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.

Monday, 9 October 2017


 A NATURE reserve in Lincolnshire has been closed indefinitely following the discovery of canisters containing mustard gas.

The Roughton Moor reserve, near Woodhall Spa, is owned by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust
It falls within  a wider area of woodland which has been put off limits to the public since the start of the month.

It is believed the canisters have been in situ since when the site was an operational RAF base.
The reserve consists of oak, birch, rowan and Scots pine, plus some heathland.

There is also an avenue of Corsican pines apparently planted as an intended approach to a manor house which was never built. 

Police acted swiftly after two people required hospital treatment for burns and breathing difficulties having unearthed the canisters while they were digging for antique bottles on October 1. They were discharged the same day.

The canisters were taken to Porton Down, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, for their contents to be analysed.
In the wake of the incident, two men and a woman were arrested and released on bail until October 25 pending further inquiries.
Two properties have been searched, but it is understood no noxious substances were discovered.
Mustard “gas” is said to be a misnomer because the chemical is not vaporised but disperses as a mist of fine liquid droplets.
First used by the German army in World War One, it has an infamous record of being used  as a chemical warfare agent - deployed by means of artillery shells, bombs, rockets or spraying from warplanes.
Victims are at risk of sustaining large burn blisters both on exposed skin and in lungs.
If anyone has recently obtained any containers from this area they are urged to contact the police.

Sunday, 8 October 2017


A warm welcome for members from RSPB staff at Saturday's AGM in London

DECLINING income from grants and sponsorship could put a squeeze on the RSPB’s activities including land acquisition, management of its reserves and educational outreach

This alert was sounded by honorary treasurer Graeme Wallace at the society’s annual meeting held at the QEII Centre in Westminster on Saturday,

Departure from the EU will certainly lead to the forfeiture of grants from Brussels, while revenue from companies and other corporate organisations is set to decline amid continuing post-Brexit uncertainty.

On the plus side, membership continues to grow at about three per cent a year and currently stands at 1,222,985.

In tandem with this, trading income - for instance, sales of goods - continues to rise as does legacy income.

Over the past 12 months, the society’s funds have also been boosted by the sale of a surplus property for £3-million, plus a further £3-million from its Stock Market investments.

Said Mr Wallace: “At year end, our free financial reserves were £33.2-million - equivalent to 16 weeks of expenditure.

“This is required to cover working capital during the year and to provide some flexibility to adapt to a changing and increasingly competitive funding requirement.”

Earlier, retiring chairman Prof Steve Ormerod provided his customary upbeat review  of  the RSPB’s progress for the year - for instance, its work with farmers to increase the UK population of rare cirl buntings and its education initiatives in Glasgow.

“Love of a nature and willingness to defend it is our priority,”he declared.

Prof Ormerod’s successor is Kevin Cox, from Devon, whose career has largely been spent in the publishing industry.

The meeting heard that the prestigious RSPB Medal has been awarded to the late Dick Potts, the inspirational North Yorkshire farmer and former director-general of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, who did valuable work in highlighting how many farmland bird species, such as partridges,  were in freefall as a result of intensive use of agro-chemicals.

The award was accepted by his widow, Olga, who described Dick as “very modest” and “an eternal optimist” (who had a passion for consuming knickerbockers glories!)

The meeting was chaired by RSPB president Miranda Krestovnikoff who presented awards of merit to long-serving volunteers Mike Logan-Wood, Des and Carol Felix, Ann Burt, Robin Brown, Richard Tough and Elizabeth Downes.

Several hundred members enjoyed both the meeting and the opportunity to meet RSPB staff and buy goods, including binoculars, Christmas cards and gifts plus birdfood. There were also free goodie bags containing a mug, a pack of ground coffee and a tee-shirt.

One disappointment was that too little time was allowed for questions, thereby both depriving  individual members the opportunity to raise points  and other members to hear the replies.

One question that was put concerned windfarms and whether the society had compromised its capacity to oppose controversial developments by virtue of accepting substantial monies from several energy companies.

Conservation director Martin Harper maintained the society reserved the right to speak out if it was “uncomfortable” about proposals.

He said this was enshrined in an agreement the RSPB had with Ecotricity - the company that has a special relationship with the charity, not least in having a turbine at its HQ in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

Another speaker expressed exasperation that an anomaly in the English planning system had threatened a vulnerable stone curlew population by granting consent for a 177-house development on heathland near Thetford in Norfolk.

Following the meeting, some members stayed for the afternoon programme in which Stuart Housden described his time in charge of RSPB Scotland, Carolyn Robinson discussed  the charity’s work in Wales, Hannah Ward reported on efforts to increase the UK’s breeding population of black-tailed godwits and was Ross Frazer provided an update  on the society’s proposed state-of-the-art visitor centre at Sherwood Forest.

Next year’s AGM will be had at the same venue on October 20.

Saying it how it is - staff members were on hand to brief members
A 15 per cent discount was being offered on purchase of RSPB binoculars
Roll up, roll up - buy your birdfood here!
Is that a blackbird or a starling? Members try out the optics
Pin badges of a range of bird species were in brisk demand
Spreading the word - staff on the various stands could not have been more helpful

Getting nature buzzing - that's what it's all about
The grandkids will love this - a cuddly toy with the song of a thrush!

Monday, 2 October 2017



A TOUGHER approach to illegal trapping of the Ortolan bunting has been pledged  in France.

The country's  Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, has said  he  is committed to ending a practice in which victims are trapped, blinded, plumpened and drowned in brandy before being served in restaurants or  sold in shops  as a “delicacy”.

Custom demands that the diner wars a napkin over the head in the belief that rich aromas are not lost while the dish - bones and all - is being chewed. 

The bird was said to have been the last dish of former French president Francois Mitterand.

Around 30,000 Ortolan buntings are captured - either in nets or on glue-smeared twigs and branches - every  autumn as they migrate through France from eastern Europe to West Africa.

The practice, which is particularly widespread in the Landes region of South-west France, also claims collateral victims such as many finch and warbler species.

The Ortolans are blinded and kept in cages where they are force-fed on millet seed to fatten them.

Technically, the activity has been illegal for the past 18 years, but authorities have tended to disregard the breaches on the grounds that it is a long-established cultural tradition.

In December 2016, the European Commission announced that it was taking France to the EU Court of Justice for failing to address violations of the EU’s Birds Directive - with a potential fine running into millions of euros.

In response, M. Hulot put out a statement in August in which he stated his intention to put an end to the poaching of Ortolan buntings in the Landes region. 

 “Preserving biodiversity is essential to the future of our humanity. Protection of a natural heritage is a legacy we must pass on to future generations.

"The practice of poaching Ortolans is illegal, it must stop….it poses a significant risk to the survival of a species whose future is threatened by climate change and urbanisation which destroys its habitat."

The announcement has been welcomed by bird conservation groups in France and Bird Life International, but it remains to be seen how effectively any prospective legislation is enforced.