Thursday, 28 May 2015

Birdwatch - latest editorial

June 2015 | Issue 276

At a time when more people than ever are engaging with the conservation movement, the challenges and setbacks it faces also seem greater than before.

In April, despite a turning tide of local opinion against the killing of migrating birds in spring in Malta, a referendum on the issue handed victory to the hunters. Little comfort that a 0.3 per cent swing in the vote would have been enough to see the controversial practice banned: the slightest majority was all the hunters needed. Democracy can be a painful process.

The same could be said for the UK’s recent general election, in which almost no one outside the Green Party bothered to campaign on environmental issues. Our own democratic process has awarded the new government an outright majority for 37 per cent of the vote, and we now face the prospect of deregulated rural development, badger culling across the country, the return of fox hunting and, as Prime Minister David Cameron so famously put it, the cutting of “green crap”.

Threats to wildlife also come from the the European Union, where in its less than infinite wisdom Brussels has decided to conduct a euphemistically named ‘fitness check’ on the Birds and Habitats Directives, the cornerstones of nature conservation across the continent. The move is considered serious enough by the RSPB to be described as the “single biggest threat to UK and European nature and biodiversity in a generation”. It has also mobilised 100 voluntary groups from across the UK to join forces and defend laws which surely need strengthening, not weakening.

You can read more about this important story in this issue and find out about its potential impact on bird conservation at home and abroad. The EU has now started the public consultation process, and it’s important that we all make our voices heard – no one else will stick up for birds if we don’t. Please give your opinions at

Friday, 1 May 2015

On bird racing in London

For a number of years in the Nineties, I took part in what used to be called simply the Bird Race - later, the Birdwatch UK Bird Race. At its height a nationwide event which raised significant funds each year for BirdLife International, it was a county-based contest every May where teams of up to four birders spent a day trying to see and/or hear as many species as possible. In London, any day total reaching 100 species was considered very respectable, and occasionally we just exceeded this figure. But on 7 May 2006, the last time the somewhat fluid line-up of the 'North London Old Boys' took part, Bob Watts, Roy Beddard, Andrew Self and I were fortunate in setting a new record for the capital: 113 species.

Eurasian Whimbrel on the Thames foreshore at Rainham today - a difficult 'big day' species.
Such was the exhausting pace of the event that, despite some good birds, it could rarely be called fun. It's essentially about local knowledge, logistics and listing as much as bird-finding, and there's precious little quality time to actually enjoy the birds you do see. That's the price of getting a good total. And having got the best total nine years ago, none of us has since felt any real inclination to have another go - until now.

My first of the year in Britain, this cracking male Whinchat was on the Rainham patch today.
Featuring a slightly tweaked line-up, with Paul Hawkins taking Roy's place, we are back this year to try again. Whether or not we get anywhere close to the 2006 record remains to be seen, but it's worth a shot. And that means preparing hard, which is why my alarm went off at 0300 hours this morning and I then spent 10 hours in the field checking sites between the Lea Valley and the Thames for our upcoming 'big day' on Monday 4th May, a Bank Holiday with a decent weather forecast (currently) of south-east winds and a mixture of sunny spells and rain showers.

A record shot of today's Pectoral Sandpiper, a genuinely rare species in national terms in spring.
Today's scouting trip produced many good birds, including this Pectoral Sandpiper at Rainham Marshes RPSB which was originally found two days ago by Andy Tweed. It took an hour to relocate today, and in fact probably came in with a flock of c20 Dunlin to the Target Pools at c1250. It was my first at the site and officially my 200th 'patch' species - a positive omen for the challenge ahead?


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