Thursday, 27 November 2014

Birdwatch - latest editorial

December 2014 | Issue 270

Most crimes involving the persecution of birds of prey are never detected, and those that are can be notoriously hard to prosecute. So the recent conviction of a Norfolk gamekeeper for the worst recorded mass poisoning of raptors in England can be regarded as a success, even if tempered by a derisory sentence – Allen Lambert, from the Stody Estate in Norfolk, received just a 10-week suspended sentence and was ordered to pay £930 in costs for slaughtering 10 Common Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk. Such lenient treatment clearly will not, as Natural England said it hoped, “prove a deterrent for others”.

The low detection rate of such crimes is inevitable because many take place on vast ‘sporting’ estates where there is little chance of them being witnessed or documented. Yet we know they happen because, as one insider makes clear in the December issue of Birdwatch, raptors and other species have been steadily disappearing from Britain’s intensively managed grouse moors for many years; every now and again, the discovery of another poisoned Hen Harrier or Golden Eagle corpse serves to confirm our worst fears about what happens out of sight on private land.

After this latest case, at least it was heartening the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation stated emphatically that “we condemn these actions utterly”. No such condemnation was forthcoming from a different corner of the shooting world, however. ‘You Forgot the Birds’, fronted by ex-cricketer and keen shooter Ian Botham among others, instead set its sights firmly on trying to discredit the RSPB, despite pretending to care about birds. It even misused quotes from Birdwatch in a blatant attempt to borrow credibility from the birding community.

Let’s make it absolutely clear: we do not support this website or its spurious motives, to the point where we’ve actually referred the matter to our solicitors. All birders know that no organisation has campaigned harder on behalf of birds, their habitats and their welfare than the RSPB. By attacking the Society rather than condemning the criminal elements of its own industry, ‘You Forgot the Birds’ has shot itself in the foot. Let’s take its ill-conceived posturing as a positive sign of the success of initiatives such as Hen Harrier Day and the huge public support it engendered.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Birdwatch - latest editorial

November 2014 | Issue 269

For many years now, Birdwatch has been proud to honour the best in bird art through the Artist of the Year Award. We started this annual competition back in 1997, and it has since evolved into a major national award organised in association with the Society of Wildlife Artists and Swarovski Optik. In other initiatives during the last two decades we have also celebrated outstanding talent in bird photography, from film-based competitions back in the Nineties to publishing the mouth-watering calendar for Swarovski’s ongoing Digiscoper of the Year competitions.

But what of the other facets of birding that deserve recognition? Think back to this time last year, and a lot has happened in a remarkable 12 months. For me 2014 stands out more than anything as a year of action, a year in which birders were motivated to seize the initiative and try to bring about change for the better. Champions of the Flyway, spring hunting in Malta, Hen Harriers and grouse shooting – all now well-known campaigns putting bird protection and conservation firmly back on the map.

It was the idea of acknowledging the success of these headline-making campaigns, and the achievement of the people behind them, that helped inspire a new initiative we’re launching this month: the Birders’ Choice Awards. It’s high time we all recognised the best in birding (and the worst!), so in this first year of the awards we have devised 10 categories and a wide-ranging shortlist of contenders; voters can also nominate their own favourites. From conservation, campaigning and companies to products, people and even the birds themselves, we want birders everywhere to vote and make their opinion count. It’s quick and easy to do so (turn to pages 43-44 for details) – please cast your vote, and help us spread the word by encouraging your friends to take part, too.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Gull v rat

I just returned from another excellent trip to the Azores, spending most of the time leading a group on the western island of Flores. There'll be more on that trip and the excellent birds we had in due course, but for now I thought I'd share this sequence of photos of an atlantis Yellow-legged Gull (or Azores Gull if you will). This bird in Lajes harbour was aggressively defending a nice dinner it had lined up - a Black Rat. We were surprised at what short work it made of the rodent - here's how:

The gull aggressively defended its 'meal' from other gulls nearby ...
... before moving in to finish the job ...
... first, grab rat by neck ...
... then line it up carefully, because ...
... it's going down in one ...
... then swallow, tail and all

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Birdwatch - latest editorial

October 2014 | Issue 268

These are interesting times for the RSPB. Last year the society rebranded itself and ran an appeal-broadening TV advertising campaign, the results of which are now emerging. The good news is a record membership level of 1,114,938 (April 2014), up from 1,084,827 12 months previously. Less positive is the cost of this increase, some £3.2 million being spent in total. In crude terms, that’s more than £106 for every new member recruited.

In the longer term, the return should prove better value than it looks, as more membership renewals and increased campaign donations bring in further revenue – assuming the society doesn’t have to keep up the high spending just to maintain its existing membership level, a problem it has faced previously. But over £3 million more is being spent on TV advertising this year too, in what could prove an expensive gamble. Every organisation has to invest to grow, of course, but there will come a point at which the cost of trying to do so outweighs the return.

In the RSPB’s case, how much more could have been achieved by investing those same millions directly into front-line conservation? £6.2 million would restore significant amounts of habitat and buy major tracts of land for UK reserves, as well as expand the society’s high-priority investigations work; internationally, it could purchase more than 60,000 acres of tropical rainforest.

Latterly, the RSPB’s new mission to ‘Give nature a home’ has been followed by an even less bird-focused ‘Vote for Bob’ drive, featuring a Red Squirrel in what the society says is “an innovative, quirky campaign” to get nature back on the political agenda (right). I’m all for that, and all for Red Squirrels too, but can’t help thinking that the core focus on birds and conservation action is becoming diluted. Some expensive – and cringeworthy – press ads featuring ‘Bob’ don’t even mention the RSPB by name, let alone birds.

There are better ways of getting effective messages across, and of motivating the concerned public to support nature and lobby their MPs. I’m a huge supporter of the RSPB and its work, which is why I sincerely hope its bold – and expensive – new strategy pays off. At the same time, I’d like to keep in mind the foremost objective of the society’s charter: “To conserve wild birds and the wider environment on which wild birds depend, maintaining bird numbers, diversity and natural geographic distribution.”

Reproduced from the October issue of Birdwatch, on sale today


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