Tag Archives: wildlife

Back from the text books

On Thursday morning, I had my last A Level exam. Meaning that I have officially finished school. After spending the last two years pushing and shoving myself through lessons and to commit to my A Levels, this is a huge relief and incredibly exciting. I’m now looking forward to not only what the next few months will hold, but what I’ll be doing post-school.

Over the last few months, I’ve felt as though I’ve been very quiet. Thus, I’ve felt quite guilty about this. Very few and no regular blog posts or writing elsewhere, spending fewer and fewer hours a week on my local patch as the weeks went by and the constant pressure to give up doing the things I love doing to stick my head in text books for hours on end instead. Although this was the ‘necessary’ thing to do so that I could succeed in my revision, pressure so bad that you have to give up what you enjoy doing altogether has its toll. However, it’s all over and hopefully the struggle will have paid off.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that exam results don’t represent anyone’s true intelligence or what they’re capable of achieving. This is a key lesson that I’ve learnt over the last two years. All the information that I retained in my lessons will never match what I’ve learnt when I’ve been out birding, using trail cameras or out walking. If you ask me a question related to what was in my English exam on Thursday in a month’s time, I could almost guarantee that I won’t have a clue what the answer is. Something that reflects this is my predicted grades. In English, I’ll be lucky if I get a C grade, however in a project I completed as part of an AS level (known as an Extended Project Qualification) about the impacts of Nature Deficit Disorder, I’m predicted to get an A grade. The difference being, although I enjoyed English as a subject, I was forced to retain information that may appear in my exam but for my EPQ, I wrote about something that really interests me.

However, I couldn’t keep myself completely absent from everything over the last few months. For a starter, I’ve been practising for my 191-mile trek that I’m doing next month to raise some cash for the BTO’s swift project. Practising has been a great excuse to take a break from my revision, get some exercise and spend some quality time outdoors. From cycling the lanes close to where I live in Staffordshire to long distance practise walks every few weekends. And since the beginning of May, these outings were made even more delightful by the accompaniment of swifts.

So far, I’ve raised over £1000, which I’m thrilled about. This cash will go towards funding the BTO’s swift project, which includes tagging and monitoring them to find out the reasons for the decline that we’ve seen in recent years. It’s incredibly important work. You can read more or support my walk by clicking here.

A momentary moment for me in the last few months, which I didn’t get the chance to blog about at the time, was voting for the first time! Some may remember my multiple blog posts around the time of the EU referendum last year and the 2015 General Election. I wrote about how the way in which the country voted was important when it came to future protection of the natural environment. I also wrote about my disappointment in not having a voice due to not being able to vote. The argument to be able to vote at 16 is a very valid one. Although many believe that young people are either not educated enough about politics or simply don’t care enough to make the right decision, I think after the results of the recent General Election, young people are beginning to prove those who doubted them wrong.

I was pleased with the result too. It was a rare occasion as I felt positive. After losing her majority, Theresa May’s attempt to repeal the Hunting Act has now been torn apart and with rising popularity of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, it gives a glimmer of hope as the end of the Tory government and chaos might be within reach. This could spell the end to the badger cull, bring better protection for the environment post-Brexit and bring in a government that understands and realises the importance of the natural world. Unlike last week’s events when Michael Gove was made secretary for the environment. A man who believes that environmental protection is a nuisance, attempted to remove climate change education from the curriculum whilst he was secretary for education and doesn’t see a problem with pesticides.

In the run up to the General Election, I did manage to attend a few rallies and demonstrations. A few weeks before the General Election, there was a debate on the badger cull following the success of Simon King’s petition that reached over 100,000 signatures. Although it was certain that the result of the debate was unlikely to bring any positive change, I was desperate to make it down to London so that I could join others outside the Houses of Parliament before the debate began. Unfortunately, the attendance of ministers and MPs was as it was expected to be, very poor. As was any ‘debating’ or any outcome. Following the overall uncertainty in the UK and for the government over the last few months, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the cull this year. A few months back, it looked as though it was going to be the worst cull yet with further cull zones across the UK and more freedom for land owners. However, recent events and challenges facing the government could force them to change their minds.

Another interesting march I went on was one of the ‘March for Science’ events that were taking place across the world. The one I attended was in Bristol. It was another excellent day and I was surrounded by passionate individuals fighting for the sake of science and in response to recent actions and comments made by certain individuals, in particular, Donald Trump.

After the success of my peregrine watch at Lichfield Cathedral last year, I decided that it would be wrong not to repeat the events this year. Thus, I put a poster together, sorted some dates and managed to get hold of some optics. This was all with the help of some lovely local birders. We organised three mornings in total, all of which were very successful with many coming to have a look. We were also treated with some brilliant views of the birds. I absolutely loved being out doing these watches. It was brilliant to engage with people who had no idea about the birds being there. But when we told them what they were and after they had a look through the scope, the look on their faces was the best!

Unfortunately, I won’t be in Lichfield to do the watch events at the cathedral next year but I’m sure that they will be taken over by others. This is because I’ll be a student at Hull University from September. Those who know me fairly well will be aware that a reason why I’m so excited to go to Hull is because I’ll be within stones throwing distance of one of my favourite places in the world, Spurn. Whilst taking my exams and during times of intense studying, I spent a lot of time at Spurn. I could revise, take very effective breaks and enjoy decent bouts of birding. On my last trip, a week before my exams started, I had one of the craziest days ever. From sat at a desk revising for my English exam, I walked a matter of steps and saw my first Honey Buzzard! My reward for a mornings hard work.

Now my exams are all over, I have a lot planned over the summer. In fact, whilst writing this post I was on the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, Shetland on the way to my first stop: Fair Isle. Where I was supposed to arrive this afternoon but due to weather conditions, I won’t be able to get there until Monday at the earliest. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to exploring Shetland, where I’m currently ‘stranded’, tomorrow.

Advertisements

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!!

14047228_1776389005965428_6499727771528731151_o

A weekend to inglorify

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Ms Leadsom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Georgia Locock

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

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

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

Below are some more links to take a look at.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13521958_963567387094879_5722879638002688183_n

13590442_10209888554311727_5225899756077150295_n

13557809_10153558444646372_1502260757254143218_n

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.