Thursday, 18 December 2014


Wind farm are no-go territory for most  gannets

TO what extent are birds threatened by the proliferation of offshore wind farms?

The BTO has this month released preliminary findings of a survey it carried out in partnership with the University of Highlands and Islands' Environmental Research Institute

The review found that more than 99 per cent of seabirds were likely to alter their flight paths in order to avoid collision.

However, BTO research ecologist Aonghais Cook, who led the study said “It is important not to get lulled into a false sense of security by these figures. 

“Whilst most may avoid turbines, collision may still be a significant risk at sites with large numbers of birds. 

“Furthermore, there are still a number of key gaps in knowledge for some vulnerable species.”

The review indicated species-specific differences in the way in which seabirds respond to wind farms. 

A significant proportion of gannets will avoid even entering a wind farm, but  gulls are much less cautious and may even be attracted to the sites as a result of the foraging opportunities they offer. 

Despite this, once inside the wind farms even gulls seem to show a strong avoidance of the turbine blades. 

The work was carried out on behalf of Marine Scotland Science.

Photo credit: Mmo iwdg via Wikipedia Commons


The bittern - benefiting from habitat creation initiatives

THE UK’s bittern population is now higher than at any time since the 1800s.

That’s according to an announcement this week by the RSPB which says the progress “demonstrates that it is possible to bring back species from the brink”.

Thanks to  funding from the EU, a range of organisations have participated in  numerous initiatives over the past 17 years to encourage these elusive  reedbed  birds.

In 1997, at the start of the EU’s bittern project, there were 11 reported  booming males at seven sites.

This year, there were 140 “boomers” across 61 sites.

Of these sites, 14 are current or former gravel pits, brick pits or open coal mines, demonstrating the important role restored quarries and similar sites can play in securing the long term future of bitterns and other wildlife.

RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk used to be the stronghold for this bird for many years. But with the effects of climate change such as loss of freshwater coastal wetlands in mind, conservationists realised that it would be better if a number of suitable habitats were available in areas that were safe from sea level rise, and spread across the country, to ensure the bittern’s future.

This year, the highest number of bitterns recorded was at at RSPB Ham Wall, inland marsh habitat in Somerset, where 20 birds were booming from the reeds.

Somerset now has England’s largest bittern population.

According to the RSPB,  action for bitterns has also benefited other reedbed species such as water voles, great white egrets and rare small dotted footman moths. 

Functioning reedbeds also provide free services for people, including water filtration and flood mitigation.

Says the charity’s Director of Conservation Martin Harper: "The bittern success story should give hope that it is possible to recover threatened species and that it makes sense to protect the laws that protect nature.”

It is thought  the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has played a role in supporting bitterns in the north of the county, but it is not mentioned in the RSPB statement. On the basis of the latest Lincolnshire Bird Report (2012), the species seems to be struggling to secure a breeding foothold.

The RSPB statement says: “Across the country many conservation groups and private landowners have worked together to bring bitterns back.

“These include, for example, the National Trust at Wicken Fen, Natural England at Shapwick Heath, and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Potteric Carr plus  Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Somerset Wildlife Trust.”

Photo credit: Andy Hay (courtesy of RSPB)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Corn bunting - numbers have plummeted

THE alarming decline in farmland birds shows no signs of abating, according to the BTO.
In a report published this week, it estimates numbers are now down by 45 per cent since 1970.
“Most of the decline occurred between the late 1970s and early 1990s,”it says. “This was largely due to rapid changes in farmland management. “
Worst affected are the corn bunting and the grey partridge which are both down by more than 90 per cent over the past 43 years.
Also in big trouble is the turtle dove and, to some extent, the greenfinch, a “generalist” species which has been badly hit by the disease, Trichomonosis.
The overall downward trend is bucked by the goldfinch which continues to increase.
Woodland birds are also suffering - 28 per cent down since 1970. - with grazing by increased numbers of deer thought to be a factor.
Summer visitors such as warblers have also been hit by increasingly unfavourable conditions on their migration to and from wintering grounds.

Willow tits - numbers are in freefall
 Among species particularly hard hit have been long-distance migrants such as wood warbler, spotted flycatcher and tree pipit, but residents such as lesser spotted woodpecker and willow tit have also become alarmingly scarce.
On the plus side, great spotted woodpecker, blackcap and long-tailed tit have shown marked increases
The BTO’s water and wetland indicators reveal increased numbers of species such as tufted duck and coots, which favour still or slow-moving water, but declines of species such a redshanks and lapwings which favour wet grassland or marshes.
Of coastal birds, the report states: “The indicator of 14 wholly marine species, was broadly stable between 1986 and the early 2000s but has declined since then and is now 24 per cent lower than the baseline in 1986.
“Although species such as guillemot continue to increase, there have been marked declines in species such as Arctic skua and kittiwake, in the case of the latter attributable to changes in sea temperature as a result of climate change.”

Photo credits:
Corn bunting: Sandra/snowmanradio via Wikipedia Commons
Willow tit:  Francis Franklin via Wikipedia Commons


Small pratincole (S.P.Pandey@SPOARvia Wikipedia Commons)

AN entertaining talk on the birds of the Indian state of Goa brought the curtain down on the Grimsby branch RSPB meetings for 2014.

The event at the Corpus Christ church hall in Cleethorpes  marked a  return visit for speaker Chris Galvin who, as well as being a keen birder, is a regional  sales manager for high-profile binoculars and 'scope company, Opticron. 

Chris, from Liverpool, is a keen Everton fan and might have preferred  to have been watching Sky TV's coverage of his side's 3-1 home win against against QPR . . . but the prior speaking commitment prevailed. 

He and wife Jeanette have several times visited Baga in Goa which is one of the world's best birding destinations.

He illustrated his lively presentation with his own stunning shots of scores of colourful species, but his talk was more than just a catalogue of sightings. He included in the mix plenty of  amusing anecdotes.

On one occasion, he and two fellow birders were photographing kingfishers when they detected a snake on the other side of the stream slithering at speed through the water towards them.

"I might be a big lad, but I can't half shift if I see a snake swimming towards me,"he chuckled. "I don't like snakes!" 

Before it made its move, Chris snatched a shot of the crittur which he later showed to a friend who is a vet and herpetologist. 

In fact, it was a rat snake and harmless to humans - but Chris didn't know that at the time.

Later in his talk, Chris revealed that while  pursuing a potential photo of an Indian spotted eagle, he dropped his  'scope on a concrete.surface. "It cost me £758 to repair," he lamented. "That eagle owes me!" 

The hotel where Chris and Jeanette  like to stay is the three-star Marinha  Dourada which overlooks two scenic lagoons.

But he was not averse to  rising at dawn to explore less wholesome places such as fetid swamps at one of which he was  delighted to glimpse - and photograph - a cinnamon bittern.

"It just goes to emphasise that even the seemingly most inhospitable places provide a habitat where certain species will eke out a living,"he said.

Among the species with which Chris seemed to have a special affinity was the slender-billed gull, but only in adult breeding plumage.

"It's got suck long, sexy red legs," he enthused. "Oh stop - I'm a long way from home!"

Goa, particularly the north, is also increasingly popular with Russian visitors, but he said he had not encountered any who were  birders.
Chestnut-headed bee-eater (JJ Harrison via Wikipedia Commons)

Among the species featured in Chris's talk were:
White-browsed wagtail 
White-cheeked barbet 
Small pratincole 
Chestnut bee-eater 
Indian robin 
Black-shouldered kite 
Black-capped kingfisher 
Pied kingfisher 
Collared kingfisher 
Indian roller 
Scarlet minivet 
Stork-billed kingfisher 
Ashy wood swallow 
Black kite 
Blue-eared kingfisher 
Pallas's gull 

Jungle owlet 
Spotted owlet 
Brown hawk owl 
Indian Scops owl 
Red-wattled plover 
Yellow-wattled plover 
Long-tailed shrike 
Bay-backed shrike 
Oriental magpie robin

Scarlet minivet ( JM Gard via Wikipedia Commons)
To see Chris in a different context, banging the drum for Opticron at a trade fair in the  USA, see:
* The Grimsby branch has received a letter of thanks from the RSPB for raising £1,521.88 during the year 2013-14.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


NATURAL England has provided clarification on the initiative that will lead to large-scale sea  buckthorn clearance on the foreshore at Seacroft, south of Skegness, early in 2015.

A spokesperson for its Lincolnshire Coast, Marshes and Marine Team says: "Natural England is funding through a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) a scheme that will provide some support to East Lindsey District Council towards the management of the scrub at Seacroft.  

"Sea buckthorn is an important source of food for the birds, but we are not so much planning to eradicate the species from the site as to moderate its encroachment.

"Seacroft is one of the units that forms part of Gibraltar Point Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is important  for the conservation of its habitat, fauna and its geomorphology.

"Regular  users will be aware  that the scrub on site is primarily from mature to over-mature strand and that sea buckthorn is a very encroaching plant which has been undermining the populations of other dune-loving species.

"In order to ensure a favourable balance with other plant species,  we have proposed the removal of 7.4ha of scrub populating the mobile dunes because sea buckthorn is a dune-fixing species and prevents the natural coastal geomorphology to occur.

"The level of scrub to be managed  will not impact on the birds as there will still be a vast amount of scrub to the south of the cleared area  for them to move to."

She continues; "East Lindsey District Council has been keen to undertaken the work and fulfil its  duty towards the SSSI management, promoting conservation and enhancement of the site for its future.

"This is habitat management on  a large scale which is very good news for nature conservation."

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


A LINCOLNSHIRE builder has been heavily fined for felling two protected trees within a conservation area.

Following an investigation by East Lindsey District Council, Terrence Batten of  Kirkby Hill, Old Bolingbroke, was found to have felled without permission a holly tree and a cypress tree that lined the boundary between the St Peter and St Paul Churchyard and his own building site, off Moat Lane, Old Bolingbroke.

Boston  magistrates Court imposed a fine of £12,000 and costs of £700 costs plus  a £1,200 victim surcharge.

The court heard that members of the public and nearby residents were distressed at the work carried out by the defendant and contacted the council to report the matter.

Following a site visit, Batten was invited to an interview under caution. Carrying out unauthorised works to protected trees is a criminal offence. 

He declined the invitation but the council decided there was sufficient evidence to prosecute and, in court, he  pleaded guilty to breaching Section 210 of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Speaking after the case, Cleethorpes man  Robert Taylor, who is ELDC's arboricultural officer, said: "In carrying out this work Mr Batten showed a complete disregard for the conservation area and the protection this affords trees within it. 

"The level of fine reflects that this was a serious breach of the law, causing harm to the character of the area and a great deal of distress to local people. 

"The council investigates all unauthorised work to protected trees. and this case demonstrates that we will take action where breaches of the law occur.

"Anyone planning to carry out work to trees that may be protected is encouraged to contact the council first for advice."

Trees within a conservation area are protected in the same way as those covered by a tree preservation order.

Before carrying out work to a conservation area tree, at least six weeks' notice must be given to the local authority.

Monday, 8 December 2014


 Lord Heseltine - lifelong bird enthusiast 

DURING a spectacular career in politics, Michael Heseltine occupied several of the most important positions in government - at various times holding the portfolios for Trade, for Environment and for Defence as well as serving as deputy prime minister.

Since stepping out of the national spotlight, the former MP for Henley has returned to the business world and oversees the fortunes  of a company which he was instrumental in founding in the early 1960s.

This is  the Haymarket Media Group which spans the world with its publishing and exhibition  interests in  music, healthcare, technology, football (it produces the Manchester United matchday programme) and much else.

Although he will be 83 on his next birthday in March, Lord Heseltine of Thenford - he was elevated to the peerage in  2001 -  is still active and enjoys contributing to  political debate,

Yet he has also  always found time to pursue a lifelong passion for birds -  both domesticated and wild.

His extensive library of bird books and  the paintings that hang on the walls of the family's grand home  on the Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire  border bear witness to all things avian.

This  enthusiasm  for all things feathered dates back to his early life in South Wales and his time as a pupil, first at the former Broughton Hall prep school, near Eccleshall in  Staffordshire, then  at  his public school, Shrewsbury.

The question-and-answer feature article below originally appeared in the birdkeepers'  publication. Cage and Aviary Birds.

What  do you think sparked your  boyhood interest in  birds and wildlife?

Growing up in Swansea, we lived in a house with a spacious well-planted garden that was full of birds all through the year. From an early age I enjoyed both watching them and listening to their  calls and songs. I have no doubt I also took inspiration from the  rugged beauty and sandy bays of the nearby Gower peninsula where I spent many happy times.

What about keeping  birds - how did that start?
I was fascinated by   a  public collection  at Brynmill Park near our family's home. It  contained monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs and pheasants. It was managed by a friendly man called Charlie Moore who recognised my interest and let me have a pair of budgerigars from his own private collection.  I must have been about eight or nine at the time.

Did you keep the birds in a cage in the house?
No, there were some redundant potting sheds in the garden and I set about converting one of them to a flight.   
Did you have any breeding success?
Not until I had a second pair - then there was no stopping them, They bred like rabbits. At its peak, my flight contained up to 40 birds - greens, blues, lutinos and opalines.

Were you ever tempted to try your hand with other varieties?
For a time, I  had  canaries - mostly Borders but also one or two Norwich. I also kept a range of British species - for instance, bullfinches, goldfinches and greenfinches. For a while, when I was at school at Shrewsbury, I  also was allowed to keep birds in an old farm  shed in the grounds. Among them was a  jackdaw which I coaxed into becoming finger-tame

Did you encounter any management difficulties with the stock in your home flight?
I did have an infestation of a pest familiar to many birdkeepers, but I managed to eradicate it.  I wiped out the red mite!

 Did you ever exhibit any of your birds at  shows?
No, I never went down that route - I derived enough satisfaction just from watching and breeding them. 

Do you have a favourite bird - either domesticated or wild?
The bullfinch. The plumage of both sexes is superb, and it is a species with great personality.

Presumably when you were pursuing a career in business and politics,  birdkeeping would   have had to be put to one side?
Yes, but I returned to it when we bought our house in Thenford. One of the first things I did was to build an aviary along an outside  wall of the kitchen garden. For some years, we kept a collection of exotic waterfowl including mandarin and Carolina wood duck, plus red-breasted and Hawaiian ne-ne geese. We also had various pheasants such as  brown and white-eared.

Any problems with foxes or other predators?

No, but the  pheasants tended to attack one another. There was a  Reeves's pheasant which proved particularly aggressive - it singled me out as its main target. I swear it used to lie in wait for me!

Do you still have them?

No,  although i still have an aviary containing  parrakeets of various types, I have relinquished the pheasants and waterfowl. They were my last fling as an aviculturalist.

Why the parting of the ways?
My other passion, gardening, always  included an ambition, now fulfilled, to establish an arboretum.  It  has some 3,500 different varieties of trees and shrubs. Their wellbeing is not really compatible with the relentless waddlings  of scored  of webbed feet.

Did you ever find your interest in birds overlapping with your political career?
I was instrumental in framing and pushing through Parliament through the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act which has proved a major piece of legislation. The RSPB was one of the main consultees. I remember telling the society how much it was to their benefit  to have a Secretary of State fort the Environment who had a keen interest in birds. It was as if all their Christmases had come at once! One of the less welcome consequences of the Act was that it unleashed a population explosion of magpies.

And you think that's a bad thing?

I do really - I fear they have almost cleaned out many migrant songbirds that were once much more widespread than they are today.

Finally, as a minister, you travelled widely - did you get the chance for much overseas birdwatching?
One of my most unforgettable memories is of a visit to one of the Falklands Islands. It was carpeted with rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatross. One of the joys of birdwatching is that it is a hobby than can be enjoyed anywhere in the world. I have met  many like-minded bird enthusiasts at foreign embassies and the foreign commands of our armed services.

What more magnificent sight - a black-browed albatross skims the ocean wave


Lord Heseltine: Wikimedia Commons uploaded by January
Albatross: JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 7 December 2014


Buckthorn in Cleethorpes coastal nature reserve - hard weather habitat for winter thrushes?

BUCKTHORN is to be cleared from an extensive area of beach between Skegness and Gibraltar Point.

East Lindsey District Council has been given the green light to carry out the work by Natural England.

Supported by  £42,290 of national funding, contractors will, starting next month,  remove as much as possible of the invasive buckthorn on 7.3 hectares of the outer dunes.

Any regrowth will be sprayed off in subsequent years. According to ELDC, the cleared dunes will rapidly be taken over by dune grasses.

The shape of the dunes will be maintained. and the Environment Agency is believed to be happy with the plans from a flood risk perspective.

Within a 10-year management plan, the council has agreed to manage other areas through periodic cutting and the removal of any non-native plants that have established a foothold. 

ELDC’s portfolio holder for the environment Coun Steve O’Dare says: “As the council is responsible for managing this area, it has a legal duty to protect and enhance the features of the site, which have sadly declined in recent decades because of increasing and dense scrub that shades out other sand dune plants. 

“Restoring it to typical grass covered dunes is a high priority for the Government’s nature conservation advisors, Natural England, and the council has to undertake the work that is planned to meet the Natural England requirements.” 

It remains to be seen what impact the works have on  winter thrushes, such as fieldfares and redwings, which feed on buckthorn berries.

The plant also provides a roosting habitat for migrating warblers and other songbirds.