and for it to be safe to thrive and future generations to enjoy.

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.