Sunday, 10 December 2017


Letter in today's (December 10) Sunday Telegraph.

Anyone know the answer?

Friday, 8 December 2017


During this week’s (December 7) annual debate on the UK fishing industry, many topics came under scrutiny including the health of the marine environment. It  prompted a cordial exchange between  two Labour MPs, Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) and Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby. This is what they said

Ben Bradshaw

I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to watch the wonderful BBC series Blue Planet 2, Madam Deputy Speaker. If you have, you will have been inspired and moved by the wondrousness of our marine environment, but also by its vulnerability and fragility. While environmental degradation on land is visible to us - we see forests and species disappear, and we see desertification - what has been happening in our oceans for far too long has remained invisible to all except a dedicated band of marine scientists and divers. 

Now, thanks to that fantastic programme, it is there for all of us to see.

Melanie Onn


When my right hon. Friend watched that programme, was he as concerned as I was by the amount of plastic being ingested by some of the marine life that later goes into our food chain?

Mr Bradshaw

Indeed I was.

Thankfully, plastics are one of the more visible aspects of marine pollution. We see them washed up on our beaches and the Government is  taking action, but a great deal else that goes on is still invisible.

There is another big difference between land-based and sea-based environmental degradation. 

The sea is a place where the ancient human activity of hunting and gathering continues, and continues apace. 

As has just been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby, (other human activity, such as the use of plastics, has its impacts, but much of it is invisible. 

Man-made climate change is leading to the warming and acidification of our oceans, with yet unknown consequences. 

It does not affect just marine life - including fish, as an edible resource - but the roles that the oceans themselves play in regulating our climate, our oxygen levels, and basically everything that makes human life on earth possible.

For most of human history, oceans and fish were simply plundered. 

That did not matter when there were relatively few human beings and fishing technology was relatively antiquated, but, in the last 100 years or so, population growth and technological progress have completely changed that equation, with, in some instances, devastating consequences. 

We all know the story of the near-eradication of bluefin tuna, turtles, cod off the north-east coast of the United States, and, in our own case, cod in the North Sea. 

However, things have changed. Because of what was going on in the early noughties, politicians began to take notice and take action. 

There was collective endeavour, and it has worked. 

North Sea cod has made a fantastic recovery, thanks to the difficult measures and decisions that I took as a Fisheries minister, which were massively criticised by the fishing industry at the time. 

There has even been progress on the high seas, which is much more difficult because of the lack of an international legal framework. 

As anyone - I hope - can appreciate, managing our seas and fish stocks sustainably demands that countries work together. 

As has been said so often during our debates over the years, fish do not respect national borders; they swim about. 

I have real concerns about the potential of Brexit to reverse the welcome progress that we have seen in the last 15 or 20 years. 

Let us be honest: the status quo is not a disaster. My local ports, Brixham and Plymouth, have just reported their best years in terms of the value of their catches.  

Species such as cuttlefish are doing incredibly well, and are being exported straight to markets in Italy, France and Spain. 

Our crab and lobster are also valuable exports. 

* The fishing debate in full:

Wednesday, 6 December 2017



CLIMATE warming might benefit birds such as lesser spotted woodpecker and nightingale, but it is"unlikely to counterbalance declines in other woodland species".

That is one of the conclusions of the BTO’s State of the UK's Birds 2017.

It states: “Long-distance migrants such as pied flycatchers and tree pipits  may be vulnerable to ongoing change in the timing of insect availability in their breeding grounds, and the impact of climate change in their wintering grounds may be affecting overwinter survival.”

Great tits, wrens, nuthatches, treecreepers and dunnocks appear to have been benefiting from milder winters, and the report notes the continuing UK expansion of Cetti’s warbler (dating as far back as 1973).

In the UK, the Dartford warbler, a species once at risk of extinction, has also extended its breeding range well beyond Hampshire and the South-west, but climate change appears to have been a factor in its decline in France and Spain.

The document suggests that the increasing population of little egrets “may be related to better protection and habitat provision instead of or as well as climate change”.

In Scotland, the capercaillie continues to struggle, with the population thought to have dwindled to a mere 1,114 individuals possibly as a result of poor breeding because of cooler springs and higher rainfall in June when the chicks hatch.

Predation is a problem as is mortality resulting from collision with deer fences.

Based on a 2015 survey, the report has come up with the interesting statistic that the number of pairs of housemartins in the UK is reckoned to be between 650,000 and 850,000.

Among marine species, generalist feeders such as guillemots gannets, black-headed gulls and razorbills are more than holding their own, but prey-specific species such as kittiwakes, puffins and terns continue to be on the slide.

The report’s authors fear that Leach’s petrels, storm petrels and even Arctic skuas could come “close to or reach UK extinction by 2100”.

The shag is another species of concern as a result of  changing weather patterns. Its plumage is only partially waterproof, “perhaps making the bird  more susceptible to mortality during prolonged periods of wet and wind”. 

Meanwhile, dotterel, purple sandpiper and whimbrel, where the UK is at the southern edge of their global breeding range “have an inherently higher risk of climate-related extinction”.

Likewise, prospects are not bright for curlew and golden plover.

The State of the UK's Birds 2017 report can be read at:

Friday, 1 December 2017


 BLADES on the  first of 116 turbines have this week begun turning at e.on’s Rampion offshore windfarm located in the English Channel between eight and 16 miles off seaside towns Brighton and Worthing..

The £1.3-billion project has been named after the round-headed rampion which is the county flower of Sussex.
Round-headed rampion
The new development was the focus of controversy in October this year when the film-director husband of pop-singer Adele, Simon Konecki, posted a video complaining that 40ft trenches dug to accommodate power cables had despoiled the South Downs National Park.

However, once cable-laying has been completed, the trenches will be filled and the land restored to its former state. 

Prior to being given the go-ahead an ornithological impact assessment was undertaken on behalf of the developer by a leading UK consultancy, Cheshire-based RSK.

The survey  is described as “worst case scenario” to account for any uncertainties in the project design and to ensure that the magnitude of all impacts is “not underestimated”.

The report lists the main potential ornithological impacts as: 

  •  Disturbance and displacement of birds from the wind farm site and its surrounds
  •  Mortality through collision with the wind turbines, a barrier effect (such that bird flight routes are diverted around the wind farm site)
  •  Changes to the birds’ habitat/food supply

It states that disturbance of birds could occur up to 4km from the wind turbines during the construction and operational phases and that construction activities (e.g. piling and an increase in boat traffic) will result in noise and vibration which has the potential to disturb and displace bird species.

It further notes that presence of plant and personnel on site may also cause localised disturbance throughout construction.

“In all cases, such disturbance impacts are likely to be temporary and exist only when vessels are on site and/or particular construction activities are being undertaken.

“Therefore, birds may readily redistribute in periods of less intense or no activity during the construction period.”

The document continues: “Construction would not take place simultaneously over the whole site and therefore impacts would not be expected to occur over the whole of the project site over the whole of the construction period.

“Rather they would be more restricted to smaller areas of activity at any particular time.”

The survey does not seek to address any potential impact on night-migrating songbirds and other passerines but focuses  on the following maritime species thought to be most at potential risk. 

There is a potential ecological link to the Alderney West Coast and the Burhou Islands  site (where there is a breeding colony of 5,950 pairs). Given low numbers within the site and a buffer of up to 4km - any temporary loss of a very small part of that range would be of negligible magnitude and not significant.

Sandwich Tern
This is a qualifying species of both the Solent Marshes and Southampton Water Special Protection Area and the Chichester and Langston Harbours Special Protection Area. The proposed project site lies beyond the usual foraging range of both of these sites. As a result any disturbance effect during construction would be of negligible magnitude and not significant.

Common Tern
Ditto Sandwich Tern

Arctic Tern
Most records of this Annex 1 species were from a single survey in May, 2010, when a higher number of migrants passing through the survey area were observed (sufficient to be considered regionally important). Apart from this however, use of the survey area by this species was very low. Any disturbance effect during construction would be of negligible magnitude and not significant.

Present in the survey area in regionally important numbers. Given that it has such a wide foraging range, the temporary loss of a small part of that range would be of negligible magnitude and not significant, even if there were displacement over a zone of up to 4km of any construction activity.

Present in the survey area in nationally important
numbers but is not clearly linked to any specific Special Protection Area.Peak numbers were recorded during late winter/spring with fewer during the summer and autumn. The potential impact zone relating to construction disturbance (the wind turbine locations plus up to a 4km buffer) held densities slightly higher than the wider study area, with no
indication that any part of that zone was of particular importance to this species. Given this and considering that it has a wide foraging range the temporary loss of a very small part of that range would be of negligible magnitude and not significant, even if there were displacement over a 2km zone
during construction.

Ditto Guillemot

Little Gull
Mostly a spring migrant through the survey area, with peak counts in April each year The peak count (168) was sufficient to be classed as regionally important, and this species is listed on Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive.
Most individuals were recorded in the more inshore parts of the survey area and in the eastern part. Any disturbance effect during construction would be of negligible magnitude
and not significant.

Red-throated Diver
There were no records of this Annex 1 species within 2km of the wind farm site and a peak of only 13 within 4km,  Given such low numbers and infrequent occurrence, any disturbance effect during construction would be of negligible magnitude and not significant.

Great Skua
This species was recorded in regionally important numbers and was widely scattered across most of the survey area, though with more records in the southern part of the survey area in the deeper waters further from the shore. Densities within the potential disturbance zone around the project site were generally lower than in the wider survey area. Any disturbance effect during construction would be of negligible magnitude and not significant.

Great Black-backed Gull
The peak number of this species recorded in the survey
area (4,473) was sufficient to be classed as nationally important. It was widespread across all of the survey area, Given that it has such a wide foraging range the temporary loss of a small part of that range would be of negligible magnitude and not significant, even if there were displacement in a zone of up to 4km around any construction activity.

Common Scoter
Recorded in regionally important numbers within
the survey area, mainly during spring. None was seen within 2km of the project site and only very low densities within 4km.  Any disturbance effect on this species during construction would be of negligible magnitude and not

Widespread across the whole survey area, and was recorded in regionally important numbers. Densities were similar across the potential disturbance zone and the wider area though numbers were higher in the deeper water to the south of the project site. Any disturbance effect
during construction would be of negligible magnitude and not significant.

Wind speeds are lower than off the Scottish and Welsh Coasts, but, once fully operational, Rampion is projected to generate sufficient electricity to power 346,000 homes.- about half the total number in Sussex.

*Photo of round-headed campion: Courtesy of Hetonichus  via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 15 November 2017


Shy visitor - blown here by Storm Ophelia? 

AN “irruption” of hawfinches has been a highlight of early-winter bird migration to  the UK.

The resident population - which is probably fewer than 1,000 pairs - has been boosted by birds flying here from the continent.

Says Jamie Wyver of the RSPB: “Hawfinches are the nutcrackers of the bird world, with their massive parrot-like bills that can crack even the hardest nutshells.

“The influx is a real treat as hawfinches are very attractive birds, patterned with autumnal shades, including a rich chestnut head, rose-pink breast and black and white wing markings.

“In recent weeks, numbers seen have been much larger than normal, with hundreds of sightings recorded.

Lizzie Bruce, warden at the RSPB’s nature reserve at The Lodge  in Sandy, Bedfordshire, comments: “In our county alone over 230 hawfinches have been counted. 

“That’s extraordinary, as in most years we are lucky to see one or two. 

“At The Lodge we’ve had up to four hawfinches in the tops of the birch and yew trees with single birds flying over most days in October.

“This has caused great excitement for our visitors and RSPB staff, who have been dropping everything and running out the office to catch a glimpse of individual birds  perched at the top of a tree!’’

She continues: "Typically irruptions are associated with failing food supply: too many birds, or not enough food for them to survive the winter. 

“This happened last year with another species - the waxwing.

“The weather is also a factor.

“Hawfinches traditionally migrate south from their breeding grounds in Central Europe towards the Mediterranean.

“This year their migration coincided with the arrival of Storm Ophelia which headed eastwards from the Atlantic swirling anti clockwise, with the strong winds pushing many of the migrating hawfinches into the UK. 

“This theory probably explains why the majority of hawfinches have been  seen in the South of England and Wales.”

RSPB scientists are studying the reasons why hawfinches no longer nest in the UK as widely as they used to. 

There is an ongoing collaboration with Cardiff University to ascertain whether food availability may be a factor. 

Hawfinches are immensely shy, and winter, when many trees are bare, is probably the best times to catch a glimpse. 

Hawfinches flock together at dusk to roost in trees for the night, and will also gather during the day to look for food.    

Photo: Courtesy RSPB


Corncrake - alarm over population dip

 IT has been another disappointing year for one of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds - the corncrake.

According to the RSPB, numbers have fallen for the third consecutive year.  

Over the past summer, only 866 calling males were recorded in Scotland.

This is a drop of 17 per cent from 2016, and down 33 per cent from the 2014 high of 1,289 males. 

There were glimmers of positive results seen in some areas, such as Barra and Vatersay, with a 47 per cent increase from last year but these were outweighed by losses elsewhere.

Benbecula’s population was down 64 per cent, and Durness saw a 53 per cent drop.

The overall sharp decline has prompted concern from RSPB Scotland that the long-term survival of these birds as a breeding species here is now under increased threat. 

Numbers haven’t been this low since 2003 when only 836 males were recorded.

The RSPB is calling for renewed action to ensure that Scottish Government, and the conservation community do all they can to work with landowners and crofters to protect the species. 

Corncrakes are shy land-dwelling relatives of coots and moorhens. Every year these small chestnut-coloured birds migrate from their wintering grounds in Africa to breed in a few isolated pockets in Scotland, mostly on islands and the North West coast on crofts or farmland.

Once widespread across the UK they suffered from a reduction in both range and population in the 19th and 20th century, becoming confined to these Scottish areas by the early 1990s. 

At that time, faced with the prospect of corncrakes disappearing from Scotland altogether within 20 years, agri-environment schemes were introduced to turn their fortunes around.

These schemes lead to an increase in numbers to 2014’s high point.

While there may be several reasons behind the recent declines, including problems related to their wintering grounds or during migration, there is concern that recent changes to these schemes could be contributing to the declines. 

The gap between the old Scottish Rural Development Programme Rural Priorities Scheme (SRDPRP) ending and new Agri-environment Climate Scheme (AECS) starting has seen fewer areas being managed to benefit corncrakes. 

The uptake in AECS so far is considerably lower than in SRDPRP, though there is a chance this may improve in later years of the scheme.  

In addition, payment rates provided by government to delay mowing are now lower, which may reduce the incentive to mow later in the year and could lead to fewer corncrake chicks surviving. 

As corncrakes are naturally short-lived it’s crucial that large numbers of chicks are successfully reared each year.

Paul Walton, Head of Habitats and Species at RSPB Scotland, said this week: “The crex crex call of the corncrake in unmistakeable but in recent years has become something even fewer of us are likely to hear.

“In just three years Scotland has lost a third of its calling male population. This  is incredibly worrying.

“The gains made for this rare species now face being unravelled and lost, and their future is once again looking increasingly uncertain in Scotland unless action is taken.”

RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to work with them to ensure the long term survival of breeding corncrakes here. 

It says that the upcoming application window for AECS in 2018 needs to be vigorously promoted with application support provided to encourage as much uptake as possible in these areas. 

Additionally, robust advice needs to be provided to all land managers on supporting threatened species and the wider environment.

Paul continued: “While we are extremely concerned that these recent declines will turn into long-term trends if no action is taken there is still time to prevent this from happening. 

“There is a great opportunity here for the Scottish Government to take decisive positive action and work with conservation organisations in designing a future scheme, not only to help corncrakes, but also to support crofters and farmers deliver as many benefits as possible for our country’s incredible wildlife.”

Photo credit:  Rachel Davies/ Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 9 November 2017


Guillemot - one of the vulnerable marine species

A PROPOSED new windfarm off the East Coast of Scotland will be “among the most damaging in the world for seabirds ”.

That is the warning from the new director of  RSPB Scotland, Anne McCall, after the Supreme Court this week  refused the society’s  application to block a 64-turbine development  north of Torness.
Anne McCall - plea to Scottish ministers
Said she:  “We have worked on the Firth of Forth and Tay projects for nearly a decade to try and ensure that they progress without causing unacceptable harm to our internationally important seabird colonies.

“The  risks are huge to seabird populations, including puffins, gannets and kittiwakes - collectively one of the country’s most impressive and internationally renowned natural assets - which nest on our coasts and feed in the shallow waters in and around this area.

“There is little doubt this will be among the most damaging offshore windfarms for seabirds in the world. “

M McCall is disappointed that Scottish ministers are supporting the scheme.

She continued: “They have made many welcome statements about the value they place on being seen to safeguard Scotland’s environment.

“We would call on Scottish ministers to put those words into action and ensure that improvements are made to Scotland’s planning and consenting processes to ensure that such damaging consents cannot be issued in future.”

Developer Mainstream Renewable Power said it now looked forward to starting construction next year on a windfarm which it claims will be capable of powering 325,000 homes.

The company’s chief operating officer, Andy Kinsella, commented : “After more than two years and two court hearings, we hope that the RSPB allows us to get on with delivering the very significant benefits this project brings to the Scottish economy and its environment.”
Andy Kinsella - "very significant benefits"
Mr Kinsella believes the windfarm can be built without harming wildlife and said the introduction of more powerful turbines had made it possible to reduce the number from 125 in the original planning application to a maximum of 64.

Earlier in the year, Dr Eddie O’Connor, who co-founded Mainstream in 2008, chided the RSPB in a blog.

He wrote: “We have been working on this project since 2009. 

“At every stage, we have worked closely and patiently with our environmental partners to assess and mitigate the potential impact on marine wildlife.

Eddie O'Connor - combatting climate change is vital
 “For us, it is not just about this one project. It is about building new energy systems that will make a material contribution to combatting climate change - the very climate change that is warming the waters around the British Isles and, by driving sandeel populations northwards, depriving iconic bird species of their traditional feeding grounds.

“We all recognise that the RSPB has a duty to its members to act to protect the UK’s bird populations, and we have had a constructive relationship with them for many years.

“What is disappointing is that they have sought  dramatically to overstate the potential impact of this project on birdlife in the Forth and Tay estuaries.

“Recent suggestions that thousands of gannets could be harmed are so far from reality.

“Several reports in recent years have suggested climate change is the major factor in the decline on many seabird populations.

“Alongside advances in turbine technology, there have been similar advances in our understanding of seabird behaviour around offshore turbines.  

The ORJIP (Offshore Renewable Joint Industry Programme) Bird Collision study has used real data from the 100-turbine Thanet offshore windfarm to identify bird behaviour around large offshore infrastructure projects.

“While the draft findings have not been released, I am reassured by what is being discovered about bird activity and avoidance. 

“The RSPB is also aware of this data, which is why their strident reaction to the court decision is so puzzling.

“The advances in turbine technology, reduction in turbine numbers and improvements in knowledge of seabird behaviour, mean that previous assessments of risk to birds are gross overestimates.

The turbines  will be spaced more than  a kilometre apart, providing huge corridors for transit. 

 “Mainstream is committed to undertaking studies of a similar scale to the ORJIP study when NNG is operational, to reduce risk to wildlife and to further improve science in this area.  

“We hope that this can be undertaken in collaboration with the RSPB and other environmental organisations.

“I am reassured by the more measured views of the RSPB’s sister environmental organisations. 

“We all want to do the right thing for the environment. I set up Mainstream to help the world achieve its once off transition to sustainability. 

“This is a huge driving force for us at Mainstream, where the company has committed itself to leading the drive to make electricity without emitting CO2.

“I want to work with the RSPB and all our partners to build NNG in a way that has the least impact on the environment.

 “The project will also act as an artificial reef and by so doing enable the build-up of fish stocks, which have also been decimated by climate change.

Dr O’Connor concluded: “It is time for our friends in the RSPB and across the environmental movement to sit down with us, and with the Scottish government, to agree on a common objective - the imminent risk to all life, avian and human, posed by climate change, and the necessity to work together to find solutions to this, the greatest challenge of our age.”

* The Supreme Court judgement is below:

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (Appellant) v The Scottish Ministers and others (Respondents) (Scotland) - UKSC 2017/0143

On appeal from the Court of Session (Scotland)

Permission to appeal has been refused in this case in which the RSPB objects to the decision of the Respondent to grant consent under the Electricity Act 1989 to the construction of wind farms in the North Sea. The Appellant objected to the developments on the basis that they could have an adverse impact to seabirds.

Appropriate Assessments ("AAs") were carried out on behalf of the Respondents under the Habitats Regulations 1994 and 2010 and the Offshore Marine Regulations 2007, which concluded that the wind farms would not adversely affect the integrity of the special protection areas. The RSPB raised concerns about the scientific methodology used in the AAs and argued that it did not receive sufficient information in relation to the applications for consent. The Appellant raised judicial review proceedings against the Respondent. The Lord Ordinary reduced the decision of the Respondents to grant the consents to the Interested Parties. The Respondents successfully appealed to the Inner House. 

Permission to appeal been refused on the grounds that the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered at this time, bearing in mind that the case has already been the subject of judicial decision and reviewed on appeal.