Tag Archives: Wildlife

Election focus: protecting nature

For my second election focus, I’ve chosen the issue of protecting nature. Looking through the manifestos was a lot quicker for this topic than climate change, as the parties had a lot less to say. I’ve grouped what they have to say into the following topics:

  • wildlife legislation
  • protected areas (NB. I’ll do a separate post on marine conservation areas, so haven’t included that here)
  • international wildlife protection
  • fox hunting
  • the badger cull
  • neonicotinoids
  • woodland
  • other wildlife issues

Remember, this is just based on what they say in their manifestos (some of which had lots more detail than others) – I’ve kept my own thoughts out of the table. Click on the image to see it at full size.

What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on wildlife legislation, protected areas, international wildlife protection and fox hunting
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues
What the parties have to say on the badger cull, neonicotinoids, woodland, and other wildlife issues

My reflections

  • The Lib Dems had the most to say on these issues, and generally it looked pretty good to me. I particularly like their promise to set legally binding natural capital targets.  I’m disappointed they didn’t come out and say they would keep the fox hunting ban. Their phrasing on the issue of bovine TB is obviously carefully selected not to upset anyone, but I find it’s lack of a direct statement on where they stand on the badger cull unsettling. The badger cull isn’t  effective, humane and evidence-based, but the current government is fond of saying it is.
  • I was surprised how many of the parties had things to say on woodland – they obviously think there are votes in protecting trees rather than bees or badgers. The Tory promise to “continue  to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation” made me laugh, given their previous (failed) attempt to sell off publically owned forests. They must think voters have very short memories.
  • Once again the Tories make bold claims (“We pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”) withour providing any information on how they will achieve it. But they say they will produce a 25 Year Environment Plan. We’ll just have to imagine what might be in that plan.
  • The Greens have surprisingly little to say on this topic – maybe they feel it goes without saying.
  • UKIP don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic, but what they do say doesn’t look too bad.
  • SNP and Plaid Cymru don’t have a huge amount to say on this topic either.
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In which I moan about light pollution on the darkest day of the year

Today’s the shortest day of the year, so it may seem churlish to spend it complaining about light. But don’t get me wrong – it’s not sunlight I have a problem with. I can vaguely remember what it’s like, and I’m keen to renew the acquaintance. It’s light pollution that I want to talk about today.

It’s obvious how water pollution can harm wildlife – the dramatic decline of the otter in the mid 20th century is a well known example. And we’re hearing more about the health effects air pollution has for humans (and presumably wildlife are affected too). But there’s less awareness of the problem of light pollution.

Last week there was a story on the BBC website about how robins’ behaviour is affected by light pollution. A study by Southampton University found that robins that lived closer to lit paths and noisy roads were much lower down this dominance hierarchy – the birds in these territories displayed less aggressively.

Robins aren’t the only creatures affected by light pollution. Other birds, reptiles, amphibians, moths and bats are also affected negatively. But some species can adapt to make the most of it, like the common redshank, getting longer to feed because of artificial lights.

Another disadvantage of light pollution is that it stops us seeing so many stars. Where I live, in a street-lit town, I’m never going to see the Milky Way. On holidays to more remote, darker places, the stars at night take my breath away.

Light pollution is a subject that’s too close to home for me. My bedroom overlooks a recently refurbished office building that’s floodlit throughout the night, meaning that, despite the blackout lining of my curtains, my bedroom never properly gets dark.

In some places things are being done to reduce light pollution. The funding cuts for councils means many are now looking to save money (and reduce carbon emissions) by turning off street lighting in residential roads late at night. In fact, my council are introducing this to the town I live in next month. My road is a major traffic route, so the lights will stay on. But other, quieter roads, will have their lights turned off between midnight and 5am in the morning. Hopefully this will benefit at least some of the local wildlife and residents.

As for me, I’m looking forward to a trip west, where night will be dark, and, if the skies are clear, I’ll be able to see the Milky Way.

And another 10 Christmas present ideas for wildlife lovers

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:

and some new ideas below.

  1. Window feeder for birds: these trans
    Window bird feeder with mealworms
    Window bird feeder with live mealworms

    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.

  2. Wildlife-related clothing: this one’s probably found its way near to the top of the list today as it’s so darned cold. I’ve got my eye on a badger jumper to keep the chill away. PTES have some good designs, as do Sussex Wildlife Trust.

    Close-up of insect house
    Close-up of insect house
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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)
  7. Dormouse Christmas tree decorations
    Dormouse Christmas tree decorations

    Something beautiful and handmade: One of the members of the dormouse group I’m part of makes fantastic wildlife-related ornaments, jewelry and decorations. I fell in love with her dormouse Christmas tree decorations, but she does wonderful birds, butterflies and other mammals as well.

  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

Wild South’s second foray into retail

After last year’s moderate success selling wildlife photo cards and prints at a craft fair, I decided to do it again.  I’ve been doing my best impression of a candidate on The Apprentice, trying my hand at selling. This doesn’t come naturally to me, but it does give me a good opportunity to talk to people about the wonderful wildlife we have. and raise money for Surrey Dormouse Group.

As Lord/His Eminence/Sir Alan Sugar advises his candidates, I tried to ‘smell what sells’ based on last year’s experience. This meant a few changes:

  • British wildlife sold much better than my more exotic pictures, so I decided to focus on that
  • Several people suggested that I should do a calendar, so, after in-depth consumer research (AKA asking my Facebook friends for their views) I put one together with a mix of British mammals, birds and insects (listening to the focus group is something that Apprentice teams never seem to do)
  • Packs of cards went well last year, but I hadn’t prepared enough, so this year I put together plenty, and made the ‘packaging’ a little more professional (having a printer that actually prints really helps with this!)

I set myself a target to make enough profit to pay for 11 dormice boxes (which is, completely coincidentally, how many I want to add to my site next year, and just a little above my profit from last year, which went to another charity).

Wild South stall at a craft fair, November 2015
Wild South stall at a craft fair, November 2015

The craft fair went well – I smashed my fundraising target, got lots of compliments, got to chat to some interesting people, and even managed to do some Christmas shopping. The best selling items were the calendars, followed by packs of four British Mammal Cards. Hopefully, thanks to the support of all my customers, a few more dormice will have cosy boxes to nest in next year!

Here are some of the images used in the calendar:

Badger
Badger
Kestrel stare
Kestrel
Tawny owl in dappled light
Tawny owl in dappled light
Hedgehog
hedgehog
Fox
Red fox
Water vole
Water vole
Blackbird
Blackbird
blue butterfly
Holly blue butterfly
Red squirrel eating
Red squirrel eating
Bumblebee on yellow flag iris
Bumblebee on yellow flag iris

10 more Christmas present ideas for wildlife enthusiasts

Go into any shop these days and you’ll see that Christmas is sneaking up on us. Last year I posted my Top 10 Christmas Present Ideas for Wildlife Enthusiasts. Since I’m sure you went out and bought all of my suggestions, here’s a few more ideas for this year (hint, hint, Dr C!), ranging from £3 to as much as you want to spend.

  1. Extension tubes for macro photography: Some of our most fascinating, beautiful and weird-looking wildlife is pretty small. The best way to photograph it is with a macro lens, but these cost hundreds of pounds. Extension tubes are a cheaper way of taking macro photographs, ranging in price from around £30-150. You fit them between your camera and your lens. I’ve never used them, so can’t provide advice on which ones to go for, but they’re on my Christmas list.
  2. Bat detector: I’ve had lots of fun this year trying out my bat detector. It opens up a whole new sonic world. I also have to admit I’ve had a bit of frustration as well, not being able to distinguish between some bat species. A basic heterodyne model like mine will set you back around £60, but you can get fancy ones with software that will help you tell which bats you’ve found if you’re willing to spend a bit more.
  3. Wildlife courses: I love learning more about wildlife, so a place on a course run by the Mammal Society, local wildlife trusts, Field Studies Council etc. would be a great present. There are so many to choose from. I quite fancy one of the Field Studies Council courses on Bushcraft. I could also benefit from learning a bit more about identifying bats (see previous suggestion).
  4. Go Pro Hero camera: Go Pro cameras have a reputation for robustness and portability. They make waterproof, dustproof cameras that can be mounted on headbands, helmets, harnesses or bikes. I’m hoping to go snorkelling with seals next year, so would love to be able to take some better quality photos than with the disposable waterproof camera I used last time. The Hero is their basic model, and you can get it from around £100.
  5. Field guides: The Field Studies Council produce an excellent range of laminated guides to help you identify different types of animals and plants. These can be carried easily (unlike a book), and you don’t need to worry about getting them wet. Most of them cost around £3, and there’s a huge range to choose from.
  6. Wildlife art: a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Why not buy your loved one a piece of art featuring their favourite wildlife? It needn’t cost a fortune – if you’re a photographer, enlargements can be very reasonable, and if you mount it yourself the end result can look good at little cost. If you’ve got a bit more budget, there’s a huge amount of choice. I’m very pleased with the barn owl sculpture we recently bought. The National Trust gift shops have some beautiful bronze otters and hares – I’ve been dropping hints about the otters for several years. Jean Haines’ watercolours are stuningly beautiful as well.
  7. Books: as an otter fan, Otters of the World is on my Christmas list. I am also intrigued by The Hunt for the Golden Mole. The Bird Atlas is pricey, but could make a keen ornithologist’s Christmas. And Wildlife Photographer of the Year have published a 50th anniversary book.
  8. Whale-watching cruise: if you feel like pushing the boat out, why not treat your loved one to a mini dolphin and whale spotting cruise round the Bay of Biscay?
  9. Birdy plates & glasses: I’m rather a fan of these birdy plates, mugs, glasses and other homeware. I think they brighten up breakfast on a dull winter’s morning.
  10. Binoculars: a good pair of binoculars really helps with wildlife watching. Compact pairs can be surprisingly good, and easier to carry around.

House sparrow chicks have fledged

More good news – both house sparrow chicks have now fledged. The last couple of days they’ve looked like proper sparrows, rather than merely cavernous beaks. There’s been lots of wing stretching and peering out of the hole.

The first chick fledged on Monday morning. The other chick seemed a bit reluctant to leave the nest. She waited until Tuesday morning, spending quite a bit of time peering out the hole, then hiding at the back of the nest before finally summoning up the courage… The parents didn’t waste much time after the chicks had left, before coming in to get it ready for the next brood.

This video shows the two chicks together in the nest, just before they fledged. It then goes to show the second chick fledging on Tuesday. Finally there’s a bit of the daddy doing some housework once the chicks had left.

It’s been very satisfying to watch the chicks’ progress each day. These are the first chicks that have been successfully raised in our camera box. In previous years we’ve had blue tits build partial nests then give up. The closest we got was when a large brood of blue tit chicks hatched, but sadly each day another one died, until there were none left. (It was a very wet spring that year.)

House sparrows can have several broods each year, so hopefully we may get to see some more.

Return of the frog

Soon after we moved into our house we built a mini pond, made of a wine barrel. I was delighted when, a few weeks later, we spotted frogs in the pond and around the garden.

But then winter came. I don’t know if you remember, but the winter of 2010 was a particularly cold one (as was 2011 and 2012).  Since that winter we haven’t seen any frogs in our garden. I don’t know if it’s connected, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the cold had had a bad effect on the frog population.

I used the ‘Dragon finder’ app on my phone, developed by the charity Froglife, to identify what species the frog was (through answering a series of simple questions), and report the sighting, together with a photo and GPS location. It was very easy to use, and I’m looking forward to trying it out on some other amphibians and reptiles.

It looks like at least one has returned to our garden. Let’s hope he’s the first of many!

Reptile walk

I’m ideally placed to see the six species of reptiles that are native to Britain, as all of them can be found in Surrey. (I’ll have to go further afield to see some of the non-native ones that now live in the wild in Britain). So last week I joined Surrey Wildlife Trust rangers Jamel Guenioui and James Herd for a stroll around Rodborough Common to see what reptiles were out and about.

Rodborough Common is ideal reptile habitat, with heathland surrounded by woods. The only thing missing is waterside areas favoured by grass snakes.

The weather wasn’t brilliant for reptile watching, as it was mostly overcast, and a cool 10 degrees when we set off. But it did brighten up and warm to 16 degrees by the end of the walk.

We followed a transect of the common that is used by Surrey Amphibians and Reptiles Group in their regular surveys of the site, checking under sheets of corrugated tin and roofing felt left in strategic locations, and trying to spot creatures basking in the open as well.

Despite the overcast conditions we did pretty well. Quite a few of the refuga had slow worms underneath, and we spotted a few large adders basking in the open.

An adder basking on the heath
A female adder basking on the heath
A slow worm under a refuge of corrugated tin
A slow worm under a refuge of corrugated tin
More slow worms under a corrugated tin refuge
More slow worms under a corrugated tin refuge

Reptiles aren’t the only creatures who enjoy the warmth of the refuga. A few had woodmice underneath, and a lot had been taken over by ants,  particularly wood ants.

It was good to see reptiles up close, and for longer than the usual fleeting glimpses I get. While I didn’t manage to tick any new species off my list, hopefully the practice of spotting them out in the open will help me to see more in the future.

We also got to see roe deer roaming the common, and hear a cuckoo (a rare sound these days). It was a very informative and enjoyable way of spending the morning.

The walk was one of a series run by Surrey Wildlife Trust in various locations across the county. Their website has details of future walks, focusing on different sorts of wildlife.

Badgering pays off at last!

Good news – the government has finally decided to listen to the  evidence and put a stop to plans to roll out the badger cull.
The pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire aimed to see:
  • if culling using free shooting could kill enough badgers 70%) to reduce bovine TB
  • if it was a humane way of killing badgers
  • if it was safe
My previous blog post on the evidence for and against the cull discusses this. Suffice it to say, the pilot culls failed miserably on the first two criteria. It’s only success was that no-one was hurt.
Despite the overwhelming evidence on the failure of the pilot culls, the high costs and widespread public and political opposition to them, it was by no means certain that the government would pull the plug on the idea of rolling them out. The National Farmers Union have continued to push for them. But we now know they won’t be expanded to new areas.
The government have also announced a programme of vaccinating badgers around the edges of areas with high levels of bovine TB.
Badger
It’s not all good news for badgers, though.  Culling of badgers in the pilot cull zones will be allowed to continue, with no monitoring.  This seems bizarre, given the pilots found that closely scrutinised free shooting was inhumane. Unmonitored killing is hardly likely to be more humane. Obviously that no longer matters…
The culls have, from the start, been more about politics than evidence. I have no doubt that the decision not to expand the cull is mainly due to the campaigns against it, rather than whether the cull was likely to reduce bovine TB. Well done to all who campaigned against the cull, and the activists who monitored the cull.

Bird Nerd part 5: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 results

Last week the RSPB released the results of the 2014 Great British bird watch. Once again house sparrows topped the list, with an average of 3.8 seen per garden.

The survey was carried out by almost half a million volunteers  across the UK. It involved watching a garden or park for an hour during one weekend in January, and recording the maximum number of birds of each species seen at one time.
So how do the results compare to the average number of birds I saw in my garden this January? The table below shows the mean number of birds observed per site in the UK as a whole, Surrey, and my garden. As you can see, the results are pretty similar.
House sparrows also topped my list. Unlike the rest of Surrey and the UK, I didn’t see any goldfinches. Dunnocks did make it onto my list though.
Top 10 bird species seen: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 and my garden
Top 10 bird species seen: Big Garden Birdwatch 2014 and my garden
But how does this compare to previous years? Compared to last year there has not been a huge amount of change in the average numbers of birds seen for the top 10 species nationally. For my garden, there has been a drop in the number of starlings, and smaller drops in the numbers of several other birds, but that may be down to the mild winter meaning birds don’t need to visit the feeders in my garden as much as last year.
Top 10 birds seen in my garden in January 2013 vs January 2014
Top 10 birds seen in my garden in January 2013 vs January 2014