Monday, 10 November 2014


Lucy McRobert - peer pressure concern

 YOUNG people are sometimes reluctant to admit an interest in birds or wildlife for fear of laying themselves open to being bullied.

That was the claim yesterday of Lucy McRobert in a hard-hitting presentation to an all-day  conference in Ravenshead, near Nottingham, that had been jointly organised by the BTO and county birdwatchers.

"Nature is no longer seen as an everyday part of growing up,"said Lucy, a recent graduate in her mid-2Os.  "It is put in a box and regarded as separate and niche.

"Because of peer pressure, young people are reticent to express an interest in  birds because they think they might be bullied - I find that terrifying!
"My own friends don't understand it when I tell them that I will be spending part of a Sunday speaking at a birdwatching conference."

Lucy is creative director of a fast-growing group, A Focus on Nature, that is  seeking both to change attitudes and to encourage students and other young people to make their mark in studying and recording bird-related and other environmental subjects .

Success is being made, but it's sometimes proving a hard slog. Talking to a group of Leicestershire schoolchildren, she was astounded when she picked up a snail by its shell and their  teacher told them: "Don't touch it - it's dirty."

Lucy expressed disappointment  that fashion stores such as Top Shop and New Look lacked the vision and imagination to stock clothes carry bold designs of birds.

"All they give us is cute little swallows,"she said. "What's wrong with, say, the pied wagtail or the hen harrier? That would  be a way to make a statement."

* More details about A Focus on Nature can be found at

* A discussion on the apparent decline in birdwatching among young people also features in a Lincolnshire Bird Club forum at



ALSO controversial was conservationist and blogger Mark Avery, who raised a chuckle when he described London's mayor, Boris Johnson, as an "idiot" for suggesting that the Thames estuary - an area "stuffed with birds" -  should be earmarked as location for a new airport.

Mark was also critical of the record of some corporate giants - he cited ports operator ABP as an exaample -  in seeking to disregard laws created to safeguard wildlife and the environment.

"I've never understood why business is so pathetically inept at underestimating rnajor legislation,"he declared.

But the former the RSPB's former conservation director reserved most of his wrath for gamekeepers for their continued illegal persecution of birds of prey such as hen harriers on grouse moors.

He likened them to "pimps, drug peddlars and thieves" in their readiness to destroy wildlife in the interests of commercial gain.

Mark also plugged his latest book, A Message from Martha, and said there was no guarantee that declining UK species such as turtle doves and tree sparrows would not follow the passenger pigeon into extinction.

Mark Avery (left) and Carl Cornish at the Nottingham conference



EARLIER in the conference, BTO research ecologist Blaise Martay (pictured below) spoke about her work analysing the impact of climate change on birds.

It is a complicated subject and has to been seen in the context of a whole array of other "change-drivers" such as intensive agriculture and movements in insect and even mammal populations.

She suggested that summer visitors  might be especially vulnerable because of restrained flexibility of migration time.

In general terms, bird populations seem to be shifting north - a notable example being the nuthatch.

Dragonflies are also moving north (100km over the past 25 years) while amphibians and reptiles are moving south (but their populations contracting).

Blaise noted that many mammals also seem to be increasing, though climate change was not necessarily a factor.

According to the evidence, aphids are also on the increase but moths are in decline.

Blaise said that the research indicated that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, songbirds tend not to breed so well in warm springs - possibly because their chicks hatch before caterpillars (whose emergence is governed by light) become plentiful.

For unknown reasons, birds seem to fare well in wet autumns. 



THE conference also included informative contributions from Blaise's BTO colleague, Chas Holt, and from Carl Cornish of the RSPB.

Chas, from East Sussex, is a University of Norwich graduate and an expert on nightingales, but the  focus on Sunday was on his analytic word with WeBS (Wetlands Bird Survey) which monitors UK wetland population trends of waders and wildfowl. See

The success of the scheme hinges on counts submitted - 80 per cent online - by some 3,100 volunteers. 

Interestingly, species that appear to be in decline include the pochard - significantly so - and, to a lesser extent, both great crested grebes and litte grebes.

White-fronted geese are also fewer, not least at Slimbridge,  but that may be because more birds are choosing to overwinter on the Netherlands coast.

Chas (pictured below) noted that the UK has 28 per cent of Europe's estuaries. Because of warmer winters, many waders seem to have relocated from those  on our  west coast to those on the east coast.

Meanwhile, Carl outlined some of the ongoing initiatives being  undertaken by the RSPB in Nottinghamshire - for instance, the bird-monitoring schemes on behalf of farmers at the Isle of Axholme boundary with North Lincolnshire.

He also addressed some of the challenges - for instance, the loss of precious bird-friendly wetland  habitat as the result of the impact of the West Stockwith pumping station flood alleviation scheme. Among species that appear to have been affected is Bewick's swan.

Notwithstanding, progress is being made even though, in Carl's words, "its sometimes feels like wading through treacle".



ANOTHER highlight of the days was Robin Brace's fast-paced photographic presentation on Nottinghamshire's best birding sights and some of the rarities seen sice the turn of the century

One of them was a late-autum record of a white-rumped  oceanic species, a Leach's petrel, which startled both Robin and fellow-birder Tony Wardell.

Said the speaker: "My first thought was - isn't that a bit late for a house martin?"

Although Nottinghamshire cannot compare with the Norfolk Coast and other birding hotspots of the East Coast, the Trent Valley is something of a migration conduit.

The county's network of reservoirs and gravel pits have also proved highly productive sites for birders.

Species featured in the talk - with photographs by Lynne Demaine, Nick Crouch and others - included: Ferruginous duck, Caspian tern, little swift, red-rumped swallow, melodious warbler, pied wheatear and penduline tit.

* The conference, which also included several sales and display stands, was introduced by Lynda Milner, BTO's regional representative for Nottinghamshire, who welcomed the 90 or so delegates.The day included an excellent buffet lunch, and the raffle raised £105.

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