Thursday, 17 December 2015

Fracking idiots

Yesterday the Bullingdon club and associates (parliament) voted through a change in legislation to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to take place underneath our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. This vote is happened though a governmental back door that allows it to happen without having to have a debate in the Commons.

It allows the construction of fracking wells on the border of our National Parks and AONBs. These wells are the size of a cricket pitch and will be able do drill under our Parks and ...AONBs.
A typical fracking well will use around 300,000 gallons of water a day. All this water must be delivered by lorry, and waste water taken away.

If a lorry holds 10,000 gallons of water then each well will require 60 lorry visits per day, 24/7.
All this is happening on the borders of our National Parks and AONBs, whilst they drill underneath. Fracking stations run 24 hours a day.

Environmentally fracking is a complete and total disaster. The amount of gas we will get from it is even unlikely to drive the price down as it is a relatively modest amount compared to the scale of the gas market. Add to this the fact that UK taxpayers will have pay to clean up any pollution caused by fracking if the companies go bankrupt, after a proposal to make UK operators take out insurance against such damage was ruled out by the government

Rob Cunningham, head of water policy at the RSPB, said: "The prime minister promised one of the most stringent regulatory regimes for fracking in the world but his government appears more interested in tax cuts than managing risk. It really doesn't matter if you are pro or anti fracking, this proposal would simply ensure that when things do go wrong shareholders, not taxpayers bear the cost for cleanup if companies go bust or cease trading. If government's response boils down to concerns over cost of insurance it sheds an interesting light on just how safe they really think the technology is."

Why are we allowing this to happen? Is this the legacy you want to leave to your children or grandchildren? 1000s of fracking wells with 10s of 1000s of lorries driving around our countryside 24/7.

As the government reduces spending on renewables to the lowest levels for years and announces it is "kick starting" the fracking industry the future looks very bleak indeed, and this from 'the greenest government ever? Liz Truss and David Cameron are the most dangerously misguided and greedy pair this country has seen in many years. In a time when we are meant to be moving forward and getting away from fossil fuels, this seems the most ludicrous backwards step yet!

Lisa Nandy - Labour energy spokesperson

"We should have a moratorium on fracking in Britain until we can be sure it is safe and won’t present intolerable risks to our environment. Neither MPs or the public have received these assurances yet Ministers are ignoring people’s legitimate concerns and imposing fracking on communities.”

“It is frankly shabby of the Government to sneak through these weak fracking rules without any proper Parliamentary debate. Ministers had previously conceded that there should be the tougher safeguards that Labour has been calling for to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like National Parks. Now they’ve abandoned those promises'

Caroline Lucas - Green Party MP

“Government successfully sneak through (without debate) change to allow fracking under protected areas. Real shame 298 MPs voted for it.”

Ben Bradshaw - Labours former environment minister

“Majority cut to 37 as Tories push through fracking in National Parks with no debate, breaking promise & treating Commons with contempt”

National Trust

“The Trust stands by its call for the Government to rule out fracking in the most sensitive areas – protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks – and make them frack-free zones. There is a need to ensure that regulations offer sufficient protection to our treasured natural and historic environment.”
“There is an urgent need for more evidence about the impact of fracking on the hydrology, ecology and geology of landscapes. This is needed for informed decision-making about any future for fracking in the UK.”

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Year in review

As we speed endlessly towards 2016, I once again find myself reminiscing on the past year.... this year has been an absolute rollercoaster ride and one that in many ways im glad to see the back of! That's not to say this year has been all negative, just insanely busy and stressful.

As many of my regular readers will have noticed, I have been very quiet on the blog front, this has been due to the fact I have had to miss an entire season of ringing and birding, for a very good reason I might add. I have been incredibly lucky to become a father for the second time, my baby girl, Isabelle, was born in September and was a healthy 9lb3oz, only 6 oz. lighter than her bruiser of a brother when he was born. Unfortunately my wife, Kay, was very ill in the lead up the birth which required (rightly so) my presence at home.

I did still manage a little birding, often taking my son Bradley with me in order to give Kay some time to rest. In doing so I added a few of lifers to my list including Pectoral Sandpiper, Hudsonian Whimbrel and Terek Sandpiper, I also caught up with a couple of rarer birds that are always nice to see, including Great Grey Shrike, Grey Phalarope, Great White, Egret Black, Winged Stilt among others. I have cherished this time with him and its been lovely to see his interest in natural things starting to develop.

I am incredibly fulfilled with my amazing family and want to first say a massive well done to my wife.... what a trooper and proving once again the fairer sex is indeed women. I know for a fact I could not have done what she has this year. Secondly I want to say how unimaginably proud I am of my son Bradley. In the last 3 months he has had to deal with a change of epic proportions to his little life, and he has handled it admirably and much better than many adults could have done! Last but not least I want to say welcome to the world to my Daughter Isabelle, you have completed our family and in the best way possible.

And now onto the apologies section for there are invariably quite a few. I am sorry to all my friends, who, unfortunately, have been sidelined for a large proportion of this year while I looked after my domestic interests. Apologies are also due to Duncan, Trevor and Barry for my missing a massive chunk of this year ringing and frankly going off radar for most of the time, these guys work tirelessly with us trainees and without guys like this, the knowledge we gain from their data would not be possible.

Looking forward to 2016 now and I am planning a big year birding, I will, with Duncan and Trevors permission be ringing once more and am aiming for my C permit. I am also birding in Southern Portugal, my first proper venture abroad looking for birds. The Ria Formosa is supposed to be a great destination for Waders as well as Passerines. Now that my whole family are able to travel and walk about I will be dragging them on some 'twitches'. This year I am going to focus on Hampshire, with the occasional foray out if its something I particularly want to see.

So for now friends........ Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Birding from mine to yours!


Wednesday, 19 August 2015


As many would have noticed, I have been AWOL for a few weeks now. Home life is getting very busy at present, baby due in a few weeks and all the necessary build up for that, but on top of that I am moving house. Some timing I hear you cry!!!

I have not been entirely preoccupied with with all of this however, I have found a little time to sneak away to do some Birding and associated wildlife exploration.
07/08/2015: I made the reckless decision to drive to Falmouth and back from Portsmouth in a single day and partake in a 7 hr wildlife cruise with the, frankly amazing Captain Keith of AK Wildlife Cruises. Two days before the cruise the Captain had called me to confirm he would be doing the 7 hour not the four hour and as I had totally forgotten that I had booked the trip at the time I fear I was a little rude on the phone owing to the fact I thought someone was trying to sell me something. Alas the Captain did not seem perturbed by this and so it was at 0900 on the day I met Keith and the other patrons at the gate to Falmouth Premier Marina with eager anticipation as to what the day might bring.

Before even leaving the Carrick Roads we were adding Shag, Peregrine, Fulmar, a plethora of Gulls and Grey Seal. As we emerged into the Channel our first glimpse of Harbour Porpoise were had. Great start! We were soon into Gannets, Manx Shearwater, more Fulmars, Storm Petrels, Bonxies as well as more Gulls. All the time scanning for Cetaceans. We were joined at around mid day by a playful 30 animal pod of Common Dolphin, bow riding and jumping around the boat. After an invitation from the Captain a few of us made our way right up to the bow rail and watched the Dolphins inches from our feet as they danced and weaved around us. 
Afternoon had us watching more Manxies and I was taken aback by the sheer number of birds passing through. Another very close fly past from a Storm Petrel allowed me to appreciate quite how diminutive this Pelagic master is, for those that don't know, its about the size of a House Martin. The Captain then cut the engines quite suddenly while calling for a fin off the Starboard bow, the fin turned out to belong to an Ocean Sunfish or to use its awesome scientific name mola mola. A frankly bizarre looking, deep water, sub tropical fish that comes to UK waters for around 3 months to enjoy the warmer waters and parasite eradication service provided by Gulls. The Sunfish is essential a dinner-plate shape with two enormous stiff fins parallel to one and other on the top and bottom of its body. These fish can grow up to 6ft and 1000kg in weight! They are the heaviest bony fish in the world, although the ones spotted off Cornwall are usually a lot smaller. These individuals, although large for Cornwall, were about 30cm across without their fins. 

On the way back to the marina we saw large feeding aggregations of Shearwaters leading the Captain to speculate that there could be a Minke Whale feeding in the area, as the timings were right and Shearwaters and Minke's feed on the same thing. We did find another Sunfish and more Harbour Porpoise but no Whale this time. There were good numbers of Bonxies moving through as well as Gannets, Fulmars and Gulls. Rissos Dolphin had been spotted the day before but were not evident this trip.

I had a truly awesome day out with the Captain and cannot offer enough thanks to AK Wildlife Cruises. If you are ever in Cornwall on holiday or just fancy a day out I implore you to link up with Keith, he is the nicest bloke I think I have ever met and is fiercely passionate about what he does.
Grey Seal
Common Dolphin

Ocean Sunfish 

Manx Shearwaters

Gannet (central) surrounded by Manx Shearwaters


Friday, 24 July 2015

Citizen Science... Your Nature needs you!

With the EU having a public consultation on the Habitat, Birds and Natura 2000 directives with a view to 'watering down' some of its powers, the UK's wildlife and wild spaces need support like never before.(have your say here link takes you to Birdlife Internationals campaign page!). In these times of relentless development, insatiable human greed and pressure for constant economic growth, it is all too easy to ask 'what can I do about it?'.

Citizen Science....... Citizen science is defined as 'scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions' - Oxford English Dictionary 2014

The problem with citizen science as it stands, is peoples attitude towards it. They either believe its is reserved for the anorak wearing bearded man or that they need special interests in the subject to take part. This is simply not true, you don't have to meet these stereotypes to be able to help out. Many of the projects out there could not only help us better understand the marches of climate change, or declines in species or even the impact we have on certain species but are also amazing fun to take part in.

Project Splatter, is a research effort to quantify and map wildlife roadkill across the UK. The kids will LOVE this! This is something that families can do on long road trips. incetivise the kids to call out what they see, you record it down and submit it..... beats a game of eye-spy or listening to Dads music all the way and takes the kids minds off the mind crippling boredom of the M25.

Big Butterfly Count championed by none other than Sir David Attenborough, requires you to sit in a sunny spot and record what you see. Don't know your Meadow Brown from your Small Tortoiseshell? Never fear, they have even produced a colourful ID Guide to help you out. The also have some great ideas for getting the family involved here. Picnics, Play Dates, BBQs your choice!

Natures Calendar is something Springwatch viewers will be vaguely familiar with. Record when you see certain things during your day to day routine and Natures calendar collect the data and map how quickly Spring/ Autumn moves across the UK. After a few years of datasets it is possible to spot trends on whether Spring is early or late and map these to global trends to see how climate change affects the seasons and local weather. All you need to do is look out for common signs, such as Bluebells and Lapwings and record when and where you saw them..... Easy!

Garden Wildlife Health Found Dead or sick wildlife in your garden? Tell the project, they are looking for diseases particularly in order to mitigate their spread and monitor possible human and domestic implications too. Run by a collective of the ZSL, BTO, Froglife and the RSPB.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch arguably the biggest citizen science project in the UK and open for anyone to participate. From a stone inner city courtyard to a rolling farm in the Yorkshire Dales. 1 hour is all you need to give. Count the birds of each species and send your results in. 8.5 million birds were recorded last year by BGBW participants last year. Small 'garden' field guides are available so you don't even have to have had any experience. Help the kids decide what's what by picking out key ID points, get them to count or alert you to any new species that have slipped into your garden.

EuroBirdwatch if you happen to be reading this thinking hang on a minute James that's great by I live on maninland Europe..... EuroBirdWatch is the project for you. A range of events that monitor and record European Bird Migration to give a large data set and trends Europe wide.

 If the pressure of providing data for analysis is just not your thing then there are very simple ways you can help out without recording data. Plant a small section of Wildflowers to encourage Bees, Butterflies and Hoverflies, this can be done in window boxes or even an old Welly if space is critical. The good folks over at SeedBall have a really simple and devastatingly effective way of doing this so check it out. And for inspiration check out Dave Goulsons books 'A sting in the tale' or 'A buzz in the meadow'.

Place Hogitats to give Hedgehogs somewhere to rest and hibernate. Make Hedgehog corridors through your fences. Build a small pond, or scrape to allow amphibians somewhere to live and give other animals a place to drink.

Bird feeders and boxes are just as simple. If you want to go upmarket you can even get them with cameras that connect to your TV or PC so you can monitor the inhabitants.

Bat boxes will give our declining bat numbers somewhere to roost during the day.

And finally telling any idiot that thinks that Fox Hunting, Raptor Persecution or Seagull culls are justified to GET IN THE SEA will go a long way!

This post has come to fruition following a conversation with a number of friends of mine that always say they want new fun things to do, especially with families. Families have become increasingly sedentary in their lifestyles and are losing their connection with Nature! If you truly feel #itsmynature then help it out! You make think your data is lost in the grand scheme of things, but if we all thought like that we would never get anything done! It only takes one person to get a wheel to move!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Bat Conservation Trust

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was recently given the chance to experience Bat surveying when I met a chap from the Hampshire Bat Group while on an evening Nightjar Walk with Hampshire Wildlife trust. I thoroughly enjoyed using the detectors and seeing the bats hawking insects above our heads.

On my return home and as one of my #30dayswild activities I decided to join the Bat Conservation Trust! Well the welcome pack arrived two days ago and what a welcome it is! Car window sticker, Lapel Badge (love these things :D) loads of informative leaflets. Some amazing postcards with cracking photos, not to mention the fab mag too!

Much as the welcome pack is fantastic, the real reason for joining is the great work the trust do for our Bats! With the biodiversity, birds and Natura 2000 directives all under threat we need NGO's more than ever so I urge, nay implore you to reach out and join the Bat Conservation Trust and support their amazing work.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Hudsonian Suprise

This story will do no favours to my insistence that I am not Twitching this year. However when the report of a Hudsonian Whimbrel literally 10 miles from home came in, I was very tempted. I spent the afternoon at work mulling my options round in my head. Finally an idea sprung to life, ask the community on Twitter what they thought I should do........... GO! Was the resounding answer! Next issue was that I really wanted to spend some time with my long suffering wife Kayleigh, and our 20month old boy Bradley.... simple! Take them along too. She doesn't bird and therefore the idea of Twitching is very alien to her, none the less she agreed and with Brads all snug in his car seat and my kit packed we headed for Church Norton.

If you read my last post then you will realise this is much the same place as I went for the Black Winged Stilt and a two minute walk from the Church Yard where I watched Spotted Flycatchers! I know the site well so within 25 minutes of leaving home we were at the car park..... so glad that Kay came with me, the car park was overflowing! Kay agreed to stay in the car, that was she could make sure I could just jump out and the car wouldn't block anyone while I was gone, it also meant that Bradley could stay asleep!

I walked down to the beach and soon found a group of around 30 scopes all peering out in the direction of the harbour. After asking a couple of the guys present they said the bird was hunkered down in the long grass on one of the muddy islands in the harbour. Every so often the bird would poke its head up out of the grass before dipping back down and slowly moving right. It wasn't long before a few guys admitted that they weren't even sure that was the right bird, but all the other Whimbrel in the harbour had been checked and that was the last one left...... Great! We could be watching a completely bogus bird! We needed the bird to fly....... we waited......... and waited...... I began to scan other birds in the area in case we missed one...... then......... ITS UP! 3 of us spotted the right bird, and proceeded to check off the features. The rump was brown and so was the tail, with no white tips to be seen. The other real difference was the underwing, which was cinnamon-brown and appeared completely uniform in flight as opposed to the Eurasian Whimbrels white ground colour

This bird had come from a different part of the muddy island.... we had been watching the wrong bird! The Hudbrel settled nicely on the front of the island in the water and began to feed and preen allowing us all to take in all the features and ensure that this was definitely the right bird! By this point the group had swelled to around 50 birders on the beach all very happy to get their target. A group of 3 Eurasian birds landed close by allowing a nice comparison.

On the walk back to the car I checked briefly for the Spotted Flys but they weren't to be seen. I will still maintain that I am not twitching this year but some things are definitely the exception to the rule! 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Birds and Bats

Apologies this has taken a while to update. I usually update my blog on a Sunday then upload it on a Monday lunchtime, however things have been very hectic the last week so I haven't, until now, had chance to do so.

Black Winged Stilt

Last week ended on a birdy note, watching Hirundines hawking an insect hatch over Ivy Lake, part of the Chichester gravel pit complex. The reason for my visit to the lake was a reported adult Little Gull but alas this was not present when I was. Numbers of Swifts built steadily as I watched and my final count before heading to Pagham was ca.300 birds, quite a spectacle! I headed down the road to Pagham Harbour RSPB where a Black Winged Stilt had been reported on Siddlesham Ferry Pool. Sure enough the bird was up the back of the pool feeding away quite happily. I had been told by a chap at Ivy Lake that this was possibly last years breeding female from Medmerry. However upon observation this appeared to be a 2nd year individual.

The back of an adult bird is jet black whereas this seemed quite dull, its legs too were dull pink in comparison to the adult and the head, nape and the neck seemed a smudged brownie colour. Although not the speculated breeding female of last year, it is not outside the realms of possibility, given its proximity and age, that this bird could be one of last years juvs. The Ferry Pool was fairly quiet, a few Icelandic Godwits about, Avocet, Greenshank and a number of Shelduck were also present. A little galling then that a Red Neck Phalarope was found at the same site the next morning with the lingering Stilt! However a nice addition to the day was a couple of Spotted Flycatchers at Church Norton, not a species I encounter often in my neck of the woods but a very welcome site.

Saturday saw ringing resume at Farlington Marshes and owing to our success north of the A27, this is where we erected the nets once again. It is Juvvie season on the reserve now and we had a number of fledglings in the nets, including Great Tit, Greenfinch and Robin. We still had numbers of Reed Warbler through the nets which, as they undergo a complete moult in Africa are impossible to age older birds unless clearly Juvenile or previously ringed. This means they go into IPMR as age code 4 meaning: Hatched before current calendar year - exact year unknown. There were a few more unusual catches as the session wore on. One of our net rides was very near to a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major, nest, so we kept a special eye on that net having witnessed parent birds attending to the young with food. We were right to keep an eye on the net as the female parent bird was trapped. Knowing as we did the growing young she had in the nest we processed and released her back to the same spot to ensure the supply to the young birds was not substantially interrupted. She took with her half of Duncans finger having decided he was suitable for a Wood pecking demonstration!
 On our way back from releasing the Woodpecker we saw an elongated shape sitting in one of the net pockets, I was charged with extracting the bird and as I got close I realised it was a Swallow, Hirundo rustica. Jason had the pleasure of ringing the bird. It turned out to be a male with CP, and characteristic tail streamers. Having only ever seen them on a telegraph wire or in flight, occasionally at a nesting site, it was amazing to see this bird up close and appreciate its stunning colouration and perfectly streamlined build. Having been ringed the bird was released back to hawk insects with all the grace and finesse of an aerial ballet dancer!

Tail Streamers
Male Swallow
 Our next unusual bird was a Lesser Whitethroat. Far more skulking than its extroverted cousins, the Common Whitethroat, with all together more subdued plumage. The primaries and coverts are a dull brown/grey to the Commons russet tones. The eye also differs, with the Lesser lacking the distinct white eye ring of the Common. Both species breed on the reserve with the Lesser breeding in smaller numbers. It is nice to see that through our ringing work we know there are at least 2 breeding pairs this year, with the distinct possibility of more that have avoided our nets.

The session continued with a total of 15 different species being caught and ringed, this is a very good diversity of species for such a small site. The notable absence was that of Sedge Warblers. Two weeks ago we had a number of individuals caught, leading to speculation that these were passage birds and we had just had an influx that week.

Wednesday evening I joined the Hampshire Wildlife Trust walk in search of Nightjars and Woodcock at Havant Thicket. I am not usually one for group birding walks as I find the noise of 30 people walking and talking impedes the experience somewhat, there again, they are excellent at introducing people who, perhaps have limited exposure to such birds to the delights of roding Woodcock and churring Nightjar. This perhaps sounds a little pretentious but hey each have their preferred style when doing something. For me I would go alone or maybe with a friend and walk slowly around the reserve taking in the birds going to roost, the crepuscular animals foraging and the nocturnal wildlife coming to the fray. I hung around the very back of the group and soon I had heard the churring around 60m off the track, I showed a couple of the other participants and they seemed chuffed to be hearing it for the first time. The one part of the walk that fascinated me was the chap from the Hampshire Bat Group. Bats have always interested me but I must admit to being a little intimidated by all the detectors and sonograms. However, I am pleased to announce dear readers that I will in fact be purchasing a Bat detector very soon and starting my journey into another obsession. Although the detector the chap had was around £1000 and showed realtime sonograms that you could record and download, I was using a simply Magenta Bat5 detector and had great fun as Common Pippistrelles whirred overhead hunting. My friend, Trevor Codlin I know, has been a long time Bat surveyor so I am hoping I can chat to him regarding what is involved and some ID/ detecting tips etc…..

All in all I have had an excellent week and look forward to ringing this weekend, weather permitting!

Lesser Whitethroat
Juv Robin
Greater Spotted Woodpecker or 'Fleshpecker'

Juv Greenfinch
Juv Great Tit