Tuesday, 20 February 2018


Curlew - in decline across much of Britain


HOW can we halt wildlife degradation and enrich biodiversity in the UK?

Later in the year  this will be the  subject of a London  symposium to be  led by DEFRA executive Mark Stevenson.

Says the brochure: "Biodiversity is key to the survival of life on Earth. 

"It underpins the functioning of all ecosystems essential for human well-being, delivering a cultural, social and economic service that enriches our lives. 

"Yet, despite its fundamental importance, biodiversity continues to be lost with its deprivation compromising ecological sustainability.

"Published in 2016, the National Biodiversity Network’s  State of  Nature report, suggests that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world ranking 189th out of 218 countries.

"Additionally, out of the 8,000 species assessed in the report, 15per cent are recorded to be either extinct or threatened with extinction from Great Britain.

"Research by DEFRA  indicates only 38.5 per cent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest  were in a favourable condition in 2016, compared with 44 per cent in 2003."

The brochure continues: "In response to the issue, the government has altered its application and funding arrangements for the Community Stewardships Scheme, encouraging more environmentally-friendly land management practices to enhance the breeding and foraging opportunities for birds, pollinating insects and other wildlife. 

"As part of its Single Departmental Plan, DEFRA has committed £100-million into a range of projects to support the natural environment, including schemes to remediate contaminated land, restore important peatland habitats and increase woodland planting." 

Delegates from local authorities, environmental groups, third sector organisations and other key stakeholders will seek to identify priorities for achieving biodiversity and conservation targets. 

The events  will also enable all delegates to share examples of  best practice in protecting vital habitats and decreasing biodiversity loss in local areas.
Between them, they will be invited to:
  • Examine the impact of the new Community Stewardships Scheme in promoting and protecting biodiversity
  • Review the Biodiversity 2020 Strategy and discuss ways to boost Natural Capital 
  • Discuss the challenges posed by Brexit and how the UK can maintain equivalent environmental standards
  • Explore ways to increase public awareness and understanding of the impact of biodiversity loss and increase engagement in conservation projects
  • Review the State of Nature Report and examine measures that best protect wildlife and natural habitats across the UK
  • Consider Agri-Environment Schemes with flexibility to meet local and regional environmental needs
  • Develop methods for encouraging increased integration and collaboration between public bodies at the local level
  • Scrutinise the role of local authorities in supporting biodiversity projects and providing expertise for communities
  • Scrutinise  innovative financing instruments for developing new biodiversity projects
  • Share best practice in promoting and protecting biodiversity at the national and local levels 
The symposium  is being held at the Park Plaza Hotel at Westminster Bridge London on Thursday May 3.

More details from: https://www.publicpolicyexchange.co.uk/events/IE03-PPE

Thursday, 15 February 2018


Roger - fan of folk-rock (and Man U)

A BUMPER  turnout is in prospect for the Lincolnshire Bird Club’s annual meeting  at the Admiral Rodney Hotel in Horncastle on March 20.

The guest speaker will be Dr Roger Riddington, long-serving Editor of the authoritative British Birds magazine, who is coming back to his home county,
Lincolnshire, from the Shetlands where he and his family are based.

The son of a self-employed milk roundsman, Roger grew up and went to school in the Alford area where he discovered the joys and challenges of birdwatching while exploring the fields and wood around his home.

He was lucky to receive plenty of encouragement from an old schoolpal of his father, namely the late Ted Smith, driving force behind the founding of Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and many other nature-associated initiatives.

After impressive A-level results, Roger won a place at
Oxford University where his degree subject was Geography.

Following graduation, he was poised to take a job in
Cambridge with global accountancy firm Arthur Andersen, but decided, instead, to take a PhD second degree, researching movement and dispersal in great tits.

This proved to be the springboard for a career in natural sciences and ornithology which included four years as warden on
Fair Isle.

To this day, though he has travelled extensively,
Fair Isle remains his favourite birding location.

At the annual meeting, Roger will doubtless talk about his life and work as Editor (for the past 17 years) of British Birds which is  a five-days-a week job. He also contributes to the annual Shetland Bird Report.

Highlights of his career include unexpectedly encountering what was the third UK record of thick-billed warbler on Out Skerries on September 14, 2001.

Lowpoints include having his Zeiss Dialyt 10x40 binoculars, a 21st birthday present, and his Bushnell Spacemaster scope stolen in Seville at the end of the  first day of a 1989 holiday in Spain.

During his presentation, Roger may perhaps also reveal whether he has yet had the opportunity to realise a long-held ambition - to watch spoon-billed sandpipers in their breeding grounds on the Chukchi peninsula in Russia.

Off duty, he likes the music of Scottish folk-rock singer-songwriter Malachy Tallack, who also lives on Shetland, and books by the food writer, Nigel Slater.

As he confessed to fellow birder Keith Betton in an interview which was published in 2015 in the book Behind The Binoculars (co-authored by Mark Avery), Roger is a Manchester United fan.

The AGM starts at
7.30pm, and there is no admission charge.


Wednesday, 14 February 2018


THE impact of roads and motorways on birds and other wildlife will come under the spotlight at a forthcoming conference.
Although their verges can provide a habitat for voles and their predators, such as kestrels, highways can present a barrier to the movement and spread of wildlife by fragmenting habitats.
While the UK’s road network forms an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure, ideally it should work in harmony with environmental surroundings.
The  Local Authority Roads (Wildlife Protection) Bill 2016, passed its first parliamentary reading in July 2016, seeking to place a duty on local highways agencies and local transport authorities to make provisions for safeguarding wildlife on roads.
However, the bill has now been dropped by MPs, leaving an absence of central legislation around this issue and absolving local highway and transport authorities from a statutory responsibility to safeguard wildlife.
The forthcoming conference - entitled Protecting Wildlife on Local Highways - will provide an opportunity for: local and national wildlife authorities, highway agencies, environmental groups, third sector organisations and others key stakeholders to explore the issues.
Delegates will:
  • Scrutinise the future of Highway England’s Strategic Road Network for safeguarding wildlife 
  • Analyse solutions on how to prevent animal-vehicle collisions
  • Discuss measures for increasing habitats for local wildlife alongside highways
  • Consider ways of increasing funding for wildlife protection
  • Explore new methods of enforcing wildlife protection beside highways
  • Assess existing records surrounding animal-vehicle collisions and develop ways of improving data collection
  • Examine current green infrastructure developments such as animal over / underpasses
  • Share best practice on how best to educate the public of the dangers of animal-vehicle collisions, and the importance of wildlife and animal protection
The event will be held at the Grange Wellington Hotel in London on Thursday, May 17. More at: http://www.publicpolicyexchange.co.uk/events/IE17-PPE

Thursday, 1 February 2018


Authorities sort through the crates of drowned songbirds

SMUGGLERS have dumped 300 birds into the sea off Malaysia  while attempting to escape authorities.

All but three  of the birds drowned. They are believed to have been trapped  in various South-east Asian countries with the intention of subsequently selling them  in Indonesia.

Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency officers intercepted a boat carrying three Indonesians in waters just off the coastline of Peninsular Malaysia. 

In a statement, the MMEA said it believed the birds were smuggled over land from Vietnam to Thailand, thence into Malaysia, which served as a transit point before the birds were to be smuggled into Indonesia.

Authorities are working to identify the dead birds, most of which are thought to have been songbirds.

The MMEA has previously stopped bird smugglers moving their contraband both to and from

In April 2016, its officers found 100 oriental magpie-robins on a boat which was also ferrying illegal immigrants from

The previous year, it intercepted an Indonesian boat with 150 oriental magpie-robins headed for Malaysia, and, in 2013, it stopped an Indonesian national attempting to smuggle 10 cockatoos into Malaysia.                                                       
Male oriental magpie-robin
While the latest incident confirms the persistent illegal capture and smuggling of wild birds for trade in the region, it also raises questions about the source of birds to Indonesia where birdkeeping is a very popular hobby. There has long been  a huge amount of trafficking between the nation’s many islands. 

“Collaboration between countries is crucial to end this trade, or, across Asia, we will be left with silent forests,” says Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for the charity, Traffic (Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network).

Earlier this  year, authorities at the Lembar Port in West Lombok stopped a truck loaded with over 1,700 birds destined for Bali.                   
Brahminy kite
Among the birds were a Brahminy kite, a protected species, and 1,000-plus streaked weavers. 

The birds were packed in plastic crates and cardboard boxes and found on a lorry during a routine vehicle inspection at Lembar Port. Many were dead or in poor condition when found.

Male streaked weaver
Excessive trapping for the caged bird trade has been identified as one of the major threats facing songbirds in South-east Asia.

 Huge open markets selling millions of birds each year can be found throughout the region, but are particularly prominent in Indonesia, where keeping of illegally trapped wild birds is  widespread practice.

* Traffic's UK office is in Cambridge. Its website address is http://www.traffic.org/

Male oriental magpie-robin: Shantanu Kuveskar (via Wikimedia Commons) 
Brahminy kike (known as red-backed sea eagle in Australia: Jim Bendon/ snowman radio (via Wikimedia Commons)
Streaked weaver: Pkspks (via Wikimedia Commons)
Top photo: Courtesy MMEA


Tuesday, 30 January 2018




THE RSPB has given short shrift to any notion that installation of 'predator-proof' fencing  could  safeguard sites of breeding nightingales from the threat of cats - especially in areas  close to human habitation.

In last year's planning debate on whether housing should be permitted  at a nightingale- sensitive at Lodge Hill in Kent, agents for the developers suggested that such fencing would provide effective mitigation.

They cited cases in the Australian  outback where such a measure had been effective in preventing foxes, feral cats and rabbits from encroaching on to ecologically-delicate sites.

But the proposition  that such an initiative would work for the nightingales of Lodge Hill  was soundly rejected by RSPB conservation officer Sophie Flax whose work on the case might well provide a useful template for resisting any similar developments that are proposed elsewhere.

In her report to the planning department at Medway Council, she noted that the sites in Australia (and New Zealand) could not be compared with that in Kent because they were far away from human settlements (with all the risks they pose to songbirds).

She continued: "Fences will be ineffective if they are cut, reduced in height or damaged by climbing children, if gaps are opened between sections or if branches, planks or other materials are placed against them.

"Research shows conclusively that cats will take advantage of any weakness in the fence  to climb through or over it, and  they would also be quick to take advantage of other materials against the fence that allowed them to climb or jump over.
"Every time a breach occurs, it offers an opportunity for a cat to access the Site of Scientific Interest, and, even if the fence is regularly inspected and repaired, a daytime breach could mean nocturnal access by a cat  before a repair can be effected."

She added: "The success of a fence in excluding cats depends in part on effective maintenance over its lifetime, and any cats that find their way into the wood may have difficulty getting back and could build a feral population."

Thanks partly to the resistance shown by the RSPB, the planning application has been withdrawn, but there remains a risk that another will be submitted - especially if Medway Council earmarks the site for housing in its new Local Plan which is due to be published later this year.

See also: Reprieve for nightingales

Monday, 29 January 2018


Entrance to the shopping centre - with the car park behind it

Hats off to the initiative of Jacqui Green who runs her own Cambridgeshire-based environmental consultancy!

When she was commissioned to carry out a survey of the birds and other wildlife within a site which accommodates the retail heart of Grimsby, she conducted part of it on the roof of a nine-storey car park.

What is more she did so on a cold day in December.

Equipped with a pair of x8 binoculars and a x20 telescope, she carried out her research between 8am (just after dawn) and 10.30 am, then from 1.30pm to 4pm when the light and visibility deteriorated.

The weather was bright and clear in the morning, changing to dull with low cloud in the afternoon. 

As well as monitoring the site from high up on the car park, she also went walkabout.

Her route was from outside the Freshney shopping centre west car park along the  River Freshney to the pedestrian crossing of the river, thence following Alexandra Dock to Corporation Road before returning and walking to the east and south of the centre.

At all times, she recorded birds on the ground, in the air, in bushes and on the water, in total recording a creditable total of 22 species of which the undoubted star was a kingfisher.

The other 21 were:

Mute swan 

Little grebe
Lesser black-backed gull
Herring gull
Black-headed gull
Carrion crow
Wood pigeon
Collared dove
Feral pigeon
Pied wagtail
House sparrow

Ms Green, of the appropriately-named Green Environmental Consultants Ltd, of Swaffham Bulbeck, had been engaged by London-based property company BMO Real Estate Partners to carry out the assessment as part of the planning formalities for a proposed nine-screen  cinema (plus seven restaurants) project in Freshney Place, Grimsby, which North East Lincolnshire Council is keen to see revitalised.

She did not skimp on her research, even going so far as to speculating on whether piling work during the construction phase might have a detrimental impact on fish in the River Freshney and adjacent waterways such as Riverhead where The Barge pub is moored
Before her visit to Grimsby, she also carried out a desk survey of historical bird sightings which revealed that the following species (stand by for some surprises!) have been recorded within 2km of the site: Avocet, barn owl, Bewick's swan, bittern, black redstart, black tern, black-tailed godwit, brambling, Cetti's warbler, crossbill, rosefinch, common scoter, fieldfare, firecrest,  green sandpiper, hen harrier, hobby, Lapland bunting, little gull, little ringed plover, little tern, long-tailed duck, marsh harrier, Mediterranean gull, merlin, osprey, peregrine falcon, purple sandpiper, red kite, red-backed shrike, red-throated diver, redwing, roseate tern, ruff, scaup, shorelark, spoonbill, velvet scoter, whimbrel, whooper swan, wood sandpiper, woodlark.

In her report, Ms Green says: “Such urbanised sites are usually very poor for wildlife, having few attractive habitats, little food and are frequently lit at night.

“However, such features can provide nesting opportunities for birds on large exposed roofs and possibly niches for bats.

“Ducks were seen on the Riverhead but there was no indication that this area would be significant for birds.

”The building frontage is well sealed with secure roofs combined with a lit open area, indicate negligible opportunities for bats.

“There were few birds using the proposed development area except for scavenging gulls, starlings and feral pigeons.

“It is worth noting that, at the far east of the hardstanding, close to a spur of the River Freshney, two established pollarded willow trees together with three fruit-bearing trees were being used for feeding by finches and blackbirds.”

Because an environmental consultant is commissioned by the developer, the objectivity, impartiality and integrity of the final report can never be 100 per cent.

Ms Green acknowledges such when she says her report takes into account "the particular instructions and requirements of our client”.

She further notes that her initial document was "revised", presumably at the instigation of the developer, lest any unfavourable wording might lessen the prospect of the application being approved.

However, few familiar with the area could reasonably question the report's conclusion (subsequently endorsed by the council’s ecology officer, Mike Sleight) that “the site is typical of an urban area, with hardscape dominating, and has little wildlife potential”.

A limitation of such documents is that they provide only a snapshot of part of a single day.
If the consultant  had returned in spring or summer, her list would almost certainly hjave included additional species such as wagtails, swallows, swifts and maybe one or two warbler species.

It is a general planning principle that proposed developments should result in “no loss of biodiversity and preferably gain”.

Disappointingly, Ms Green does not propose the installation of nestboxes for house sparrows or nestbricks for swifts - initiatives which would most likely be beneficial to biodiversity.

Her downbeat assessment is as follows: “Wildlife enhancement features on sites such as this are limited and questionable value.

“Planting of some new trees on the banks of the River Freshney or other nearby land would be more beneficial.

“Non-biodiversity options might include green features for the roof such as solar panels. A contribution to costs associated with enhancements to the River Freshney might be an alternative.”

The application was approved by the council’s  planning committee last month (December 2017). 

* Below: Scenes at Freshney Place, its multi-storey car park and nearby habitat.



Wednesday, 17 January 2018


Alder flycatcher (photo: Cephas via Wikimedia Commons)


THE special birding magic  of Blakeney Point on the  Norfolk Coast was the subject of a fascinating illustrated presentation by Paul Laurie at the January meeting Grimsby RSPB.

Born in Grimsby, Paul grew up in Kent where, 47 years ago, he began developing his birding skills by watching the birds in and around St Margaret's Bay between Dover and Deal.

He moved to Norfolk in 1997 and, ever since, has been monitoring the birds of Blakeney Point two or three times a week,more often at peak migration times.

The Point is not for the faint-hearted, requiring a lot of walking on shingle - guaranteed to tighten the hamstrings.

It is a bleak environment with just a few trees and shrubs, laughingly known as "the plantation".

There are no records  of great tit, green woodpecker and great-spotted woodpecker and only one each for nuthatch and blue tit. Even house sparrows are rarities.

Yet, every year,  this iconic habitat yields one of the UK's  most impressive tallies of rare and scarce species - the likes of Siberian stonechat, desert wheatear, thrush nightingale, short-toed lark, red-breasted flycatcher, Pallas' grasshopper warbler, pallid harrier, various of the less common pipit and bunting species and, in September 2010, what was only the second British record of an American species, alder flycatcher.

Obviously, there are many quiet days, but the  magic of a place such as Blakeney lies in its "you-never-know-what-might-turn-up-next"quality.

And, as Paul said, it is a fair bet that, if you see one rare bird, you will then see a second  on the same day. 

An example of this came when he  was trying to relocate  a red-throated pipit he  had seen fly in off the sea. As he did so, a beautiful bluethroat, in breeding plumage, popped up just a few metres away from where he was standing.
Alternatively using either a Nikon, with 200mm. 400m lens or a Canon PowerShot SX 60 bridge camera, with video capacity, Paul has captured some excellent images not just of these species but also of the various, terns, divers, grebes and ducks that are a feature of the various habitats at this truly wild habitat.

The divers, incidentally, are particularly partial  to the tiny crabs which dwell in the harbour.

Blakeney Point throws up a special  challenge for birders. Because there is no cover, birds can see humans coming from a long distance and quickly fly off.

But Paul has certainly cracked the challenge. He revealed various aspects of his fieldcraft - for instance, watching to see if any passerines are being flushed as marsh harriers or other raptors patrol the  saltmarsh

There is a saying among Norfolk birders: "South-east winds for quality - north-east winds for quantity."

That certainly seems to be borne out at Blakeney Point where Paul has certainly enjoyed some sensational experiences with huge autumn arrivals of winter thrushes on north-easterlies.

On one occasion, he had to tread carefully because the ground was covered with exhausted redwings, including one bird which he saw flying in through sea spray, land just before his feet, then tuck its head under one wing and fall asleep!

On that spectacular day, he reckons there may have been as many 200,000 redwings, fieldfares and ring ouzels.

According to Paul, winter  visitors  such as fieldfare tend to leave Scandinavia at about midnight on clear nights, but, if they encounter heavy mists over the North Sea, they become disorientated and fly around in circles until they can see light reflecting off land (for instance, the white cliffs of Hunstanton - a noted Norfolk hotspot for migration-watching).

Paul's  inspirational presentation - to an audience of about 50 - was peppered with amusing anecdotes, for instance about a 'dead' tawny owl that a friend picked up off the road and put  in the boot of his car before continuing his journey.

When he arrived at his destination and lifted the boot, he was taken aback when out flew the owl, apparently in perfect health.

On another occasion, he watched in fascination as a kestrel spied an exhausted  starling that had collapsed into a pool after a long migration from eastern Europe.

The raptor pounced, but the starling was so waterlogged that it took three or four attempts before it could could take off with the prey between its talons.

By request, Paul escorts  small tours around Blakeney Point, and more details are on  his blog: