Category Archives: Enviromental Issues

Why Protect the Environment and How? A manifesto of change to save the environment


This following post may be a bit pretentious, however it’s an essay I wrote for an assignment at university titled ‘Why Protect the Environment and How?” I’ve not got my actual grade for the assignment back yet however going by module results I’m guessing I gain a 2:1 for it. Sliced in the middle is a piece about farming, this is from another assignment from the same module. For this I got a 1st (76%). If there is any glaring errors, spelling mistakes, typos, grammar errors it’s probably due to me confidently thinking I had just three weeks to do the assignment and slowly cruising along before finding out I only had four days so had to rush to get it completed! I’ve included a reference list and cited my references except for the section on farming which wasn’t a typical essay and therefore didn’t need citation. However the references are included. Hope you find it interesting!

Why Protect the Environment and How? A manifesto of change to save the environment

Whilst most will argue that the aesthetic beauty of nature and the environment is a valid enough reason to protect it, halcyon days of youth spent traipsing fields upon fields upon fields upon fields do not alone carry enough weight to protect against destruction.  Even the beneficial quality to physical and mental health nature offers (Natural England, 2014) stands little chance of protecting the environment. Since the global recession in the late 2000s governments have in a naïve bid to revitalise the economy seen the countryside as an area for economic growth, with green belt land set aside for building new houses (Motion, 2013). Robert Costanza stated in 1997 that the services provided by the ecosystem and natural capital range between 16 – 54 trillion US dollars per year (Stratford, 2013) These figures are made up from counting the cost of the services nature provides us for free, such as $1 trillion in sales dependent on animal pollination (Juniper, 2013). As the human population increases and with it the demand for growth, can our environment sustain it without adequate protection? Whilst governments and politicians worldwide generally follow a consensus that we need to act against climate change many fall short of addressing the issue of the greater environmental crisis and that we’re running out of resources (Goldsmith, 2010). As we fight for resources with it we risk ruining the ecosystems that hold the vital services together (Juniper, 2013) (Stratford, 2013).

As the demand for resources and their scarcity rises with it comes grave warnings that it could see the social unrest and the possible downfall of societies (Ahmed, 2013). Whilst some commentators may scoff at such suggestions history has documented the collapse of a society due to resource depletion such as on Easter Island (Good & Reuveny, 2006) The idea of the collapse of society due to human impact on the environment may come across as hyperbole however between 2008 and 2013 social unrest was seen in several countries following the rise of food prices with links to the rising price of fossil fuels (Ahmed, 2014). Furthermore the effects of climate change, the extinction of plants and animals, land degradation and erosion, ocean acidification and other environmental issues only add to the pressures that can be put upon societies (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2013).  If societies and governments require a substantial reason to protect the environment then here it lies. Humanity and the economy rely on it. With this comes the first force for change: A move away from being a carbon and in particular an oil dependent nation.

The burning of fossil fuels for power is the biggest polluter and driver of climate change (WWF, 2014). If the environment is to be protected then one of the first steps taken has to be to reduce dependency on ‘dirty fuel’ and move towards ‘clean’ renewable energy. However the UK government seems reluctant on the transition to renewables (Atkins, 2014). This is not surprising when the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been accused of being lobbied by the fossil fuel industry (Merrick, 2012) and Prime Minister David Cameron laying the blame on expensive fuel bills on the subsidies for green energy (Mason, 2013). Backing the claims of those who oppose renewables that it is too expensive for the public, however Cameron makes no reference to the subsidies paid for fossil fuels, which work out at around £6 – £8 for every £1 spent on renewable energy (Goldsmith, 2010). Furthermore the UK government seems determined to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuels by pushing the use of hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas (Williams, 2013). This ‘dash for gas’ is supported by offering incentives to local authorities that support it (BBC, 2014), offering ‘most generous tax breaks in the world’ for fracking companies (Harvey, 2013) and changing land ownership and trespassing laws to suit the fracking companies (BBC, 2014). At the same time ministers are trying to win over the support of the public by insisting that shale gas will reduce energy bills, however this claim is refuted by several sources including the head of a fracking company (Bawden, 2013). In addition to fracking the UK government also supports nuclear energy (Wintour, 2013).  However nuclear energy does not offer a quick solution to climate change; if all UK nuclear reactors were replaced and doubled it would take over twenty years for them to reduce carbon emissions by 8 percent (Goldsmith, 2010). Then there is the debate over the risk to human health and the argument that nuclear reactors provide a target for terrorism, with a terrorist strike on a nuclear power plant being up to forty times more catastrophic then Chernobyl (Goldsmith, 2010). This leads to the next factor for change; electing politicians on their environmental principles.

If politicians are elected without any consideration to their beliefs or principles on the environment then there is a risk of climate sceptics holding office in departments that are in charge of environmental policy. Like the UK’s Secretary of State for the environment, Owen Paterson; who sees climate change as a positive as it creates better summers for British farmers (Syal, 2013). Early 2014 saw large amounts of flooding across England, with many environmentalists claiming that this would become the norm due to climate change, however around the same time it was revealed that money spent on flood defence  had been cut by 41% (Carrington, 2014).

Whilst environmental spending receives cuts as part of the UK government’s austerity program, large amounts of money are made available (£50 billion) for the ambitious high speed railway project HS2 (BBC, 2014). Although from an environmental view point it may look positive that large amounts of government funding was been used on mass public transit projects with HS2 comes a large environmental and ecological impact. These include causing fragmentation of butterfly, bird and bat communities, HS2 will also affect, pass through or destroy; 10 sites of special scientific interest, 9 Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 153 local wildlife sites and indirectly affects a further 337 sites  (The Wildlife Trusts, 2014). This grave lost to the environment is been pushed through a necessary means to boost UK business, however it has been argued that HS2 is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem and that the money used on HS2 would be better spent on investment in digital networking rather than physical networks (Donnelly, 2013).

One viewpoint taken is that when the destruction of wildlife sites is unavoidable that biodiversity offsetting should take place. This means creating a new habitat in a different area to compensate for the habitat lost by the construction on green belt. In the case of HS2 it has been suggested that whilst the environmental destruction previously outlined is inescapable that it provides an opportunity for nature restoration and using the rail line to build upon wildlife corridors and hopefully provide a wider more linked environment (Trotter, 2014). Biodiversity offsetting along with the creation of small suitable habitats can be incredibly beneficial to wildlife and protecting the environment if considered when the building on green belt is the only option to take (Morris, et al., 2006). The inclusion of areas such as artificial wetlands in close proximity to urban and industrial areas provide a small haven for wildlife which would otherwise be lost (Gemmell & Connell, 1984) (Santoul, et al., 2009). This then provides the next change that must be implemented; if destruction of the environment is unavoidable then there must be ecological compensation.

Whilst the human population continues to rise it is palpable that with it so does the demand for food.  This increase has seen vast changes in the way food is produced; intensive agriculture has become the norm in Western society. However does this have a negative effect on the environment?

Possibly the main negative impact agriculture has on the environment is its contribution to climate change. From machinery and transport to fertilizer, pesticide and feed production, the farming industry is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and in particular oil. As well as the CO2­­ emissions from fossils fuels, animal farming produces large amounts of greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide).

The majority of agriculture is the production of crops. Not only for human consumption but also for use in animal feed (95% of soya bean production is for animal feed). To grow crops the farmers need space, which can see deforestation. Crops are often a monoculture which can result in biodiversity loss, most prevalent in the decline of pollinators and farmland birds. To grow these crops there will be the use of pesticides and fertilizers which both carry harmful effects. There will also be the need for a large amount of water, 87% of all fresh water consumed is used in farming. Water scarcity is predicted to become a major issue.

In addition to these factors intensive agriculture also speeds up the degradation and erosion of soil. This problem in time will only get worse owing to the prediction that due to lack of space farming will have to resort to moving onto more sloped land where soil erosion occurs more rapidly.

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops in farming whilst could signify a move away from the heavy application of pesticides and fertilizers also comes with its problems such as the development of super weeds and super pests which will then result in an increase use of toxic chemicals. This has resulted in several countries moving away from the use of GM crops to some extent.

As well as the environmental risks, there are also risks to human health such as the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria which has resulted from the indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed animals. There is also the risk of pollution and build-up of chemicals in water that farming can present.

Is there a way to reduce the negative effect on the environment? Whilst organic farming can reduce certain negative effects it too comes with its problems. There is little difference in soil erosion. Organic dairy farming produces more methane than intensive dairy farming and an increase in organic farming would result in the need for more deforestation. Whilst changes in farming practice such as mixed crops and low cropping can increase biodiversity and reduce negative factors these result in a low yield. Because agriculture is an industry this is not favourable. Similarly a reduction in pesticides, fertilizers and GM crops results in industry lobbying politicians.

Given the amount of oil, water and crops used to produce meat, the ideal solution to reduce the negative impact farming has on the environment is either a vegetarian or vegan diet with anaerobic digesters used to treat waste which can then be used for power and further reduce agriculture’s use of fossil fuels. If we are to protect the environment we must change the way we farm the land.

The most important factor of change to protect the environment for future generations is getting the future generations involved. It has been stated that modern children spend very little time outdoors engaging with the natural environment, which can have a negative effect both on their health and the health of society (Henley, 2010). In addition to this whilst children spend less time outdoors in the environment there has also been plans to remove certain environmental issues from the UK national curriculum including not teaching children under the age of 14 about climate change (Siddique, 2013). If the environment is to be protected then we need to educate and engage children to care, from small scale recycling to the big issues of climate change. Which is the final factor for change: get the next generation interested and enthused.

The reason for saving the environment is simple; our economy depends on it, our society depends upon it, our humanity depends on it. From the services the ecosystem provides for our financial needs to the benefits it’s provides our mental and physical health if we don’t look after it, if we don’t change our ways then there is no way out and we are destined for downfall. Change needs to come most importantly in the form of tackling climate change and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and oil. To achieve this we need a political will that will listen to both the people and planet, not corporations. Whilst the world’s population continues to grow it is palpable that with it there will be the need to extend urbanisation, but in doing so we must make sure that there is no biodiversity loss, that suitable habitats replace the ones lost. If we don’t we lose the vital services we rely on to live. However all the changes that must be implemented to protect the environment are null and void if we fall short of one thing; educating and engaging children in the natural world and the environment. This is summed up flawlessly in The Lorax the children’s environmental fable about damaging the environment at the expense of business when Dr. Seuss (1971) wrote “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

References

Ahmed, N., 2013. Why Food Riots are Likely to Become the New Normal. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2013/mar/06/food-riots-new-normal [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Ahmed, N., 2014. Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/feb/28/global-riots-protests-end-cheap-fossil-fuels-ukraine-venezuela [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Atkins, A., 2014. Renewable energy could cut energy bills – but the government must help. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/15/save-money-bills-renewable-energy-climate-change-government-help [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Batten, L., 2013. The Future of Agriculture. [Online] Available at: http://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article4060-the-future-of-agriculture.html [Accessed 18 12 2013].

Bawden, T., 2013. Cuadrilla PR man admits George Osborne’s shale gas revolution won’t cut energy bills. [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/cuadrilla-pr-man-admits-george-osbornes-shale-gas-revolution-wont-cut-energy-bills-8656246.html [Accessed 30 April 2014].

BBC, 2014. Cameron Urges Opponents of Fracking to ‘Get Onboard’. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25705550 [Accessed 30 April 2014].

BBC, 2014. HS2: MPs back first phase of rail link despite rebellion. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27184269 [Accessed 1 May 2014].

BBC, 2014. Ministers want to change trespass law to boost fracking. [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27110655 [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Carrington, D., 2014. UK climate change spend almost halved under Owen Paterson, figures reveal. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/27/uk-climate-change-owen-paterson [Accessed 1 May 2014].

Donnelly, C., 2013. HS2 Money Would Be Better Spent on Broadband Improvements. [Online] Available at: http://www.itpro.co.uk/broadband/21195/hs2-money-would-be-better-spent-on-broadband-improvements [Accessed 2 May 2014].

Dr. Seuss, 1971. The Lorax. London: Harper Collins.

Ehrlich, P. R. & Ehrlich, A. H., 2013. Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?. Proceedings of The Royal Society, Volume 280, pp. 50-62.

Gemmell, R. P. & Connell, R. K., 1984. Conservation and Creation of Wildlife Habitats on Industrial Land in Greater Manchester. Landscape Planning, Volume 11, pp. 175-186.

Goldsmith, Z., 2010. The Constant Economy. London: Atlantic Books.

Goldsmith, Z., 2013. Owen Paterson: the minister for GM hype. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/24/owen-paterson-minister-gm-hype [Accessed 24 November 2013].

Good, D. H. & Reuveny, R., 2006. The Fate of Easter Island: The Limits of Resource Management Institutions. Ecological Economics, 58(3), pp. 473-490.

Harvey, F., 2013. George Osborne unveils ‘most generous tax breaks in world’ for fracking. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jul/19/george-osborne-tax-break-fracking-shale-environment [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Henley, J., 2010. Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/16/childre-nature-outside-play-health [Accessed 29 April 2014].

Johnson, B. G. & Zuleta, G. A., 2013. Land-use land-cover change and ecosystem loss in the Espinal ecoregion, Argentina. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, Volume 181, pp. 31-40.

Juniper, T., 2013. What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?. London: Profile Books.

Kirschbaum, M. U. et al., 2013. Quantifying the climate-change consequences of shifting land use between forest and agriculture. Science of the Total Environment, Volume 465, pp. 314-324.

Kulak, M., Nemecek, T., Frossard, E. & Gillard, G., 2013. How Eco-Efficient Are Low-Input Cropping Systems in Western Europe, and What Can Be Done to Improve Their Eco-Efficiency. Sustainability, Volume 5, pp. 3722-3743.

Mason, R., 2013. David Cameron at centre of ‘get rid of all the green crap’ storm. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/21/david-cameron-green-crap-comments-storm [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Merrick, J., 2012. Osborne Accused Over Gas Lobbyist Fatherinlaw. [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/osborne-accused-over-gas-lobbyist-fatherinlaw-7985001.html [Accessed 30 April 2014].

Morris, R. K. A., Alonso, I., Jefferson, R. G. & Kirby, K. J., 2006. The Creation of Compensatory Habitat – Can it Secure Sustainable Development?. Journal for Nature Conservation, Volume 14, pp. 106-116.

Motion, A., 2013. Protecting the Countryside. Resurgence & Ecologist, Volume 281, pp. 16-19.

Natural England, 2014. Health and the natural environment. [Online] Available at: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/enjoying/linkingpeople/health/default.aspx [Accessed 3 March 2014].

Newman, R., 2012. A History of Oil. [Online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIpm_8v80hw [Accessed 10 November 2013].

Pimentel, D. et al., 1995. Environmental and Economic Costs of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits. Science, Volume 267, pp. 1117-1123.

Santoul, F. et al., 2009. Gravel Pits Support Waterbird Diversity in an Urban Landscape. Hydrobiologia, Volume 634, pp. 107-114.

Siddique, H., 2013. Plans to drop climate change from curriculum. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/apr/14/plans-drop-climate-change-curriculum [Accessed 29 April 2014].

Stolze, M., Piorr, A., Häring, A. & Dabbert, S., 2000. The Environmental Impacts of Organic Farming in Europe. Stuttgart: University of Hohenheim.

Stratford, B., 2013. Selling Out on Our Ecosystems. Resurgence & Ecologist, Volume 281, pp. 10-11.

Sustainable Table, 2013. Why does conventional farming damage the environment?. [Online] Available at: http://www.sustainabletable.org.au/Hungryforinfo/Conventionalfarmingdamagetheenvironment/tabid/117/Default.aspx [Accessed 17 December 2013].

Syal, R., 2013. Global warming can have a positive side, says Owen Paterson. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/30/owen-paterson-minister-climate-change-advantages [Accessed 1 May 2014].

The Wildlife Trusts, 2014. High Speed Rail: Impact of HS2 on the Environment. [Online] Available at: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/hs2 [Accessed 2 May 2014].

Trotter, S., 2014. Response to Environmental Audit Committee. [Online] Available at: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/blog/thewildlifetrustsblogger/2014/04/07/hs2-%E2%80%93-response-environmental-audit-committee-report-07-apri [Accessed 2 May 2014].

Turner, J., 1999. Factory Farming & The Environment – A Report for Compassion in World Farming Trust. Petersfield: Compassion in World Farming Trust.

Williams, R., 2013. Osborne: I would love fracking to get going in UK. [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fracking/10396672/Osborne-I-would-love-fracking-to-get-going-in-UK.html [Accessed 1 May 2014].

Wintour, P., 2013. David Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as big day for Britain. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/21/britain-nuclear-power-station-hinkley-edf [Accessed 1 May 2014].

WWF, 2014. What Causes Climate Change?. [Online] Available at: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/aboutcc/cause/ [Accessed 28 April 2014].

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Badger Cull – Hidden Agenda?


With the recent media and social networking buzz around the badger cull a lot has been said from both sides. I am strongly opposed to the cull because it lacks the credible science. I can however sympathise with the farmers in hot spot areas wanting  a cull in the belief it will stop the devastating loss they face when bTB is found in one of their herds.  However what drives those MPs who are for the cull to have their stance? Are they worried about the livelihoods of farmers in their constituency? When checking on which MPs voted for a cull I was disappointed to see my MP Mr Graham Stuart vote for the cull. In knowing that he would also vote for a repeal in the hunting act I decided to investigate how the other MPs for the cull would vote on a repeal of the hunting act.

MP Party Hunting Act Repeal
Baldry, Sir Tony Conservative For
Bingham, Andrew Conservative For
Bruce, Fiona Conservative No Reply
Carmichael, Neil Conservative For
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Conservative For
Cox, Geoffrey Conservative For
Eustice, George Conservative For
Freeman, George Conservative For
Garnier, Sir Edward Conservative For
George, Andrew Liberal Democrat Against
Hart, Simon Conservative For
Herbert, rh Nick Conservative For
Hollobone, Mr Philip Conservative For
Howarth, Sir Gerald Conservative For
Jones, Andrew Conservative For
Lefroy, Jeremy Conservative For
McIntosh, Miss Anne Conservative For
Mills, Nigel Conservative Against
Paice, rh Sir James Conservative For
Paisley, Ian Democratic Unionist Unknown
Rees-Mogg, Jacob Conservative For
Robertson, Mr Laurence Liberal Democrat For
Rogerson, Dan Liberal Democrat Against
Spencer, Mr Mark Conservative No Reply
Stuart, Graham Conservative For
Wallace, Ben Conservative For
Williams, Roger Liberal Democrat For
Wollaston, Dr Sarah Conservative Against
Wiggin, Bill Conservative For
Parish, Neil Conservative For

Twenty three out of the thirty MPs who are for a badger cull are also for a repeal in the hunting ban. That’s 76%! It’s also interesting to know that Owen Paterson Secretary of State for Defra who is really determined for a cull to happen (and reportedly seems to get quite angry about it in interviews) is for a repeal in the hunting law. Additionally Richard Benyon under-secretary for State at defra, a man who was quite keen to let people go out and kill buzzards is also for a repeal of the hunting ban.

76% of MPs who voted for a cull in the badger debate and Defra ministers who want the cull (or to cull other animals) also want to repeal the hunting act. Is their science denying opinion on the badger cull on that is built because it’s what’s best for the farmers, country, economy or whatever reason they gave or is their opinion one that they believe the countryside is just a playground for those with guns and hounds to go around killing things?

Data for MPs vote on badger cull can be found at: http://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaigns/wildlife/badgers/takeaction
Data for MPs stance on a repeal of the hunting act can be found at: http://save-me.org.uk/FOX_MP_vote.html

Top Ten Birds!


With the exception of my WeBS Count and a quick trip out I’ve not done much birding recently, however I wanted to keep my blog rolling so thought I’d do a entry I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

I recently got asked “What’s your favourite bird?” I spluttered nonsense about not being able to answer that question and recoiled into my shell. I imagine it’s a harder question to answer than “What is your favourite child/parent?” I often tweet about birds with the hash tag #toptenbird. So I thought I’d attempt to list my top ten “common” birds. I’m also going to try to limit it to birds I’ve seen. It’s in no particular order.

SwiftApus Apus
I thought I’d start with the number one contender for my favourite bird. Truly the master of the skies. This bird makes summer, when you see their wonderful aerial acrobatics and they’re blissful screeching you know summer has arrived. I love standing close to a body of water and seeing how close they come to you. It’s as almost as if you don’t exist as you hear their wings cut through the air. They’re completely oblivious to your presence. This summer there must have been a new nesting site close to my house as I’ve seen/heard them flying over the garden and I’m pretty sure I haven’t in previous years. It has been a great treat to hear them for my room. Swifts are also a bird (along with Swallows and House Martins) to capture the interest of children. With their feeding high above towns and cities it’s a bird you don’t have to travel far to see that is something out of the ordinary for many children. I recently showed a map of the swifts journey to my daughter and she looked amazed at how far they travel and how they do everything on the wing. As I write this blog reports are already flooding in that swifts have been spotted flying south in vast numbers which makes me a bit sad that this fantastic bird will soon be gone from our skies until next May.

Great Crested Grebe – Podiceps Cristatus
“Ziggy played guitar” with its ginger hair spiked out the shaking displaying ritual of a Great Crested Grebe could easily trick you into thinking that you’ve been transported to the 1970s and David Bowie has fallen into a lake. Or something… Great Crested Grebes are a beautiful and elegant waterbird. Its wonderful plumage once meant it was hunted for its feathers, which in turn lead to the creation of the RSPB. A good enough reason for this to be on any top ten bird list. They also carry their young on their backs which is adorably cute!

There’s a grebeman waiting in the lake
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds

 

Gannet – Morus Bassanus
Large, noisy and fierce. These daggered billed, blue eyed beauties are a sight to behold as they effortlessly glide above the cliff tops or as their big powerful wing beats take them off to their fishing areas where they form a dart and spear down towards the water with far more effecitiancy than any hopeful Olympic diver. Never mind the puffins, these divers are the real reason to visit RSPB Bempton Cliffs.

Sparrowhawk  – Accipiter Nisus
Many X-Box users will know all about the red ring of death, however if you’re a small bird the thing you’re most worried about is the golden ring of death. The bright yellow eye of a male sparrowhawk, its pink cheeks and quarter length trousers this is a bird that oozes style as it quickly shoots through hedgerows in pursuit of prey, just like heaven. If I were a chaffinch I’d gladly let a sparrowhawk hunt me down and eat my entrails.

Slap me on the patio
I’ll take it now

Peregrine Falcon – Falco Peregrinus
As a child I used to have a picture of a Peregrine on my bedroom wall, I still would if society didn’t consider this strange and that I should have pictures drawn by my daughter (such as Moshi Monsters or Spanish Horses) up instead – damn you society!. The fastest animal (not counting dogs in planes and stuff like that) in the world, the peregrine swoops down on its prey with its powerful talons at high speeds. You know a bird means business when it appears to wear an executor’s mask. I imagine being peregrine food is a pigeon’s only reason for living.

Lapwing – Vanellus Vanellus
The bird your mother would want you to settle down with. So far I’ve discussed sexy heart racing machines of birds. Now we get onto the lapwing the gentle wader. With their beautiful upsweeping black crest on the back of their head and glossy dark green back what is not to love about this super cute wader? Their ‘pee-wit’ call and tumbling display is enough to lighten up any birding trip. If lapwings aren’t in one of your many top ten lists of birds then you probably need to take a good look at yourself.

Avocet – Recurvirostra Avosetta
The second wader to feature in my list. The beautiful and elegant yet fierce Avocet. A real treat to watch them feed with its side to side sweeping, and although many might not agree always fun to watch them chase off larger birds.  Once extinct in Britain flooding of East Anglian marshes during the second World War brought back the curved-bill cutie to Britain. So Edwin Starr, to answer your question; “War, what is it good for?” Avocets apparently! Literally an icon of conservation this bird features on the RSPB logo. However this maybe less to do with its conservation status and more to do with black and white designs being easier to print in the past (see also WWF – Panda and Wildlife Trusts – Badger).

Smew Mergus Albellus
“With a rebel yell, she cried more, more, more!” The Billy Idol of the bird world. With its cracked ice quiffed appearance male smew are one sexy duck. I feel a bit sorry for the female smew as it is still very charming in appearance yet is waylaid in favour of the male. They’d probably win a best looking duck couple award, with goosander coming a close second. I’m tempted to have a picture of a Smew as my phone’s background picture, unfortunately as I’m a parent society dictates my daughter should be my background picture. Again damn you society! Some people argue that the Smew isn’t the best looking duck and that instead Harlequin ducks are. These people are wrong and most probably need sectioning. Please pay no attention to them. We could send letters, but they’d just ignore our sane words.

It’s a nice day, for a white ducky

Barn Owl – Tyto Alba
Do I need to explain this one? Do I really? Barn Owls are probably the nations favourite bird. This incredibly cute killer silently flying over fields is always a majestic sight on a cold winter’s morning or a warm summer’s evening. Until the recent harsh winters Barn Owls were doing well in East Yorkshire, however the past two have had a devastating effect on their population. Hopefully the warm early springs we’ve had for the past two years can help populations bounce back. Whilst debating over the last two places in my top ten I took my dog for a walk mainly because it needed one, not because I was contort thinking about this post I had to escape. As I walked on the common two of these graceful ghosts flew low above the tall grasses listening out for prey and I instantly realised they had to be in the top ten.

Pied Wagtail – Motacilla Alba
Mainly because it’s cute with all it’s bobbing along and a childhood favourite so it has a place somewhere in my heart to remind me of youthful bliss. An urban winner you’ll often see it’s tail wagging in supermarket car parks, school yards and town centers. Quite a common bird that is always a pleasure to see.

You just haven’t earnt it  yet baby
Some birds came close to being in the top ten but just missed out. For various reasons, mainly just because I forgot. They are as follows:

Kestrel – Another childhood favourite of mine, however was worried about the list being too bird of prey heavy.

Oh Jud 😦

Various Gulls – I like gulls, especially big powerful ones that terrorise sea fronts.  Hunting for chips, but could easily kill and eat a small toddler to create the crying scene. Those ones.

Chippy Chips make up 80% of a Herring Gull’s diet, the other 20% is a mix of fish, doughnuts, crustaceans and small children

Waxwings – Nothing signals a walk out to winter more than the arrival of waxwings, sadly missing from my list due to the theme being common.

Goosander, Goldeneye – More awesome ducks, but just beaten by the smew.

Cormorant – I love these fish eaters, it’s great seeing them from every pillar to post that appear in bodies of water doing their best crucifix as they dry off in the sun.

Goldfinch – A lovely little bird that visits my garden. I can often hear them first thing in a morning. In fact how many better ways to say “Good morning, Britain” than hearing their pleasant tinkling song.

Long Tailed-Tit – Mainly because they’re incredibly cute.

The list could go on and on, my “Top Ten Birds” list could easily top thirty birds I reckon. I’m sure most other birders are similar.

My first proper twitch…


“I’m a birder, not a twitcher. They’re different things.”  I always tell people when they call me a twitcher.  However that has now changed, well slightly. On Monday I went on my first ever “twitch” to see the Desert Wheatear at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Although I wonder if you can still call it a twitch seen as it’s been there for nearly two months now.

I arrived in Bempton around quarter to eleven, the walk up to the reserve normally takes around 25 to 30 minutes. When I got to the reserve I checked the board to see what else had been around. Four harbour porpoises bad been seen off the cliffs. I headed to the area where the Desert Wheatear was usually showing  and managed to see my first for the years of gannets, guillemots and shags. Another first for the year was fulmars, I really like fulmars yet have a hard time picking them out during the busy summer months at Bempton. However this time they nearly had the cliffs to themselves so was easy to pick them out and made me feel foolish for not finding it easier to see them in previous years. I saw something in the water popping up and down, at first I thought it was the shags however on closer inspection it was a cetacean, I didn’t know what a harbour porpoise looked like at the time but as they’d been seen I was willing to bet it was one of those. I’ve now got small Collins book on Whales and Dolphins and can confirm it was one, not a dog in a wetsuit as some suggested…

There were a few other people stood around in groups at various points among the cliffs waiting for the wheatear to appear. Eventually it came out and a group spotted him. They signaled that it had popped up and like dirty twitchers we all picked up our gear and hurried along to the spot. The Desert Wheatear popped off a fence to the ground and quite happily hopped along feeding on the ground, really showing itself off. It got so close you could have got some really good pictures if you had a camera. (I didn’t but pinkcuckoos did when she went) It must have come within two feet of one lucky couple. Excellent bird and well worth the train fare. Whilst we were all drooling over this tiny bird a kestrel hovered above the cliff edge in a desperate plea for attention. Sadly apart from me, nobody gave him any.

Checking the train times I could make the next train after a quick visit to the feeding station to finally get a greenfinch for the year. I got off at Bridlington and decided to see if I could see any Purple Sandpiper. Headed to the harbour area and walked on the beach. Trudging slowly over wet sand I checked to see if anything good had been washed up on the beach, apart from a shells of razor clams (some in great condition),  plenty of mussels [ED: a bit like this blog’s author ;-)]  and bits of crab there wasn’t much. Sadly there was lots of bits of plastic, which reminded me that I need to get on with going to a beach clean.  I did remove some broken fishing line from the beach though, like a hero! Running around the beach were various gulls, turnstones and oyster catchers. In fact there was so many turnstones I practically tripped over and squashed along as I headed to where the beach meets the harbour wall to see if there were any Pursanders (Purple Sandpipers) about. There was!!! Along with a knot! I took a picture but I don’t think you can see anything. (Sorry about the photo quality uploaded them off my phone  on to wordpress and it’s compressed them)

There are some birds there, honest!

After watching waders for a bit I decided to go and look what was about in the harbour. More pursanders on the mud along with two dunlin, a barnacle goose of dubious origin and this little beggar

Notice it only has one foot! I think it’s a bit of a celebrity in Bridlington and is quite tame. It obviously gets fed by visitors as when I put my hand into my pocket and made a rustling sound it looked at me all interested. I was worried I didn’t have any food to give it at first, then I remembered I’d bought some sausage rolls from Bempton’s village shop and still had the bag in my pocket. I emptied the crumbs onto the wall and he soon came to eat.

After feeding Terry the Turnstone I walked along the north beach past empty rides and amusements. I really do like beaches and sea fronts in the winter. With nothing about I decided to head off to catch the train home. I’ve boosted my year list to 68. It was 45 at this point last year so doing a bit better but got some early seabirds. Collected two lifers (Knot and Desert Wheatear), fed a turnstone and went on my first twitch. Not a bad day.

2011: A Review


I was going to write my top 10 birds of the year, however I thought I’d lump it in all together with a post reviewing my birding year.

Well my aim for the year was to try to visit a new site every month (seen as my 2010 records were mainly on one site). Although I didn’t visit a new site every month I did get myself out to a few new sites. This was mainly due to me starting to go out birding with an old friend of my father. As I cannot drive (I’m trying to convince myself this is my attempt at helping the planet when really it’s due to me never been bothered to learn and now not having time or money to learn) I’m stuck to visiting sites on foot or public transport, although not to bad as I can visit great sites such as RSPB Bempton, High Eske/Pulfin Bog, Hornsea Mere, YWT North Cave Wetlands and Filey Dams with no real struggle except financial! Then there’s always seaside towns like Bridlington and Scarborough which throw up excellent birding opportunities.

However you miss out some real gem sites such as Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low, RSPB Blacktoft Sands and Spurn Point. The last two can be visited on public transport however it seems so painful I don’t think I’ll bother.

My year list resulted in a wimpy limping 117. However I didn’t include the heard Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, unsure sightings of a Bearded Tit, Merlin and Hobby. Plus a feral looking Barnacle Goose in Bridlington Harbour in the middle of summer. So I could easily bump it up to 123 if I so wished.  Also my birding suffered in the summer when my hay fever was probably the worse I’ve ever suffered. Tablets which usually work for me were having no effect at all.  I also suffered with my anxiety in the summer which meant I didn’t leave the house unless I really had to for work or to go somewhere. Hopefully neither of these problems will get in the way of birding in 2012 and it’ll be a good year.

Birds aside I started to pay more attention to other natural things in 2011 such as Mushrooms, butterflies and dragonflies and need to get some good guide books so I can become a better naturalists and not just a bird spotter.

I managed to get my patch record up to 57, still a way off the around 80 birds that have been recorded there but saw a curlew flying overhead which was a good tick for the site. I also managed to get my bogey bird of 2011 – Sparrowhawk on there. Not a year tick as I got that at High Eske, however it really was a good tick for me.

My top birds of 2011

Not the big top ten I had planned but here as follows are my top birds of 2011. Of course there are my favourite birds and great birds to see such as Swifts, Gannets, Swallows, Bullfinches, Black Terns in there but  my top birds for 2011 have to be:

5. – Green Woodpecker
The last bird of the year for me and one that I’d been after all year but never managed to see or hear despite visiting good sites for it. This one was spotted on Figham Common, after a rather dull, boring and cold afternoon spent on there not seeing anything of note except Fieldfare. I was trudging slowly over damp grass, trying to pick up a Reed Bunting in the reedmace when something starts flying across the common in front of me. Obviously I recognised the flight and put my bins up, followed this fine bird as it flew into trees, perched gave a loud yaffle and then disappeared out of sight.

4. – Sparrowhawk
As I mentioned earlier this has been a right bogey bird for me. When I visited Top Hill Low at the start of the year on the way back to the car I decided to pop into a hide to get another look at the Smew (sadly only a redhead female so didn’t make the list) my parents decided to go back to the car and wait for me. Whilst walking back to the car they saw a Sparrowhawk. I didn’t. Another time Robert Jaques  paid a quick visit to my patch and reported seeing a Sprawk on there! (the swine!). I saw a quick-moving raptor at Filey Dams however it shot out of sight before I could ID it (judging by photos of a sparrowhawk taken at Filey I’m now convineced I saw a sparrowhawk). I was at High Eske one day already an excellent birding day, with a Bullfinch year tick. I tweeted at the time (yes I tweet whilst birding) “I don’t think this afternoon can get better” about five minutes later I turn the corner and a sparrowhawk flies out in front of me. Just like heaven!

3. – Woodsandpiper
To any fathers reading this, what did you do on father’s day? I bullied my daughter and her mother into accomponying me to North Cave Wetlands. Well not on the Sunday as there’s no longer a bus there on a Sunday. Anyway we went, I’d read on http://www.eyorks-birding.co.uk that a Woodsandpiper had been seen. Always full of pessimism that I won’t see a bird, I sat down in the turret hide and scanned the islands for it. I looked for a while before spotting the wader right in front of the hide. I luckily managed to ID it successfully before a bullying Oystercatcher sent it to the other side of the lake and out of sight. I could have also had a Mediterranean Gull if I’d been bothered to check out all the black heads. Still better father’s day presents than a mug and some chocolates. If I had gone on the Sunday I think I’d have missed it, but could have had a Ruddy Duck. I love Ruddy Ducks too bad they’ll probably soon be extinct in this country.

2. – Avocet
No story here, just an excellent elegant wader. Beautiful bird, can’t wait to catch up with them again in 2012. Could watch them feeding for hours. I had almost forgot the cutest bird seen this year Goldcrest and seen as I’m meant to be doing a top five will have to slot it in joint 2nd. I’ve wanted to see a goldcrest for years even before I took up birding, mainly because they’re cute and small. I finally saw some at Top Hill Low in October and was excellent to finally see them.

1. – Osprey
No contest this year really. I twitched the Osprey at Arram early in April I watched it for a while before it took flight. Sadly didn’t see it catch a fish.

Here’s to 2012 and hoping it’s full of plenty of great birding opportunities!

Why the issue of population growth is so important


I wrote in my last blog entry about how the human population growth is a problem, in this short piece I will explain why it is the most important issue environmentally.

For me it’s pretty obvious really, just about all the problems that face our environment are down to one issue, the human population growth. We are living longer and our population is increasing at a rate that is not environmentally sustainable. We’re putting a strain on the planet and action needs to be taken, the only way to do this (well without genocides or something similar) is for people to limit the amount of children they have to only two. I’m not someone who is hoping for voluntary extinction. However I believe it would be good if people could limit their breeding to only two. I know there can be complications to this such as the birth of twins however that is unpreventable.

When you look at the emphasis that is now taking place on cutting our carbon emissions, the work done is only going to be reversed if we don’t stem the population growth. It’s great to reduce carbon emissions, however if the population keeps on growing then there is going to be a greater need for electricity, big cars, more public transport and so on. It’s just common sense. It seems to me to be a case of one step forward, two steps back.

There is a lot of opposition at the moment to the government plans to sell off 15 percent of forests owned by the forestry commission. Understandable worries that they’re going to pave over paradise and put up a parking lot, with a pink hotel, a boutique, a golf course, a centre parcs and so on. People worry about losing our green spaces, yet how many of these people are worried about population growth? Is it because it’s trendy to shout about saving our forests, yet not to speak out about people having less children? It’s logical to assume that if the population grows as expected then we’ll keep on losing our green spaces. Forests might have to be chopped down and paved over to create new housing. I know I’m sounding over dramatic, but surely there’s a good chance it could happen?

Whenever I’ve bought up the idea of people limiting the amount of children they have I’m often confronted with the replies “You can’t say how many children people have” or “I love children, I’d have more if I could”. The first statement is usually said by a righteous hypocrite who thinks it’s ok to have lots of children if you can afford them. That it’s ok for Victoria Beckham to churn out babies because she and David have the money, however it’s not ok for a family on a housing estate who live on benefits to have four children. What so people can spend the planet, but not our taxes?

As for the second statement that people love children and would have more if they could? That’s understandable you have to be a pretty cold hearted misanthrope not to coo at the sight of a baby dressed up as a lobster. The point is though, that if you really loved your children, your grandchildren. That if you want your children, their children, their children’s children and so on to have a good standard of living, to enjoy the natural beauty that we can enjoy, to be surrounded with the diverse fauna and flora that we are. Then you will support an optimum population. An unsustainable growth will mean a continuous destruction of the land, a continuous eradication of our marine life. An unsustainable growth will mean an increased demand of food, which is surrounded in environmental issues, from the use of pesticides to carbon emissions from machine and transport use.

It’s time to stop treating the talking of population grown and ways to prevent it as taboo.  Won’t people talk about it because it might offend people? If that’s the case then frankly that’s bollocks! We need to be talking about it, and it needs to become as big of a debated issue as climate change is. We need more people to speak out. We need people to pledge that they will speak out and people to pledge that they will only have two children. We need to talk about how it can be made beneficial for people to stop reproducing after two. We need more education to prevent unwanted pregnancies. We need there to be more emphasis on adoption and for the process to be easier for those who want to adopt.

If people are offended by the idea of limited breeding, if people think that it’s their given right to have as many children as they want, then I ask is your right to procreate really more important to you then the state of the planet and the wellbeing of your future generations?

Links

http://www.optimumpopulation.org/ – Optimum Population Trust’s Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7agB7jriyUU – Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi  (see I don’t just steal lyrics from Morrissey)