Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Birdwatch - latest editorial

Issue 293 | November 2016

Has there been another autumn as good as this for rare birds in Britain? Probably not – at least not in recent memory – after the westerlies in September which brought the country’s first-ever Eastern Kingbird, and then October’s easterlies which were accompanied by unprecedented numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers and no fewer than two (at the time of writing) Siberian Accentors, another new British species. And that’s without mentioning the national ‘lifer’ which preceded these two, a splash-landing Red-footed Booby on the Sussex coast, or the Black-browed Albatross which gate-crashed an Eastern Crowned Warbler twitch.

Such extraordinary experiences will live long in the memories of those lucky enough to witness them. They also combine with other newsworthy events to make 2016 a stand-out birding year on many fronts. The hot-spot reserves seemingly never out of the news, from the record Curlew Sandpiper invasion at Frampton Marsh RSPB to Springwatch and ‘that’ swamphen at Minsmere RSPB; the scientific discoveries helping to rewrite our understanding of bird migration; the viral e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting which attracted 123,000 signatures and earned a parliamentary debate; the campaigners exposing the illegal persecution of raptors by elements of the shooting community; and the new technology, optics and books which have all helped advance our ornithological knowledge in so many different ways.

The best – and indeed the worst – in birding all feature in the third annual Birders’ Choice Awards, which we are again proud to launch. It’s your chance to vote for your favourites, or even nominate your own. Voting is quickest and easiest online but you can also do so by post (see the November issue for details), and we’re keen for every reader to take part and help us make these the most popular and democratic birding awards yet. The results will be announced in our January issue.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Ornithological journals, magazines and reports - new home needed

Like many birders I am an avid collector of books and periodicals, and over several decades have acquired a sizeable reference library. It's actually now outgrown the available space, so having offloaded some books a few years back I'm now reluctantly doing the same with some of my journals, magazines and reports.

There are hundreds that need a new home. including many issues of Ibis (British Ornithologists’ Union), Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club and Forktail (Oriental Bird Club), as well as Birding (American Birding Association), British Wildlife, Birding Scotland, Scottish Bird News (Scottish Ornithologists’ Club), Welsh Birds (Welsh Ornithological Society), Nos Oiseaux (Switzerland), Dansk Ornitologisk Forenings Tidsskrift (Denmark) and a few spare copies of British Birds, Birding World, Limicola, North American Birds and others. This collection would be ideal for an institution, bird club or even an individual with plenty of shelf space and a quest for ornithological knowledge.

Most important is that these treasured publications go to a good home, so they are available free to a registered charity, or alternatively in exchange for a charitable donation to my nominated charity, the World Land Trust (minimum £50, the highest received by 31 October 2016 secures). Whoever becomes the lucky new owner will need to collect them from north London - please email me on dominic [dot] mitchell [at] birdwatch [dot] co [uk] if you are interested.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Birdwatch - latest editorial

Issue 292 | October 2016

What’s happening to our wildlife? Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do or how much we care, it will never be enough. Evidence from the latest State of Nature report, recently published jointly by 25 UK conservation and research organisations, shows that 56 per cent of UK species studied have declined over the last 50 years, and that more than one in 10 of almost 8,000 species assessed continues to be under threat from vanishing from the UK completely.

Birds always seem to feature among the bad news. We already know that the breeding farmland bird index has fallen by 54 per cent from its 1970 level, while the last Birds of Conservation Concern update saw a net increase of 15 species on the Red List. The latest report amplifies such concerns.

Sadly, if you think that the government might read the warning signs and act, think again. Government spending on biodiversity in the UK has fallen by a third over the last seven years, and as a percentage of GDP it amounts to a negligible 0.025 per cent. Tellingly, in the notes accompanying these dismal figures, the government’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee admits that “Spending is one way of assessing the priority that is given to biodiversity within the UK public sector”. Or not, as the case may be.

In contrast, non-governmental organisations continue to maintain their overall biodiversity spending, and in fact the RSPB has increased its expenditure on conservation in each of the last 10 years. In the last financial year alone that amounted to £97.3 million, with a further £6.9 million on nature reserves and visitor facilities.

Money isn’t the only answer, but it certainly helps, and one good news story from the report is that targeted funding and action can make a dramatic difference to species on the ground. That’s why our own individual support for such organisations, through membership and participation in surveys to gather data, is more important now than ever before.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Birdwatch - latest editorial

Issue 291 | September 2016

Earlier this year, I visited a fascinating museum exhibition on extinction. As I stood reading the labels on mounted specimens of Great Auk, Ivory-billed Woodpecker (below right) and Passenger Pigeon, I realised I was alone. Other visitors breezed past the display cabinets showing off our lost natural history, probably without even realising the significance of the exhibits they contained.

Immortalised in historical art works but with no perceived connection to the 21st century, perhaps the Dodo and other ‘gone birds’ seem irrelevant. But as our new three-part series on extinct birds shows, this is not just a historical issue – one of the underlying themes in David Callahan’s look at the birds we have lost is that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction. This time, it is not a result of climatic cycles or meteorological Armageddon – we are largely responsible for this mass extinction ourselves.

In some respects, in Europe we are grimly lucky in that very few bird species seem to be disappearing in recent years, whereas in the developing world some vanish every year. But we certainly can’t rest on our conservation laurels: the inclusion of Passenger Pigeon in the article stands as a stark reminder that European Turtle Dove’s population is nose-diving. We seem powerless to stop this, despite the mass deployment of publicity and protest to stop hunters in places like Malta and Cyprus from killing the species in spring, as it heads to its shrinking breeding grounds.

With human populations still increasing and needing to exploit the planet’s few remaining untapped resources and damaging already fragmented habitats, preventing any bird species from completely dying out is sometimes an insurmountable challenge, but conservation organisations rise to this and have managed to save many for the near-future at least.

No one expects billions of humans not to leave some kind of mark on the planet, but there must be a way we can do this without continually erasing the work of millions of years of evolution.


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