My Wild Garden 2016 challenge kept me busy over the year, as each month I tried to make my garden better for wildlife. For the first time this year I fed live mealworms to the birds – it was great seeing how well this went down with them, and something I’ll do again in 2017. We also installed an insect house, and it was great watching the bees move in. Perhaps my favourite Wild Garden activity of the year was creating the Bog Garden – lots of digging involved, but worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this year, now the plants have had a chance to bed in and grow.
Dr C gave me a great new toy – a macro lens, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with that over the year. The Macrophotography course I did with Adrian Davies was particularly helpful. Some of the images I took that day even featured in my 2017 calendar!
Work has been very tough this year (particularly in the first half of the year), so this blog has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. It’s frustrating, as I’ve loads of things I wanted to tell you about, and lots of photos and videos that need editing.
2016 has seen a lot of beloved public figures die. Among them, perhaps the most famous tiger in the world: Machli, the lady of the lake. I was lucky enough to see her in the wild, back in 2006. She has had a long life for a tiger, and brought up many youngsters that will continue her legacy. But it’s still sad to think she is no longer ruling the temples and lakes of Ranthambore.
Let’s hope next year brings peace, reconciliation and restoration between people, and between humans and nature.
2016 has been short on good news, and I have been a bit despondent of late. Luckily this little fellow arrived in the post on Friday, to remind me that not everything has been a disaster this year. I’ve called him (unoriginally) Justin.
I’m intrigued to see how the trial goes. Beavers, like humans, shape the landscape they live in. Chopping down trees, creating lakes and changing the course of rivers. I got to see some of the effect they were having when I visited the River Otter. There’s evidence that the changes beavers make may benefit other species, and reduce flooding downstream. But can we learn to live with a species that can make such dramatic changes in a short time?
If the trial is successful, it will give me hope that native species we have driven to the brink of extinction may, one day, make a comeback. If Devon Wildlife Trust can’t raise sufficient funds to cover the cost of the trial to 2020, the beavers will have to be rehomed in captivity. I hope it succeeds, and one day I will see a beaver in the wild. If you’d like more info, or to donate to the crowd funding appeal, visit SupportDevonsBeavers.org
It’s the first of December – advent calendar doors are being opened around the world. Tonight is Gala Night in the town I live in, where all the local shops put on a bit of an extravaganza for late night Christmas shopping and general jollity. If you’re in need of some inspiration for what to get the wildlife lover in your life, you might want to check out my previous posts on the subject:
parent bird feeders stick to your window, giving good views of whatever’s taking the food. We’ve had one for years, but never really used it until this year, when we started feeding live meal worms during spring. The robins loved it, and we got plenty of good views from the comfort of our own dining room. You can get them from various places, including the RSPB. If the person you’re shopping for isn’t too squeamish, you could even get them some mealworms to go in it. They’re ugly, but just about every bird and mammal that visits our garden loves them.
Solitary bee house: bees of all sorts have had a tough time over the last few decades, but they’re essential pollinators, so we need to help them out. We were given one last Christmas and have really enjoyed seeing the leafcutter bees make use of it. The charity BugLife have a selection. As do NHBS.
A wildlife calendar: I’m a bit biased, as I sell calendars of my wildlife photography to raise money for charity, but I think calendars make great presents (as long as the person you’re buying for doesn’t have too many already). Mine have pretty much sold out this year, but there’s plenty of thers out there. Wildlife Photographer of the Year always produce great ones. The RSPB has a good choice as do WWF and the Wildlife Trusts calendar looks super.
A good thermos: I’ve come to hot drinks quite late in life – I still don’t like coffee or normal tea. But having a flask of steaming hot drink to warm you up on a cold walk or wildlife survey (or football match) can really make a difference. Some are better than others – look at the details on how long it will keep a drink warm for before you buy.
Membership of a wildlife organisation: I’m a member of many wildlife organisations, from huge international charities to local species-specific groups. There are loads out there, and many offer gift memberships. The benefits of membership will vary between organisations, but might include a regular newsletter or magazine (some of these are really good), access to events for members, and opportunities to get into the wild to help nature. And of course, the membership fee supports the work the organisation does. Some of the bigger ones offer special memberships for children as well – I remember being given membership of the children’s wing of Devon Wildlife Trust when I was growing up, and enjoying the activities that were part of that. If the person you’re buying for is particularly keen on a specific species or type of wildlife, see if there’s a group that matches. (Some that spring to mind that offer gift memberships include the Barn Owl Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, WWF, the Mammal Society, the National Trust, RSPB)
Books: Books are always on my list. Check out what natural history books your local bookshop has to offer. I quite fancy ‘That Natural Navigator’ by Tristan Gooley, as I like the thought of being able to navigate without a smart phone or GPS.
A sea safari: In Britain nowhere is that far from the sea, which holds some of our most exciting wildlife. A holiday is not complete for me if it doesn’t include a boat trip, and you can’t beat the thrill of seeing dolphins race and play, or the leisurely trawling of a basking shark. Look out for your local operator, but make sure they’re members of the WISE scheme (which means they’re accredited to run their trips in a way that’s safe for wildlife). Dr C still hasn’t booked me on a whale watching cruise of the Bay of Biscay yet (see 2014’s post), but maybe I can persuade him to let me go for a day trip at least.
Wildlife Gardening Information Pack: This was part of my prize for winning the small private garden category of the 2015 Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards, and I’ve found it packed full of ideas – highly recommended!
Yesterday I learnt that the oldest, and most famous wild tiger in the world, has died. It was a sad day for tiger lovers everywhere.
Machli is said to be the most photographed tiger in the world, and several excellent documentaries have been made about her. She lived in Ranthambore National Park, in Rajasthan, India.
Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to see her, and her then almost adult cubs, in the flesh. Unperturbed by the tourist jeeps, she was the living embodiment of strength and grace. When she walked you could sense her power – power that helped her feed many cubs over the years, and even kill a 14ft long crocodile.
A few years after my visit to Ranthambore, there were a couple of tiger photos by different people in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Both were of Machli. And you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful subject.
I saw somewhere that half the tigers in Ranthambore, and another tiger reserve in Rajasthan, as descended from Machli. With the world’s tiger population still precarious, we should be celebrate her success at raising so many cubs, and for living for 19 years – the oldest recorded wild tiger (10-15 years being more usual).
Her public profile (she has a facebook page as well as a starring role in documentaries and photographs) has also helped raise awareness of tigers, and has brought in significant amounts of money (through tourism) to Rajasthan. Tiger tourism income is vital for making sure wild tigers are protected.
While lions are meant to be the king of beasts, having seen both in the wild, I think tigers edge it, and Machli was the queen of tigers. Let’s hope she’s endowed her offspring with the same qualities that allowed her to survive and breed so successfully.
Last Friday was a dark day for me, finding out the result of the referendum and trying to process the implications of that vote. I was shocked at the result – I found it hard to believe that so many people were ready to take such a big gamble. I was angry with the leaders of the Leave campaign who had deliberately and repeatedly mislead people on issues such as the cost of the EU contribution, and how that imaginary money will be spent post-Brexit. I was also angry with my fellow citizens, for falling for those lies. I was saddened and scared by what it might mean for things I value: environmental protection; workers rights among others. I was ashamed of how it must seem to my European colleagues and neighbours.
I work in London, and live in the Mole Valley, both areas where the majority of people voted to remain. Every colleague and neighbour I have spoken to about it has, like me, been saddened by result. Some have talked of their fears about what it will mean for them financially, or their work. Some have talked about leaving the country.
Things haven’t got better over the last few days. I have seen chilling reports of xenophobia surfacing. The Labour Party seems intent on self-destruction, while the candidates for next Tory leader are not reassuring. We seem no clearer on what will happen than we were on Friday. What model of Brexit will we go for? Will the United Kingdom survive Brexit? I’m deeply concerned about the direction this country is heading.
Grieving over the result is natural. But as I have worked my way through all these emotions (I’m not through them yet – they’re all still mixed up inside me), I have become convinced that’s not enough. That’s easily said, but what can or should I do? I don’t have the full answer yet, and it may take a while to work out.
Should I stay or should I go?
Leaving the country for somewhere new and more attuned to my values is tempting. I’ve considered sounding out colleagues in Africa or Canada. But I love this country (or at least bits of it) – its hills and woods and coast. I love its wildlife. Leaving would feel like washing my hands of it. A selfish act.
Staying to fight?
If I am to stay, I have to try to protect the things I love. It’s not going to be good enough to bury my head in the sand. On Friday, for the first time in my life, I joined a political party. Until now I have avoided party politics. No party completely represented my views. It seemed an ugly game. But now is the time to engage more with politics, as so much will need to be decided over the next few years. It’s no time to take a step back. Signing online petitions isn’t enough. I don’t know what will be enough, but joining a political party is a start.
Praying for peace and love
That sounds fluffy and hippyish. But it’s not. This country feels divided, with old hatreds bubbling to the surface. Lots of people are hurting, scared or angry. There doesn’t seem to be a leader coming forward who can bring unity. I am a Christian, and I believe we need God’s grace in this situation. I will redouble my prayers for this country. And I will try to be loving in all my interactions with others.
I don’t have the answer. I don’t have a neat way to deal with the situation we’re in. I’m scared by what the future might hold. But I think this plan is enough for now, until it’s clearer what more is needed.
If you live in the UK, you can’t have missed the fact that, on 23 June, we get to vote on whether to stay part of the EU, or leave. The standard of the debate, from both sides, has been very poor: negative, fear-mongering, continued use of misleading statistics, and focusing on just a couple of issues. It seems to have turned into a Tory leadership contest. This has put many people off engaging with the topic – I have to admit, I haven’t watched the TV debates and interviews, because I know they’re not going to address the issues I care about. And even if they did, I don’t trust the people spearheading the campaigns to tell me the truth. But deciding whether to stay in the EU or leave is a really important step, so I think we (in the UK) all have a duty to look into it, beyond the negative headlines.
There are many important implications to consider when deciding whether to stay or leave. The impact it will have on the economy, jobs, protection of workers, immigration and free movement of people, security, science, sovereignty… the list goes on and on. It’s an important and complex decision. This post will try to summarise some of the environmental issues to consider.
The first thing to acknowledge in any discussion about the EU is that it’s not perfect. While some of its laws, policies and decisions have protected the UK environment, others have had a less positive effect, creating perverse incentives (eg. the Common Agricultural Policy). That means we need to weigh up the pros and cons. This is made harder by the uncertainty over what would happen if we did leave the EU. The Wildlife Trusts, WWF and the RSPB commissioned an independent report to look into these issues, and I’ve drawn on the summary here, together with other sources, as this issue clearly goes beyond my personal knowledge and expertise.
What has the EU done for the UK environment?
Our environment was not in a good state in the 1970s and 80s. We had the highest acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide emissions in the EU and our seas were polluted with sewage. Many of our species had suffered huge declines due to pollution or lack of protection. Membership of the EU has led to:
Substantial improvements in air and water pollution, thanks to EU legislation – we have cleaner rivers, beaches, drinking water and air thanks to the EU. The revival of species like the otter, thanks to our cleaner rivers, is testament to this.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting
Protection of species and our most sensitive wild places, mainly through the Birds and Habitats Directives – according to Friends of the Earth, before the Directives we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year – that’s now down to
Increasing recycling and improving waste management
Banning harmful chemicals, including some pesticides
Legislation to protect our seas
The requirement to carry out an environmental impact assessment if developers are planning a major development, or development in an environmentally sensitive area, so impact on wildlife can be taken into account in decision-making, and plans made to mitigate it, if appropriate
On the downside, the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy have created incentives for unsustainable practices which damage our environment and wildlife. And the TTIP deal currently being negotiated between the EU and USA could be very bad news for the environment.
Working together to tackle big issues
The EU brings together member states, and allows them to work together to tackle important issues. It’s particularly useful for issues
that have cross-border implications. Many of the environmental challenges we face do have cross-border implications, for example climate change, marine pollution, fish stocks, protection of migrating birds… Nature doesn’t acknowledge national boundaries, so some issues, by their very nature, are better tackled in a united way by many nations.
It’s very unclear what will happen if the UK decides to leave the EU. One scenario would be that the UK leaves the EU but stays in the European Economic Area (EEA) or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and thereby retains access to the single market, following models similar to those in countries such as Norway or
Switzerland. This would mean that many EU environmental laws would still be mandatory in the UK, but there would be exceptions – particularly the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Bathing Water Quality Directive, which were responsible for several of the benefits from the EU listed above. There’s a clear risk that we would lose some of the protection for birds, special habitats, and improvements in water quality for our beaches.
Another scenario would be that the UK leaves the EU and sits as a completely independent State outside the EEA and EFTA agreements. This would mean EU environmental legislation would no longer apply. Our government would be responsible for developing legislation on all environmental issues. Given the current focus on economic growth at all costs, that prospect fills me with terror.
Over the years, a lot of the criticisms of the EU (or at least the criticisms that aren’t thinly veiled xenophobia) have been around the level of red tape the EU imposes. I’m not saying there is no unnecessary bureaucracy in the EU, but a lot of the ‘red tape’ those critics are referring to are the rules that protect our environment (or workers rights). In the current political climate, we’re unlikely to see adequate protection of the environment enshrined in any post-EU UK legislation – it will be an opportunity for the proponents of deregulation to quietly get rid of annoying rules that protect our natural world, and ourselves. Do you trust Boris Johnson, the man who buried negative findings about air pollution around hundreds of London’s primary schools breaching EU limits, to be involved in developing a newly independent UK’s environmental legislation? Or George Osborne, who has publically condemned the EU’s habitats directive?
Friends of the Earth, in their position paper on the EU referendum, spell out some of the improvements they are campaigning for in how the EU operates. This includes changing priorities away from economic growth and free trade, improving their laws, and increasing democratic accountability. But despite this need for change, Friends of the Earth are still strongly advocating for the UK to remain part of the EU, as the benefits to the environment outweigh the harms.
The EU isn’t perfect, and it’s environmental record isn’t flawless. But its legislation does provide significant protection to our wildlife and natural resources. By being part of something bigger we can more effectively tackle cross-border issues, which pose some of the biggest environmental challenges we face today. And by being part of the EU we can try to influence it positively. The MEPs we vote for will have a say. If we leave the EU, we lose that voice.
This referendum is important. If you care about the issues I talk about here, please vote on 23 June.
Breaking news: Christmas is coming. It’s kinda crept up on me, but I notice from the web stats that quite a few people have been looking at my previous posts on Christmas present ideas for wildlife lovers.
The previous two lists cover some fairly broad ideas. This year I’m trying to give some specific ideas that fall under the categories mentioned in previous years.
A Sting in the Tale: this is by far my favourite wildlife book that I’ve read this year. I’m not particularly into insects, but Dave Goulson’s evident passion for bumblebees, engaging writing style and fascinating facts held me entranced. I ended up underlining loads of sections that I knew I’d want to come back to again and again. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in wildlife.
Wildlife Broadcasting on a Smartphone course: Surrey Wildlife Trust are putting on an intriguing course next year. Having recently been delving into filmmaking in my professional life, I’m keen to find out more about how I could apply it to wildlife. It doesn’t come cheap, but sounds fascinating.
A monopod: having got myself a massive telephoto lens this year, and had to lug my tripod around, I can see the appeal of a lighter, sturdy monopod to take with me on walks.
Some wildlife art: I’ve seen so much beautiful wildlife art this year – things I’d love to have around me at home to remind me of the wonders of nature. The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation has a good selection, with profits going to fund conservation. Try your local gallery as well.
The New Wild: I bought this book because of its beautiful cover, and intriguing (and controversial) central argument: invasive species will be nature’s salvation. It’s certainly a thought-provoking read. (I’m planning a blog post on this soon, as there’s lots to mull over…)
A subscription to Lynda.com: The Lynda.com website has a huge library of online courses, including hundreds of photography ones. I get access to this through my work, and have found the courses very informative. Useful for brushing up your skills during those long winter evenings…
Wildlife photography courses: there’s a wide selection available. Local Wildlife Trusts or wildlife centres often run them. Birds, badgers, deer, fungi, reptiles, flowers – something to suit any wildlife photographer in your life! I’ve got my eye on David Plummer’s courses.
Some sturdy wellies: I’ve really appreciated having comfortable, sturdy wellies this year, helping me through the muddier dormousing months and squelchy harvest mouse surveys.
A good head torch can really make a difference for night-time wildlife surveys, camping or just walking back from a country pub. I’ve really appreciated my new one this year.
Today is the 2nd birthday of this blog, so to celebrate I’ve been back over my posts from the last year, and picked a couple of my favourites from each month. I quite enjoyed looking back – brought back lots of memories!
Photo Special: Isles of Scilly – I had to choose this one, really, as not only do I quite like some of these photos, but, as it happens, I’m actually in the Isles of Scilly at the moment. It’s a beautiful place with excellent wildlife watching opportunities.
Scrumping badgers? – it’s so exciting seeing badgers (even if I didn’t get any photos)!
Moles: perfectly adapted – I’ve still never seen a mole in the wild (alive, at least), but you can’t help admire how suited they are to their subterranean lifestyle.
Looking for Harvest Mice at an airport – this day of surveying for harvest mice at Gatwick airport was really memorable, even if we didn’t find any in the end. It’s fascinating to see what wildlife can exist even in the most unlikely places.
Dormouse licence! – It took a long time to get enough experience with handling dormice to obtain my licence, so this was quite a significant milestone for me. This year I’ve enjoyed having my own site to survey.
On the trail of wild beavers – I’ve really enjoyed following the story of England’s first beavers in the wild for hundreds of years, and it was amazing to see signs of them when we were visiting the River Otter.
Church speaks and acts on climate change – While the new government seems to be implementing as many policies as possible to increase climate change (fracking, cutting subsidies to renewable energy, imposing the climate change levy on green electricity, the list goes on), it’s encouraging to see the church take a strong stance on this issue
Election summary – I spent a couple of months during the election campaign trying to find out where the main British parties stood on various issues relating to nature, the environment and wildlife. I must say, I didn’t enjoy the process much – it was quite dispiriting. But this post summarised all that work.
I left the house at 8.30am this morning, and immediately noticed something was missing. Something that I don’t usually notice at all – the background hum of traffic. Today is the Prudential RideLondon cycle race, which comes through my home town, and means the roads are all shut for most of the day. As I walked to church the main sound was a distant plane overhead, and the whir of the first few cyclists to make it this far. (By the time I was walking back from church it was another story – the streets were lined with people cheering on the cyclists who were still coming through).
The RideLondon event is a bit controversial where I live. Many people are inconvenienced by not being able to get anywhere by road for the day. Some locals enjoy the festive atmosphere, and the chance to see some of the top cyclists in the world come past their doors (I fall into that camp, even though I’m not normally a cycling fanatic). Those who haven’t noticed the numerous signs warning of road closures that have been up for the last month or so are left frustrated – we heard one driver at the end of our road talking to stewards, asking how he can get to Gatwick. I wouldn’t like to be in that situation (although at least the trains are still running). And while some businesses on the route do well out of the custom of the crowds who come to watch the cyclists, others who aren’t on the actual route, but whose customers can’t reach them, lose out.
Once the 25,000 amateur cyclists have been through, we wait for the professionals to arrive. They do 5 laps of my town, so I get plenty of chance to see them. And the race is televised on BBC1, so the whole country gets to see the splendour of the Surrey Hills (on a day like today they look glorious).
It’s such a treat to have a day without traffic. I’d love to know what effect it has on air quality and carbon emissions. It’s made a noticeable difference to noise levels (although when the pros come through the filming helicopters and support vehicles will make up for the absence of ordinary traffic). I wish we could have a few more car-free days. Some South American cities have them regularly, but I can’t see them taking off here anytime soon.
The Surrey Hills have always attracted plenty of cyclists (weird people who ride up hills for pleasure), but the numbers have noticeably increased since it was first announced the 2012 Olympic Road Race would come through the area. Every hobby cyclist wants to test themselves of the route that Wiggins, Cavendish and the rest competed on. That does lead to some conflicts, particularly on narrow country lanes. On a sunny weekend it can take much longer to get anywhere on the narrow lanes round here, as there are so many cyclists out and about. And, while most are considerate, there are a few who take unnecessary risks, zooming round blind bends in the middle of the road.
As I’m not a cyclist myself, I don’t know how much riders get to enjoy the views, and being amidst the woods and hills of this area. Does it all rush by in too much of a blur? Or do they get to experience the same feeling of communing with nature that I do when I’m walking? I think everyone should spend time enjoying nature, and if cycling is what gets them to do it, and seeing the pros race through our beautiful countryside inspires a few more people to give it a go (or even just come and visit), then that’s a good thing. If that means that next time I’m driving to my dormouse site it takes me an extra five then I can live with that. I just need to learn to share what I have the privilege to enjoy.
Happy International Tiger Day! International Tiger Day was founded five years ago to raise awareness of tigers, and their plight. I’ve already written about how amazing tigers are, so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, here are a few photos I’ve taken of tigers. I think they speak for themselves.
100 years ago there were 100,000 tigers in the world. The current estimate is 3,000. They are threatened by poaching (for Chinese medicine and souvenirs for the rich), habitat destruction, conflict with local communities, and climate change. They need a large territory, as they require lots of food – they can eat 21kg of meat in a single night. Do have a look at the links below to see how you can help tigers.
Almost 10 years ago I was lucky enough to see tigers in the wild, in India’s Ranthambore National Park. One of the tigers I saw (pictured in the first photo in this post) was Machli, who was a rather famous tiger. I was delighted the other day to spot that the BBC had a repeat of their documentary about her and her cubs available on iPlayer. It’s available for the so do check it out if you can access iPlayer.
In the meantime, I’m off to celebrate Internation Tiger Day with a bottle of my favourite big-cat branded lager.
This is my diary of the wildlife where I live in Oxfordshire, and sometimes the places I visit. I am a young naturalist with a passion for British wildlife, especially Badgers and Hares. I have been blogging since May 2013 and you can read my old blog posts at www.appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk