Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Red Tape Challenge

So the 'Red Tape Challenge', they just don't quit do they?!

And to think last May I walked out of a polling booth feeling pretty excited and hopeful that the Liberal Democrats were finally starting to punch their weight against the political monopoly. At the very least I thought they might provide a conscience to counter-balance Cameron but anyway, another week and another coalition attack on the environment and, let's face it, common sense.

The article linked above details the Government's decision to put over 21,000 regulations up for possible repeal, including all 278 of Britain's environmental laws. This includes mainstays of environmental policy such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Climate Change Act. The idea is to have the public look at which regulations (or 'red tape') hinder business in the UK.

That the government is taking such a strong view on business growth is not surprising and not entirely unwelcome; a stable economy is important after all (and benefits the environment). But to prioritise the needs of business over the environment strikes me as being not only foolhardy, but yet another example of the short-sighted approach to planning and legislation which blights the UK. Presenting it as a 'Red Tape Challenge' makes light of a serious situation, it sounds like bloody 'X-Factor' or something!

To see National Parks, marine reserves and other important areas lose their legal protection would have potentially catastrophic results for the wildlife they support. These sites are all part of an essential system that underpins everything we do, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. Interestingly, as the article points out, issues of national security are exempt from the review, yet climate change legislation isn't (how many reminders do they need?) Our wild landscapes and the diverse range of species that inhabit them should be a source of pride and enjoyment not a political chip to be gambled with.

Should we be thankful that we've been given the opportunity to have a say on these matters? It feels like a gutless, cunning move, but I suppose we should be. Perhaps there is even a chance that some good can come from it. Maybe there are needlessly complicated laws that can be done way with, increasing efficiency and making way for progressive new thinking. Who knows? The passionate public response to the recent forestry debacle can also provide encouragement. A similar groundswell of support is needed again*.

Read the Red Tape website for all the details. Read this inciteful piece on Damian Carrington's blog and get inspired.

Updated 28/4/11
*Encouraging news from DEFRA and the RSPB Campaign against cuts; apparently over 11,000 people have already emailed Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable! It's not over though. More here.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Photoblog: Spring Special

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Dulwich Park 13/4/11
Adult Grey Heron with young, Crystal Palace Park 11/4/11
Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), East India Dock Basin 16/4/11
Female Chaffinch with nesting material, Sydenham Hill Wood 20/4/11
Fruits of a Small-leaved Elm (Ulmus minor), West Wood, Essex
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus), small, pale blue butterfly
with dark spots on underside of wing. Dulwich Park, 13/4/11

Monday, 18 April 2011

White Paper test for 'Greenest Government ever'

Working together: Bees on Field Scabious. PB

Back in October I gave a brief mention to the Government’s Environment White Paper which is due to be published this May. Since the time when we find out what exactly the government as a whole intends to do about protecting wildlife and stopping biodiversity loss in the UK is nearly upon us, the RSPB has launched a campaign reminding everyone that we can play a part too.
The Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) represents a great opportunity to unite all government departments and promote a clear, common goal for nature conservation. However as part of the process, prior to a final draft being submitted, each department is entitled to review it and suggest changes. This means there is a possibility that important targets may be reduced (presumably as teams work out budgets, timetables etc).
One way of ensuring momentum for a strong paper is not lost is with something called an Early Day Motion (EDM), or a petition sent to parliament which calls for certain issues to be observed. With regards the Natural Environment White Paper an EDM (1601) has already been tabled which basically asks the government to back up its claim of being “the greenest Government ever" and deliver a convincing, effective plan. The RSPB suggests writing to your local MP and asking them to sign EDM 1601, it sounds like a good idea to me.

2010 was designated as the 'Year of Biodiversity' but that will count for little in the future without reliable, committed leadership now to ensure that we not only meet targets but strive to improve on them too. The NEWP is a big part of that. 

Why not write and tell your MP why you think nature is important? Or what concerns you have? If you’re not sure who you’re MP is, check here.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Ireland Birding - pt.2

After a few memorable days on the Beara Peninsular at the end of March, I swapped Gannets for geese as I travelled up to the pleasant coastal village of Portmarnock (just north of Dublin) to visit family. As an added bonus, Portmarnock is surrounded by some superb esturine habitats and the area happens to be home every year to a large gathering of Brent Geese (Branta bernicla). These geese occur in two main ‘races’ (or sub-species) and both are widespread winter migrants to British Isles.
Portmarnock  is significant however because it is an internationally important wintering ground for the scarcer Greenlandic pale-bellied race (Branta bernicla hrota) of Brent Geese which breed in northern Canada and migrate to the UK via Iceland. This area of Ireland holds the majority of their population (quite small, estimated at 40,000 birds) with only small flocks found elsewhere in Ireland and northern Scotland. The dark-bellied race (Branta bernicla bernicla) which occurs in England during the winter (and which I saw on the coast of Essex in February) breed in northern Russia/Siberia hence why they are found in large numbers on our east coasts. Within minutes of leaving Portmarnock station I encounter these birds at close quarters, feeding on the short grass of the floodplain. As geese go they are smaller and more reserved than Canada Geese and although the difference between the dark-bellied race is subtle it's nice to have been able to view the two races just a month or two apart.
pale-bellied Brent Geese grazing, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, 24/3/11
Brent Geese in flight
The birding wasn't confined to geese though and my Aunt was kind enough to tip me off about the nearby, picturesque Howth peninsular which is home every year to 5 species of Tern (including the rare Roseate Tern) Terns are great birds to watch and with spring underway I headed for Howth with hopes of catching some early migrants.
Unfortunately, despite a good look, I couldn't find any Terns this time (a touch early perhaps or the sandy/shingle beaches they prefer were beyond my reach) but I didn't come away disappointed. A beautiful cliff top walk revealed great views of Kittiwakes, one of my favourite sea birds, gathering noisily on an adjacent cliff face. I hear their giveaway 'kee-ee-waa' calls long before I see them. Among Kittiwakes and other gulls in the colony are Guillemots, their sleek white undersides visible on the shady ledges. A little further along, while watching a number of Cormorants, Shags and gulls passing through and keeping a wishful eye out for divers I come across another first for me - a small group of Razorbills feeding in the harbour. Lovely.
Seabird colony, Howth, 25/3/11
Rock Pipit, Howth, 25/3/11
A good day's birding in Howth was topped off with wonderful company, homemade pizza and several pints of Guinness. And what more can you ask for really? My first time in Ireland and, like the geese, I'm certain it won't be my last.
Brent Geese gearing up for the long journey home, Malahide, Co Dublin, 27/3/11

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Sparrowhawk 1 Collared Dove 0

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

It's quite unusual for my Dad to phone me out of the blue in the middle of the day, so when it happened last week I assumed it was either to share important family gossip or report some interesting back garden bird news from home. Thankfully it turned out to be the latter, with this great photo providing the answer. Sparrowhawk numbers may be increasing but it's not everyday one lands on the patio in your garden with a rather sorry Collared Dove in its talons.

It is a habit of Sparrowhawks to pluck their prey before consuming it as this individual determinedly shows. The barred grey underparts and long, blunt tail (with visible dark banding) indicate that this is a female Sparrowhawk. Females are much larger than the males, who would probably struggle to bring down a bird the size of a Collared Dove. As a stealthy bird-hunter, Sparrowhawks have their detractors who attribute the decline of birds such as Song Thrush to their rise in numbers, but I think this photo captures an impressive bird with a power, vision and intent that should be admired.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Nunhead Bird Count (Mar/Apr)

Nunhead Cemetary, 0900 - 1020 (warm, bright, partial cloud, v light wind)


Blackbird 6, Blackcap 9, Blue Tit 9, Carrion Crow 12, Chiffchaff 6, Coal Tit 1, Dunnock 3, Great Tit 17, Greenfinch 2, Magpie 5, Long-tailed Tit 3, Great Spotted Woodpecker 1, Green Woodpecker 1, Song Thrush 2, Ring-necked Parakeet 12, Robin 20, Stock Dove 1, Woodpigeon 20, Wren 22


The amount of bird activity today, certainly with regards song,  made recording quite challenging in places but I think these results are a good reflection. This male Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) was particularly hard to ignore:

(I should point out that it's not demonstrating an incredible disregard for gravity by hanging on like that. Rather that's the way my computer has chosen to present it)

Two of the early spring migrants are in (highlighted) and both were seen and heard at regularly intervals throughout the wood. Green Woodpecker was heard at distance and surprisingly there was little sign of Great Spotted Woodpecker until one made an appearance in the last 10 yards! I think the relative lack of activity from this species today is a sign that nesting is underway. Several butterflies were also on the wing, singles of Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Peacock seen.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on cherry blossom

Monday, 4 April 2011

Birding the Beara Peninsular and beyond

I’ve been meaning to get over to Ireland to visit family in Dublin for a long time now so last week’s trip was a special one. But prior to a long overdue trip to the capital, I decided it would be fun to spend a few days exploring in the south west of the country.
A little background reading drew my attention to the wild qualities of the Beara Peninsular, a rugged finger of land jutting out into the Atlantic bordering Counties Cork and Kerry. Of particular interest to me was Dursey Island, a remote island at its tip that could only be reached by cable car. That was enough to make it sound like a worthwhile trip to me but when I discovered it was also a rare bird reserve...well, my bins were in my bag quicker than you could say ‘another Guinness please’.
Getting to Dursey Island was an adventure in itself and I briefly wondered whether basing my travel plans on an out of date, photocopied local bus timetable was a tad ambitious. However after a day in Cork, mostly spent enjoying spring sunshine and the various birds on offer along the banks of the River Lee (picks – a Greenshank, a pair of hooded crows and an assortment of gulls) that’s where I was headed.
A bus could only take me so far and after that my path to the tiny, picturesque village of Allihies on the north side of the peninsular, which was to be my base for a few nights, was less certain. Thankfully the good folk of the peninsular are accustomed to wayward hikers thumbing lifts from the side of the road and even my beardy appearance was not enough to put some kindly locals off.
Situated next to a sandy beach ( a legacy of the intensive copper mining that once dominated the area) among patchwork grassy slopes and overlooked by foreboding rocky hills Allihies makes a stunning picture. Birds were also plentiful and my stay was soundtracked all the while by Meadow Pipits and Stonechats vying for attention with Skylarks, Linnets, Dunnocks and more. But Dursey Island was my mission and on a glorious, warm day it didn’t disappoint.
After a hearty breakfast, several miles of walking and several lifts I reached the cable car car terminal in time for the morning crossing. 4euros, paid to a man in a hut, saw me climbing into the little cable car (also regularly used to carry livestock to and from the island) and being hoisted off over the dazzling blue Dursey Sound.

Room with a view, Dursey Island

Once on the island, it was only a matter of minutes before a Peregrine falcon, swooping low and fast over the headland to my right, had me reaching for my binoculars. All along the 4.5km track that took me to the end of the island the bird life was abundant. With it being one of the first bits of land many migrating birds likely encounter on their flights northward in sping I thought there might be a chance of seeing a few and so it was. Early migrants appeared in the form of a Chiffchaff,  several Wheatears and a lovely male Black Redstart that showed well from the yard of a derelict farmstead. Elsewhere, Choughs flocked noisily over the ancient grassy slopes and at one point I counted 19 overhead. I couldn’t help but marvel at the effortless way in which they tumbled and soared in the sunshine.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) typical bird of upland grassland, heaths and moors

Raven (Corvus corax) a large, epic master of rocky country.
This individual seemed to follow me for a while; frequently calling
with its distinctive grunt and rolling and tumbling with folded wings

male Stonechat (left), Wheatear (right)
The path to the end of the island took me through ancient pastures, patches of moorland and up a hill before descending onto a high, grassy outcrop surrounded by sharp rocks and crashing waves. Great black-backed gulls wheeled overhead as curious Fulmars kept close to the cliffs. At certain times of the year it’s reported to be a good spot for whale watching but my attention this time was drawn to the majestic, white Gannets passing by. A birding first for me- I hadn’t realised how big they are! I loved watching them feed in their trademark, spectacular, nose-diving fashion. I sat for a bit, revelling in the sun and the cloudless sky, looking west at several thousand miles of water.
Gannet (Morus bassanus) pleased with this pic - it was taken from moving cable car!

Cheese...standing on the end of Dursey Island

Think I’ll leave it there for now, what more to say? The Beara Peninsular: stunning scenery, great birds, friendly folk, good craic!  Next stop: Dublin.