Why I Do

Well, it’s been a while. Over a year in fact. A lot has happened in that time, both good and bad. I’m not going to bore you by going through it all, suffice it to say that each thing would be able to interrupt my blogging, but none of it for this long, so I’ve got no excuse. One thing that has happened is that I’ve moved. I’m no longer in Barry, but now live in Aberdare, something that meant I had to leave the Porthkerry Wildlife Group that I’d set up, but they’re still going strong, so it’s all ok!

So what’s in Aberdare? Well, for a start there’s Dare Valley Country Park. It’s a big place, and has many habitats and wildlife, which (like Porthkerry) the Rangers are finding hard to keep on top of, so – yes, you 096guessed it – I set up Dare Valley Wildlife Group! We’re not as successful as the Porthkerry guys- in fact, it was only a couple of months ago that our regular members swelled to five! I’m not going to talk about the park today. No, instead, in the spirit of hopefully encouraging non-enthusiasts to take up a new interest (Wow! that sounds big-headed!) and also to show new readers where I’m coming from. I’m going to tell you about some of my encounters with wildlife. All of them are from the UK, and they are just some of the reasons why I love our country’s wildlife as much as I do.

Most people have never seen a live mole. I’ve been lucky enough to see two. The first was in the late 80s, during my early teens. I was on a concrete taxi-way during an airshow at RAF Fairford. I felt something on my foot, looked down and there was a mole climbing off my boot! I followed it until it disappeared into the long grass. The second was a couple of years ago at Wenvoe. It was standing in front of me when I got off the bus,and again disappeared into the grass. One thing I’ll say about moles is that their fur doesn’t look black, more silvery. With the possible exception of the bat that tried to land in my bandana tails and ended up swinging round and landing on my shoulder before dropping down and flying off, the mole-on-my-foot story was probably the mildest of my physical encounters with wildlife! Twice in my life I’veReeves's Muntjac been run over by a Muntjac. Twice! Not in the same place- not even in the same county! I was cycling down Cemetery Hill in Bedford one night around half eight, and it was dusk. All of a sudden a Muntjac came out of a hole under a wall, and knocked me off my bike. It then proceeded to headbutt me for another minute or two before running off- I can only assume it was an amorous male! That was the second time, and at least the first was an accident. I was walking my then girlfriend’s Dalmatian, when a Muntjac leapt out of the ditch by the side of the road, knocking me into the dog. The three of us rolled over each other, and when me and the dog got to our feet, we could see the Muntjac bouncing off in the distance! It wouldn’t have been so bad, but that day I’d already been knocked over by a brace of pheasants! Walking the dog through a knee-high field, I must have been walking in a perfect straight line towards them because they came up out of the grass about six feet in front of me, and as they went to go either side of me, the hit each shoulder – not wing-clipped, bounced into me –  at nearly the same time, causing me to fall backwards!

Birds aren’t always accidental when crashing into me. When our dog Poppy was only a few months old, I was walking her in Finsbury Park, when we came upon a fledgling Carrion Crow sitting on the grass next to a fence. Poppy’s reaction was to play with it. Not play with it like it was a toy, but play with it like it _DSC8295was me or another dog- she wanted it to chase her! Mum and Dad Crow however, had very different ideas. They attacked, trying to peck her eyes. I grabbed her and we ran. When they realised they couldn’t get to her, they switched to bombing us with pooh. We ended up going round half the park before we were let off, but the interesting thing is that it wasn’t the same pair the whole time. They chased us a little way before another pair took over, and then again with a third pair. It was very interesting- it definitely proved to me that crows communicate! It was also quite scary, scarier than when the Buzzard mobbed me- she was just defending her nest as I’d accidentally got too close. I still had to go quite a distance and even then back up to a tree before she would finally go!

My encounters aren’t always so physical. The first time I saw a Jay was in Hatfield Forest. We were just wandering around enjoying the woods, when we saw a Jay on the ground. It looked a little odd, so we slowed down, shut up, crouched down and crept forward- only to discover that it was anting! I’ve never seen one do it since, and we only saw it for a few seconds after realising what was happening, but it was long enough! I’ve seen Sparrowhawks catch pigeons, Kestrels hovering and catching rodents, a Peregrine dive and grab a Starling mid-air and various birds of prey being mobbed by other birds (including a Peregrine mobbed by a mixed flock of swifts, swallows, and house martins, and a Buzzard mobbed by a Raven mobbed by a Carrion Crow!) Accidental sightings like this is what the world is made of- it’s far more fulfilling than something you’ve sat in a hide waiting five hours to see (and that can be pretty damn fulfilling!) One year we were just leaving The Lodge (RSPB HQ at Sandy) when a Ranger came out of the building and excitedly told us a Hoopoe had been spotted on site- obviously we went and saw it! While on the subject of the RSPB, I worked in a call centre, calling for various charities, and was briefed to call for them. The script was about songbird decline,and the success of Red Kite conservation. The first morning of the campaign, on the very same Muntjac sparring-ground that is Cemetery Hill, I saw my first ever Red Kite! My first ever Kingfisher  was when I was on a school trip to Stowmarket, and I watched as it caught a fish. I’ve only ever seen one Osprey, but that caught a fish and manoeuvred it with its feet. My first ever Otter I thought was a dog!

The beauty of these things is that they happen throughout your life as long as you think to keep an eye out- you can’t be too young or too old. Last year I saw my first Wheatear on Barry beach, just strolling along with friends (me, not the Wheatear!). The year before, me and two friends had gone to a place near Pontypridd to see Nightjars. We had no expectations- we genuinely thought we’d just hear some churring, and we’d have been more than happy with that. We were wrong. We heard both the call and the churr. While we were waiting for the sun to go down we saw a Crossbill, and we knew that was going to be the highlight. Then we heard some churring and located it as coming from a field. We decided not to go into the field as they’re a ground-nesting species, and it was that time of year. Then we saw one on a log. I can’t describe the excitement! It’s one British bird that I’ve always written off as something I’d Nightjarnever see. And I managed to get a photo! Admittedly its not a good photo- 500mm lens at full zoom just after dusk, no flash, not tripod, BUT I TOOK A PHOTO OF A NIGHTJAR! And then IT happened. Ten feet away on the ground, while two flew around our heads (I cannot tell you just how falcon-like they are in flight!) was a Nightjar feigning a broken wing to lure us away- there was a nest in the field! The responsible decision to stay out was the right one. that experience kept me on a high for days!

I hope I don’t come across like I’m showing off. I love our wildlife. I want everyone else to as well. There are loads of species I haven’t seen- Badgers, Red Squirrels, Waxwings, Nightingales to name just four. But I like that- I like the fact that I’m not a box-ticker. I can still sit and watch an ordinary Great Tit go about it’s business and come away smiling. I’m heading towards my 41st birthday, my memory isn’t too good either, yet I remember my firsts, I remember the encounters. I could name others- a ghostly Barn Owl at night lit by busy London street lights. Great Crested Grebes courting in Bedford, accidentally walking into a Red Deer rut in Richmond Park and standing nervously still up against a tree. I will never understand why not everyone does this. Why don’t people marvel at Bullfinches- hell, why don’t they even notice them? How can people dismiss Water Voles as rats- or any other vole for that matter? I often wax lyrical about our ordinary wildlife- Magpies, Foxes and the like. But there’s more to it than that.

In the last ten years I’ve shown a woman in her late-twenties her first ever hedgehog, and a couple of years ago her first Slow Worm. Both times, the look on her face was priceless. At the moment, as a movement, we are (rightly) concentrating on getting children into wildlife, educating them so that when they get older they will want to take care of the environment, but I believe we should also be re-connecting adults. We live our lives seeing species and having experiences for the first time, but to do that we have to be looking at the world around us. THAT is why I set up Porthkerry Wildlife Group. THAT is why I set up Dare Valley Wildlife Group. THAT is why I will set up similar groups in every town I ever live in. It’s not up to the charities to do this- they can’t. As far as most people are concerned, because they’re the experts, the charities are the “people I give my money to and they spend it on things that I don’t really understand, but I don’t need to.” No, it isn’t up to them. It is up to me. It is up to the members of the wildlife groups in Porthkerry and Dare Valley. It is up to you. We aren’t the experts sitting behind a desk working it all out. We are the people in the street, the ordinary people with ordinary jobs. We are the real role-models. Experts are inspiration, but role-models are next door neighbours, cousins, colleagues, drinking partners. We are the ones that prove you can be normal and understand how biodiversity means we can’t install a bypass. We don’t lecture or preach, we say “look at that, isn’t it amazing”. We don’t bore people with speeches, we show them things by pointing them out. We don’t make them feel inadequate or bored- and most importantly, we have normal lives.


Get Out Of The Armchair

We’re always being told that wildlife thrives anywhere- towns and cities, the countryside, gardens, nature reserves etc. And while it’s true, we only ever go to our local Country Park or Reserve to see it- either that or we watch it in our garden. So what about everywhere else? The village pond (yes, they do still exist!), the verges alongside the bypass, or the copse of trees you used to play in as a kid. You know, the forgotten about places. We’re concentrating so hard on the areas that are being managed (whether that’s a charity or the local Council, or even ourselves in the garden) that we forget about the rest of it. Sure, we now all cater for wildlife at home, and that’s great, but it takes more than just our back gardens and public parks to provide green corridors and/or habitat. We seem to have this mentality where everything belongs in it’s place, and nature simply doesn’t work that way. If you need an example, Imagejust look at the plants growing in the gaps between paving slabs. The beautiful thing about wildlife is that it’s, well, wild. It doesn’t pay any attention to the rules we lay down. It doesn’t know that we want it to go to the park so we can see it in it’s natural environment. As far as it’s concerned, a tree in a park is just as good as a tree by the road, so it uses them. When surveys are done, they tend to be done in the same places- managed places that I’ve mentioned. Why? because it’s safe. The tendency is to think “I’m recording birds, I’d better go where the birds are most likely to be.” What we need to do, is to monitor and record what’s going on in these unsung places. It could be a patch of wasteland, a cemetary, or even an abandoned building- it doesn’t matter. What we need are people – either as individuals or as groups – dedicated to noting what’s in these places. We need a website to record these findings on, and we need a willingness to continue doing it. The beauty of this is that anyone can do it, regardless of experience or knowledge level. And with next to no expense too- all you need to start off is pen and paper. You can use the library to ID anything or everything, whether that’s borrowing fieldguides to take with you, or taking pics on your phone and IDing later. If you take pics, you don’t even need to use the library- there are many useful guides online, and Ispot is perfect for those things you can’t quite get.

Almost a year ago I decided to do this in our local Country Park. Normally Country Parks already have monitoring in place, but I knew that at Porthkerry, the Rangers had so much on their plates that they simply didn’t have the time, so I set up the Porthkerry Wildlife Group. I made a few posters and arranged a date for our first meeting. I was so nervous, but both Rangers were very supportive, even helping with the meeting itself, as well as imparting their knowledge. That first meeting had thirteen other people turn up (and I only knew one of them beforehand!) including one of the County Ecologists and our Councillor for the Environment. Now, a year down the line, we still have a core of 10 people (including the Councillor). We spent the first meeting discussing what we Imageas individuals wanted from the group, and got to know each other and what our areas and levels of expertise were. The next two meets were spent getting to know the park, with important, relevant and unusual things being pointed out by the Rangers. After that, we basically made it up as we went along, literally walking as a group or splitting into smaller groups and writing down what we saw. Sometimes we were recording everything, whilst other times we were more specific- for example wildflowers. I think part of the success of the group was down to the fact that members were encouraged to feel comfortable pointing things out, or ask questions without being made to feel silly, and we all learned from each other- no one member was any more or less important than any other (and still aren’t). We had a lot of fun too- I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t enjoy the pond-dips, or they putting out of rodent boxes, or looking for badger tracks and marks. I should point out that we decided to make our group adults only!

Although I am proud of what we’ve achieved, I haven’t told you this in order to show off, but instead I hope it shows you that it is possible to do something useful without having training or a qualification. Apart from the Ranger that remains, none of us are experts (the Ecologist doesn’t attend, but is available to us for help), but we are all determined to help make a difference. I’m not going to get political, but I will say House Sparrowthat a right wing government makes it harder for our wildlife to get by, attacking it on many fronts, and so the need to encourage people to get more active is greater than ever. Last year’s State Of Nature report highlights that. You don’t have to set up a big group or anything anywhere near as official as we did, but do record even the most ordinary of sightings. Provide a time  and date, weather, site, species (if possible binomial/scientific/Latin name) and quantity seen. If you don’t know where to send your sightings, don’t worry- send them to me and I’ll sort it out for you.

I’d love to see a network of enthusiastic amateurs making a difference. Imagine if we could get it to the point where the big charities are able to dedicate more of their manpower and funds to actual practical conservation because there were enough of us to provide the information for them! Realistically, I’d be happy if we could get enough of us to warrant a central database. This is a rallying cry. If you know the difference between a Blue Tit and a Great Tit; if you watch Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch and still think that there’s justification for a Summerwatch too; if you can look at an Adder without wondering why they still let poisonous things roam free; if you wonder why you see less of a species now than when you were little; if you can see the word Turdus without giggling (OK, maybe that’s pushing it!), then I call on you to do something useful. It’s not enough to donate X pounds a month. Do something real. Give yourself a sense of achievement. I dare you. If you’re not sure how to go abnout it, send me a message- I’ll help.

I can promise you this- if nobody had turned up on that Sunday morning last February, I’d have still gone ahead with it- I just would have done it alone.Cliff

Small And Pretty Or Big And Ugly?

I’d like to talk about the birds in our garden. Before you start groaning and stop reading, this isn’t a How-to, or a lecture on what you should be putting in/on your feeders. It’s a story about our attitudes towards the birds that were visiting.

We moved here in November a year and a half ago, and from the start we were putting food out for the birds. Then, after Christmas, I looked at what species were in the local area, as well as slightly further afield, and tailored our birdfeeding towards them. Apart form the occasional Starling, we had nothing. Quite literally no birds were eating in our garden. It didn’t take any time to figure out why- two gardens close by were already established as feeding points for the local songbirds. Undeterred, we continued putting out food despite the lack of attention. During the winter, a couple of Jackdaws,Jackdaw on Feeders copy Magpies and Woodpigeons started feeding at our fatballs and coconuts filled with bird-cake. I wasn’t happy- with these big birds using our garden, not to mention fighting over it, there was no way we’d attract “real” birds. Still, I supposed, something was better than nothing- I could always start again in Spring.

Then it hit me. I was a hypocrite.

Haven’t I been championing the common, ordinary, ugly, and unloved species with my photography? Wasn’t I the one who sent letters of complaint to the major UK conservation charities and DEFRA, accusing them of homogenising biodiversity because they offered the same advice on wildlife gardens and attracting wildlife regardless of where in the country the garden was? Didn’t I suggest breaking the country into natural zones based on species occurance and advising accordingly? (Something DEFRA said they would implement. This was just before we moved, so I haven’t checked yet, based on their track-record). Wasn’t I now going against my own views? By competing with the neighbours for the attention of the Tits and Finches, wasn’t I homogenising the local biodiversity? As much as I hated to admit it, yes I was. I was a hypocrite.

So instead, we welcome these “unwanted guests” and more. Since then, we’ve also had regular visits from Carrion Crows and Herring Gulls. Do we moan Magpies Collecting Nesting copythat the Magpies are stealing the hanging basket liner to make their nest elsewhere? Well, actually yes we do, but we don’t object. We let them. As far as we’re concerned, the more the merrier. Let them all in. Come one, come all. They need to eat too, and the other birds are well catered for elsewhere. Some people may see this as opening a McDonalds between two Michelin-starred restaurants, but they’d be wrong. It’s making sure everyone can eat, and nobody goes hungry. There’s no room for snobbery when it comes to wildlife.

Oh, and for the last few days we’ve had House Sparrows and Dunnocks, with a possible Wren too. (Well, it’s a definite Wren, but we’ve only seen it on the wall so far!)

The Snow Doesn’t Necessarily Make it Harder To See Wildlife

Thanks to Winterwatch, I’ve had to completely rethink this blog. I had an idea to write a blog in defense of an animal that is regularly vilified. There are, after all, plenty of candidates- Fox, Rat, and Magpie all immediately spring to mind. I’d chosen a species so lowly regarded that it’s most frequent comparison isn’t even a member of the same class! It’s a bird that’s compared to a mammal, the rat with wings, the Feral Pigeon. _DSC0568So I had this idea and started thinking about what to include. Then on came Winterwatch, and lo and behold- a segment defending pigeons! It wouldn’t be so bad, but this has happened before. The blog I wrote about reintroducing the Lynx, I’d started writing when BBC Wildlife Magazine fell through the letterbox with what was essentially the same article within it’s pages. So I had to put that one off for a few months (but I will admit to using the stats they printed. They were better detailed than the ones I’d found, so I swapped!)

So, with not having a usable article and it having been a while since the last one (again) I thought I’d revert to one of my favourite topics, and one I haven’t covered for a while- appreciating the wildlife around us. I’m going to also mention the snowy weather, but don’t worry- it’s contextual and relevant.

Yesterday, I had a 45 minute walk to a Job Link interview, which apart from a 5 minute walk by the side of the cemetery was entirely in housing estates, and the whole journey was through 3 inches of snow. I was struck by the number of species I saw. Some of them (Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Robin, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Starling, Blackbird, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Woodpigeon), I’d have been surprised not to see, but some of the birds that are normally seen less regularly are being forced out in the open more. Birds like Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, and Collared Dove. I grant you that in some areas, several of these birds are out and bold as brass as a matter of course (Collared Doves and Goldfinches for example), but around here (or at least on my usual routes) they are less commonly seen.


Something else thing to look out for in areas with grass and trees like parks or village greens are Redwing (above). These look like Thrushes with rusty armpits (mainly because they are.) You can see them in towns and cities without too much fuss, and if this area is anything to go by, there are a lot about at the moment. Fieldfare croppedAnother Thrush around this time of year to look out for is the Fieldfare (left). This grey-headed Thrush is less easily seen, but the weather is making it easier to find them. They’ll very often be seen in flocks of Redwing- so look properly! On the return walk, I was fortunate to witness a Crow mobbing a Peregrine, which went on for a couple of minutes. I’ve seen them mob Buzzards, Ravens and Gulls fairly often, but never anything as small as that. This leads me to something else I’d like to tell you about. A couple of weeks ago, in a school playing field opposite Tesco, I saw 6 out of our 8 native Corvids. Jackdaw and Rook croppedA Corvid is a member of the crow family, or Corvidae. In Britain we have 8 members, the Raven, Carrion Crow (or simply, Crow!) Hooded Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, and Chough. The only 2 I didn’t see were the Hooded Crow and the Chough. As neither are found in this area, that makes it a local full-set! Hopefully I’ve demonstrated that, despite the “bad” weather, there are still plenty of things to be looking out for.

Why are we able to see so many species? Well, it’s simple. It’s hard finding food in this weather. Everything’s frozen or too cold to emerge, so birds are having to be bolder in their hunt for something to eat. As some species need to eat as much as 50% of their own bodyweight in food every day, I think it’s important to help them. You don’t have to have a birdfeeder to be able to help them- you can put food out anywhere, in the branches of trees, garage or shed roofs, on the ground, it really doesn’t matter. The main thing to look out for is predators- including local cats- and if there are some in your area, make sure that where you’re putting the food isn’t making the  birds easy prey. What to give them? Again, easy. Fat balls, peanuts, sunflower seeds, nyjer seeds (or niger, or nyger), mixed seeds,  dried invertebrates (worms, bugs etc- a commonly found one is dried mealworms), and if your local pet shop caters for reptiles, live waxworms. Putting these different things out will make sure you have a nicely balanced catering service to cater for most species. If you need advice, the RSPB and DK books have a great book called Bird Feeder by Robert Burton. It retails at £16.99, but The Works sell it for £6 – £7. At this time of year, don’t try to attract new species to your garden, simply cater for the one’s in the area. If you’re not confident in your identification, then just put out the things mentioned above. After a while, you’ll get to know what you have and will be able to tailor your table accordingly.

Another important point is not to be put off if the birds don’t come- there could be many reasons why not. nuthatch cropCommon reasons are local cats, dogs or foxes, somebody else is putting out all the food they need, or they’re simply not used to feeding there. At home, we put out everything mentioned above, and this time of year, it’s only the fatballs they’re interested in. Then one morning, all the dried inverts had gone! Just because they haven’t touched something, doesn’t mean they won’t. They know what they need way better than you ever will. Sure, it’s disheartening throwing away a full-feeder’s worth of food to replace it with another, but if you don’t, who will help them on the day’s they need it? Remember, if they’re not at your feeders, it’s probably because at the moment they’re feeding elsewhere, so it’s a good thing really. But it’s no guarantee that it’ll continue that way, so persevere. And don’t forget to clean the feeders regularly- if seeds sprout, that’s okay, but keep an eye out for mould, and ALWAYS make sure they have clean, fresh water available.

Just before I go, I’ve had two exciting sightings in the last week that have excited me, both at Porthkerry Park. One was a Firecrest. I’m fairly certain it was at least. I’ve seen a few Goldcrests up there, but this one had a very definite orange streak rather than the yellow, and it was on the edge of the bushes only 3 or 4 feet from where we were standing (and the dogs were roaming), which illustrates what I was saying about the weather affecting behaviour. Pale Redwing croppedThe other one, I’m looking for help with. Firstly I apologise for the quality of the picture (right), but it was taken from a few hundred metres with a 500mm lens on a murky day. I then had to crop the tiny bit out and enlarge it just to get it to this! It’s a Redwing, of that there’s no doubt. But it’s very pale. It was part of a flock of about 100-120 birds, and it’s behaviour was practically the same as theirs. It was a tiny bit more alert, and when it flew into the trees, seemed to favour a mid-height branch every time, whereas the others didn’t seem to care. The rest of the flock seemed to accept it without any problem- in fact, if it wasn’t for the colour, you wouldn’t notice anything at all. Can anyone help?

Predatory In The UK

Just a warning- the start of this post may well be upsetting to some. If you think this may be be you (particularly if you’ve recently lost a pet), then definitely skip the rest of this first paragraph now. Recently I was at Porthkerry Park, when a couple came up to the Ranger saying that their dog had been bitten by an Adder, and what should they do? They were told to go straight to the vets. It took them 10 minutes to get to the car park 50 yards away- mainly because the poor little dog could hardly walk. (I hope I don’t need to point out that you’re supposed to move about as little as possible after a venomous bite as it pumps the venom through your system quicker) That doesn’t include the several hundred yards they made it walk from the scene of the incident to where we were chatting. I found out that they came back a couple of days later because the vet had had to put the dog down. I HAVE to point out that the death of even a small dog due to an Adder bite is a very rare occurrence. This isn’t what I wanted to talk about though, but the other thing they were asking for leads me into today’s topic. Apparently, the thing they most wanted was not compensation, but “something to be done about the Adders.” In a Country Park. Obviously this is an attitude borne out of grief and pain (and hopefully guilt). Not only is it wrong, but it’s also nothing new.

Look back at these islands natural history. We’ve done nothing but eliminate our main predators, and we still continue to do so. Traditionally this was done through hunting. It’s easy to see why- successfully killing large and dangerous prey makes you much more brave and macho… if you’re of a certain mindset. We don’t know the extinction date for Brown Bears, but estimates range from 500 BC to 1000 AD. Lynxes were once thought to be extinct in Britain 4,000 years ago, but evidence arose showing they were still here about 1,500 years ago, so somewhere around 400 – 425 AD being given the extinction date. Grey Wolves were killed off here in the late 1600’s. All three species were wiped out due to hunting and the modern-sounding habitat destruction. In fact, the persecution of wolves was even endorsed by law. So what has that left us with for the last 350 years or so? By my reckoning  that leaves Red Fox, Badger, Scottish Wildcat and bids of prey. None of which are any real danger to us, but even then we don’t have a particularly friendly relationship with them- look at how many birds of prey have sen their numbers  plummet due to persecution by farmers and gamekeepers, as well as habitat destruction. Foxes have been reviled in popular media for as long as I can remember and longer. The Government seems determined to one-day kill as many badgers as possible for no real reason, and Scottish Wildcats, whose numbers are already scarily low due to centuries of habitat destruction now has to face their possible disappearance thanks to hybridisation with domestic/feral cats.

Not everybody wants to rid us of everything that runs a risk of hurting us. Some people want to bring back the predators. Whilst I have no problem with us having dangerous predators (taking “dangerous”to mean “has a chance of at least hurting us”), I do think that other things need to be taken into consideration. For example, would opposition to such a scheme be so fervent that people would start to take the law into their own hands and start to cull the animals themselves? I’m fairly sure that Bears would fall into that category.

Personally, I think the most important thing to take into consideration is the niche filled by that species. Basically, there are three outcomes to removing a species from an ecosystem. First one or more different species fills the gap left behind perfectly, and very little changes apart from the numbers of the incoming species. Secondly, one or more different species only partially fill the gap, leaving many smaller gaps unable to be filled at all. This causes imbalance. Thirdly is that there is nothing to fill the gap, so the gap stays, again  causing  imbalance. I struggled to find an analogy to help me explain this, but I came up with this- I hope it helps. If you have a round window that you don’t want, when you’ve taken it out you can fill the hole with cement, which completely fills the hole and everything is fine. If there isn’t any cement, you could always fill the hole with bricks. Unfortunately you can’t cut the bricks, so you fill the hole as best as you can- there are small holes around the edges, but it’s better than nothing. The final thing you can do is just leave the hole there.  I apologise for the poor-quality analogy, but I can’t decide whether or not it works, so decided to throw it out there and hope!

If the niche has been filled successfully and has been so for a certain length of time, then reintroduction could cause as much harm as the removal in the first place (the hard part here is how long and what factors to take into consideration. The longer I think about it, the more complicated it gets. The only thing I’m sure of is that the length of time is different for each species and each area.) However if the niche has only been filled partially, or even not at all, then a reintroduction is possible.  Reintroduction plans have been made for various species from Wolves to Ants. However looking at the Natural England website (the Governments adviser on the environment) reveals that the British Government has had nothing to do with the reintroduction of any mammal bigger than the Red Squirrel. There is a predator that once lived here, and would appear to tick all the boxes for a reintroduction. It’s a species that until recently has avoided the reintroduction-limelight. We all know about Wolves, Bears, and Beavers. Most of us are also aware of Large Blues and Short-haired Bumblebees, yet a lot of people aren’t even aware that we even used to be home to the Lynx, let alone reintroduce it. It’s at this point I’d expect a lot of people to have a knee-jerk reaction, deciding how preposterous  the idea is- maybe even stop reading here. Don’t. You can’t have an opinion without knowing the facts, so read on.

First of all, it’s shy. Very shy. And as such is rarely seen. It preys on Deer. In the UK Roe Deer and Muntjac are both overpopulated, causing problems with overgrazing in their woodland homes. A reintroduction would have two positive effects. First and most obvious would be the population control the introduction of a predator brings. The second and less obvious effect is that the introduction  of a predator would cause some Deer species to behave in a more nomadic and natural way. This means less grazing in any one area of woodland, resulting in a healthier balanced woodland.

Of course, there are worries of livestock being taken, but research in Europe shows that livestock is usually taken in places where deer populations are low, and then in relatively low numbers- in Switzerland in 2011, just 23 sheep were taken. A more insidious argument against reintroduction of Lynx comes from the hunting fraternity. Their argument is…(wait for it)…that the Lynx would hunt Deer that could be hunted by people. Seriously. THAT’s their argument. We’ll ignore the fact that predators don’t hunt prey to zero population levels, so there would be something for them to hunt. A reduction in quarry numbers makes the hunt more of a challenge, which should surely appeal to the hunter? Bearing in mind that, as I’ve already mentioned, Deer populations are so artificially high that they are causing an environmental nightmare in the woods they feed in, could this opposition from the hunters be an admission that it’s not about the thrill of the hunt, but the thrill of killing? I can draw no other conclusion. Other people are concerned about the effect on Capercaillie and Scottish Wildcats, as both are found in the same habitats as Lynx, and both are on a survival knife-edge. Again evidence suggest that this wouldn’t be a problem- a Swiss study showed that the 29 Lynx tracked killed just one of each of these species between them- in ten years. Estimates suggest that Northumberland and Scotland could easily support and sustain around 450 Lynx, and studies have yet to be done in the rest of England and Wales, but there is no reason to think they couldn’t survive there too.

Granted, Lynx reintroduction would probably attract less tourism than Wolves, but I believe that it’s shy and elusive nature would be attractive to photographers looking for a challenge (the thrill of the hunt that the hunters seem to have forgotten). I myself know a lot of people that would holiday in an area if there was even the vaguest chance of seeing something interesting- after all, it hasn’t done Loch Ness’s tourism any harm!

All the arguments against Lynx reintroduction come from selfishness, greed or fear. The first two reasons are valueless as arguments, and the third is easily combated by the simple expedient of explaining to people the extremely low risks involved. Sadly, I do think it’s too much to ask of the British press!

If you want to read more about the pros and cons of reintroducing Lynx, Wolf and Bear to the British Isles, then go to http://www.wildwoodtrust.org/files/reintroduction-large-carnivores.pdf Rather than being laid out by species, it’s laid out by section  (History, Ecology etc), with each section broken down by species. If you want to read about a single species, then there’s a fair amount of scrolling, but it’s worth it. Personally, I’d recommend reading all of it. But it’s up to you.

Hold The Cloning-machine- Sir David’s Legacy Is In Safe Hands After All.

First of all, I should apologise for leaving it so long between posts. I have one written about reintroductions and the lack of predators in the British Isles, but for one reason or another I haven’t typed it up yet. Soon. I promise.

Instead, I’m writing a response to one of my earlier posts called We need to clone Sir David- the future of decent wildlife docs depends on it…(and if you haven’t read it, that’s also a link!).

A few weeks ago, our TV broke, so did the laptop, and then external hard-drive that contained movies, TV programmes and also all my photography pics (That’s why this post isn’t illustrated. AND I’m still waiting for Flickr to get back to me as to whether or not they’re going to charge me to access the 100 or so pics I have on there- to see them go to www.mutualearth.com)

Any way, because of this, the last few weeks have meant we’re using the internet for TV, and have been catching up on missed programmes from up to several months ago. Because of this, I’ve found our much needed replacement for when Sir David finally retires. And it’s the obvious choice. It’s a man whose TV presenting and wildlife knowledge are equalled only by his skills as a photographer. I am of course referring to Chris Packham. The man has been a favourite of mine for years. Indeed, my trepidation was only due to me having only ever seen him present UK oriented programmes, and whilst his knowledge in the local field is unprecedented, would he come across just as eruditely when working in the global theatre?

I needn’t have been concerned. After (finally) watching Secrets Of Our Living Planet, I’m more than confident that Sir David’s legacy is in safe hands. The writing was perfect- it was interesting without being dull, and understandable without being dumb. It was presented with enthusiasm, and it couldn’t have been more obvious that the presenter more than knew what he as talking about.- the programme was equally suited for everyone. Whether you’ve spent all your life studying zoology and ecology, or were only watching it because there was nothing else on, you could come away with something.

That’s the way Sir Dave made wildlife programmes popular in the first place, and that’s the way to continue making them. It’s not an area that needs faddy gimmicks like being live, or simultaneously shot around the world. It simply needs to be interesting- the animals do the rest.

Charities like WWF and RSPB are currently concerned as to the efficacy of highlighting unknown species in order to raise funds. This is why you always see the same things in their ads- Tigers, Amur Leopards, Snow Leopards, Rhinos etc. It’s because you are more likely to donate if you know the species being presented to you. If they were to use Dholes, Kakapos, Siamangs, Takahes and Dingisos, most people haven’t a clue what they are, and as ads are when people make a cuppa or whatever, a lot of the time adverts are only listened to, so these species don’t stand a chance. The other problem is that this attitude gives the impression that there are only around 20 or 30 species that need our help. So, with the number of species on the planet being in excess of 1.5 million (and that’s just the identified ones- estimates exceed 8 million for total non-bacterial species), there should be no reason why programming has to rely on gimmicks. Themes, yes. Gimmicks, no. Say the BBC (for they produce the best nature documentaries. Much as I like National Geographic and Discovery, they just aren’t as good as Auntie Beeb in my opinion) made a programme- The World’s Most Endangered Species. People would watch it, and then when they saw an ad for WWF featuring an “unknown” animal, they’d recognise it and be more likely to help. All of a sudden, more people are aware of how big a problem species endangerment is, as well as seeing how diverse the world really is. I’d also like to see a series on Island Endemism, covering the tiny like Skomer, right up to the vast like Madagascar. While we’re at it, how about serials on Introduced And Invasive Species, Lazarus Species, and Species Categorised As Extinct In The Wild? They don’t have to wallow in negativity whilst still putting the issues across. I believe that both Sir David Attenborough and Chris Packham have the ability to do this.

One last thing on the subject of wildlife programming. I have a couple of issues with SeasonWatch, but before I air them, I should say that I like these programmes. I think they are informative, important and necessary. However, I would like to see 2 changes. First of all, I would air them at a different time. Not time of day, but time of year. They are shown near the end of the season, and it’s all “here’s a film we made a couple of weeks ago”, or “let’s see what Martin did the other week.” Basically, “here’s what you’ve missed.” If you want to see these things in real life, you either need a TARDIS or remember in a year’s time (well, in just under a year’s time!) They should continue making the programmes in the same way,but use the footage next year, and show the programme at the start of season. People then have a chance of experiencing these things for themselves if they so wish. You could even have a one-off special at the season’s end showing some of the things that have been filmed, but leaving the bulk of it for next years series. At least then it wouldn’t be like watching Bullseye- “Lads, let’s see what you could’ve won!”

Secondly, Michaela Strachan. Why is she there? I assume it’s to fill a dual role- a) to have a woman on the team, and b) to be somebody we can relate to, the one that asks the questions we’d ask. Except she doesn’t. Yes, she presented the Really Wild Show for over a decade. Yes, she reported on Country File for years. She also did that Orangutan programme and various others as well, but my problem is this: Why, after presenting nature programmes for 25 years, does she sound as if she hasn’t learned a single thing? I don’t dispute her enthusiasm, but all she seems to do is either just agree with whatever is being said, make a “funny” comment that everyone ignores, or ask questions that are wrong, for example, on one Autumnwatch this year, they were watching a Pine Marten gathering food, and she said something like “isn’t it doing doing that for caching?” to which Chris Packham tersely replied “No. They don’t do that.” It came across like she’d learnt the word ‘caching’ earlier on and was looking for an excuse to use it. It also feels like both Chris and Martin Hughes-Games are finding it harder to put up with her. I’m not Anti-Strachan, I just don’t think she’s right for SeasonWatch. I know Kate Humble left to do other things, but can’t we convince her to come back? Or get Charlotte Uhlenbroek? Or get someone in completely unknown? Anybody, as long as they as they know what they are talking about. Or at least sound it.

Thanks for lasting this far, please do leave comments, and visit my website too (they are after all the only pictures I have left) and I promise it won’t be as long between posts again. Next week I’ll post the predator/reintroductions one.