Sunday, 22 October 2017


Welcome to RSPB Titchwell Marsh - the visitor centre and shop

With heavily overcast skies and strong westerly winds, conditions Ε΅ere hardly auspicious for an early-October visit to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, near Hunstanton, in North Norfolk.

Serious birders were lamenting the absence of north and north- easterly winds which was held responsible for the paucity of drift-passage passerines such as redstarts, whinchats, wrynecks and rare warbler species (not to mention bluethroats and  red-flanked bluetails).

Even so there was plenty of interest - with sightings which included yellow-browed warbler, a late cuckoo and a superb range of waders and wildfowl.

Hats off to the RSPB for creating and providing access (including state-of-the-art hides) to such an impressive array of different habitats - reedbed, saltmarsh, copse and both freshwater and saltwater lagoons.

The reserve also has the benefit of stretching to coastal dunes, thence to the shoreline and the vastness of the
North Sea.

There are two feeding stations - one for birds, one for people - plus a shop where the range of products includes not just bird-related gifts, toys and greeting cards but also a selection of books plus ‘scopes and binoculars - not just RSPB-branded kit but also such high end brands as Swarovski and Zeiss.

Also in the shop is a board listing bird sightings of the day as contributed by staff and visitors.

Courses and workshops - suitable for all levels - are held throughout winter and autumn, covering such subjects as wader identification and photography.

RSPB Titchwell Marsh is a real showcase - undoubtedly one of the most impressive in the society’s portfolio of 200-plus reserves.

Gadwall - an underrated  duck that is common at Titchwell in autumn and winter
This helpful noticeboard helps newcomers to get their bearings
As does this more modest signage
A bit of boasting by the RSPB - but who can blame it?
Black-tailed godwit - a species that always enjoys a good scratch
Can anyone spot the bearded tit?

Even if they are no longer alive, these trees still provide important (and attractive) habitat

For RSPB staff only - this hide  is where the breeding season progress of  bearded tits is  monitored

It's always useful to know the direction of the wind

                                       It's not just about the birds at Titchwell Marsh

   A plug for nearby RSPB Snettisham where geese are the main attraction in winter
Sleek stylish and a great place to watch waders and wildfowl - the two Parrinder hides

Somewhere here  there could just be a bittern or a Cetti's warbler

You never have to look far to find dunlin
Externally the Fen hide may look modest
                                                But inside it is mightily impressive

If there are no birds outside, this interior mural helps compensate
   Feeding station for humans - the restaurant is always busy inside and outside
Time for a history lesson about the reserve's military heritage

A feeding  pause for this  trio of golden plover as they admire the view


Wednesday, 18 October 2017


The long-billed dowitcher - present in Lincolnshire since mid-September
 A RARE American wader that was first sighted at Spurn has now made a temporary home for itself on the banks of a muddy haven at Saltfleet on the Lincolnshire Coast.

After initial sightings on the north side of the Humber, it was first reported in Saltfleet on September 16 and has been present ever since. 

The bird feeds in a very aggressive way - aggressive not towards other birds but in the frenzied determination which with  it probes the mud. 

In his Collins Guide to Rare British Birds, Paul Stancliffe, of the BTO, describes this as “a sewing machine like manner”. 

In flight, the white on its back is conspicuous.

Of its status and habitat, he notes that it is a widespread breeder across North America which winters in Central and South America.

“Vagrants here are most likely to turn up in autumn - some individuals stay for extended periods, occasionally into spring.”

It can be distinguished from the short-billed dowitcher, not by length of bill (which is not necessarily diagnostic) but by its short, shrill call note which would somehow seems modest for a bird of its size.

The bird has also been feeding in the company of black-tailed godwit and redshank on the banks of the adjacent Paradise Pool - a notable stopping-off point for migrating waders.

The bird likes to make full length of its bill as it feeds
A bird of distinction - and it knows it
Paradise pool adjacent to the muddy creeks of the haven on the southern edge of the village
A habitat much favoured by migrating waders

Redshank and black-tailed godwit are among the species regularly seen

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


Kelly Tolhurst: "Once special sites are gone, we cannot get them back."

MP Kelly Tolhurst has welcomed the planning  decision which has spared - at least for the time being - the destruction of a Kent woodland which is home to breeding nightingales.

Lodge Hill, which is within the Medway area of the 39-year-old's Rochester and Strood  constituency, had been earmarked for up to 5,000 new homes, but the site's owners, the Ministry of Defence, decided not to pursue the project following a campaign by a residents' action group, Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.

The Conservative MP, who last year agreed to be the RSPB's species 'champion' for the nightingale, described the housing project as "a tick-boxing exercise to please officials and developers".

She said of the reprieve: "This is a victory for common sense.

“It was never right for our natural habitats and communities be sacrificed for poorly thought-out plans that would only bring misery to one of our most beautiful areas.

"While it is clear that housing developments are necessary, I dispute the plans for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill where there would be a significant impact on our natural environment and local infrastructure. 

"Medway is a densely populated urban area, but we are still lucky to have some amazing pockets of tranquil countryside with an abundance of wildlife. 

"It would be devastating for Medway to lose special sites like these. Once they are gone we cannot get them back!

Ms Tolhurst's stance is all the more creditable because it is  at odds with the Conservative-controlled Medway council which believes the nightingales should be sacrificed in favour of new houses and jobs." 

"We need a realistic vision for the next 20 years that puts the community and prosperity at its heart.

“I will continue to push for a Local Plan that looks to put Medway on the map rather than be a tick-boxing exercise to please officials and developers.”

The MP's attitude to the project is in sharp contrast to that of  Mark Reckless, her Tory-turned-Ukip predecessor whom she ousted from the seat.

Below is a transcript of part of a speech he made  in a Commons debate on
March 26, 2013

"Earlier this month, Natural England declared Ministry of Defence land at Lodge Hill in my constituency to be a site of special scientific interest.

"In numerous plans over 18 years, the site has been clearly designated for 5,000 homes and for employment opportunities for 5,000 people. A total of £35.5 million has been spent to get to the point of planning consent being granted. 

"After all this time and money, the council is concerned, to put it mildly, to be thwarted at the last hurdle by Natural England, which does not consider the economic impacts.

"The reason for this, we are told by Natural England, is that a study of some description has discovered that 84 nightingales might use the site. The comparison to be drawn is between those 84 nightingales and homes for 12,000 people and jobs for a further 5,000 people. 

"We are told by the Prime Minister that we are in a global race, but it is not clear that that message has yet filtered through to bodies such as Natural England.

"It is not surprising that council leaders in the area say that we need to end the absurd situation of a non-elected Government agency dictating to national and local government on how to run things. 

Medway is an example of a council that is pro-development, that wants to show that it is open for business. 

Will the Minister assure me that our local council will be able to decide where it is best for development to go, not Ministers or their inspectors, and still less these quangos? 

"We have heard of the bonfire of the quangos; in the case of Natural England, it appears to have fizzled out."

*Cautionary note: Despite the decision, the future of the Lodge Hill nightingales is far from assured. Medway council may yet include the site in its emerging Local Plan which could prompt a new development initiative.

Monday, 16 October 2017


IT has been an excellent autumn at Anglian Water's Covenham Reservoir, near Louth in Lincolnshire.

This week, a pectoral sandpiper has been an unexpected visitor, seemingly as at home feeding on concrete as it is on mud.

Other visitors to Covenham  in recent weeks have included purple sandpiper, little stint and  red-necked phalarope.

The pectoral sandpiper which arrived on Sunday morning
The bird has provided plenty of excellent close-up views
It even bonded with a ringed plover - they were frequently seen feeding in one another's company this morning
A red-necked phalarope was another Covenham star earlier this autumn

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


Stone curlews at risk as housing project gets planning go-ahead
 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

THE prospects for a stone curlew population in The Brecklands in Norfolk have taken a turn for the worse after the green light was given for a new housing estate on an ecological “buffer zone” near a site where they breed.

There are fears that some of these iconic heathland birds might now vacate the area, which is near Thetford, because of their known aversion to buildings.

They will also be disturbed during construction of the 177 houses and afterwards by the likelihood of dogs being walked on or near sites where they nest.

Back in April last year, the planning application submitted by Flintshire-based Tesni Properties Ltd was refused by Breckland District Council.

The authority stated: “A significant part of the application site falls within the 1,500 metre buffer zone established to safeguard an area that supports or is capable of supporting stone curlews.”

But Tesni lodged an appeal which was conducted by independent inspector Phillip Ware who found in favour of the developer despite data indicating the development site’s proximity to an area which is reckoned to be home to between 142 and 202 stone curlew pairs - between  55 per cent and  76 per cent of this species’ British breeding population.

The inspector acknowledged that “these are very significant proportions”, but he further noted that, “within a 1,500-metre radius of the appeal site itself, there had been only four breeding pairs over a period in excess of 30 years.”

In his findings, he stated:”I do not consider that there would be any reduction in the breeding population in the buffer zone as there has not been such a population for many years.”

He further observed that there had already been development in the vicinity which did not appear to have affected breeding numbers.

Evidence for the district council was heard from the consultancy Footprint Ecology who are experts on stone curlews and other heathland species

The RSPB is understood to have been opposed to the application, but its absence from the hearing - along with that of both Natural England and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust -   may have weakened the position of the council to the detriment of the stone curlews.

The controversy was raised at last Saturday’s AGM of the RSPB where a society member expressed anguish  at how the planning process had failed to safeguard a precious habitat for a scarce species.

She went on to warn that a precedent had been set which could further undermine the status of “buffer zones” in protecting species known to be at risk.

It is not known when work will start on the housing development, but there is also a worry that other heathland birds such as nightjars and woodlarks could also be jeopardised by the project.


Dick Potts - inspirational farmer-scientist and birdwatcher

GRANT applications are  being sought  towards small projects aimed at enhancing wildlife on farms.

The awards will come out of a £14,500 legacy fund established in memory of inspirational farmer, scientist and birdwatcher Dick Potts who died  on March 30 this year.

Dick was at the forefront of work that identified how agro-chemicals were responsible for the decline of many farmland bird species. He was an authority on the grey partridge.

The fund is being administered by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust of which Dick was former director-general.

Ecologists, farmers, gamekeepers and land managers can all apply to receive grants from the Dick Potts  Fund which aims to  cover the expenses of small projects covering such things as farmland wildlife research, investigating flora and associated habitats, purchasing research supplies and equipment, travel, software and attendance at conferences.

.Julie Ewald, head of geographical information science at the GWCT, comments: "Dick  was innovative in how he would arrive at the solution to a problem, often devising small experiments or ways of analysing data that showed the best way forward.

“What we are looking for is similar projects that seek to advance the field of applied wildlife ecology, based on the hunch of those involved in hands-on conservation work.  They should be well thought out and address a recognised problem in conservation.  

 "We look forward to reading applications and deciding on which ones to support with funds from the Dick Potts Legacy Fund."

 Julie added: “It is thanks to the generosity of friends, family and former colleagues of Dick that we are able to offer this opportunity and we would like to thank everyone for their kind donations.

“The plan is to keep the fund going into the future so any further donations will be gratefully received.”

Before the closing date of October 31, 2017, applicants should email the following details to:
  • Name
  • Address
  • Email
  • Phone
  • Your Curriculum Vitae and the names and email addresses of two referees
  • Please provide  information below, including, in no more than 2500 words:
 a) Project Overview. Explain why you are applying for an award; what is innovative and practical about the work you propose to do and how it will advance our knowledge of Farmland Ecology.
b) Experiment Specifications. Set out details of your proposed experiment design including costings, timescale, sample sizes, site of the work and details of any access permission where appropriate. If you are in receipt of any other funding please attach details.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to present their proposals to the committee at the GWCT headquarters in Fordingbridge, via Skype.

* More details at

Tuesday, 10 October 2017


NATURALIST, broadcaster and BTO president Chris Packham will describe the unusual circumstances of his life and career in what should be a fascinating hour-long TV programme later this month.

Chris is autistic - he has Asperger's Syndrome -  which means he struggles in social situations, has difficulty with human relationships and is, by his own admission, " little bit weird". 

But what if there were a way of taking away these autistic traits? Would Chris ever choose to be 'normal'?

In the film, Chris invites us inside his autistic world to try to show what it is really like being him.

 He lives alone in the woods with his 'best friend' Scratchy,a miniature poodle, but he also has a long-term partner, Charlotte, who discusses the problems Asperger's creates in their relationship - she describes Chris as sometimes being "like an alien". 

Chris experiences the world in a very different way, with heightened senses (that at times are overwhelming) and a mind that is constant bouncing from one subject to the next.

Growing up at a time when little was known about autism, Chris was not diagnosed with Asperger's until he was in his forties. 

With scientific advances offering new possibilities to treat his condition, Chris travels to America to witness radical therapies that appear to offer the possibility of entirely eradicating problematic autistic traits, but he also meets those who are challenging the idea that autistic people need to change in order to fit into society. 

Confronting this deeply personal subject with brutal honesty, and reflecting on the devastating struggles of his adolescence, Chris explores the question of whether he would ever want to be 'cured' himself or whether, ultimately, Asperger's has helped make him whom he is today.

  • The programme will be screened on BBC 2 TV at 9pm Tuesday October 17.