Sunday, 4 September 2016


Chris Packham - knowledgeable and he strikes a chord with young viewers

An announcement is expected this month - possibly later this week - on whether any sanctions will be imposed by the BBC on  its star wildlife presenter, Chris Packham.

Over summer, members of the BBC Trust have been considering a complaint that  Packham has breached impartiality rules by taking a leading role in the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting on Britain’s moorlands.

Along with fellow-campaigner Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s former conservation director, he maintains that such a ban would enhance the survival  prospects of the hen harrier, a raptor perilous close to breeding extinction in England following many years of  persecution by gamekeepers for its tendency to predate young grouse. .

But the vociferous and high-profile involvement of  Packham, lead presenter of BBC-2’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and other wildlife-related documentaries, has sparked outrage among such bodies as the Countryside Alliance,  the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation.

Such has been their fury that, in July, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart, who is chairman of the Alliance,  was prompted to lodge a formal complaint.

He believes  that  Packham (55) has used his special status as TV personality to advance his cause. “Celebrity bullying” is a term that has been used.

In his letter, the MP stated:  "We cannot stand by and continue to allow Mr Packham to use the status the BBC has given him to spread propaganda which has a direct impact on the lives of our supporters."

Meanwhile, the shooting fraternity has found its own champion in cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham, himself now a broadcaster (for Sky Sports) who debated the grouse/harrier issue with  Packham on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

(Several years ago  former Test all-rounder was also featured in a successful TV campaign to promote Shredded Wheat as a cereal which helps to maintain a healthy heart.)

The complaint against Packham is a tricky one for the 12 members of the BBC Trust who have been considering it over summer.

Packham may have restrained his campaigning instincts while broadcasting on behalf of the BBC, but there is no doubt the high profile lent to him by his TV work has helped his campaign.

Who, after all,  would have given a second thought to his utterances if her had not been familiar on our TV screens?

Could the presenter be ditched? Probably not - at least not in any overt way.

The BBC is not not notorious for acting swiftly and decisively - witness the protracted wrangling before another of its stars, Jeremy Clarkson, parted company with its flagship  motoring show, Top Gear.

Clarkson had assaulted a colleague, an act of gross misconduct, while Packham has merely been expressing his personal views - albeit not with any notable measure of diplomacy or discretion.

Furthermore, the BBC would be reluctant to lose the latter who is a accomplished naturalist-broadcaster who also has the common touch - his youthful enthusiasm  has a particular  inspirational  appeal to young audiences.       
The BBC may choose to administer a reprimand, but the presenter is unlikely to be “dropped” or cut loose in the same way as his predecessor, Bill Oddie, whose inflexibility and  irascibility finally became too much for his colleagues and bosses.

However, there may still be darkness in the tunnel. A question mark hangs over the future of both Springwatch and Autumnwatch because the format seems to  have lost some of its sparkle.

There is  something slightly sexist and old-fashioned about a show  being presented by a male expert with support from a well-intentioned but not well-informed female colleague.

First it was Bill Oddie and Kate Humble. Now it is Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan. But for how much longer?

The BBC is committed to extending its coverage of wildlife and rural related subjects, but different styles of broadcasting and new shows - with fresh faces - may be in the offing.

If Packham were to leave, there would be no shortage of offers from other TV companies, probably including ITV. He could also set up his own broadcasting company.

The 12 members of the BBC Trust who have been deliberating the complaint are:

  • Rona Fairhead (chairman) 
  • Sir Roger Carr
  • Sonita Alleyne
  • Richard Ayre
  • Mark Damazer
  • Mark Florman
  • Aideen McGinley
  • Nicholas Prettejohn
  • Elan Closs Stephens
  • Suzanna Taverne
  • Lord Williams of Baglan

Their verdict is awaited with interest. 

*  Photo credit: Graham Racher/ Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 2 September 2016


THE breeding population of swifts could be set for a precious boost in Buckinghamshire.

Thanks to a pioneering link-up between the RSPB and Barratt Homes, some 900 nestboxes for swifts are set to be installed on houses on the new Kingsbrook development  in Aylesbury.

The "boxes" are actually specially-designed  bricks and have been created, in "easily-fittable" form, by  Manthorpe Building Products Ltd.

According to RSPB senior media officer Gareth Brede, the charity and Barratts have been co-operating since 2014 "to explore   how nature and wildlife can be incorporated into new communities".

Says  Michael Finn, group design and technical director at Barratt Developments: “The bricks are an industry first - they are fully drained, ventilated and  unobtrusive.

"They also help nurture chicks by giving them room to stand when they hatch. Crucially, too, they are  cheaper than any other swift brick on the market which will help their uptake. 

"We actively want other developers to use the brick so we can all help build swift populations. 

"It’s a great example of how we are working together with the RSPB and the wider industry to support nature.” 

Equally upbeat is  the RSPB’s head of species and habitats conservation, Darren Moorcroft, who says: “In previous centuries, builders would often create spaces for swifts, but these techniques have fallen out of practice with modern homes. 

"Our partnership with Barratt Homes has allowed us to share ideas and look at how we can bring this practice back in a way that works for builders, homeowners and the swifts.”

Manthorpe Building Products' sales director, Gareth Wright, says his firm was delighted to be approached on the project.
"The product is already gaining a lot of interest," he says. "Thanks to its ease of fitting and competitive price, builders are able to incorporate this product into their new homes with neither disruption to the construction process nor any need to incorporate any design changes to existing house types.”

Ideally, other large housebuilders such as Bellway, Bovis, Galliford, Gleeson, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey will see the potential - not least in burnishing their eco-credentials - and come on board the train.

 * The Kingsbrook development will also accommodate 300-plus acres of wildlife habitat, including a community orchard, formal and informal parks plus  green corridors


Male cirl bunting - a species in recovery mode (photo: Paco Gomez via Wikimedia Commons)

A FAMILY doctor turned MP hopes she can help improve the health of Britain's tiny population of cirl buntings.

Dr Sarah Wollaston has signed up with the RSPB to "champion" a species that almost became extinct in the UK in the 1980s.

Says the Conservative MP for Totnes in Devon:   "Back in 1989, this beautiful and plucky farmland bird was on the brink  with just 120 breeding pairs left in the wild. 

Dr Wollaston - health benefits of the great outdoors
"Collaboration between various  agencies and farmers - through the  Countryside Stewardship scheme - has seen the species make a huge recovery such that the population has now reached around1,000 pairs.

"The  recovery shows what can be achieved through understanding the science behind species decline and applying practical solutions.  There is much we can learn from the work of the dedicated conservationists and farmers involved in the project.

The MP continues: "These efforts to work together are needed more than ever.  We are seeing increasing pressures on precious habitats and wild spaces across the UK. 

"All the while, report after report comes out showing the benefits of access to the natural environment for physical and mental health, particularly for children. 

"We must not lose sights of these benefits when set against the pressures for housing and infrastructure that are so desperately needed.

" I hope as the 'species champions' project progresses, there will be more inspiring stories to tell of species recovering against the odds - and many more MPs will join in taking a stand for nature."

Aged 54, the Conservative MP for Totnes in Devon was born in Woking, Surrey, and became a junior doctor, specialising in paediatrics, after qualifying at Guy's Hospital medical school.

While a medical student, she worked part-time as a healthcare assistant to help fund her studies

After five years, she moved to Brisiol to train as a GP, then moved to Devon where she worked for a practice on the edge of Dartmoor.

Between 1996 and 2001, she was also a police surgeon, dealing with victims of sexual assaults.

Dr Wollaston  is still on the medical register but she stopped practising medicine in 2010 when she was elected to Parliament.

She is married to a psychiatrist, Adrian, whom she met while studying at Guy's,  and the couple have three children - two at university and one a foundation doctor.

A keen cyclist, she and Adrian took part in the 100-mile Ride London race in 2014.

 * Another bird , the bittern, is championed by Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal. After seeing huge declines, it  is now making a marked recovery in some parts of the country.


A SINGLE hen harrier chick has successfully fledged at the RSPB Geltsdale reserve in the North Pennines.

It  the first breeding success there in a decade.

The male bird was the only chick to hatch from a clutch of five eggs and is one of only seven to have fledged in the whole of England this summer

The other chicks fledged from two nests in Northumberland.

Says the RSPB's hen harrier project manager, Blanaid Denman: "The female parent arrived at Geltsdale back in May looking for a mate but she had to wait several weeks for a male to turn up.  

"When one finally did appear, she was not impressed - he was young and had yet to gain his adult grey plumage. 

"Normally, in a healthy population of hen harriers, an immature male like this wouldn't get a look in. But with so few birds in England, the female had little option but to accept his advances or leave breeding to another year.”

Once it had been confirmed there was a nest, RSPB staff and volunteers mounted a 24/7 watch and provided supplementary food under licence to ensure that the family of hen harriers had the best possible chance of survival and success.

Continues Blanaid: “The supplementary food proved vital as the inexperienced male was hopelessly inattentive of his dependent female, often vanishing for days before reappearing with a paltry food offering. 

The extra food ensured that the female never had to go far from the nest to feed the chick  or herself.” 

The chick, named "Bonny", has been satellite-tagged and his movements will be monitored once he has left Geltsdale in a few weeks' time.

The RSPB says it will  become possible to follow his movements online at  at 

Thursday, 1 September 2016


Meet BTO staff members Viola Ross-Smith - Cambridge University graduate, lesser black-backed gull expert and editor of BTO News

Why not give Uganda? That's the message from this welcoming duo

There's so much on offer at Australia's outback Northern Territory

All smiles from this happy trio who were promoting Orca, the important  Portsmouth-based whale and dolphin research charity
Titles on any bird-related subject under the sun were on sale at various stands including this one mounted by Shropshire-based Subbuteo Natural History Books

Superb artist Darren Woodhead (left) chats with a visitor to his impressive stand

An early highlight of Birdfair was a fascinating on migration by Amaia Perez of BirdFlyway

Hotels and other accommodation books up fast for Birdfair, so well done to Oakham School for making some of its rooms and facilities available to attendees (including exhibitors) over the three days
There was a warm welome from staff and students at the school's reception area for visitors