Monday, 30 November 2015


Corncrake - one of t5he RSPB's target species (Photo: Rachel Davies via Wikimedia Commons)

CASH continues to cascade into the coffers of the RSPB - but there are no guarantees that this will always be the case.

At last month’s AGM in Birmingham, the society’s finance chief, Graeme Wallace, warned: “We operate in challenging times and have been buffeted by headwinds.

“It is my responsibility as treasurer to ensure that the society makes the best possible use of the funds entrusted to it.

The “headwinds” include, for example, rising land prices, availability of grant funding and competition for the attention of the public and decision-makers.”

“It all adds up to a difficult operating environment,” claimed Mr Wallace.

He continued: “Within that context, I am pleased to be able to report that a small surplus for the year meant we were able to add slightly to our free financial reserves, taking them to £14.7-million, representing nine weeks of expenditure.”

Most of the RSPB’s income  is generated by membership subscriptions and donations (£45.6-million last year) from its 1,160,000 million members, about 88 per cent of whom renew every year.

Up until July 2018, the funding stream will also benefit from a three-year corporate partnership deal with the supermarket chain Aldi whereby it benefits from the proceeds of sales to customers of plastic carrier bags.

According to Mr Wallace this could raise as much as £3-million which will be used to fund “a programme to connect children with nature” across mainland Britain.

The hope is to set up nature-appreciation sessions in  15 cities and various related activities in parks and green spaces.

The society’s grant income in 2014/15 rose by £1.3 million to £26.7- million.

Legacies rose slightly to £30.6 million - as did income from the reserve shops and online sales which reached £21.8 million.

Overall, net income rose by £5.8-million to £99-million.

Despite the healthy balances, Mr Wallace said the society always had to be “mindful” of the possible consequences of government spending cuts and the potential volatility of legacy income.

“So it is more important than ever that we continue to look for ways to broaden and strengthen our various income streams,”he said.

Turning to expenditure, the treasurer said the society spent £4.4-million last year on acquiring 657 new hectares and carrying out major improvements to facilities on various reserves, including those at Bempton Cliffs, Sandwell Valley and Belfast Harbour.

One of the most recent additions to the society’s  reserveshas been  Boyton Marshes on the Suffolk Coast.

Here, 33 hectares of arable farmland will be converted to a vibrant wetland for wildlife.

The new scrape will become one of the largest in the UK, connecting Boyton Marshes to Havergate Island, giving a home to avocets, lapwings, Sandwich terns and common


There is also a plan to construct a new scrub-covered spoonbill nesting island.

There has also been further investment in upgrading some of the society’s reserves in the Hebrides and Orkneys to encourage corncrakes.

Good progress is being made. From a recent low of 200 in 2013, the number of territory-holding males bounced tomore than 250 last year.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


Can the turtle dove be saved? The RSPB is confident the decline can be reversed. Thse birds were photographed in Israel. (Picture courtesy of Yuvair via Wikimedia Commons) 

THE continuing UK breeding success of bitterns is the achievement of which RSPB’s council chairman, Prof Steve Ormerod, says he is “most proud”.

Speaking at the charity’s 2015 annual meeting in Birmingham last month (October), he described  their progress as “amazing”.

Said Prof Ormerod: “Back in 1997, bitterns were on the brink of extinction.

“So much of their wetland habitat had been lost that just 11 booming males were left.

“But, after our huge wetland recreation projects around the UK, bitterns are now in their greatest numbers for 200 years.

“In 2014, we had 140 booming males, more than half of them on RSPB reserves.”

Prof Ormerod, who is half way through a five-year stint  as chairman of the council, was upbeat about the work of the RSPB and how it is responding to increasing challenges

He pinpointed  the new Medmerry wetland reserve, near Chichester in West Sussex which is now home to breeding black-winged stilts

In  July it also attracted  around 50 starry smoothhound sharks which were filmed feeding on the rising tide.

He continued: “There was an even more historic breeding success in the South West where the cranes that we helped reintroduce fledged the region’s first chicks in over 400 years.

“Our work to restore the blanket bog on our Dove Stone nature reserve in the Peak District has doubled numbers of dunlins, curlews and golden plovers in the last 10 years.

Our reserves in the south east also had a record year for lapwings and redshanks.

“In Wales, where lapwings are now down to just a perilous 400 pairs, our targeted work has resulted in chick numbers exceeding all expectations.

“For example. at Malltreath Marsh, breeding pairs rose by 50 per cent and 88 chicks were fledged.

“In Northern Ireland, too, we’ve worked with 190 farmers to boost wader numbers. Thanks to specially created habitat, numbers of lapwings, snipe and redshanks have increased by two thirds over the last three years.

“Up in Scotland, our Mersehead nature reserve has been identified as one of the most important sites in the country for natterjack toads.“

But Prof Ormerod emphasised that  nature reserves formed   just one part of the RSPB’s  conservation “toolkit” and it was anxious  to create interconnected spaces where plants and animals can move around freely – particularly as climate fluctuation is  constantly changing the habitat of many species.

Among 38 target  areas is a wetland across the Trent and Tame floodplains where, in partnership with the industrial conglomerate, LaFarge, a sand and gravel quarry is being transformed into a wildlife habitat.

“We’ve planted more than 40 hectares of reedbed, where you can see bitterns, short-eared owls and starling murmurations,” said the chairman.

“Elsewhere, the reserve has hobbies, cuckoos, 10 warbler species and sand martins, as well as 18 butterfly species.“

Prof Ormerod  then switched his focus to birds that spend the winter in west and central Africa  - including whinchats, nightingales and spotted flycatchers -  which have declined overall by 70 per cent  since the late 1980s.

“Saving migrant birds is tricky,”he said. “We have to understand all the problems facing them in their summer and wintering grounds, as well as along the length of their flyways.

“But through projects like Operation Turtle Dove, we are confident that we can help turn things around.

Turtle doves are our fastest-declining bird. Their population is halving every six years - and we’ve lost over 95 per cent since 1970.

“In the UK, the main cause is lack of food in farmland when the birds return to breed, so we’ve been working with farmers to help create seed-rich areas to provide an energy boost when the birds need it most.

“National and international projects of this size cannot be done by any one organisation alone.

“It is by working together with like-minded partners that change becomes possible at the scale that nature needs.”

One such partner is  Barratt Developments – the UK’s largest housebuilder

Its  new ‘Hope Community’ in Aylesbury Vale will include 2,450 homes, a school and community facilities, alongside wildflower meadows, hedgehog highways, bird nesting bricks and a 100-hectare nature reserve.

In addition, the RSPB and Barratt have signed an agreement to work nature-friendly principles into all of their developments.

Said the chairman: “This is great news in the current economic climate, when nature is increasingly seen as nice to have but a barrier to development.

“This is not  true - we simply cannot live without it. “

Sunday, 15 November 2015


Puffin - charismatic species which helps boosts tourism on some parts of the British coast (Photo: C.G.P Grey via Wikimedia Commons)
THE POTENTIAL of nature and wildlife to boost a county’s  tourist economy came under the spotlight at a conference organised by the Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership. 

Keynote speaker Simon Woodward, of Leeds-Beckett University,  emphasised the importance of having one or more “charismatic” species to bring in visitors who will spend money at businesses such as  pubs, restaurants and accommodation providers.

Scotland, for instance, has the likes of both golden and sea eagles, plus capercaillies, crested tits and more.

Tourism groups in Yorkshire, Northumberland  and Wales market their seabird colonies which include the likes of puffins, gannets and terns. 

Simon Woodward - how about a sealfest?
 Dr Woodward went on to suggest that a November "sealfest" ought to be organised as a commercial spin-off from the breeding colony of seals at Donna Nook.

"Having a charismatic species can be a big help to marketing and promoting an area,"he said.

"There are lots of folk songs connected with seals - and, where there is folk singing, there are real ale drinkers.

"Perhaps some micro-brewery could come up with a seal-themed beer."

Dr Woodward referred to the commercial success of  Bempton Cliffs since the RSPB built a visitor centre.

Hesitating about his use of terminology, he continued: "Nature  can be exploited, packaged and commoditised."

Another of Dr Woodward's suggestions - which attracted less interest from delegates  - was that "fungus forays" could be organised for the benefit of the area's East European immigrants on the grounds that  they enjoy foraging for mushrooms.

He also graded  wildlife watchers as follows: 1) serious 2) casual 3) passing interest and 4) no interest. The trick. he felt, was to seek to nudge upwards   those in the lower three categories - perhaps one rung at a time.

Another speaker was the director of Butlin's Skegness, Chris Baron. He described Gibraltar Point as “a hidden gem” and  emphasised the importance of tourism to greater Lincolnshire, attracting, he claimed, 31 million visitors  a year, generating  £1.9-billion and thereby supporting hundreds of jobs.
Chris Baron - we have to work together
"Contrary to what some people believe, tourism is a proper business not a Cinderella industry," he declared . "But we can't work in silos - we all have to work together."

The conference also heard from  former Leicestershire police inspector Rob Folwell  who, along with wife Jeanette has made a big success of Greetham Retreat Holidays - their holiday cottage and caravan business near Horncastle.

Mr Folwell  described how they converted a pest-infested barn in a neglected crew yard into four-star holiday accommodation, focusing on guests who particularly appreciate nature.
Rob Folwell - success with kestrels
 Among the site's attractions are a dragonfly-friendly wildlife pond and a wildflower meadow over which barn owls are regularly seen at dusk as they hunt for voles and shrews.

One of the 30 or so on-site nest boxes has even attracted a pair of kestrels.

Although pleased with the 77 per cent occupation rate for the cottages, Mr Folwell felt the figure could be higher if marketing and tourism in the county were not so "fragmented".

He expressed disappointment at the quality of the county council's Visit Lincolnshire website and said the Wolds missed out on two other similar sites - one chiefly promoting Lincoln and the other marketing  the coastal strip between Mablethorpe and Skegness.

"We're the bit in the middle," he declared. "Nationally, the Wolds is not well known.

"If all the county's publicity and marketing resources were brought together, we could all benefit each other."

About 100 delegates attended the conference held on Thursday November 12 at Louth’s Brackenborough Arms Hotel.

Conference organiser Fran Smith, of the Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership, outlined ways in which her organisation could be of benefit - for instance, in providing training - but she also noted the importance of maintaining "balance" to ensure the wellbeing of nature was not compromised  by increased visitors.
Fran Smith - importance of balance
This point was underlined towards the end of the event when a delegate, Chris Gordon, of Natural England, issued a reminder that certain wildfowl and other species were "sensitive" to disturbance.

"Visitors need to be steered,"he insisted.
Birds of a feather - delegates at the Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership conference which was held at Louth's Brackenborough Arms Hotel
* All photographs courtesy of Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership



Below  is the delegates list for the conference though not all attended

Mike & Rebecca Agate: Claythorpe Water Mill

Katy Anderson: Country Land & Business Association

Deborah Anemaet: Kirkstead Old Cottage B&B

Pat Armstrong: Nettleton Valley Project

John Badley: RSPB

Andy Bailey: Environment Agency

Sarah Baker: GLNP

Bob Ballerini: Upper Witham Internal Drainage Board

Cllr Gill Bardsley: West Lindsey District Council

Charlie Barnes: GLNP

Chris Baron: Butlins/ Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership

Judy Bell: Lincolnshire County Council

Les Binns: Photographer

Julian Boden: Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board

Sharron Bosley: The Wash & North Norfolk Coast EMS

Amy Bouic: GLNP

Lynda Bowen: Low Moor Farm Ltd

Bryan Bowles: Witham Internal Drainage Board

Cllr Tony Bridges:  Lincolnshire County Council

Vicki Bush: LincolnshireWildlife Trust

Andrew Cawthorpe: Prince’s Trust

Richard Chadd: Chairman

Darren Clarke: Humber Nature Partnership

Lisa Collins: East Lindsey District Council

Stephanie Dale: Caistor Arts & Heritage Centre

Matthew Davey: Lincolnshire County Council

Kate Dent: Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership

Jim Dodsworth: Lindsey Marsh Drainage Board

Alison Eades: Groundwork

Karen Edwards: East Lindsey District Council

Robert Enderby: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Diane Fairchild Fenton: South Holland District Council

Ian Farmer: Boston Borough Council

Annette Faulkner: Lincolnshire Bat Group

Liz Fleuty: Canal and River Trust

Rob & Jeanette Folwell: Greetham Retreat Holidays

Karen Froggatt: East Lindsey District Council

Helen Gamble: Lincolnshire Wolds Countryside Service

ChrisGordon: Natural England

Wally Grice: Forestry Commission

Chris Halloran: Low Moor Farm Ltd

Matthew Harrison; Lincolnshire County Council

Carl Hawke: National Trust

Brian Hedley: Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union

David Hickman: Lincolnshire County Council

Barbara Hodgkinson: Kirkstead Old Mill Cottage B&B

Heather Hunter: National Trust

David Hutchinson: Environment Agency

Sam Ireland: Witham Third Internal Drainage Board

Steve Jack: Lincolnshire Wolds Countryside Service

Sarah Lamballe: Bricktree Gallery

Paul Learoyd: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

John Leney: West Lindsey District Council

Ian Lings: CPRE, Lincolnshire

Peter Lundgren: Chairman, ADA Environment Committee

Ian Macalpine-Leny: Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Union

Alison Macdonald: East Lindsey District Council

Cllr Jill Makinon-Sanders: East Lindsey District Council/ Louth Town Council

Chris Manning: Lindsey Marsh Drainage Board

Sue Marshall: North East Lincolnshire Council

Fiona McKenna: Lincolnshire Rivers Trust

Samantha Mellows: Gainsborough Town Manager

Cllr Mrs Pat Mewis: Tourism Group, West Lindsey District Council/ B&B owner

Daisa Morgan: Daisa & Co

Debbie Nicholls: South Kesteven District Council

David Norton: Sprinfields Horticultural Society Ltd

Kathy Owen: Groundwork

Cllr Chris Pain: Lincolnshire County Council

Kate Percival: Lincolnshire County Council

Shalon Perkins: North Lincolnshire Council

Helen Pitman: Caistor Town Council

Phil Porter: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Sally Porter: North Kesteven District Council

Margaret Price: North Lincolnshire Council

Nicola Radford: Lincolnshire County Council

Lorna Reeve: Discover North East Lincolnshire

Nicola Robinson, White Swan Hotel

Lydia Rusling: Lincolnshire County Council

Tim Sands: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Neil Sharpley: Louth Chamber of Business

Rachel Shaw: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Terence Slater: Quality Hotel Apartments

Mike Sleight: North East Lincolnshire Council

Carol Slingsby; West Lindsey District Council

Jade Smith: Daisa & Co

Fran Smith: GLNP

Caroline Steel: Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Mrs J. Stubbs: Woodthorpe Hall

Delphine Suty: Natural England

Marion Thomas: West Lindsey District Council

Peter Udy: Boston Borough Council

Kate Waalker: Cofely GDF Suez

Ian Warsap: Internal Drainage Board

Jon Watson: Geodiversity Group

Nicholas watts:  Welland & Deepings Internal Drainage Board/ vice-chairman ADA Environment Committee

Imogen Wilde: Canal and River Trust

Gill Wilson: City of Lincoln Council

Simon Woodward: Leeds-Beckett University

James Wright: Journalist
PRIOR to the conference, the GLNP issued a press release which stated:  

New figures have revealed that nature tourism is worth £58million a year to the economy of Greater Lincolnshire.

This headline figure comes from research commissioned by the Greater Lincolnshire Nature Partnership  to place a value on the contribution made by nature tourism to the overall visitor economy of Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire and to look at barriers and opportunities for developing this as an integral part of Greater Lincolnshire's tourism sector.

The report's findings were announced at the GLNP's fourth annual conference entitled 'The value of nature tourism' held at The Brackenborough Hotel near Louth on 12 November.

The keynote was given by the report's author Dr Simon Woodward from Leeds Beckett University who undertook the research.

Dr Woodward said: "Our research suggests that nature tourism in Greater Lincolnshire already generates around £58 million for the economy every year, supporting more than 850 jobs. It is important, therefore, that we make the most of the opportunities that exist to get visitors to think a little bit more about the landscapes they are enjoying and the wildlife that lives here.

"The more we do that, the more opportunities there are for developing tourism products and services that both enhance visitor satisfaction but also create jobs for local people."

Around 100 delegates attended the event comprising representatives from across the conservation and tourism sectors including representatives from all of Greater Lincolnshire's local authorities and a large number of private businesses.

The welcome was from Chris Baron Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership  representative for the tourism economy and Resort Director at Butlins.

Two examples of how nature can be incorporated into successful tourism ventures were also heard, from a small business perspective by Jeanette and Rob Folwell of Greetham Retreat Holidays and by Kate Dent demonstrating the landscape approach in the Nene Valley for Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership.

GLNP chairman Richard Chadd said: "We are delighted that our conference on nature tourism has attracted such a wide range of delegates, interested in hearing not only the findings of the research we commissioned but also the potential for growing the economic impact of nature tourism in the future.

"Anecdotal evidence meant that many of us working in both the conservation and the tourism sectors knew that nature tourism was an important segment of the visitor economy but this research was crucial in actually placing a current value on that.

"The landscape and ecology of Greater Lincolnshire is a key part of its attraction and we now have the evidence to demonstrate the contribution it makes. We believe that nature tourism can be the catalyst that helps to turn day trips into overnight stays or bring people to the area in the quieter months increasing the value of tourism overall."

 More details about the GLNP can be found at:

Sunday, 1 November 2015


Grey seals mating on the sands at Donna Nook (Photo: JPA Carter via English Wikipedia)

THE countdown  has begun to one of the  great  wildlife events in the annual calendar of the Lincolnshire Coast - the return of hundreds of grey seals to mate and give birth at Donna Nook.

In the coming weeks, the number of voluntary wardens on the rota will rise to 50 in readiness to field questions from and to provide guidance for up to 70,000 visitors who will come from all parts of England and further afield to witness what is a magical and memorable winter spectacle.

 It is indeed remarkable to see - close-up - the birth of the cute little pups (1,699 were born last winter) or the bulls battling to secure territory and to retain "possession" of their harems of up to eight females.

To their discredit, the bulls take no interest in the pups they have fathered - the only thing on their minds during their time on shore  is to cover as many females as they can.

 Blakeney, on the North Norfolk coast, is now reckoned to have the largest breeding colony of grey seals on the East Coast, but Donna Nook is not far behind.

 That puts immense pressure on the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust which manages the local reserve by agreement with the Ministry of Defence which requires the sand and mud flats for training by military aircraft. 

There is no electricity, no WCs, nor other infrastructure to accommodate all the seal-watchers - sometimes as many as 4,000 on a sunny Sunday. There is just a fence, admittedly a sturdy one, to separate the humans from the animals.

This structure is important. Contrary to claims made by some - particularly unscrupulous photographers - that the seals are happy to be approached to within  touching distance, research on the creatures' heartbeats has revealed that they find such proximity  extremely stressful.

In the past, BBC TV's AutumnWatch has several times sought the permission of the trust to film live what happens, but, so far, it has always been politely rebuffed because the hefty demands of a TV presence would add further complications to oversight of the seals and their welfare. 

Overseeing the Donna Nook colony for the past four years has been Lizzie Lemon, from Oakham, who has mostly been working in countryside and environmental management since she graduated from University College, Aberystwyth.

Donna Nook grey  seal expert Lizzie Lemon
Before coming to Lincolnshire, Lizzie was a key member of the  team that oversaw the successful return of Anglian Water's  Rutland Water reserve on behalf of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.

At the October  meeting of the LWT's Grimsby and Cleethorpes group, she captivated  an audience of 30 with her insights not just into the breeding behaviour of the seals but also with her amusing anecdotes about the  well-meaning but misguided eccentricities of certain of the visitors - for instance, those who bring along blankets or flasks of hot chocolate to keep the seals warm!

On one occasion, a kindly  lady brought with her  £50 worth of fish for the seals, not realising they are in non-feeding mode while breeding.

Another threw them  cabbages which she had bought from  farmer's stall at the site's car park in the mistaken belief that they had been laid on specially to feed to the seals  - in the same way that bread is  fed to ducks at the resort's boating lake and country park.

Some years ago, former Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell sparked controversy  by backing a  campaign - ultimately unsuccessful -  for the seals to be culled after fishermen claimed they were decimating stocks of cod, whiting and sole.

But, since then, laboratory analysis of the creatures' excrement collected in bucketloads by Lizzie (one of her less pleasurable  duties!) has revealed that their diet consists largely of low- or nil- value fish species  such as short-spined sea scorpions, sandeels and dragonets.

According to Lizzie,  noise from the extensive use of the flats for aircraft bombing and target practice causes no disturbance to the seals - but they are sometimes spooked both by the vibrations caused by the rotating blades of Chinook helicopters passing overhead and by heavy  piling works during installation of concrete bases for offshore wind turbines.

Is there any prospect that the seemingly ever-increasing seal colony could overspill  northwards to Tetney Marshes or even Cleethorpes?

Probably not - at least in the near future - because, according to Lizzie, there is still sufficient capacity for it to expand further at Donna Nook.


  There are now reckoned to be 2,000 pairs of red kites in Britain (Photo: Arturo de Frias Marques via Wikipedia Commons)

HOW long will it be before red kites are breeding within North East Lincolnshire?
Back in the 1960s, the British  population of this superb-looking bird of prey once plummeted to no fewer than seven known pairs - all of them in mid-Wales.
But thanks to more stringent controls on pesticides, reduced persecution and various re-introduction projects, there are now  reckoned to be at least 2,000 pairs - one tenth of the global population - within the UK.
The   species - notable for its forked tail and rust-red plumage - is now quite common in the wolds of East Yorkshire and around the Harewood estate, not many miles from Leeds. Its numbers are also rapidly increasing in Rutland and around Grantham,  Bourne and other parts of  south Lincolnshire.
Individual pairs are thought to have prospected potential breeding sites near Caistor and Elsham, but, unless there is a site that is being kept secret by conservationists, red kites are not thought to have a breeding presence in the northern half of Lincolnshire . . . at least, not yet.
At the October meeting of Grimsby RSPB, an audience of about 50 heard a fascinating presentation from guest speaker Nigel Puckrin who took early retirement from his work as an electrical engineer at the former British Sugar factory in York in order to co-ordinate research on the breeding fortunes of kites.
Nigel Puckrin

In his view, it may only be a matter of time before the first pairs are nesting in places such as the Lincolnshire Wolds where the undulating countryside is a favoured type of habitat. Already single birds are occasionally being seen here on fleeting visits.
Although kites  would face competition locally  from the already-established buzzard, which is a slightly larger and more aggressive raptor, Nigel reckons the two species would be able to co-exist.
In his illustrated talk, staged at the Corpus Christi community hall in Cleethorpes, the speaker traced the fortunes of kites  back to the         ninth century, and he pinpointed references in                        Shakespeare and other literary and artistic sources.
Kites' main diet consists of carrion, and they thrived, even in cities such as London, at times when street sanitation was minimal to non-existent. But their population went into reverse firstly when public hygiene improved,  then when they were classified as "vermin"
In Victorian times, they were further clobbered by the popularity of taxidermy and egg-collecting - and they effectively became  extinct in England (though not Wales) when the last known female was shot on her nest in Shropshire in 1867.
Nowadays, kites are protected by law, but it is thought there may still be some persecution by gamekeepers on certain country estates. As carrion eaters, they are also likely to perish if they feed on rats or other mammals that have been poisoned by rodenticides.
According to Nigel, golf courses are becoming increasingly popular choices for nest sites. There are at least three in Yorkshire which  are home to two breeding pairs. Despite the noise and mayhem, at least two paintball parks have also been chosen for nesting activities.
And here is another curiosity: Items of  clothing, such as woollen gloves,  and even discarded soft toys are sometime used  to line nests.
"Our very first successful Yorkshire nest in 2000 had a teddy bear's head and a tea towel in it,"recalled Nigel.
On the minus side, plastic bags are sometimes also used for lining - a risk being that they will collect rain and the waterlogged nest will collapse on to the ground below.
More about this superb bird of prey can be found on the website:

Thursday, 8 October 2015


THE chairman of Lincolnshire Wildife Trust has  revealed  how a stomach bug almost cost him his life on an exotic  bird photography holiday overseas.

At an RSPB group meeting  in Cleethorpes, Geoff Trinder described how he suddenly collapsed and cracked open the back of his head after the bug struck.

He was rushed to a Trinidad hospital where doctors and nurses were horrified not just by the extent of the head wound but also by the downward spiral of his blood pressure.

But, now fully recovered, neither Geoff nor his wife, Chris, were put off by the mishap. Back in January, they flew out to India for a similar wildlife photography holiday - one of 45 since he retired from his job as an art teacher.

An audience of about 50 in the Corpus Christi hall on Grimsby Road  enjoyed a fascinating illustrated talk on some of the wildlife of this remarkable country.

Although Geoff acknowledged that it is generally more rewarding and less expensive to seek out birds on your own initiative, they decided to engage guides for the obvious reasons that local experts would know  what species to look out for and where to find them.

Among the scores of birds  the couple saw were: Snake eagle, brown hawk owl, Siberian rubythroat, bluethroat,  copper barbet, white-eared bulbul, rufous treepie,  spot-billed duck and various shrikes and plovers.

But the highlight was a 40-minute encounter with a family of magnificent tigers which came within feet of the open-top vehicle in which they were passengers.

"It  blew me away,"enthused Geoff. "To see one of the big cats so close-up in the wild was magical - probably one of the most memorable experiences of my life."

Geoff is not a fan of towns or cities, but he and Chris made a point of visiting the Taj Mahal which he described as "probably the most beautiful building" he had ever seen.

On the downside, the couple were horrified to be told that any unaccompanied woman who went out in Mumbai after dark "would be raped".

The urban traffic was so congested, noisy and dangerous as to be described by Geoff as "unnerving and ridiculous".

Particularly disturbing was to see some individuals  resting their heads on the road, as if it were a pillow, as vehicles zoomed past just inches away.

Although he did not find India as poverty-stricken as when he visited Madagascar on a previous holiday, there were other disturbing sights - including that of pigs roaming urban streets to forage on garbage and women washing their clothes in filthy river water.

Because of hygiene concerns, the couple decided against eating any meats, salads or cold vegetables, sticking with cooked vegetables throughout.

They also took with them plentiful supplies of anti-bacterial gel  to disinfect their hands, especially after coming into contact with coins or notes - hard currency being notorious for spreading bugs.

Geoff said he regarded it as important not to b e a slave to his camera on the holiday

 "It doesn't make sense to spend all your time looking at that little rectangle at the back of it ,"he observed. "Sometimes you have to put it to one side and enjoy the fuller picture."

When he was taking pictures, he sometimes rested the long lens on a beanbag on the roof of the vehicle so as to keep the camera stable if he was not using a tripod.

The couple have been to Africa no fewer than 12  times, but would they go to India again?

"Probably not," said Geoff. "Our next visit will be to Romania."
* Pictures below courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and the following photographers:
:Siberian rubythroat: JJ Harrison
:Rufous treepie: Munish Jauhar
:Coppersmith barbet:Jay Dalal5
Siberian rubythroat

Rufous treepie

Coppersmith barbet