Thursday, 31 May 2012

DEFRA Backtrack on Buzzards (for now)

Today I am a very happy person, wildlife minister Richard Benyon and DEFRA, yesterday listened to public opinion and stopped the planned buzzard management 'research'. Full details can be found here.

Although the top conservationists took up the mantle and did what they do very well indeed (such as here and here), I have been over-joyed by the response of us 'ordinary' people. I am very proud that I stepped up and did my bit and I extend a very big thank-you to everyone else who did the same, especially those who were very active on Twitter.

However, I was not pleased with the response of Tim Bonner from Countryside Alliance here. Mr. Bonner, I hold nothing back when I say that you do not speak for the countryside as a whole. Many people, myself included, live and work in the country and do not agree with you in any way, shape or form. I make no apologies for subjecting you and DEFRA to a 'trial by Twitter', as you put it. In fact be prepared for more of the same on other issues.

I'll leave you today with the words of Matthew Chatfield which neatly encompass my views on this whole affair. It is an excellent article, on an excellent website. Check it out here.

Now if this was a project to investigate the actual extent of physical and economic damage caused by buzzards on shooting estates, that might be fair. But it isn’t. DEFRA has skipped the task of quantifying this damage and makes the awkward leap from hearing that lots of gamekeepers believe ‘buzzards have a harmful effect upon gamebirds' right across to deciding there is ‘an urgent need to identify management techniques’. What’s missing is firstly, any weighing up of the evidence that these perceived losses are genuine or have any significant impact; and secondly, any consideration of the merits – if any – of buzzards as a native species.

It’s a modest compensation that the project also includes some analysis of the problem, with a requirement to “establish a baseline of predation of pheasant poults both inside and close to release pens differentiating, where possible, between different predators.” But this is the work that should have been done first, before the rest of the study was designed – as it could quite possibly demonstrate that there is no need for it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Step right up and #SaveOurBuzzards

At the time that I wrote my blog on pheasants, here, little did I know that within a few, short days the touch paper would be lit on a DEFRA scandal of epic proportions. The poor old beleaguered pheasants have been well and truly caught in no-mans land. Shot by one side and not even wanted by the other.

I do not have a problem with pheasants as individuals, I love to watch their daily soap opera in my back garden and on my local patch. However, I am worried about the damage that millions of released pheasants may be causing to our countryside and woodland. We have to remember that pheasants are not native to this country and require careful management. Natures balance can be easily upset. Just look at what has happened to the red squirrels.

That is why management of buzzards to protect pheasants cannot be allowed to happen. The buzzard, or any other native raptor for that matter, must not become the 'fall-guy' for the appeasement of the shooting fraternity. Rather they should be looked upon as an integral part of non-native species management. Research in the USA has shown that a healthy raptor population can in fact be part of the solution to upsurges in the pheasant population and the increased ecological damage that this can cause. Let us not forget that a percentage of the released birds make it through to the feral population each season. They are breeding and they are becoming more numerous. I see it every summer in my own back garden.

The good news is that in this age of 'super fast technological wonders' we can all do something about this issue. We can sign e-petitions here and here. We can 'step up for nature' with the RSPB here. We can harness the power of Twitter and Facebook to contact our MP and make our voices heard. We can go 'once more into the breach' with this man here. But most importantly together we can #SaveOurBuzzards. It all depends on if you want to.

I want to, do you?

Friday, 25 May 2012

#SaveOurBuzzards - Update

I spent most of yesterday trying to help #SaveOurBuzzards. Here is what I achieved and found out:

  • The initial DEFRA project tender can be found here
  • Research by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, that seems to refute game-keepers claims, can be found here
  • DEFRA respond with this news post
  • A blog post by Mark Avery can be found here. Some very interesting comments
  • I urge you to sign the e-petition that can be found here
  • I sent a tweet to my MP, James Gray, asking for him to pass on my displeasure to DEFRA. To my surprise he tweeted back within an hour stating that he would write to DEFRA on my behalf. Needless to say I was very impressed with this. I urge you to do the same
  • The campaign has been given the twitter tag #SaveOurBuzzards. This is an attempt to get the campaign trending and reach more people.
  • I have started a petition on the HM Government e-petition website, however it still has to be checked and is not yet live. Other people may well have done this also
More to follow as and when necessary. Thanks.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The DEFRA Buzzard Scandal

Emergency blog post here regarding the DEFRA pilot scheme to protect pheasants by culling buzzards.

Now I won't go into all the details here as the majority will already know about it, but please read this blog post by Myky as it is very eloquently written and contains all the necessary links and information. To Myky, I hope you don't mind my blatant piggy-backing of your post, but I found it to be excellently written.

My main gripe with this issue is that this scheme is being introduced based purely on the 'say-so' of the gamekeepers. No scientific research has been implemented; no data has been compiled; no analysis can be carried out. Effectively buzzards will be culled because of myth, rumour, and the lure of money.  I am very unhappy and angry about this whole situation and I cannot, and will not, accept it. I urge all of you to get involved  as far as you are able. An email or letter to DEFRA could make all the difference.

I'll keep you updated on this issue as it progresses. Thank you.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

BBS - My thoughts

So, that's the first visit done and out the way. I have entered all my data online and set a date for the second visit. Overall I was pleased with how the visit went, considering it was my first time at attempting this survey. There were however some things that I could improve on, and others that I think I will speak to my regional representative about. In north Wiltshire this is Bill Quantrill, who has been very helpful to me so far.

Firstly, I should say that I enjoyed doing the survey a great deal. It was in no way a hardship or chore. However, it was quite hard to juggle clip-board, binoculars and other paraphernalia whilst simultaneously keeping one eye on the bird code list, one eye on the birds and my third eye on the road ahead, in-case of traffic. This illustrates two points for me.
  1. I need to spend some time studying the bird code list and try and memorise it a bit better.
  2. I'm not altogether happy about my chosen route.
This is because due to time constraints and my initial reluctance to speak to farmers and ask for access permission to their land, a large portion of my route consists of walking down a road. I would be happier if I could get access to a few fields which would therefore enable me to walk a route that fitted the criteria better. However, I am not even sure the route can be changed now. I will have to speak to Bill Quatrill about this.

I also need to improve my bird song recognition skills. I am not a complete novice at this, I can distinguish most of the common species and a few of the less common, but it is something that I could improve with a bit of work. Bill has come to the rescue here as he has sent me a CD entitled 'learning bird songs and calls for bird surveys in lowland Britain' by Geoff Sample. The introduction for each species even includes  the relevant BTO two-letter species code. Bingo! Just what I'm looking for. I can now 'kill two birds with one stone', as they say.

Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) penciled in for next weekend and Bird Track (BT) observations ongoing. That's all for now.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

BBS - Aim and purpose

Set up in 1994, the Breeding Bird Survey is designed to monitor the changes in numbers of birds each year across the UK. The BBS results are increasingly being used by governmental and non-governmental organisations to direct conservation policies. A full and in-depth description and overview of scientific methods can be found here.

BBS - Carrying out the survey

There was a frost in rural North Wiltshire last night, but as I got up and made my way to my BBS square the sky was clear, the sun was shining and it was starting to warm up. This was to be my early visit, one of two visits to be made this season. I made two habitat and reconnaissance visits over the last bank holiday to set things up, but this was to be the survey proper.

My survey square is OS 1km grid square ST9880 2 miles north east of Christian Malford and maybe 5 miles north east of Chippenham. To the north it is bordered by the M4 motorway and to the south by the Great Western Railway and the remnants of the Wilts and Berks canal. The majority of the square is covered in arable fields and grassland, some of which is grazed by sheep. There is also one road, a smattering of residential and farm buildings, wooded hedgerows and a small stream.

Put simply, the aim of the survey is to record all species of birds and mammals seen or heard in the randomly allocated square. This is done by walking steadily along two 1km transect lines, split into five 200m sections, whilst recording species in four different range bands. Ideally the transect lines should be exactly 1km long, running exactly north/south or east/west and at 500m apart. In practice this is rarely achievable and so my transects followed the best path possible.

Walking my chosen transects took, in total, 88 minutes. I started at 06:58 and finished at 08:20. My records comprised of 25 bird species, including whitethroat, buzzard and green woodpecker, 6 rabbits, 2 roe deer and some unidentified bird or mammal pellets. They were likely to be barn/tawny owl or buzzard, but they did seem awfully large. Strangely I didn't take a picture at the time as I was so engrossed with carrying out the survey. More the fool me, there's a lesson to be learnt there.

I have planed my second visit, weather permitting, for June 16th.

Friday, 11 May 2012

British Trust for Ornithology Breeding Bird Survey

Tomorrow I will be taking part in the BTO's (British Trust for Ornithology) BBS (Breeding Bird Survey). It is one of several BTO surveys that I participate in and basically involves surveying all the birds seen and heard in a randomly allocated 1km OS grid square. More information can be found here. And the BTO home page here.

The BTO is a superb organisation to get involved with and you can participate in as many, or as few, surveys as you like (you don't have to participate at all if you don't want to). I find that participating in organised scientific surveys really does take my bird watching to the next level and brings purpose to something that I enjoy. I would be out bird watching even without the BTO, so why not contribute to the conservation of all UK birds whilst I'm doing it?