Not so glorious?

July 24, 2016

Regular readers will be at least aware, if not familiar with the issues of raptor persecution in the uplands where driven grouse shooting occurs, and where equally worrying is the management regime practiced by those managing these uplands for the ‘sport’.

A series of short, very informative videos have been produced which are being released in the run up to the “Not so glorious” 12th August.  For anyone familiar with the ‘quaint, archaic and outdated practice’ that is the day on which thousands of Red Grouse are shot for sport, it is the first day in a season which extends to 10 December in England and Scotland, 30 November in Northern Ireland.

These excellent videos are worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time, and for more information on the topic see Raptor Persecution UK where one of today’s post reports on an incident in North Yorkshire!  See also Standing up for Nature and for events relating to see also Hen Harrier Day – help make 2016 “the biggest yet”.

The first in the series “The Real Price of Grouse”

Released today, the second  “The Real Price of Grouse: Greenhouse Gases” outlines issues relating to the management practice of burning peat and the unseen cost to us all.

These videos presented by Chris Packham, provide a bite size chunk in each as to why ordinary members of the public, taxpayers, should seriously consider signing the epetition “Ban Driven Grouse Shooting” via the parliamentary web site  here

The epetition is approaching 64,000 signatures but we need more …. “At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament” the response made by Defra upon reaching 10,000 signatures might have been considered by some as patronising and selective in the statistics it offered, indeed there have been some suggesting that it might even have been written by advocates for the ‘sport’,

Remember also that there is an excellent opportunity on 9 & 10 September (in Sheffield) to hear a range of speakers at “Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands : Conservation, Land Management & Issues”.  For more information and a booking form see UKEconet.


Nature’s cure?

July 14, 2016

There’s nothing like a day in the field to recharge batteries.  After the last couple of weeks of political pantomime, or would it be better described as a farce, fresh air, a pleasant landscape and stunning wildlife were a refreshing change.

160630 Banded Damoiselle IS mw

This stunning male Banded Demoiselle was just one of perhaps forty or so of the species present along a relatively short stretch of the River Idle.  No sooner had you got your camera focused on them than they flew off just a short tantelising distance away.  This species is reasonably common in the Humberhead Levels where they can be found along clean water courses and a few remaining ‘hidden’ ponds where they have not been absorbed into the expanse of monoculture.  I’ve even had one in my garden!

The Humberhead Levels has a number of pocket handkerchief gems, sites where time seems to have stood still.  These sites are few and far between and not always well known, they are often in private ownership which can be either a blessing (as in the case of Inkle Moor) or a curse.  There are some farmers as opposed to agri-industrialists who turn a blind eye and let nature alone.    The issue might then be if they change hands and the new land owner or next more business minded, profit orientated generation seeks return from investment.  Perhaps with Brexit the review of agricultural subsidies, or agri-welfare payments call them what you like (ex CAP), we might see payments made to farmers who are able to evidence tangible public benefit from receipt of public funds?

Drainage to benefit agricultural intensification can be detrimental to wildlife. We reported infill of a pond in the HHL recently, one where we understand there had been Great Crested Newts in the vicinity, likewise Water Voles.  Both these species are protected by legislation.  But, it seems that the public are now expected to provide evidence of presence rather than those with a duty?

The Biodiversity Duty: Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 places a duty on Local Authorities to consider biodiversity in the full range of their activities. It is a legal requirement that:
“Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as
is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of
conserving biodiversity”.

Note that there have been some changes to primary legislation around biodiversity duty.  However, much still remains.

Some species of ‘dragons and damsels’ are quite sensitive and have particular habitat requirements.  Such species need land management practices which take account of ecological requirements.  Where water courses are managed by the Environment Agency there seems to be a better understanding and a willingness to work with others to achieve biodiversity benefit.  Local Internal Drainage Boards, despite being Public Bodies and in receipt of substantive public funds appear to have little knowledge or regard for relic populations in their districts.  Biodiversity Action Plans seem to favour easy quick wins such as a few Barn Owl boxes along deep trapezoidal drains.  How many have a biodiversity inventory for their catchment areas?  How many undertake collaborative projects with third parties?

160512 4SC mw

Four Spot Chaser is another commonly encountered species in the right habitat.  This and the Broad-bodied Chaser below are both recorded from Thorne Moors.

160622 Broad-bodied Chaser BWDE mw

Images courtesy of Martin Warne.



Henry’s ‘picnic’ in the Yorkshire Dales NP

June 22, 2016

We understand that the picnic/stroll/chat about the lack of Hen Harriers in England this year will be at Grimwith Reservoir car park at midday on Saturday (this Saturday, Saturday 25 June).

Henry the Hen Harrier

We are informed there is ample parking at the reservoir which is on the western side of OS Explorer map 298, Nidderdale, at 063641.

For more information see  or

Other events to pencil in to your diaries perhaps:

Hen Harrier Day 2016: Sunday 7 August.

Details to follow when available.  Alternatively keep an eye on

Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands: Conservation, Land Management & Issues  on Friday & Saturday 9 & 10 September in Sheffield, see for more details.

Will you be going to Henry’s picnic rally?

June 19, 2016


Readers of this blog will be familiar with the ongoing issue of raptor persecution, particularly that involving  Hen Harriers and the issue of upland management for driven grouse shooting. 

We are informed that there is to be a ‘picnic’ next Saturday, 25th June 2016 in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  It is being billed as a Hen Harrier rally to mark this year’s virtual absence of nesting Hen Harriers from the English uplands.

The details will be released on Wednesday this week, for details visit Standing up for nature via  and or Raptor Persecution UK via

Another useful and informative website is Birders Against Wildlife Crime, Charlie Moore’s recent blog post is worth a read via

Have you booked your place on the Raptors, Uplands and Peatlands conference to be held in Sheffield on 9 & 10 September?  For more details visit

Meet the author of “Inglorious” at the above event.  An authoritative tome which presents a well researched case against the management of the uplands for grouse shooting.

Inglorious front cover

Help get the epetition to Ban driven grouse shooting to the 100k in order that it can be ‘considered’ for discussion in Parliament, via



‘Moff’ matters including a new publication.

June 17, 2016

The Executive are delighted to announce the forthcoming Technical Report No.20.  This latest, A5 sized publication, comprises 180 pages, including 22 in full colour.  It also contains a map with areas mentioned plotted on.  In addition to the checklist the TR contains an informative paper by Colin Howes on the historic ‘moth-hunters’ of Thorne Moors.

Moat Front Cover

This volume will be a limited print run and in order for the Executive to try to gauge the level of interest, we are asking people to contact us to register an expression of interest.  The publication will cost no more than £8, postage will be at cost and is estimated to be in the region of £2.

To register an expression of interest in TR20 please email 

Four go ‘moffin’

The weather seemed to have improved a little recently, certainly for those interested in observing and recording the wildlife interest of the Humberhead Levels.  So an intrepid team of four ‘moffers’ headed for a piece of fenland to see what they could record.

Web edn coven hrk 576

Three MV lights and an Actinic produced some 64 species of moth.  It is widely acknowledged that MV lights generally attract the greater volume and diversity of species but it is always useful to have an actinic present as they can attract different species which prefer the actinic light spectrum rather than that emitted by Mercury Vapour (MV) lamps.  The presence of a Queen Hornet as we opened the actinic at the end of the evening saw caution applied as we also extracted a beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth amongst an assortment of other species.  Maiden’s Blush was perhaps the night’s best moth in terms of rarity.  This species despite extensive recording on Thorne Moors was not trapped on the site until July 2014.  It was known on Hatfield Moors from Geo. Hyde’s time and more recently includes two recorded last year in August (2015).

Mothing doesn’t have to be a nocturnal activity there are species to be observed in the day time.  Common and Lattice Heath along with Emperor Moth are commonly enough encountered.  This tiny longhorn moth was spotted on a much maligned nettle and would appear to be an uncommon record, or simply one not reported very often?

Web 7.009 mw 03062016

Cauchas fibulella on nettle.  Image: Martin Warne.

Get out there, see what you can add to the various ‘inventories’ of the invertebrates of the Humberhead Levels.  Drop us a line, share your images and become part of the network which places importance and value on the wildlife of these special local ‘wildernesses’.



Breaking News ….hope for Hen Harriers?

June 10, 2016
6694350331_79fdccefcb Tim M HH

Image: Tim Melling

We are delighted to report that the National Trust have evoked a break clause in a tenancy agreement and have given notice on a lease for driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park.

So, to borrow Raptor Persecution UKs words, the NT have gone from “zero to hero”.

The lease will terminate in 2018, some 22 months hence.  But, let Raptor Persecution UK, BAWC, Mark Avery, Chris Packaham and so many others who resolutely refuse to be intimidated enjoy the well deserved victory.  It is worth reading the comments on the post via the link below.

For more details on the story see Raptor Persecution UK post

See also Raptor Politics

Other comments will be available on other websites such as that of the Moorland Association.

This story is sure to run, will the notice be challenged?  Will the BBC and other media cover the story? Watch this space as well the key campaigners websites.

Avery’s Ban Driven Grouse Shooting epetition is now at 41,216 – let’s keep pushing it to that all important 100,000 that will see Politicians ‘consider’ discussing it in Parliament.  Defra did eventually issue a response to the petition quite some time after it passed the 10,000 mark.  See the link below for that statement, the constituency map and to sign the petition

Apologies that we’ve had to include lengthy links but for some inexplicable reason the usual link option is not available …. now if one were minded towards conspiracy theories ….











Lest we forget the evidence?

May 27, 2016

Amidst the mayhem of ‘Brexit’ claim and counter claim and the call, nay plea for science, facts and evidence a group of us spent a pleasurable day learning about Auchenorrhyncha the other day.  An introduction in a classroom type setting, a field session at a nearby peat / fen land SSSI then back to the microscopes.

Some forty species of Hemiptera were recorded including uncommon species and species local to the Humberhead Levels.

As anticipated entomologists are often interested in more than one discipline so other taxon were recorded including odonata with an early Brachytron pratense being observed on Hawthorn blossom.

In terms of a biodiversity site inventory,  we are building one up steadily with a good amount of very useful data.  The site is certainly a promising one and we hope to undertake a mothing session soon  and given the different habitat types present there is clearly potential for interesting species to be discovered from the site.

Dolycoris baccarum 160520 HGF mh

 Dolycoris baccarum.  The excellent British Bugs website offers a vernacular of Hairy Shieldbug, whilst other sources offer that of the Sloe Bug.

Zicrona caerulea 160520 HGF mh

Zircrona caerulea aka ‘Blue Shieldbug’, the metallic hue on this specimen appears to favour green?

The work ongoing on this wetland site of considerable nature conservation interest is such that it has received funding for implementation of a Water Level Management Plan. Further to, this raises the issue of survey and monitoring pre and post implementation?  Failure in either aspect raises the issue of evidencing value and impact of works?  All too often in our opinion is the dash to spend the cash on engineering projects without first understanding or appreciating the assemblages present and their importance in national, regional or a local context.

Other survey work is ongoing on the periphery of Thorne Moors SSSI, again this work relates to fen habitat and species.

Cocksfoot moth19052016

The danger or risk of using a vernacular or common name for a species is illustrated above by the Cocksfoot Moth nectaring on cardamine!  To give it its scientific name of Glyphipterix simpliciella (Stephens) ensures that anyone in any country in the world is able to understand what species is being discussed.

R punctatus  S&CF 160523 hrk 470 b

Another species slightly off piece is Rhacognathus punctatus, or the Heather Shieldbug.  This specimen was swept from an area of fen, some distance from any calluna so the moral of the story is perhaps twofold?  Common names can risk confusion and invertebrates don’t read books ….

Images: Dolycoris baccarum, Zircona caerula and Glyphipterix simpliciella courtesy of Martin Warne, Rhacognathus punctatus H R Kirk.

Thanks also to Jim Flanagan and Stuart Foster for their excellent tuition and involvement with the workshop and field work which thus far has seen forty species logged, impressive for an afternoon ‘bug hunt’?


Pernicious Myths?

May 21, 2016

We are hearing much at the moment claimed as fact in attempts by some people with ‘political’ agendas to persuade us to join or rather support a particular perspective?  Plentiful supposition and short on robust science offered by both sides?

Peacock @ BD  21042016 mh

Has nature a value, or is it simply a resource to be traded, used or abused on a ‘whim’?

Whilst our area of interest is broadly speaking a geographical one, the Forum takes a wider interest in peat matters and would encourage responsible use of all finite earth resources.  Politicians and those in power appear to have long since abandoned any long term strategy opting instead for short term benefit likely to keep them in lucrative posts?  We offer the post detailed below as a little ‘food’ for thought amidst the tedium of the claim, counter claim and downright ‘Jackanory‘ (for those of a certain age who may remember the programme) of “Brexit“?

Dr Glen Barry presents a view that Nothing grows forever. The myth the economy can is destroying the biosphere. 

The present human condition is predicated on one of the biggest lies ever – that the economy can grow indefinitely. In a self-serving logical contortion, economists in service to the oligarchy measure the well-being of a society by how fast the economy grows, with little regard to the state of natural capital, human inequity, the welfare of ecosystems and other species, or the extent to which people and society are happy. Natural capital is defined as Earth’s stocks of natural assets including ecosystem services which make all life possible, which is unmeasured and thus undervalued by indices of economic growth.

Read the full article “The Pernicious Myth of Perpetual Economic Growth” here and others on the EcoInternet website here.

Image above: Peacock butterfly sunning itself on Thorne Moors, for how much longer will such sights be everyday and common?  Are we right to just take such things for granted?  Courtesy of Martin Warne.

Nut job?

May 13, 2016

Yesterday we reported on habitat loss and failure to address by a number of public bodies.  Today we raise the issue of the behaviour of an MP, an elected public servant ….

Some readers may be aware that Chris Packham has written “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”.  It is reviewed in the May issue of BBC Wildlife and  also features as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.

Packham’s stance on the Hen Harrier issue is well known, it has gained him supporters and conversely it has attracted  abuse from some quarters.  Whilst campaigners might expect to attract criticism and to some extend verbal abuse, is it acceptable that a Member of Parliament ‘tweets’ in support?  To make matters worse, the MP in question is a Right Honourable  …. For more detailed background on the sorry story see Springwatch host Chris Packham branded “nut job” by hunting firm after Asperger admission.

Miles King and Mark Avery have both featured analysis of the slur on their respective blogs.  They are worth a read thus far and in all probability as they update the saga.

Bad enough that a business elects to use offensive terminology towards someone with opposing views to theirs, notably someone who is vehemently against illegal activities involving protected birds of prey.  But that an MP then supports their stance is quite out of order, MPs are reputedly public servants and it seems wholly reasonable that they behave in a courteous and polite manner?

An honourable gesture in light of the slur, which has the potential to offer more than Packham would be for ‘The Rt Hon’ Nicholas Soames to apologise?

Packham has responded and said: “It’s very disappointing to see such comments retweeted by an MP.  “People with Aspergers are not ‘nut jobs’ they are simply different.   Hunting Solutions and their supporter ‘The Rt Hon’ Sir Nicholas Soames MP clearly has a different opinion, and we are all entitled to opinions but the issue being is it right he uses such terminology given his public office?

We understand that attempts to contact him through social media were blocked, perhaps a polite note via email might persuade him to reconsider labeling people with Aspergers as nut jobs, and to apologise to Packham for inappropriate and offensive language?

End illegal persecution of protected species and manage the upland moors for public benefit?  Then ….

Ban driven grouse shooting




When is a pond no longer a pond?

May 12, 2016

We oft hear of hedgerows and field ponds being an intrinsic part of the rural landscape.  Fishlake Parish in the Borough of Doncaster had many delightful such features.  Howes (1997) catalogued the decline of these features and we now mourn the passing of another ….

A pond such as this below in a quiet corner could assist alleviate the impact of flooding, it could be useful when biodiversity value of a land holding is assessed?


Pond beginning to be infilled

Had this pond been checked for Great Crested Newts?  Had the local planning authority, that is to say Doncaster MBC, been asked about the presence of any protected species within the vicinity via their Local Records Centre?  Had the Environment Agency been contacted?


Shows the same pond above filled with reclaimed soil from the nearby barrier bank

Crucially, had permission been sought for the use of barrier bank soil to infill it?  If so who was involved in any ‘discussion’? Had Danvm Drainage Commissioners as the Public Body responsible for drainage matters in the area been involved?


Shows the barrier bank removal scar

What risk assessment had been undertaken which determined that there was no need for this bank in terms of flood management?  It seems wholly reasonable that given the low lying nature of the area that features were installed or created for a reason and if that was now redundant then it would receive approval from the appropriate authority for an alternative use?  Who was and who is now that appropriate authority or agency?

Does the landowner involved receive stewardship payments for the feature (ie the pond)?

The function of the IDBs is land drainage and their powers are through the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended), it is the Environment Agency who is responsible for flood prevention/alleviation/mitigation etc.

In the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins “Oh let there be left wildness and wet; long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”?

What will be left of a once pastoral landscape for the next generation, some would say it’s progress and for landowners to do as they wish with their own property?  As oft the case, much is underpinned with public funds.  IDBs receive significant sums via a levy collected through the local authority and there is reported to be an expectation of public benefit for those funds.  IDBs have Biodiversity Action Plans for their catchments, but these are often little more than words and tangible outputs from the expenditure is as scarce as field ponds?  The DDC website offers an array of BAPs, the relevant BAP Pond and Great Crested Newt Action Report (2014) simply details a survey of a couple of sites, not a catchment survey, and no actions so one might be forgiven for pondering the claim of BAP ‘implementation’?  Implementation would generally mean tangible activity post assessment?  Do the local IDBs have any biodiversity inventory relating to the areas managed by them, it would seem reasonable given that the management service provision would at least hold a baseline inventory of protected species as a minimum with periodic updates? Parallels could be drawn where nature conservation organisations (both charitable and statutory) do hold relevant data material to their management function of land and water courses?  How else can they deliver appropriate management without an asset register of key biodiversity interest?


Low lying land in flood plains are a resource to alleviate the impact of increasing rainfall events? 



May 6, 2016

Could we encourage readers to visit Standing up for Nature, and look at the issues raised by Avery in his synopsis of the case for objecting to a retrospective planning application to continue damaging upland moorland at Midhope Moor to the north west of Sheffield?

The application seeks to secure retrospective planning permission for a temporary track to a line of grouse butts.  There are some 30 objections to the application, although Avery points out that there are none from any conservation organisation, why one might wonder is that?  It is interesting that the applicant is supported by Natural England.  See the downloadable pdf available via the planning portal.


Natural England write in support of the retrospective planning application for the lightweight access matting laid over the soil and vegetation along the route from Lost Lad to Mickleden Grouse Butts within the above named designated sites. 

If this was a legitimate restoration activity and had discussions taken place ahead of this infrastructure being laid then one could perhaps understand Natural England’s position, but it appears that the works had been undertaken to provide access grouse butts rather than facilitate conservation management?  More than one commentator questions why NE have supported retrospectively, considering they should have better advised the landowner in the first instance given the public funding relating to the site.

Note also that the Screening Opinion recognises that the application falls with Schedule 2 of the Regulations but it is not considered by the Planning Manager to have a significant impact on the environment.  The creation of easy access to facilitate transport of shooters and their entourage is surely part of the plan or project, not merely the placing of matting?

One interesting aspect to note is that the PDNP make public commentators personal details available, this is clearly stated and obvious when opening consultees correspondence.  It appears that different public bodies adopt different policies and there is no consistency across such matters.  Another example would be that a number of Internal Drainage Boards operating in the Humberhead Levels, particularly associated with the Doncaster area have redacted some personal details from correspondence and on other occasions have published them.

Anyone wishing to make representation has until Monday 9 May to do so.  That is this coming Monday, so the weekend to consider and compose some correspondence to the Peak District National Park Planning Team.    The link to the page provides the array of material documents and there is a form to submit comments.  Remember if you wish to object to the application then you need to ensure that you indicate (by ticking the relevant box) that your comment is an objection, in support, or simply a general comment.

Cuckoos, missing Hen Harriers & moorland (mis)management?

May 2, 2016

Often called the ‘Cuckoo Flower’ Cardamine pratensis or ‘Lady’s Smock’can be found in wet meadows and pond margins.  The plant can still be found in such places in the Humberhead Levels but sadly like so many meadow flowers it is not as common as it once was even, in my memory.  The decline is due to loss of habitat, areas previously hosting this delicate plant have been been drained to facilitate increased agricultural intensification.  There may be remnant meadows, hidden gems secreted away where this and other meadow species can still be found.  Pastoral areas of the Doncaster borough still have some fields which retain hedges for stock and are cut for hay in summer months.

160430 Cardamine pratensis hrk 266 - web

The Cuckoo Flower, so called as it is often in flower as the cuckoo arrives with us is the county flower of Breckonshire and Cheshire where it was called ‘Milkmaid’.  The origins of the vernacular ‘Lady’s Smock’ is not as innocent as it might first appear?

Cuckoos have arrived with one logged on Hatfield Moors on 23 and on Thorne 28 April.  Wheatears, hirundines and swifts too are here for the breeding season, all we await now is our nightjars and given that it appears to be an early season they probably won’t be too much longer.  Recent early dates include 19 May 2013 on Crowle Moors.

Missing Hen Harriers & moorland (mis)management?

We seem to have lost the Hen Harriers for the summer season, with the last being seen on on Thorne Moors 19 April and 25 April on Hatfield Moors.  As our wintering birds leave us for the uplands, let’s hope they avoid persecution which appears to remain rife in areas with managed grouse moors.  Two items which may be of interest to readers relate to raptor persecution and the issue of moorland management and the EU!  One is a quite astonishing piece of footage and equally astonishing is the various exchanges of correspondence it has generated not least on Avery’s blog and Raptor Persecution UK (formerly RP Scotland).

Will we ever get the 300+ pairs of Hen Harriers in the north of England that the habitat could host?  Help get the deficit discussed in Westminster, if you’ve not already signed the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting epetition created by Mark Avery.  It’s doing well nearing 34,000 but we need it to reach 100,000 soplease spread the word.  Listen to the passion behind the message on the first HH Day in 2014 by Chris Packham, Mark Avery and Charlie Moores.

Realists will acknowledge that the epetion is unlikely to see a ban introduced, but if we can achieve the required 100k signatures then it might be discussed in Parliament.  It is just one of the tools in the big box.  Many of us know the sincerity of Ministers words from the variety of correspondence received, but for the Government to ignore its own words ….


Help Henry – sign up to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting.


April 24, 2016

Addiction is, according to an online dictionary definition, a medical condition that is characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. It can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviours.

So are those of us who expend countless hours searching out and observing the enigmatic Vipera berus thus afflicted?  Adderholics?

Locally, that is to say the Humberhead Levels supports a reasonable population of the reptile.  But with increased pressure from Open Access and engineered management works currently being undertaken on Thorne & Hatfield Moors the population is potentially at risk.

The Adder, the UK’s only venomous snake is a reptile favouring open predominantly dry habitats.  Heathland and commons, moorland, sea cliffs and chalk downland, open woodland and woodland rides, road and rail embankments  are also used.

The images above of a male adder show two key aspects, namely the dark rostal and its head pattern – a unique feature to all individual adders.  Images: H R Kirk.

Adder M&F GB mw - web

The image above shows the general colour difference between the male and female adder.  Note also the paler brown as opposed to dark rostal indicative of a male adder.  Image courtesy of Martin Warne.

The two images above show (left) a female adder approaching sloughing, indicated by the opaqueness of its eye and (right) a sloughed skin discarded amongst vegetation.  Images: Martin Warne (adder) & H R Kirk (sloughed skin). 

Examination of local historical data (pre 2000) and moderately recent data appears to indicate a decline in adder numbers.  As Thorne Moors particularly becomes wetter through the implementation of a Water Level Management Plan currently being delivered by Doncaster East IDB and Hatfield Moors is the focus for increased public access, what are the ‘new’ or ‘modern’ implications for this sensitive species?  What monitoring is being undertaken by either of the Public Bodies currently undertaking significant management works?

Nationally too there is concern about decline in adder populations, see abstracts from Herptofauna Workers Meeting 2013 via

The  photographs above were taken using  a zoom lens. The adders were not disturbed. The interests of the adders, a protected species must come first.

Converted, for peat’s sake?

April 22, 2016

Why is it every decade there seems to be a revisit of the need to emphasise that peat is not an essential component of the gardeners tool / growing shed of resources?

This time The Guardian offers the confessions of past peat user Robbie Backhall-Miles who explains “Why I changed my mind about peat”. It’s worth a read, B-M says there’s no excuses for continued use of peat by gardeners and even infers horticulturalists as well?  We’d agree but we’d also recognise that the big growing media companies still promote peat above alternatives and pedal the usual argument of the need for consistency and reliability in performance for the horticultural trade.  I would dearly like to buy some of the plants offered in nurseries but I will not if I discover they are grown in peat.  That’s peat in every sense be it SSSI peat or from a non SSSI site.

160422 Looking E across GM hrk 195Moody but magnificent so for peat’s sake leave it alone ….

The battle for the bogs here in the Humberhead has been over some five decades or so and whilst the corporate carnage has in the main ceased there is still the issue of hydrological integrity and drainage.  Then there’s pressure on sensitive species from encouraged access.  What should be the priority?  The habitat, the species or people?  Is there potential conflict or can a balance be achieved?

For sure, as a species we are wasteful and generate veritable mountains of rubbish which we have to dispose of.  Much of it is green waste, be it municipal landscaping off-cuts or our grass cuttings.  If this is composted then it can be used to improve soils.  If it is commercially composted and processed through a rigorous routine then it can be used to grow plants.  One such excellent product was Terra Eco’s peat free compost.  This used straw, an agri-industry by product and Thames Water treated waste*.  Morally when you see the damage out there on damaged or destroyed peat bogs and then factor in the loss of carbon sequestration opportunity ask yourself …. do you really need peat as a growing medium?  But, like so many issues we leave it to market forces supported by massive advertising campaigns to ‘sell’ us the need.

*Evans T.D. (2009) Using composted biosolids as a peat replacement. Proc. 14th European Biosolids and Organic Resources Conf., November 2009, Lowe P.(ed), Aqua Enviro, Leeds, UK

Diversions & Defra odds & sods….

April 17, 2016

This delightful Wheatear, recently arrived with us from Africa along with the other Spring migrants such as Sand Martins, House Martins and Swallows already with us is looking a little puzzled perhaps?  Not quite sure which way to go but happy to have found a refueling station extremely rich in high quality Humberhead protein.

160417 Confused migrant hrk 124

Buddleia is often found high on buildings but this Yew takes some beating for tenacity and resilience – how much longer it will be able to reside on Periplaneta’s roof is another matter.

160417 Yew on P roof hrk 082

‘Moor grousing’?

Thanks to readers who have signed the epetition to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting posted by Dr Mark Avery on the Government website.  It has long since passed the 10,000 signature requirement to receive a response from the appropriate Government Department.  Defra have missed the target (no pun intended) and we’ve all been Waiting for 24 days for a government response”.  In the interim, momentum is propelling the epetition to the target when we are told “At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament”.  Call me a skeptic but as ever there’s a caveat in that piece of ‘information’?  Just in case readers and are still considering the issues then if the loss of that fabulous ‘silver ghost’ from our local moors each winter isn’t sufficient motivation consider the land management issues and impact on flooding and water quality?  This evening signatories approach 28k so come on let’s help keep the momentum for change going ….

The Humberhead constituencies have provided, to date:

Brigg & Goole (Andrew Percy) 41.  Don Valley (Caroline Flint) 27.  Doncaster Central (Rosie Winterton) 25.  Doncaster North (Ed Miliband) 18.  Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) 17.

Another epetition on an equally contentious issue and discussed widely is Ban toxic lead ammunition. This epetition is similarly posted on the Government website by Rob Sheldon and has received support from a wide range of conservation NGOs.  It is underpinned by peer reviewed evidence and reported on by Mark Avery amongst others.  As far as we are aware the findings of the Lead Ammunition Group are still to be published, one might question why we are still waiting?  We have asked Ms Truss and received the anticipated excuses, that is to say it is not for Defra to publish the LAG Report but for the Group to ….. See the Lead Ammunition Group website, last updated July 2015.

The Humberhead constituencies have provided, to date:

Brigg & Goole (Andrew Percy) 29.  Don Valley (Caroline Flint) 21.  Doncaster Central (Rosie Winterton) 15.  Doncaster North (Ed Miliband) 18.  Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) 14.








Adders, Tick alert & 100k?

April 15, 2016

The hirundines are with us, Sand Martin, Swallow and House Martin.  So too the early warblers with Chiffchaff vociferously proclaiming territories.  Wheatears, another delightful passerine have been recorded on both Moors  heralding the new season – how long before that other high flying master of aerial manoeuvre the Swift arrives with us and then our speciality, the crepuscular nightjar?

The adder, the enigmatic and much mis-understood reptile appears to be holding its own across the Moors but with the implementation of the Water Level Management Plan on Thorne Moors by Doncaster East IDB through it contractors JBA Consulting and the LIFE+ Project being rolled out by Natural England alongside Open Access, the question must surely arise about potential impact upon the necessary suite of habitats for the species?

Adder 17032016 mw

This stunning image of a female adder was taken from well back so not to disturb the animal from basking.  Cameras of today are so powerful there is no need to cause disturbance or distress to sensitive species.  Image courtesy of Martin Warne.

Another far more dangerous inhabitant of the Moors and indeed other vegetated areas where deer and other livestock can be found is the TICK There are various species but suffice to say, dress appropriately when visiting the moors as they are already out and have been ‘hitch-hiking’ for their next meal.  If you do find one of these critters attached, then you are advised to visit your doctors surgery and get the nurse or appropriate medical practitioner to remove it as they can carry and spread  Lyme’s Disease

Other early signs of spring have been Orange Underwing  and that wonderful sulphur yellow of a male Brimstone butterfly.

Orange Underwing 1 Crowle Moor 5.4.16

The image above, showing an Orange Underwing from Crowle Moors is unusual as it is a species more often seen flying around the top of birch trees and rarely ‘captured’ stationary as here.  Image courtesy of Phil Lee. 

Orange Underwing is a woodland edge species flying high in bright sunshine.  The species passes the winter as a pupa, and the adult moths emerge in early spring to lay their eggs in time for their caterpillars to feed on newly formed birch catkins.  Three seen on Thorne Moors on 25 March constitute the earliest record for this species on the Moors, and possibly Yorkshire.

Congratulations to Mark Avery whose relaunched epetition BAN DRIVEN GROUSE SHOOTING has galloped past the first 10k hurdle and is now racing towards the 100k!



Did you hear a ‘gabble ratchet’ on All Fool’s Day?

April 2, 2016

Or a Goatsucker or Fern Owl perhaps?

Nightjar (PP)

“Bog birds and bugs” was the title of a talk given by Lucy Ryan, a masters student at the University of York to an enthralled audience at the Annual Meeting of the Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum held on 1 April 2016.

Lucy’s presentation which was supported by some superb images explained about the monitoring of the nightjar population on Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  This study had a pilot year on Hatfield Moors in 2015, but this coming season will see the study scaled up and undertaken on both Thorne and Hatfield Moors.  The three year study, funded for its first year by Natural England LIFE+ Project will look at the impact the management works undertaken by Natural England on the key species and interest feature of the European Natura 2000 Site.  The Water Level Management Plan being implemented by Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board is not undertaking any monitoring of impact post implementation, instead handing responsibility to Natural England?  These two major engineering projects costing in the region of £5.2m are currently being carried out on Thorne Moors are it is hoped will safeguard the site for its carbon sequestration capacity as well as its wildlife interest and as a natural wilderness for people to study and enjoy.

A second talk “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels” was given by Dr Paul Buckland who offered options as to the man-made and natural influences upon our local landscape.  With the aid of aerial photographs showing crop marks and more recent LIDAR images Dr Buckland took the audience through time to the present day and to a very different landscape to that historic wetland once present across the Humberhead Levels.


After an excellent lunch provided by the Moorends Miners Welfare and Community Development Centre, intrepid explorers braved the dull weather and headed out along Broadbent Gate Moor, also known as Jones’ Cable to reach the tilting weir along the Southern Boundary Drain.


As if on cue a Marsh Harrier flew overhead offering evidence of the wildlife interest of the site.  The number of sightings of this species has increased over recent years and this Natural England attribute to the wetter conditions they are creating across the site.  The cessation of industrial scale peat extraction at Thorne Moors also reduced disturbance for a period but increasing visitor numbers encouraged through Open Access has also seen new threats to rare breeding species and NE have had to close down parts of the site to protect them in recent years.

160401 AM to Tilting Weir hrk 486

To those who attended for the first time, after a series of great talks amidst great company about a great site …. see you again next year?

Do Hen Harriers deserve a future in the uplands?

March 20, 2016

Readers of this blog (others are available) will recall that there has been much discussion over the plight of raptors, particularly the Hen Harrier.  There is just something absolutely magical at the end of a day spent on Thorne Moors when a ‘silver ghost’ drifts in to view, glorious ….

But that stunning bird which we see here in winter is under serious threat, despite legal protection on its upland breeding moors.  Where land management practices on some large estates continues to see decline or absence.

Anyone who has listened to a talk by Chris Packham,  Mark Avery or Iolo Williams amongst others will be familiar with the issues surrounding the ‘debate’?  Anyone who has read Inglorious: Conflict in the uplands has a wealth of research available to them to consider the evidence as presented for a change.

It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that Avery has just launched his third epetition on the issue, titled unsurprisingly Ban driven grouse shooting.  Readers are encouraged to consider signing it, they are encouraged to read the various blog posts which offer evidence and insight into the issue, read Inglorious, read the EMBER Report and then offer justification against a change in upland management practice?

If one sets aside the legal status, i.e. the bird is protected in law full stop, is one permitted to enquire, should landowners receive public funds without delivering public benefit?  With rights go responsibilities?  We hear constantly that such estates are beneficial for wildlife, yet these same estates appear devoid of raptors so where is the balanced ecosystem?

If you’ve not heard Avery speak on the subject then remember that we provided advance notification of a two day conference in Sheffield Raptors, Uplands and Peatlands : 9 & 10 September 2016.  See also UKEconet and download the booking forms.

Ban driven grouse shooting

150821 MA

Join us for Bog birds, bugs & drainage matters?

March 6, 2016

A reminder to readers living with reasonable traveling distance of Thorne & Hatfield Moors, that we are holding our Annual Meeting on ‘All Fool’s Day’* which includes two excellent lectures which are open to the public and after which a site visit onto Thorne Moors via a historic landscape feature – one of the last remaining ‘Cables’

“Bog birds and bugs” is the title of a talk to be given by Lucy Ryan, a masters student at York University who is undertaking monitoring of the nightjar population on Thorne and Hatfield Moors. This three year study will look at the impact the management works undertaken by Natural England through their EU LIFE+ Project.

A second talk “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels” is to be given by Dr Paul C Buckland, whose early work included investigation on the Bronze Age trackway on Thorne Moors.

Following on from these talks there is to be a site visit, weather permitting onto Thorne Moors to look at some of the recent management works undertaken to implement a Water Level Management Plan on the site as well as delivering scrub clearance through the LIFE+ Project.   That’s Life – Restoring the Humberhead Peatlands.  An interesting image to accompany a press release about peatlands?

The visit and the talks are open to the public and are an opportunity for local people to learn about the works currently underway on their moors. Please contact the for more details.

Given that it is 1 April, then there is every chance we will see and hear signs of spring.  Observations so far indicate an early season, with Chiffchaff recorded on 23 February and  up to 14 adders have been recorded on Thorne Moors on one day.

To help with the administrative aspects of the day, please book a place for the public lecture, lunch and site visit by contacting

Adder Hibernacula 03032016-1

Two female adders soaking up the sun.  Image: Martin Warne.

*All Fool’s Day: 1st April.

The BBC, badgers & tall stories?

March 2, 2016

Well, first of all the NFU so no real surprise there, then Defra whose failure to secure robust science on the issue and similar blinkered approach and stance on the [In]action in the uplands to safeguard raptors and most noticably the Hen Harrier but now it’s the turn of the BBC?

As license fee payers it would seem entirely reasonable to expect a balanced view of any topic aired?  Where there is robust science then it might be expected that this be put forward as part of any discussion?

The Ecologist’s headline Tall stories: BBC’s anti-science support for badger culling asks some awkward questions and these are then picked up by the Badger Trust who encourage members of the public to watch the first programme of the series Land of Hope and GloryLand of Hope and Glory to be broadcast this Friday (4 March) on BBC 2 at 9pm.


Poor brock: a scapegoat for poor bio-security or a villan?

The Badger Trust  plan to write an open letter to the Director General of the BBC, Lord Hall, on Monday after the programme has been broadcast.  They also invite their members, supporters and the public to join them in highlighting their concerns through social media, so if you  share concerns then use the hashtag #bbcbias to deliver alternatives to the approach taken by the BBC.  They will be sending out a list of tweets that can be used throughout the day.

It is a shame, if the early indications of bias by the BBC are true, because such acts of demonstrable and one sided bias simply serve to indicate that the Corporation are out of touch and knowledgeable viewers then see the ‘brand’ as unreliable?  If it favours a particular group with bovine TB then where else has it failed in its reporting or investigations?  A topical ‘discussion’ at the moment given the recent revelations documented in Dame Janet’s investigation?  Equally of concern is that it does nothing to help the farmers case when people in possession of an understanding of the complexities and the science but who also have a love of badgers and of Somerset Brie?  What wins?

So let’s all of us watch on Friday evening, Land of hope and glory?  We can then decide for ourselves if the BBC offers balance or bias?  We can then consider what next we might each do or not?

Remember that  Hope was a Hen Harrier and ‘Inglorious’ an excellent expose, and a balanced one, of the ‘Conflicts in the uplands’ brought about by the management regimes designed to create habitat for Red Grouse. This management bias is to the detriment of some other wildlife and water management, in terms of quality for drinking and flood alleviation.




Badgers & Lost Fens?

February 26, 2016

Not quite the Humberhead Levels, but two topics which might be of interest to our readers, details of events in Lincolnshire & Nottinghamshire?

The Lost Fens – England’s Greatest Ecological Disaster
By Professor Ian D. Rotherham

(Ants and Nats) – OTTAWAY LECTURE

TUESDAY 1 MARCH 2016, 19.30 start 

all welcome, charge on the door or members

This illustrated talk is by well-known researcher, writer and broadcaster Professor Ian D. Rotherham and based on his highly regarded books, ‘The Lost Fens’ and ‘Yorkshire’s Forgotten Fenlands’. It tells the remarkable story of the forgotten fens and their drainage – here in 1600 but almost totally gone by 1900!

Lost Fens cover.jpg

Ian approaches the drainage of these amazing landscapes in the manner of a ‘who dunnit’ – who, how, where and why did the fens go so dramatically. The story is neither so simple nor as obvious as you might think – but come along to find out more, and also, read the books.

The theme also resonates with environmental issues today as storms, floods, and inundations threaten to take back the hard-won fens from farming and settlement. The recent floods along the coast and then this winter, inland, are all part of this story as climate change and intensive land-use tip the balance.

What does the past tell us? What does the future hold?

There will be a bookshop selling all sorts of books on history, landscape and wildlife, and you can find out more on Ian’s informative, occasionally challenging and entertaining blog Ianswalkonthewildside
And on UKEconet website

Details of all the (Ants and Nats) talks for 2016 are on Louth Museum’s website

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

A reminder also that Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust are hosting a talk by Patrick Barkham author of The Butterfly Isles and Badgerlands.

The Badger: hero or villan?

Friday 4 March 2016 at the Idle Valley Rural Learning Centre, DN22 8RQ

For satellite navigation please use the postcode DN22 8SG

Tickets: £10 & booking essential.  Or telephone IVRLC Tel: 01777 713 945 for more information.

Excellent home made food available in the cafe.


Who started the drainage?

February 24, 2016

Common Lizard Crowle Moor 24.2.16

Adders on Thorne and Hatfield Moors on 10 February, now Common Lizard has been ‘turned over’ on Crowle Moors.  Image: Phil Lee.

Advance notification of some events for your diaries?

Thorne & Hatfield Moors Conservation Forum’s Annual Meeting

Friday 1 April 2015

Indoor presentations on recent research work followed by a visit to Thorne Moors in the afternoon.

“Bog birds and bugs” by Lucy Ryan (York University) a masters student working on monitoring of the nightjar populations at Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI further to the implementation of the LIFE+ Project* managements works.

Dr Paul Buckland “Who started the drainage?  Iron Age & Roman Landscapes in the Humberhead Levels”.

Anyone interested in attending the above presentations, which are open to the public should contact the

*Please note that the Forum is not aware of any monitoring work ongoing or planned which will look at the impact of the implementation of the Thorne Moors Water Level Management Plan by Doncaster East IDB and its management service providers JBA Consulting


20 May 2016  An introduction to  Auchenorrhyncha identification.

We are delighted to welcome back Jim Flanagan who will be the tutor for the second of our ‘bugs / hoppers’ identification workshops.  Places are limited and are rapidly being filled.  The first part will be an introduction to the Auchenorrhyncha  (leafhoppers, planthoppers, froghoppers, treehoppers & cicadas), the second part will involve a field trip and then a microscope session.  More details are available from


9 & 10 September 2016  Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands: Conservation, Land Management & Issues promises to be an excellent couple of days of presentations and a site visit.

This event is being organised by BaLHRI / BRG UKEconet and will be held at Sheffield Showroom & Workstation and further details are available via and as a pdf

Raptors First Call November 2016 flier

The booking form can also be downloaded here and includes ‘early bird’ booking discounts.

Raptors booking form 9-10 Sept 2016 (ebd)

Networks: data & experienced experts?

February 21, 2016

Treeton was the venue for the annual South Yorkshire Natural History Day, organised and delivered by the Sorby Natural History Society.  It was, as usual, well attended with perhaps somewhere between seventy and eighty people.  A mixed or should one say ‘diverse’ bunch, and I could for a change be considered to have been one of the ‘middle aged’ attendees.  It was good to see and hear ‘youngsters’ taking up projects with enthusiasm.  It was particularly refreshing to hear one such speaker express appreciation about the help and support received from experienced experts in the Sorby NHS.  Would that more grant funded projects would adopt a similar philosophy.  When the hardened amongst us, who remember black and white televisions and a time when there were two hundred and forty pennies in a pound, drift back to those days of wanderings, of discoveries and of the difficulties involved in putting a name to the more unusual finds without the benefit of t’internet or digital images and emails one might be forgiven for wondering how it was the necessary field skills were acquired?


Break time at South Yorkshire Natural History day, organised and facilitated by Sorby NHS in Treeton.

But, when youngsters seek out help then it is generally offered.  Sadly there are a few who seem to consider that it is a right, after all they paid their university fees ….

The Forum have been lucky, we have links with a number of academic institutions and are keen to encourage students to make links and are happy to help where we can.  Last year three such individuals benefited from our help and support.  This coming year another two have linked up with us and one is ongoing from 2015.

All these links, all this networking ought to build a cohesive network able to defend habitats and sites under threat?  All the recording going on should deliver robust evidence to safeguard sites from inappropriate development?

We pose the question, posed by many others as well, where does an aspiring amateur naturalist pass on their observations and records?  Melissa Harrison asked BBC Wildlife magazine readers in the January edition a similar question, she also raised the issue of  charities and organisations competing for data, our money etc.

Back to the destination of data issue …. which presupposes (a) they want to and that (b) they are accurate identifications.  Assuming that the second part is accommodated through making contact with local, regional or national experts in the case of difficult species and validation or determination achieved then what should the new amateur naturalist do next?  Chances are if they live in a town then there may well be a local group or natural history society.  There might be a regional or national one, but do you record by groups or by geographical area?  There are local records centres (LRCs) keen to take your data, it is after all worth money because they are obliged if run by the Local Authority to provide data searches to commercial enquirers.  Conversely there appears to be little data provided to LRCs by commercial consultants who like to promote themselves as ‘professionals’.  There are national recording schemes for many groups (dragonflies, moths, water beetles, spiders and many others).  There are schemes designed to feed into such as the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) which used cautiously can be a useful guide, there are citizen science schemes but all these rely on the amateur naturalists and perhaps a few ‘professionals’ to confirm identification or to actually determine the finds (often submitted as photographs).  There are many keen to act as ‘managers’ but too few keen to support that indefatigable army of amateur naturalists who actually deliver the raw data for the ‘professional’ managers to interpret.  At one time of day the government through various defra agencies collected data on a range of species and habitats.

The February issue of British Wildlife magazine has a though provoking paper “The increasing importance of monitoring wildlife responses to habitat management” (Fuller et. al.). 

A case could certainly be presented for some of that here in the Humberhead Levels?  Doncaster East IDB, are through their management service provision (JBA Consulting) implementing a £2.9m Water Level Management Plan on Thorne Moors.  Mid term through that, Natural England secured £2.3m to deliver a EU LIFE+ Project involving management works, engineering, community engagement and …. science and monitoring, one of the salaried posts was a monitoring officer, so there’s hope that substantive science will be delivered and monitoring put in place post projects to assess impact and changes on key habitats and species?


‘moor’ about?

February 19, 2016

The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the wilderness beckoned again, so Thursday saw another visit to a very wet landscape.  Dressing like an ‘onion’ with three pairs of socks easily kept the cold at bay.

A pair of delightful dumpy Stonechats were the first good birds of the day, colourful gems on a winter’s day.160218 Stonechat hrk 309

Feeding at the edge of the track and returning to a perch before repeating the exercise again an indication perhaps that there was plenty of suitable food for these seasonal specials.  Their ‘tchack’ call, reminiscent of stones being hit together, was heard frequently as the two birds worked their patch for food.  Stonechats are omnivorous and will search out seed and invertebrates both of which appear plentiful at the moment and is no doubt contributing much needed fuel for these delightful chats, with up to eight birds being logged on Thorne Moors recently.

The Marsh Harriers, two males quartered the moor flushing wildfowl and pheasant in their quest for smaller quarry.  A stunning Short-eared Owl appearing as the light waned, working the western periphery for small mammals able to escape the wet and relocate on the drier balks.


Big skies, space to breath but just about every point of the compass is seeing the ring of steel tighten and destroy the atmospheric vista?  Conversely these metal monsters were ‘sold’ as a tourist attraction to which people would flock to see such iconic structures …. not forgetting the marketing spin of wind energy being free ?


There is much discussion about an early season with the Blackthorn in flower already.  The first adders have been seen on both Hatfield and Thorne Moors, 10 February so ten days earlier than last year!  How long before we hear the first Chiffchaff and see the first Sand Martin, two of the early migrants?

Will the ‘silver ghosts’ who have graced our local lowland moors this winter return to their upland breeding moors and be able to successfully fledge young birds into the declining English population?  Whilst the politicians postulate the pros and cons of the UK remaining in the European Union, will 2016 see an outcome to the RSPBs complaint to the European Commission about the damage on Walshaw Moor?  The case is not just about Hen Harriers, but about management of upland moors and we might also remember that they are now extremely topical for their role in flood alleviation?

In the interim, let’s carry on enjoying the magic that the Hen Harrier brings on a cold winters day when, if we put in the hours scanning the far horizon and the extensive reed beds we can be rewarded with a glimpse of a charismatic bird who can for the winter months at least enjoy a safe haven here with us.  Get out there, experience the magic before the species is just a memory and another obituary in a natural history paper.  It was as recent as 2013 that the headlines reported imminent extinction as an English breeding bird, its status is still extremely tenuous.

The defra sponsored Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population received mixed reviews and it was Mark Avery who summed it up as the ‘[In]action plan’.




Enjoy it while it lasts?

February 10, 2016

The natural environment it would seem is under siege?  Management of upland moors at the moment is very topical not least for the potential flooding implications if not undertaken appropriately and in the public interest?  What is appropriate and who gets to define ‘public interest’?

Government Ministers have written to the chancellor to persuade him not to let nature laws impact on development.  One of those is the Minister for the Environment!

Let’s set aside for this post at least, political hot potatoes and spend a day on our local moors whilst we are still able to enjoy what were once vast wildernesses.  Now they are in the centre of what is rapidly becoming industrialised farmland, with approaching around 100 massive turbines visible from various points of the compass.

They are publically owned, that’s by US, you and me?  They are managed by Natural England, the government advisers on nature conservation.  They also advise developers via their Discretionary Advice Service (revenue generation business).  There are others involved in their management and there is a lot of activity on site now.

February ‘fill dyke’?  There has been a fair amount of precipitation but there have been bouts of fine weather in which to get out there and enjoy the ‘last days of wilderness’.

160209 Roe b&h hrk 250

It was the bright white ‘targets’ which attracted my attention.  The buck’s antlers resplendent in heir velvet.  A second very inquisitive buck located later in the day and in another area kept checking my progress along the track before nonchalantly trotting off again.  At the risk of being accused of anthropomorphism, did he satisfy himself that I posed no threat to his territory?

The rut for Roe deer starts in July but the does will not give birth until May and June after a nine month gestation of which four involve delayed implantation.  Bucks will aggressively defend territories from the start of Spring in February/March until August.  The Roe is one of our native deer, the other is Red, with records dating back before the Mesolithic (6,000 -10,000 years BC).

There is certainly a wealth of wildlife out there at the moment for visitors prepared to look for it.  Birds of prey are showing well with good numbers of Marsh Harriers and a smaller contingent of Hen Harriers.  The magnificent male, that ‘silver ghost’ with its white rump and ink-dipped wing tips guaranteed to lift a winter’s day.  Peregrines, Short-eared Owls, Merlins, Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks as supporting cast reward effort.  Wildfowl too with up to 10 male Goosanders being logged, the occasional Pintail and Goldeneye, rafts of others including Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Tufted and Pochard.  Plenty of passerines amongst the sheltered spots.  The unexpected bonus yesterday was a Little Egret flying in and along the northern boundary!


Just be careful where you walk and watch out for contractors vehicles whizzing along.


Big skies and space, or a cluttered horizon?  Get out there and experience the exhilarating, discover the nature of the place and its wildlife before its become a chapter in a historic review ….

In the interim visit Hatfield Moors Birding Blog and Thorne Moors Birding Blog and check out what has been seen and what with effort you might hope to see.

Fracking free for all creeps nearer?

February 6, 2016

The Guardian heads up it’s latest report on Government support for fracking with the headline “UK ministers make it ‘top priority’ to ensure nature laws do not hamper fracking”

A letter obtained by Friends of the Earth, dated 7 July 2015 and signed by Liz Truss, Amber Rudd and Greg Clark to George Osborne indicates that they sought to ensure that wildlife protection did not interfere with fracking projects.  The letter also revealed that ministers are considering designating shale gas wells as “nationally significant infrastructure projects”, which would take planning decisions out of the hands of local authorities, to be made by officials at the Infrastructure Planning Commission instead.

So, this from a government who had promised local communities involvement in planning decisions which would directly affect them.  The same government also promised ‘world class environmental protection’, but that’s as realistic an aspiration as the ‘greenest government ever’?

It does appear that the three ministers admit that introducing such a change is likely to undermine public support for fracking.

If fracking is so safe and ministers have confidence in the reported safeguards then they should have no problem in personally underwriting any issues proven to result from any aspect of the industrialised process?  Readers might recall that we have listed links and associations of ministers and the fracking companies and their financiers.  In April 2015, Spinwatch’s Melissa Jones and Andy Rowell  wrote “Access all areas: Westminster’s (vast) fracking lobby exposed” might cause one to question who government actually work for?

If Lancashire is distant, the remember the application planned for ‘us’ in the Humberhead Levels …. more details available via Frack Free Nottinghamshire  and there is also information on the Frack Off site for Springs Road.160204 IGas @ Misson hrk 230

There are also plans for Pocklington, Market Weighton and the Yorkshire Wolds ….



WCU funding under threat again?

February 1, 2016

It doesn’t seem that long since we reported that the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s funding was under review and that it was at risk.  Well, here we are again with much the same issues.  Ministers have failed to confirm it will be funded after March this year.

It’s not a great amount of money, considerably less than the annual alcohol subsidy in the Houses of Parliament.  Public funds for public benefit?

Wildlife crime might not be the top of the ‘green c**p cutting’ politicians agenda but there are links with animal cruelty and unregulated illegal gambling.  Significant sums are wagered on the outcomes of badger baiting with dogs and with hare coursing, and it is the profits which fund the trade and practice of digging.

According to James Fair in the February edition of BBC Wildlife, “The government has made much of its £10m package to combat the illegal trade in wildlife.  The public deserve to know whether the NWCU is to be a part of that.” 

The role of NWCU is more than just about wildlife crime, recent conversations with a local Wildlife Crime Officer (WCO) revealed the astonishing links with other crimes, with wildlife related aspects simply a piece of a much larger jig-saw.  Criminals will deal in whatever they can that will make them easy money, be it poaching, baiting, illegal raptor persecution or trespass to undertake any of the activities mentioned.  Poachers might partake of celebratory drink after a successful ‘action’ in a local hostelry and mention of unprotected vehicles and machinery in isolated barns might see the next job is being lined up?  We must all be vigilant and work collaboratively for the benefit of the community and nature conservation.

Perhaps we might also consider that the New Year’s Resolution of a monthly letter to a Minister, MP or other worthy recipient might be one which asks that the NWCU funding is assured for the remainder of the current political term, that is to say, 2020?

If you want to help IFAW in the matter then sign up to their action to Rory Stewart MP Parliamentary Under Secretary Environment & Rural Affairs, asking for continued funding for NWCU.  Remember though, lots of separate letters carry more weight than a campaign, that’s not to say you couldn’t do both?

If you see wildlife crime, then report it. 

Call 101 to speak to a local Wildlife Crime Officer.


Useful information about reporting wildlife crime can be found on a number of web sites, for example (but not exclusively):

Birders Against Wildlife Crime

Government Advice  Published in 2010, updated 2014 so a little out of date.


League Against Cruel Sports


Vandalism or maintenance?

January 27, 2016

There was no fallen timber, no blockages preventing water flow but where Internal Drainage Board (IDB) machinery and maintenance are involved woe betide anything getting in their way?  There appeared to be no indication that pruning or removal of trees was required, no paint or tape were located to suggest that inspection had identified flow restriction or other maintenance requirement.

Internal Drainage Boards exist by virtue of the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended), they exist principally to undertake drainage of land, generally this is agricultural land but they also receive revenue from other property which may be in their catchment(s). In some areas Local Authorities collect these levies on their behalf and these are paid from revenue collected from council tax payers.

It is the EA who are responsible for flood defence and alleviation, with IDBs encouraged to co-operate in such matters.  Both the EA and IDBs are Public Bodies and as such, ‘reputedly’ accountable.  IDBs are required to take account of and indeed to promote biodiversity benefit ….

See the WLMA website and their guidance note where it clearly acknowledges that IDBs derive their powers from the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended by 1994 Act).  Section 12 of this Act states that in discharging its functions with relation to Land Drainage, the Boards must ‘further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest’.

Vandalism or maintenance perhaps, but biodiversity benefit?

On a positive note, this incidence is not on the scale of that in 2012, reported in 2013 via Standing up for nature?  But, is it another example of IDB governance practice and procedure or another ‘runaway digger driver’?



UK National Fish Vote

January 25, 2016

Last year we had a national campaign to find our national bird, now it’s the turn of the fish.  So if you wish to see haddock or cod on the menu then get your vote registered.  Perhaps you prefer freshwater species, trout or salmon – then again is salmon fresh of sea?  The same might be said of the European Eel perhaps?

What criteria would we each see as important in the selection?  Perhaps the public might opt for a high profile food species? Naturalists might go for a species which represents the need to ensure that particular habitats are cared for and protected?  Anglers might prefer one that represents a challenge in the pursuit of?  Certainly all fish need a healthy environment in which to breed and play their part in the natural ecosystem.  That we exploit particular species as food should not really influence a decision but given the popularity of the christmas card robin, the chances are that the national fish will be linked to Solanum tuberosum served with a generous quantities of acetic acid and sodium chloride?

For more detail and additional information then take a look at Beneath the waterline website and the press release via Fisheye’s View.  UK National Fish is a Survey Monkey website and asks you seven questions, some of which require more in depth knowledge but should not stop you from voting for your favourite species.

We appreciate that people might think there’s something ‘fishy’ about our promoting this request, but fish need a healthy environment in which to live and water, be it fresh or sea is an important habitat as well as a natural resource which needs conserving in all our interests.  If wetlands are healthy and seas are clean then there is hope for our own species?

Take part in the UK National Fish vote, voting is in two stages:

23rd Jan – 26th March: from the 40 species the top ten will be narrowed down

26th March – May (exact date TBC): from the top ten the national fish will be decided.



Defra’s [In]action Plan for Hen Harrier recovery?

January 23, 2016

I was hoping to write a few words about Defra’s Action Plan when it was published recently, but I decided to comply with one of my New Year’s Resolutions and I spent the day on Thorne Moors instead.  The excursion lessened the variety of emotions the documents elicited, for a while ….

It was cold but who cares, the skies were clear and bright and the light just right for watching those magical ‘silver ghosts’ as they quarter the moor in search of a meal.  Also present was a female peregrine and Short-eared Owl, along with the usual supporting assemblage.

But it is the grey male with its white rump and black ink-dipped wing tips that generate emotions like wonder but also sadness as well as a degree of anger ….

To understand the ‘disquiet’ and disappointment about the “Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population” then you need to read it.  An erudite analysis of the document has been written by Dr Mark Avery via his blog Standing up for nature 

It is interesting too to read the comments made via that blog about the RSPB membership of the Upland Stakeholder Group, that is to say as part of the stakeholder group who have published this [In]action plan.  The RSPB’s response to the Action Plan can be found via Martin Harper’s blog.

Hen Harriers breed on upland moors, many managed for grouse.  Leeds University through its EMBER project found issues of water quality etc. This winter has seen astonishing levels of flooding in areas which are downstream of these [mis]managed moorlands.  An epetition to ban driven grouse shooting achieved 33,615 signatures, the RSPB and the WTs collectively failed to get behind this petition and similarly the RSPB have yet to encourage its membership to sign the Ban toxic lead ammunition petition, why?

But, with flooding topical then we should encourage people in power, Ministers, MPs and others that upland moor management needs to be reviewed and where necessary undertaken for the public good not private profit?  Is it right that large estates cause damage and receive public funds as part of land subsidies?  Perhaps the issue of flooding will keep the management of upland moors and public subsidies in the public gaze?  Ministers were quick to be seen out in devastated areas dishing out sympathies and promises, but time will tell if their flood of promises manifest any tangible benefit to the public who suffered from the consequences of failure to take a holistic approach to flood management?

According to George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian  This flood was not only foretold – it was publicly subsidised.




Resources down the drain(s)?

January 14, 2016

A recent article Government planning thousands of new homes in flood plains in The Ecologist assessed a ‘plan’ that seeks to build some 9000 new homes in floodplains ….

Mary Dhonau OBE, a flood campaigner, told Greenpeace: “No developer in their right mind would build a house in the middle of the river so why build it where we know the river will be when the floods come? It’s setting people up for misery. In the light of the appalling floods we’ve seen in Cumbria, coupled with the threat that climate change brings – it has never been more essential that new homes are not built where there is a risk of flooding.”

But the government are to fast track developments in flood zones.  Read the full article to learn how Greenpeace established the areas and the level of risk.  Readers may recall that we asked that you consider responding to the government consultation on proposed changes to the FoI legislation.  Had not Greenpeace been able to obtain important information, funded through the public purse in the first instance, then use this to establish risk then people unaware of an areas ‘potential’ would be left with a mess to sort out?  This is a prime example of why it is crucial that the FoI legislation is strengthened not weakened?

Let’s hope that the issue of floods and land use remain high on the medias agenda and that of conservation because it is evident that much public money will be spent, but …. will it deliver value for money?  Will it be predicated on robust science, or will those with vested interest endeavour to manipulate and manage the discussions to steer the outcomes favourable to their agendas?

See an interesting commentary on a recent parliamentary discussion via Standing up for nature likewise in a new nature blog.  Read the Hansard report on the debate.  Surely the debate is not simply food or floods, more it is about a holistic and strategic approach to land use?  Oh dear that’s probably too much for government to tackle in their short-term economic ‘outbursts’?

We have been relatively fortunate here in the Humberhead Levels, whilst we have experienced precipitation it has not been the ‘unprecedented’ scale much heralded in the media.  The image below shows an area in the Danvm Drainage Commissioner’s area, an area which saw a massively engineered solution to mining subsidence relatively recently ….


Fishlake January 2016

It looks like Avery’s petition will pass another milestone tonight, but more signatures are needed to see upland land management more sympathetic to wildlife.

Ban driven grouse shooting

Ban driven grouse shooting?

January 13, 2016
Red Grouse TM

Image: Tim Melling

Ban driven grouse shooting?

Readers may recall intermittent updates on the situation around illegal persecution of raptors in the uplands where driven grouse shooting occurred?

Readers may also recall that Dr Mark Avery set up an epetition Ban driven grouse shooting on the Parliamentary epetition website?  100,000 signatures are needed to secure a discussion in Parliament.  The deadline for these is Thursday 21 January 2016.

Anyone who has read Avery’s book Inglorious Conflict in the Uplands can be left in no doubt as to the issues involved and the impact they have on water quality, the impact on the peat as a consequence of the management practice of burning as well as a whole host of other issues.  The EMBER Report by Leeds University  presents a robust evidence based case for change.  See also the issue of lead shot in game.  Ban toxic lead ammunition is another ‘related’ epetition and there is discussion around this issue via Standing up for nature and other websites.

Whilst the Humberhead Levels may not have breeding Hen Harriers we do get them as winter visitors and they are a part of our avifauna that we should value and be able to enjoy?  Yet, if you look on the map facility on the epetition you can see constituency statistics.  Come on, if you’ve not already signed then please do think seriously about doing so.  If you have, then persuade your friends and network?  Spread the word via social media.  This is one situation where ‘tweeting’ on ‘twiter’ really will help the birds.

6694350331_79fdccefcb Tim M HH

Image: Tim Melling

Interestingly Avery’s blog Standing up for nature was voted Blog of the Year by Birdwatch magazine, Chris Packham Conservation Hero of the Year and the Guano Award for Environmental Harm went to the Rt Hon. Liz Truss!

Ban driven grouse shooting?

2016 – resolved or resolute?

January 2, 2016

Should New Year Resolutions be a personal issue or can organisations take them up?  Perhaps organisations call them Business Reviews, wonder what politicians call them?

The author of this post decided to start the year proactively and whilst not a serious NYD list, a few species of note were recorded making the short excursion worthwhile and carbon neutral by virtue of cycling ….

Stunning views of two Short-eared Owls hunting over arable grassland reverting to scrub, very wet and waterlogged in the lower areas of the field, ideal small mammal habitat.

Short-eared Owl Image copyright: Tim Melling

Short-eared Owl
Image copyright: Tim Melling

The same field, in a drier area, provided a sheltered microhabitat for Viola arvensis or field pansy, something agri-industrialists would consider a weed.  But on a cool ‘winter’ day quiet delightful.

Viola arvensis: Field Pansy flowering on New Year's Day 2016

Viola arvensis: Field Pansy flowering on New Year’s Day 2016

So, in terms of ‘New Year Resolutions’ that ticked the

*Get out more and enjoy the wildlife / spend ‘moor’ time out in the field recording findings,

*Reduce carbon footprint (including continued *cutting back on ‘commercial’ meat),

Which leaves:

*Focus on a couple of key ‘conservation’ themes to ‘campaign’ on, research them thoroughly to ensure up to speed with the current science involved to underpin case.  Topical issues at the moment might include climate change and what better example to use than the recent flooding episodes and the role of the various agencies and drainage boards?    The use of and impact of neonictinoids on pollinators?  Equally topical might be fracking?  It might be badger culls or illegal persecution of raptors (particularly Hen Harriers)?  In case any reader hasn’t signed the epetition ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’ then that might be a topic to consider?  Management of upland moors (burning) for grouse has been shown to be damaging for water supplies as well as other eco-system services, see Leeds University’s EMBER Report Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River basins.  For background reading an informative and well researched book Inglorious Conflict in the Uplands provides a good understanding and a starting point for further investigation into a sport which has cost implications for all tax payers.

*Enter into ‘regular’ correspondence with a variety of ‘people’.  Ministers, Defra officers, media, MEPs, MPs, local councillors etc.  Write a minimum of one letter a month to relevant MP / Minister (ial Department).

*I suppose we might / should also consider taking up ‘Twitter (ing)‘?  I recall an audience being told, or at least those who didn’t  to ‘get over it’ and effectively get on with it …. whilst I recognise the gains made through the use of ‘Social Media’ I’m not entirely convinced that it is something for us, but ever an agnostic?  Rural internet is sadly still none existent in parts of God’s own county and its hinterlands, so blogging isn’t as easy as it ought to be, twitter and tweeting – I thought that was something the birds did?

*There has been suggestions made that one should review the NGOs you support, and there has to be merit in periodic reviews of this nature because there are the large, medium and small or for those sufficiently motivated there’s always the option to DIY if a gap exists?  Whilst the large can have impact through advocacy on some key issues, they may not help local community groups protect locally important sites.  The regular direct debit becomes a habit.  Regional offers or specialist organisation can help you learn identification skills and can confirm difficult identifications, and are valuable networking opportunities and generally appreciate contributions from volunteers.  It’s not a case of what you receive but what wildlife receives for your contribution and some it has been suggested spend too much on recruitment, PR and spin through regular press releases?  Conversely, they can be a force for change?

*Remembering the late Stephen Warburton, one of the Forum’s founding members, we should remain true to those principles, particularly Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? 

*Enthuse the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts / amateur naturalists.  Once upon a time, that would almost certainly have been deemed to be children and whilst that is important, there is a resource with considerable capacity that could take up natural history as a hobby and or conservation campaigning to influence change etc. and they are the early retired proportion of the population.  We should be promoting wildlife and natural landscapes as important habitats at any and every opportunity.  If we don’t then they will be lost to agri-industrial intensification, to green belt development or mono-culture commercial theme / country parks?

So a few for nature conservationists to consider?

Here’s to 2016 – challenges and opportunities it’s sure to bring?


Can we trust Truss? Where is the evidence?

December 28, 2015

“So, badger culls are working?  Liz Truss produce your evidence!”

This was Oliver Tickell’s headline as he reported in the Ecologist on 18 December that, according to the Minister “the badger culls are working”, try as he might it seems that like many scientists or even agnostics he could not locate any science to underpin or validate the ministerial assertion.  Like many others he drew to readers attention the release of Government information ….

Tim M Badger 7465227996_e7b29e0ea9_h

Bovine TB: summary of badger control monitoring during 2015 was published on 17 December 2015, the day before the Parliamentary Recess.

Defra also released Quarterly publication of National Statistics on the incidence and prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) in Cattle in Great Britain – to end September 2015 on 9 December.

Another interesting read is a [Select Committee] report on Defra’s performance 2014 – 2015 “Managing threats”  Crucially in para. 30 there is a clear statement that ‘a cost-benefit calculation must be made in each policy area on how upfront investment can provide value for money by minimising the longer-term costs, such as those arising from a significant flood event or animal disease outbreak’.  So, aside from the headline figures contained within the report where is the detail, where is the CBA?

The Government’s own data shows an increase in new incidents in the twelve months to September 2015 of 7.75% and this despite culls having taken place in Somerset for the past three years. Costs of this have been estimated at as much as £16m, one might be forgiven for asking if the increase in incidences and absence of any evidence of cost benefit analysis then is a programme of continued culls justified? Other estimates calculate the cost at around £20m of tax payers money. The only ‘evidence’ Ms Truss is able to offer appears to be anecdotal promulgated by the NFU?  See also Ecologist article which offers insight on some of the ‘science’ offered by the NFU. Para. 40 [Select Committee report] states that ‘Sound science is essential to provide a robust evidence base for decisions on policies to tackle diseases’. So, again we ask – where is the evidence base to justify continued public spend on a continuing programme of culls?

Ms Truss’s predecessor Owen Patterson put the cull programme on hold amid criticism and mounting evidence of failure, but Ms Truss carries on regardless determined to achieve a 2019 target of being bTB free by relaxing restrictions for future badger culls.

We struggle to understand why, given the assertions that the areas chosen for the culls are rife with bTB, why those promoting the cull and insisting that it is working have not tested any dead badgers to prove their assertions? Imagine credibility ratings if that were undertaken?  The question, we offer, being whose?  It might be that Ministerial credibility will be seriously tested following recent extreme weather, much more than words will be needed to persuade the public of scientific credibility and financial proberty and ultimately, competence?


Wildlife and farmers deserve better ….

We need a government fit for purpose ….



Exotics, endemics & Europe as 2016 approaches?

December 26, 2015

We hear of laudable endeavours about saving exotic species, such as the polar bear, tiger, orang utan for example (there are other offers available) and that is absolutely commendable as the big and colourful high profile species attract equally colourful and high profile characters championing their cause and we could apply the addage of any publicity is good publicity &c.

Here in the UK we too have iconic species that experts underpinned with science offer are on the verge of extinction.  The Scottish Wildcat is one such species?  Recent studies have shown that Wildcats can control predators such as stoats, pine martens and polecats rather than grouse and other gamebirds as once believed and promoted.  The Scottish Government’s conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage commissioned a survey and scoping analysis in 2014 to consider how best to address the continuing decline of the iconic species.  See Louise Ramsay’s account “Saving Scotland’s Highland Tiger” via Ecologist.  It is a tale of two halves, challenges and opportunities?


Recent arrival, ‘Fergus’, seen at the British Wildlife Centre, Newchapel, Surrey.  © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Factor in also that this year we’ve heard much about the loss of biodiversity and habitat destruction, might we suppose that this was a continuing trend from 2013 (and previously) when many of the large membership NGOs collaboratively published the damming State of Nature report?  Given the apparent inertia in terms of address of the issues and the recommendations complicated by distractions like changing climate patterns and wholesale floods sweeping the UK in recent times then one might wonder as peripheral debates about UK EU membership and the referendum on the horizon, what it might mean for nature conservation, so ….

Would we be better in or out of the European Union in terms of protecting the natural environment?

In 2015 a number of reports were published by the European Environment Agency, some of these post provision of data by members states in 2013 under the Birds (2009/147/EC) and the Habitats (92/43/EEC) directives.

State of nature in the EU  The page provides a link to the report and annexes.

The State of Nature in the EU is the glossy EC version, those above are lengthy texts and graphical data.

Something to ponder, to ‘mull’ over as we prepare to see out the old and bring in the new year?

Post Paris: business as usual for fracking fans?

December 22, 2015

The ‘Greenest government ever’ appear to continue to abandon pledges made, recent u-turns have been solar subsidies and back word on allowing local communities decisions on planning issues?  As more people begin to realise the risks involved with fracking a case might be made that ‘big government’ is taking back decision making and imposing development on local communities?  These developments and indeed all government spending decisions are under pinned by public funds, but the public have no direct say in their allocation?  Neo-liberalism is dependent upon public subsidies (Jones, 2014), so something of a contradiction to the usual call by politicians for a ‘market’ place economy?

All this on the back of the climate change summit in Paris when around 190 nations spent two weeks discussing how they (politicians) would tackle the underlying issues causing so many climate related problems across the globe.

The Guardian has called upon George Osborne to end his love affair with fracking, insisting that scaling up of fracking is incompatible with Paris.  But no sooner was the summit over and Osborne was slashing and cutting support for technologies which would help the UK achieve its targets.  Avery, as ever to the point offers an analysis on Cameron’s tenure as PM and you’d have to admit, he has a point?  PM or PR?

Fracking poses significant risks to people’s health and local environment, as well as being incompatible with tackling climate change and the promises made in the recent Paris climate change agreement, so assert FoE  and we’d have to say that as we can’t find any underwritten assurances or pledges post problem occurence, that we’d be inclined to agree and additionally we’d encourage government to adopt the Precautionary Principle .  Sadly it seems that as the UK delegation to the Paris climate change summit were making their way home by planes that they weren’t long before they were back on track with their unrelenting ‘dash for deep dirt’ after they ‘dumped dirt’ recently with the closing of the last UK deep mine at Kellingley, where is consistency in this kind of action or policy?

Onshore maps showing the local ‘Humberhead Levels’ status according to GOV.UK & FoE also provide a useful reference map which shows the recent (December 2015) licences offered.

Even the British Geological Survey is partially funded by companies involved in hydraullic fracking.

The Independent warned of goverment and industry links in 2013,

Remember the chart which showed links to the various government advisors?  Courtesy of Transition Town Louth


The link above takes you through to TTL where there are some other useful links and information about fracking, Refraction is a particularly useful, a free ebook “Fracking the UK” by Alan Toothill is available via Defend Lytham St Annes.  The growth of community groups taking up their cause, using the internet to spread and share the information, to support others in their quest for local democracy is pleasing, long may it continue ….   

Remember it’ll soon be time to consider making New Year Resolutions?  If you do indulge, then near the top of that list might be to make sure that if you look at a ‘topical theme or issue’ then you undertake thorough research, ‘all that glistens is not gold’ is certainly a good guide?


New Year’s Resolutions: Avery offers suggestions ….

December 13, 2015

It was a packed Idle Valley Rural Learning Centre on Friday evening, Dr Mark Avery’s message to people – don’t just leave it to others, but act as individuals and then the critical mass has the potential to cause change (that assumes that there is sufficient collaborative conservation) ….

IVRLC willow birder 0164 hrk

Avery, author of a number of ‘campaigning’ tomes which if you’ve not already read might feature on your Christmas wish list?  Fighting for Birds written post RSPB employment, A Message from Martha and significantly Inglorious A Conflict in the Uplands provides background information and peer reviewed science on the ‘sport’ of driven grouse shooting.  Updates and supplementary information is available via Standing up for Nature.

Mark Avery IVRLC 0165 hrk

Avery asked the audience various questions about their love and actions for the natural environment, with much as expected results.  The acid test as they say would be in twelve months if that same audience returned their with lists of actions and outcomes?

Consider cutting back on meat consumption, Avery now enjoys a four days a week meat free and insists that it’s not difficult.  I’d agree and readers can see why by clicking on the link above.  One person was rather too pleased with themself for being a vegetarian, whilst that is laudable it wouldn’t actually make any impact post talk.  It might be that Avery was trying to encourage meat eaters to think a bit more about the impact of their choice, to inform themselves more about the issues involved with eating meat and thus by cutting back there was recognition but also a compromise which didn’t stop enjoyment of the great bacon butty or succulent steak from locally reared rare breed cattle (not agri-industrialised ‘processed’ meat for supermarket chains with far too many food miles and astronomical carbon footprint).  The talk, was I think designed to make people look at their lifestyles without trying to make them feel guilty, it was about making informed choices and coming to acceptable compromises.

Get out there more and connect with nature, and encourage others to.  By enjoying a space made available for nature to heal, through planning mitigation or industry transfer for an NGO to ‘garden’ then the wilder and less accessible places come into focus and remind people who pay taxes and support ‘agri-welfare’ schemes that they are valuable and not just playgrounds for elite sport or tax deductable forestry developments for pension funds but areas of land which can positively benefit the whole population through carbon sequestration or flood allieviation etc.

Choose a couple or so of ‘causes’ to get involved with, research them well and write, attend rallies etc. to further them.  Neonictinoids and bees, badgers and bTB and climate change were some offered as suggestions.

Write to MPs.  Mark suggested a letter a month as being an easy target.  We’d agree but you must recognise that MPs don’t always respond, a recent letter about hen harriers and driven grouse shooting was sent to one of our local MPs who then sent this on to the Minister and the most patronising ill informed response was sent back via the MP.  Indignant that the respondent had clearly failed to read the letter let alone the eight questions asked which have still not been answered a follow up letter was written, sadly to date no response from either the MP or the Minister.  Other correspondence awaiting replies include such topics as bTB and NeonictinoidsThey work for you?  I must look up what it is that they do such that if they were all (including the other 850 in the Westminster Palace) kidnapped by aliens what in our daily lives would cease to happen ….

Review your membership of the NGOs you support, setting aside reasons like the cost do they still reflect your interests, do they take action on issues you consider important, are they able to evidence claims of outcomes they publicise?  One member of the audience cited a charity seeking additional funds for target species and Avery rightly offered advice on testing the marketing material used, it is certainly something to consider before responding to direct marketing?

Support and get involved with an NGO.

Write to the NGOs of which you are members and praise positives and present a case for action on particular issues that people felt strongly about in the hope that they might become involved.

Sign ‘Ban driven grouse shooting’ and encourage others to.

Iceland RG 0146Game meat offered for sale locally, toxic lead content of the brace illustrated???   Click on the image to see more detail and price. 

You’d need to do some backround research as to the case for banning lead ammunition but the epetition to “Ban toxic lead ammunition” is something that is worth considering if you are not already a signatory to it?  Avery’s forensic attention to detail makes a compelling case, a case already supported through the banning of lead shot in wildfowling, supported by the likes of Lord Krebs so one could be forgiven when one reads the pontificating badly briefed MPs in shooting constituencies worried about the cost of converting their pairs of Purdy’s when the topic was discussed recently in the Westminster village?  I suppose if a dozen shooters wrote to them they can claim to be representing views of constituents, but I would still be interested in why they see no issue with no regulation on toxic metals in the human food chain for game when it exists for farmed meat, common sense, consistency?

I’d probably add a couple of other suggestions, if not a daily dose of Avery via Standing up for Nature then at least a weekly look at his blog posts?  He offers thought provoking and often topical items, he prompts action even if it is only a nudge to respond to a goverment consultation, he offers you a ‘right of reply’ through a comment facility.  There are other blogs available, “a new nature blog” is one such offering let us know who you follow and why?  There are of course the ‘corporate’ blogs offered by the NGOs but the two offerded here are independent and not marketing linked to membership organisations.

If you read one book this ‘consumerfest’ then I recommend and challenge any agnostic to not be persuaded after a Yuletide dose of ‘non-medicated nor toxic’ Inglorious A Conflict in the UplandsI suppose if one were to reflect on the description of Inglorious being non-toxic, then it is all relative and those who participate in the activity which appears to endorse illegal acts then it is a spotlight on practices some would prefer kept below the public radar?

As for undertaking the above suggestions, will you if you’ve not already done so?

With apologies to Mark for not providing his full list, NYR – really must do better? 


Henry the campaign’s mascot (above) – I dipped out on meeting him at the Birdfair, but here’s to 2016 and a good year for Hen Harriers.  To Birders Against Wildlife Crime, long may their endeavours see wildlife crime remain a high profile campaign.  To Chris Packham and the other wildlife ‘celebrities’ who have rallied and risked being threatened by the ‘sack’ a massive thank you.


Government proposals threaten environmental justice?

December 8, 2015

Costs Protection in Environmental Claims – access to justice under threat?

Thursday’s article in the Law Society Gazette expresses serious concerns about the Ministry of Justice current consultation on access to environmental justice.  The consultation which closes on Thursday threatens to seriously undermine the recently introduced rules which had previously allowed many claimants access to environmental justice for the first time.

120609 CD @ WF 982 hrk

Carol Day regards the proposal which seeks to confine eligibility to a member of the public could exclude community groups, parish councils and even environmental NGOs from costs protection. The proposals may also exclude legislation impacting on the environment that does not specifically mention the environment in its title or heading (such as environmental taxes, control of chemicals or wastes, exploitation of natural resources and pollution from ships) from review.  The existing, perfectly workable rules were only introduced in 2013 and fully comply with EU and international law.  In the views of many Judicial Review is an essential foundation in the rule of law.

Regular readers might also recall Carol’s guest blog here when she appealed to us all to respond to the proposed changes.  Can we rally and send a mail box full of responses to the MoJ?  Any of you who have been involved in research and collation or putting together ‘bundles’ for a Judicial  Review will understand and appreciate that such work is not undertaken lightly, any of you who have had to find the funds for such action will fully appreciate the difficulties so for government to place more hurdles in communities, an individual or a charities way might forgive us for suggesting it is an affront to democracy?

A letter to The Times today, addressed to Michael Gove MP and signed by Lord Brennan QC, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Dr Elaine King (director of Wildlife & Countryside Link), Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Baroness Parminter, Sir Stephen Sedley and Baroness Young of Old Scone deems the proposals to be a ‘backwards step’.  They assert that there is no evidential basis for the changes, a view shared by many who have written extensively on the issue.  The signatories ‘urge the government to withdraw the unjustified and damaging proposals in the interests of protecting the environment, checking the abuse of power and u[pholding the rule of law’.

Readers are encouraged to respond to the Ministry of Justice consultation here.

There is an excellent briefing “Costs Protection in Environmental Claims” via Wildlife and Countryside Link and also one by Friends of the Earth.  The consultation is aimed at organisations, but Mark Avery offers a bit of guidance when it comes to responding to that particular aspect of the proposals.

Hard enough to challenge Public Bodies, statutory agencies and authorities as it is and given they are funded through the public purse there has to be a right of reply?  If politicians words about open, transparent and accountable government are to have any credibility then a legitimate claim should be allowed to anable the public to challenge, in the interests of environmental justice, bad decisions?

Submit responses to the MoJ consultation here:

Costs Protection in Environmental Protection

Deadline for responses Thursday 10 December 2015.


Conservation courts controversy?

December 5, 2015


151205 IVRLC hrk 971

Readers who have not heard the inspirational or infuriating (depends on your perspective) conservationist Mark Avery speak are encouraged to head for Nottinghamshire next Friday, 11 December 2015. 

Doors of the Idle Valley Rural Learning Centre open at 6.30pm with the talk starting at 7.30pmQ&A session and book signing follow.

The lecture 10 New Year’s resolutions for the wildlife enthusiast who wants to make a difference.  How many of us have already responded to his appeals?  But if you need persuasion beyond the written word or blog post then brave the elements and meet the man ….

Avery rallies and unites?  Whilst others continue controversial ‘conservation’?



Birders Against Wildlife Crime Annual Conference 2016

Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 March 2016


The Brunel Institute, Great Western Dockyard, Bristol, BS1 6TY

One Day Ticket – £50 or Two Day Ticket – £75

The 2015 conference was fantastic in terms of motivational and inspirational speakers, so two days planned for 2016 is surely an indication that the momentum continues apace?  The 2016 venue has greater capacity so even better chance that the information and exposure of illegal raptor persecution (amongst various wildlife crimes) is spread exponentially ….  

Hear Mark Avery promote 10 New Year’s resolutions?

November 29, 2015

For readers of this blog who have not heard the motivational author of Inglorious Conflict in the Uplands speak, then now is your chance.  Avery, also the author of the equally inspiring and insightful Fighting for Birds and who presents, in A Message from Martha a stark warning to us to act ‘today’ before it is too late and we witness other extinctions of species previously considered ‘common’.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve present

150821 MA

A Christmas Lecture by Dr Mark Avery

10 New Year’s resolutions for the wildlife enthusiast

who wants to make a difference

Friday 11 December 2015 

Doors open at 6.30pm with lecture at 7.30pm followed by Q&A book signing & raffle.

Tickets £10pp MUST be purchased in advance online or directly from Idle Valley Nature Reserve, Retford, DN22 8SG

Please note there is also an additional cost as “NWT invites a car parking donation of £2 per car.  All donatations directly support the charity”.  Order your tickets here.

Inglorious front cover 

What might be Avery’s offering in terms of NYR?  Amongst his top ten might be to read Inglorious and consider signing the epetition Ban Driven Grouse Shooting, read Inglorious and understand the issues behind Rob Sheldon’s epetition Ban Lead Shot and consider signing that too?  Avery encourages readers to write regularly to their MPs, there are rumours that they work for us (but that’s a debate for another blog) and he encourages readers to let them know about environmental issues.  Other clues might be found in his very readable blog Standing up for Nature.   Ok, there is emotion but importantly there is well researched evidence to back up statements.  Let’s face it some of the topics he airs and those often avoided by others  are ones which if some could they would litigate so clearly a master of carefully crafted case presentation, long may such narrative be produced and published?  Avery would probably also encourage you to join one or more of the usual conservation NGOs.

Chainsaws reving up?

November 27, 2015

Does the news of cuts to Defra departments in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement 2015 come as a surprise to conservationists?  a new nature blog provides an analysis which is worth a read, entitled ‘Shifting Baselines’ it presented mental images of those badgers moving the goalposts again?

The view of disproportionate cuts to Natural England and the Environment Agency is an interesting prospect?  There is to be some £2bn to protect 300,000 houses from flooding …. per chance that any were built in a flood plain and if so why?  The relaxation of planning regulations could well see more of this kind of development which will need public bail out in bad weather events?  Selling off of family silver (public land) to fund house building (private) appears to be a favoured option still.

But what implications for cuts to NE and EA in this area and would we miss their presence?  Be careful what we wish for?  I suppose one should analyse the remit of an organisation, its raison d’etre?  Natural England, started out as the Nature Conservancy Council …. these days one might be forgiven for thinking they were a advisory service for commerce or a tourist management service offering franchises on country theme parks?

Readers may be interested in some of the latest vacancies with NE, Sustainable Development; Planning, Lead Adviser up to 17 roles in nine areas or Sustainable development, Wildlife Management Lead Adviser – up to 12 roles in nine areas? Excluding pensions these 29 posts come with a price tag of around £700,000. Add in pensions on costs, sick pay, perks &c. then little change from a million? I will leave other bloggers to provide an Eco-mical critique.

There used to be science staff, there used to be science undertaken in the ‘good old days’ …. clearly the organisation or perhaps its hierarchy sees its future with a different focus and one which fails to underpin decisions on evidence based science (eg badger cull)?  Conversely the new approach to science might be as Technical Information Notes?  When was the last time there was an advertisement for a science post?  Maybe it’s down to the big society or citizen science to plug the gap?  Readers may recall our work on Inkle Moor in 2012?

120123 Inkle hab creation hrk 775

Habitat creation (wader scrapes) as part of the Natural England contribution to the project,see also NE TIN109

140714 NE Wader scrapes IMAS background hrk 317

The Survey was a tri-partite collaboration and has its origins in 2011 when a funding application to defra was successful and secured from them around £10,000. The Forum contributed a further £5,000 from its own funds but the added value in kind saw the project deliver, at a conservative estimate, outcomes worth in excess of an estimated £115,000. On the back of the findings from the Survey, funds were then found by an independent conservation charity to purchase Inkle Moor so a ‘win win’ situation delivered by a collaborative endeavour?

Here’s to ‘moor’ ….


Call for Action: Freedom of Information under threat?

November 15, 2015

The Campaign for Freedom of Information provides a useful resume of the threat to democracy and to those who seek accountability of Public Bodies funded through the public purse.

In July the Government announced that a Commission would be set up to to examine the FOI Act and consider what further restrictions should be imposed on the right to know.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that policy responsibility for Freedom of Information policy will transfer from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office. This change will be effective from 17 July 2015.

After sitting for 3 months, the Commission has now finally invited the public to submit evidence to it.  The Consultation closes this Friday, 20 November 2015 and we understand that the results are promised by the end of November!

Already 140 campaign groups and media bodies and others have written to the Prime Minister expressing concerns about the composition and terms of reference of the Commission.

Readers have a week to compose a response to the consultation, will this campaign to clamp down on open transparent governance and accounting attract as good a response as the recent attempts to ‘challenge’ the Habitats Directives? That consultation we understand attracted some 552,471 responses!

The Campaign are asking people to consider some easy actions:

Respond to the consultation drawing on your own experience of the value of the FOI Act

Write to your MP

Submit your FOI stories to

Sign a petition, 38 degree petition to Protect FoI Laws here

There is also a petition option for journalists to sign, via here

Public Bodies are required to have regard and to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.  Whilst many are efficient and indeed helpful there are other Public Bodies which publish material without provision of primary source evidence, there are Public Bodies which try to evade compliance through selective narrative and dissembling, some Public Bodies assert applicants are persistent / vexatious complainers in an endaevour to avoid providing information about activity or spend of public funds, is this demonstrable open and transparent conduct of business?  To avoid wasting time and suffering such problems readers might like to consider using using Whatdotheyknow as a tool to submit FoI requests.  The benefit of this route is that any request is public, anyone researching the Public Body you are seeking information from can also benefit from the information you receive.  It is visible to the entire world wide web (www).  Even when Whatdotheyknow is utilised, there is often only partial success but that is illustrative of compliance level as well as tactics used by Public Bodies?  Please note other options are available and the Forum has no ‘Interest’ in this website, but we do recognise the excellent service it provides to members of the public and researchers.  Whatdotheyknow are also appealing to people to act to save FoI

Comments on the My Society page suggests that they would like to see it expanded not curtailed, bring it on?  There are also some interesting suggestions as to the reason behind the Prime Minister’s plans?



‘Thunderclaps’ & rough weather to benefit environmental justice?

November 11, 2015

Technology as a tool for conservation campaigning is something we should all embrace?

This has to be where the knowledge and the expertise combine to create a collaborative critical mass for the benefit of the cause?

It looks like there is to be a bit of rough weather out there soon?  Rumblings in the region of 5,000,000?

The ‘Thunderclap’ that is scheduled to break at the end of November in support of justiceforannie is being promoted by Mark Avery who appeals through today’s blog post to sign up in support of the appeal from Moving Mountains Nature Network. There is a network of groups and organisinations working collaboratively to seek justice for protected species and for legal compliance with the legislation.  See also Birders Against Wildlife Crime website, not just about birds but Wildlife Crime in general.

Let’s help them get a debate in Parliament?

Image: Tim Melling

Image: Tim Melling


So, who was ‘Annie’?  For readers not familiar with the ongoing issue of declining raptor numbers and particularly Hen Harriers in the uplands, then read and sign up to Standing up for Nature and there are occasional references on Martin Harper’s blog, a recent one ‘Reflections on the Hen Harrier season’ provides a flavour of the issues involved.

‘Other brands are available’ …. please contact the if you would like to submit a guest blog.


Diary date reminders:

Northern England Raptor Forum Conference: Saturday 21 November 2015.

DaNES Insect Show: Saturday 21 November 2015.

South Yorkshire Archaeology Day: Saturday 14 November 2015.


Natural Capital Report: Trick or treat?

November 1, 2015

On Halloween …. I finally got round to reading the Government’s response to the Natural Capital Committee’s third State of Natural Capital report (published September 2015).  Readers might judge for themselves if this is a trick or a treat by the Government?

The NCC’s third (73 page) report is glossy and is compiled by an interesting mix of experts.  The NCC’s membership comprises Prof. Dieter Helm (Chairman), Giles Atkinson, Ian Bateman, Rosie Hails, Kerry ten Kate, Georgina Mace, Colin Mayer and Robin Smale.  It has a supporting secretariat from defra of four.  The NCC was the product of the 2011 White Paper, The Natural Choice and it claims to have set out the building blocks “to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited”.  Its initial term was for three years but has received a six month extension to produce the third Report post the 2015 general election.

What does it tell us?  What does it tell us that we didn’t already know?  More importantly what is the Government going to do about the parlous State of Nature?

The State of Nature 2013 asked the question what needs to be done?  What has been done in the intervening period?  We understand that many of the original organisations and new ones have come together again to provide the answers and identify key actions needed to reverse the ongoing decline, this is to be reported shortly in a Response for nature (seperate issues for England, Scotland and Wales).  This is laudable, we can all look forward to another glossy launched at a grand event?  Will Iolo provide the opening speech, or will they wheel out a Government Minister who will refer to their response above?  It could be an opportunity for Government Ministers and Chief Executives to persuade any sceptics in the masses of their sincerity?  Would realists prefer underwritten guarantees given track records?

Ten NGOs have written to David Cameron expressing dismay at the weakening and cancellation by Government of ten environmental measures.  Stephanie Hilbourne, representing the Wildlife Trusts is reported to have said that “the Government’s stance is shocking and showed disregard for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations as well as the environment we all depend on”.  Dismay could be considered as a tame word, but then we remember the days when the late Stephen Warburton was active within the WTs and the conservation movement generally.  Today’s managers have understandably to keep an eye on the bank balance if they are to keep the ‘ships’ afloat?  They would be foolish if they were to bite the hand from which crumbs fall?

We can all do our bit, but at the end of the day it is our consumption of finite resources and our spending choices which allow the market economy to wreak havoc upon the natural environment across the globe.  Even if the UK Government provide funding for ‘project management’ to stem the tide …. I seem to recall that Cnute failed?  “Green Blobs” are set up to fail, simply by virtue of the disproportionate funds aka subsidies or state welfare payments to industry?  Neo-liberalism  survives by virtue of state support (Jones 2015).

The recent publication by Government, as part of its Rural Productivity Plan for England, is a 10 point plan for ‘boosting’ …. fundamental to my mind would be the requirement for broadband.  That is to say actual broadband, not necessarily 4G but a decent broadband connection?  Trick or treat, most definitely a cruel trick out here?  Oh, look they will look at satelite provision, ‘look’ just like years ago they were going to deliver but drip drip drip and watering down of words?  So, Mr Osborne & Ms Truss the plan falls at the first and as for the rest they read as more deregulation and therefore risk the very landscapes and natural environment so many of us living in rural areas value?  It would be interesting to access the research which evidences the need for these ten points?  As yet the underwriting of failure eludes readers, but perhaps it’s principally about the deregulation and maximising of private profit at the expense of communities and long term residents?

Like the aforementioned organisations, the Forum has in the main in a voluntary capacity, delivered reports on the state of the natural world on our doorstep.  It is important that we all do make contributions to the catalogue of change in our fauna and flora.  One of our best recent examples has been the Inkle Moor Invertebrate Survey undertaken in 2012.  As well as providing an update on the status of the invertabrate assemblage of this important piece of remnant lagg fen, it even delivered a first for the UK!  Streptanus okanensis a species of terrestrial Hemiptera (or ‘bug’ if you prefer).  The Survey was a tri-partite collaboration and has its origins in 2011 when a funding application to defra was successful and secured from them around £10,000.  The Forum contributed a further £5,000 from its own funds but the added value in kind saw the project deliver, at a conservative estimate, outcomes worth in excess of an estimated £115,000.  The statistics are pretty impressive too, but maybe it’s only entomologists who would appreciate them?  On the back of the findings from the Survey, funds were then found by an independent conservation charity to purchase Inkle Moor so a ‘win win’ situation delivered by a collaborative endeavour?

Similarly Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey initiated by Ian McDonald a local botanist and Colin Wall a local bryologist and for whom this represented something of a magnus opus and a project which the Forum were happy to be involved in and make available their extensive expertise in terms of editing and publishing, also working with other stakeholders to add value to the raw data by incorporating supplementary supportive chapters.  From very positive feedback received since its publication in last year those chapters have added value by providing previously unpublished information to researchers and the public.   Whilst the Forum was able to act as the lead in terms of project management and delivery through to publication, the initial idea was that of local naturalists.   Significantly this project provided the first ever published list of the flora (including bryophytes) of Thorne Moors.  The work started in 2010 and it details the flowering species found over the three and a half years of survey whilst the moss list provides the species known up until publication in 2014.

TMABS front scan

Both these projects demonstrate the value of volunteers and their expertise as amateur naturalists.  It is amateur naturalists who are committed to cataloguing the changes in the nature of Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  Without such contributions and data like these then there is the risk that statute might forget the value in biodiversity and the value in climate regulation, carbon storage etc.?

There are a few copies remaining and details of how to obtain one can be found here.



The ‘bogs’ salute The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP.

October 25, 2015

On 21 October 2015, the death of The Rt Hon Michael Meacher was announced.  So, what had Meacher to do with Thorne & Hatfield Moors?

Meacher 3 July 2002 WH pp

It is Meacher that we here at Thorne & Hatfield Moors have to thank that the sites are still here!  Whilst the ‘battle for the bogs’ started long before 1997 that year was a very significant one.  So much so that had English Nature and their hydrological report sponsors won the day, then we may not have been able to enjoy what remains of them today.  Undoubtably the natural environment has much to thank Meacher for, comments further to his obituary in the Guardian are very telling.

In July 1997 English Nature proposed to remove the protective status from parts of Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  The hydrological reports upon which the statutory agency based their recommendations were later established to have been provided by the peat producers!  Derek Langslow, the Chief Executive of English Nature at the time, a very brave man indeed as he ventured to a public meeting held in Thorne Grammar School to try to justify ENs proposal to a packed hall of around 400 people, or so the regional and national press reported.  I don’t recall his response to the question “who funded them [the hydrological reports]?” because the audience at that point were incensed …. the rest as they say is history as Meacher ‘suggested’ his agency to review their proposal.

Meacher & Brown 3 July 2002 pp

Meacher was then keynote speaker at our 2002 conference which celebrated the buy out of the extant planning consents.  The transcripts from “Peat – the way forward, a future for the UK’s peatlands”  are available as a download.   To hear a Government Minister describe local conservation campaigners as a ‘considerable force to be reckoned with’ caused a few chuckles amongst the audience that first day of the conference, his speech that day also shows an understanding and recognition of the part that local communities and activists can have in safeguarding their local areas.  We were fortunate also that Craig Bennett of FoE (second left, front row below)  raised the profile of the peat campaign to that of a corporate campaign.

Speaker Panel 4 July 2002 pp

Sadly one might ponder the possibilities of another of his ilk ….

021014 award MM rm crop

The image above shows Michael Meacher receiving an award for services to conservation when local bog-trotters travelled to London to make the presentation in October 2002.

Today we have Government Ministers calling anyone who cares about the natural environment ‘green blobs’.


We have Ministers who sign off badger culls.  We have Government claiming to be an evidence based one but who then fail to commission science or ignore that which exists prefering ‘pr’ narrative?  We have Government Departments who fail to act and enforce legislation when local SSSIs are damaged, fail to comply with European Directives, fail to act when raptors are illegally persecuted …. the list is endless.

The record since Meacher was sacked (rumour has it because he listened to science and to folk in the know) speaks for itself?

Thorne and Hatfield Moors and the T&HM Conservation Forum mark his passing with great sadness but celebrate his achievements for ‘our moors’ and other areas such as the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Thank you ‘honourable gentleman’.



Lest we forget the corporate carnage wrought by peat extraction ….

Ministerial Party on HM 3 July 2002 pp

Above: It is July 2002 and the Ministerial party look out across the ‘killing fields’ which if revisited today show nature’s capacity to heal industrial scale scars inflicted by industrial processes, but as we mark Meacher’s passing we mourn also for the lost record from the peat ‘Doomsday’ record of of climate change.



What price democracy? A Guest Blog by Carol Day.

October 20, 2015

The Executive are delighted that Carol Day, environmental law specialist offers us an insight into recent proposals to change access to ‘challenge’ of statute for poor or bad decisions ….

Carol then encourages us all to respond to the Ministry of Justice’s Consultation.

120609 CD @ WF 982 hrk

What price democracy?

The rule of law in the UK dates from the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. It is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials. Unfortunately, in the wake of recent and current proposals from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) it feels increasingly like the latter to those of us working in the world of environmental law.

Judicial Review (JR) is the last and almost the sole mechanism for civil society to challenge the decisions of public bodies and achieve a remedy in the courts. But the process of JR is being systematically dismantled and proposals launched by the MOJ in September will make it nigh on impossible for anyone to challenge the decisions of public bodies on key issues such as a third terminal at Heathrow or High Speed 2.

In July, the MOJ consulted on proposals requiring claimants to provide information about third parties who have provided funding in support of litigation with a view to the court making costs orders against them. The proposals were presumably not crafted to deter people from joining or donating to charities – but that is likely to be the result. The most recent proposals are far less opaque.

After a decade of domestic and international scrutiny, the Government introduced bespoke costs rules for environmental cases to comply with EU and international law. The new rules offer the vast majority of claimants’ access to environmental justice for the first time in years. While repeatedly emphasising the importance of maintaining the rule of law, proposals launched in September will render environmental litigation unworkable and return the UK to non-compliance with EU law and a UNECE Convention called the Aarhus Convention.

There is no evidence to suggest the new rules have led to a proliferation of environmental cases. Information obtained from the MOJ under the EIRs confirms the number of environmental cases did not increase at all following their introduction in April 2013. There were 118 cases in 2013-2014 and 153 in 2014-2015 representing less than 1% of the total number of JRs annually (20,000).

Environmental cases are also “good value for money”. Between 2013 and 2015, nearly half (48%) of environmental cases were granted permission to proceed, contrasting with a figure of 16% for all cases in 2014 and 7% in the first quarter of 2015. Over the same period, 24% of environmental cases were successful for the claimant, contrasting with a success rate of 2% for all cases in 2014. So, while environmental cases represent a tiny proportion of the total, they play an essential role in checking the abuse of power and upholding the rule of law.

On the upside, the proposals include extending costs protection to certain statutory reviews (e.g. some appeals under Town and Country Planning legislation), but the remaining measures are nothing less than death by a thousand cuts. They include:

  • Confining eligibility for costs protection to a member of the public (thus potentially excluding community groups, Parish Councils and even environmental NGOs);
  • Making costs protection contingent on obtaining permission to proceed with JR, thus exposing claimants to thousands of pounds worth of legal costs if they are unsuccessful in obtaining permission;
  • Raising the “default caps” on adverse costs liability from £5,000 (individuals) and £10,000 (other cases) to £10,000 and £20,000, which – together with own legal costs (£25,000) renders legal action wholly unaffordable for the vast majority of society;
  • Allowing defendants to apply to increase, or even remove altogether, the level of the default caps – thus exposing claimants to higher or unlimited legal costs;
  • Applying separate costs caps to individual claimants so that cases submitted by more than one individual or group attract higher costs liability;
  • Making it more onerous to apply for interim relief (an injunction) to prevent serious and irreparable harm to the environment while the legal action is ongoing.

The combined effect of the proposals is that the process of applying for JR will be so expensive and onerous that people will be dissuaded from even trying. If you value the right to challenge the decisions of public bodies you think are unlawful, please ask your MP to write to the Justice Committee about an inquiry into the future of Judicial Review in England and Wales.

Please contact Carol if you’d like more information about the proposals ( and you can also respond to the consultation paper here:

The response is an online option, but for readers whose network might include people without access to the internet or good rural broadband then contact your MP and ask them to help you respond.  MPs can be found via (although experience shows that this site does not always provide accurate information, something of a ‘postcode’ lottery I fear) or via the Parliament website.

Read also the background paper Costs Protection in Environmental Claim: Proposals to revise the cost capping scheme for eligible environmental challenges.




Diary dates & networking opportunities.

October 17, 2015

As Autumn gives way to Winter and the days draw in then perhaps it’s time to meet up with old friends or attend networking events and make new ones?  Two identification courses and three events are offered, details below.

The Northern England Raptor Forum annual conference is being held on Saturday 21 November 2015, it is being hosted by Calderdale Raptor Group and is to be held at Rishworth School, Rishworth, Halifax, HX6 4QA.  For more information and booking forms, click here.

The Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Entomological Society are holding their Annual Insect Show on Saturday 21 November 2015 Brackenhurst Campus, Nottingham Trent University, on A612 just south of Southwell, nr Newark, Notts NG25 0QF 11am until 4.30pm. Admission and parking free.  Refreshments. Disabled access and toilets.  A chance to learn more about insects and their environments.  Many local societies, groups and individuals will be exhibiting and demonstrating live insects, preserved specimens and trapping and recording methods.  A small number of sales stands will be there, giving people a chance to buy books, insects, and insect related items.  Depending on the weather, there may be a moth watch afterwards. Contact Dave Budworth on 01283 215188

Prof. Ian D Rotherham and team, long standing friends and associates of the late OG are running a two day conference Oliver Gilbert: A life in ecology that marks the premature death ten years ago of a giant in nature conservation.  The conference is 13 & 14 November 2015 at Sheffield Hallam University.

Sphagnum identification courses, 19 & 26 November 2015 in Sheffield.

Waxcap identification courses, 15 & 29 October 2015 in the Sheffield area.

For more information about any of the three events above and booking forms contact the

Conference Team, HEC Associates, Venture House, 103 Arundel Street, Sheffield, S1 2NT

Tel: 0114 272 4227 email:





Focus on the disease not ‘scape goats’?

October 6, 2015


Badger & mayweed

A report has been draw to our attention and is worthy perhaps of a wider audience, click on the heading below for the full version. 

Despite the continuing call for abandonment of the expensive cull the Government persist in wholesale slaughter, in parallel as reported recently they also seek to consult on the reform of cost protection for Judicial Review applications by the public or environmental organisations and charities.  The phrase ‘evidence-based’ seems to have lost favour when it comes to addressing inconvenient issues?

Cattle testing key to bovine TB control & how Wales achieved a major decline in bTB

The role of cattle testing is fundamental to the control of the disease.

Accurate diagnosis is crucial to identify disease and remove infected cattle to prevent the disease spreading. But the SICCT test used to diagnose infected cattle can miss up to 1 in 5, or about 20%, of infected animals.

This means that infected animals can still be present in the herd when movement restrictions are lifted and Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status is regained

Because of this limited sensitivity, intensive and repeated testing is needed to identify, locate and remove infected animals to prevent them spreading the disease within the herd or to other herds.

In the Area Eradication Strategy(AES) of 1950’s & 60’s the number of reactors slaughtered was brought down in just 4 years from 25,571 in 1959, to 5,901 in 1963.

This reduction was achieved by using a high testing intensity applied across the UK, in conjunction with strict movement controls and tight bio-security.   In 1959 over 11 million tests were carried out.

With the AES of the 1950’s & 60’s, the high level of testing was maintained for many years, and by 1976 the number of reactors slaughtered because of the disease had fallen to 1,058

By 1982 the number of reactors slaughtered had fallen to 569, but still circa 2.5 million tests were being carried out

But between the late 1980’s and 2006 various changes to the testing regime led to the re-establishment of the disease due to:

  • Major reduction in testing intensity
  • The relaxation of movement controls
  • The move to 2, 3 and 4 yearly testing which failed to identify emerging disease
  • Outbreak of BSE which required re-stocking, which was carried out without any pre-movement testing, and often with cattle not under annual testing
  • The abandonment of testing during the FMD epidemic
  • Re-stocking post FMD with cattle that had missed their tests, without any pre-movement testing and which were also moved to areas of the country not under annual testing, therefore any infection present may not have been identified for a considerable period of time, and also allowed for significant onward transmission
  • The scaling back of testing generally which allowed un-identified infected cattle to be moved, traded, etc leading to an expansion in disease incidence

These changes in the testing regime resulted in an ever increasing spread of infection. By 2012, although the incidence of disease was much higher than during the AES, (37,000 reactors slaughtered) only just over 8 million tests were carried out.

So currently, despite a much higher incidence of disease now, (37,000 reactors in 2012) the number of tests still lags far below the level needed to identify and remove all infected cattle.

DEFRA’s response:       In the last 2 years Defra has begun to greatly increase the number, frequency and effectiveness of the testing regime by:

  • Increasing the areas of the country under annual testing
  • Using gamma interferon testing to supplement the SICCT test
  • Zero-tolerance of overdue tests
  • Greater use of severe interpretation of test results
  • Treating inconclusive reactors as confirmed cases

These measures are beginning to take effect, with the number of cattle slaughtered in 2013 14% below that for 2012.  In Wales, which moved to annual testing in 2008 and has tightened up its testing programme, the number of cattle slaughtered in 2013 was 34% down on the number slaughtered in 2012.   Wales has nearly halved the number of cattle slaughtered per annum since 2009; from 11,671 in 2009 to 6,102 in 2013. This represents a very significant reduction of 48% in just 4 years.

In addition, other measures such as pre-movement testing, re-introduced in 2006 and 2007, have also identified infected cattle prior to movement and resulted in limiting the onward transmission of disease.

The level and frequency of testing, now introduced by Defra, is beginning to take effect, and should replicate the reduction in disease incidence as shown during the AES.

SICCT test limitations

Also Defra has recognised that the SICCT test (Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin test) has a variable sensitivity, which means that it can miss up to circa 20% of infected animals which are either in the early or late stages of disease.

This means that infected animals can still be present in the herd when movement restrictions are lifted and Officially Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status regained.

As a result Defra, has ramped up of the frequency of tests, increased the areas under annual testing and introduced gamma interferon testing as a supplementary test.

However, the limitations of the SICCT test do not appear to have been made clear to either farmers or those involved in the livestock industry. Indeed the NFU is silent on the matter in its advice to farmers.

Given the SICCT test limitations it is crucial to introduce and maintain high levels of testing across the country and ensure pre and post movement testing is carried out to identify, locate and remove latent infection before it can be passed on to other animals..

Such intensive testing regimes are onerous for the farming industry, but if the need for them could be carefully explained, then all involved would understand the need for these measures and how they will bring the disease under control.

Further information: including the AWG papers submitted to Defra, are available from: Animal Welfare Group, Co-ordinating Office: 3 The Common, Siddington, Cirencester, Glos GL7 6EY.   Tel: 01285 656812 / 01285 644319      Email

The Government statistics available in Incidence of TB in cattle in Great Britain – statistical notice (data to June 2015) make interesting reading when considered against the revised costs of the cull (in excess of £16m or the equivalent of £6,775 per badger), one might ponder the value of the spend of public funds when there has been a demonstrable improvement in Wales through the adoption of an improved testing regime.  If better bio-security and vaccination were added to the tool kit as well, then a collaborative address would deliver better for both the dairy farmer and their customers as well as poor ‘brock’, a convenient scape goat?


Erosion of opportunities to protect the environment?

October 2, 2015

Costs Protection in Environmental Claims: Proposals to revise the costs capping for eligible environmental challenges.

Following the earlier ‘consultatiuon’ Reform of Judicial Review by the Ministry of Justice in July 2015, the MoJ have launched the second review around the public’s opportunity to consider challenging any statutory agency or authority through the Judicial Reveiew process.  Costs Protection in Environmental Claims: Proposals to revise the costs capping for eligible environmental challenges.

We wonder how many readers have been involved in any JR application?  From experience we would offer that for the lay person, or any small organisation who seeks to legitimately question a Public Body never mind ‘challenge’ it, it is not something one would undertake lightly.

It is inordinately expensive if you use professional legal advice and anyone would be advised to, it is equally extremely time consuming to put together the ‘bundles’ required in which evidence is presented.  It is perhaps different for Public Bodies as they are generally in receipt of public funds and have paid staff.

So, that the Government now appears to seek to further close down an already arduous ‘assault course’ might be suggestive of a discriminatory approach?  It would be difficult to offer it up as an inclusive, none discriminatory democratic option for legitimate question when all other avenues have been explored and failed?

The duration of the consultation is from 17 September 2015 until 10 December 2015.

Useful background reading:

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, Fact Sheet: Reform of Judicial Review

Reform of Judicial Review: Proposals for the provision and use of financial information

Law Society Response to the first consultation

Readers are also encouraged to read Carol Day’s excellent Guest Blog on the issue on Martin Harper’s RSPB web page.




Charity membership may bring more than you bargained for?

September 21, 2015

Headlines like “Charity Donors could face unexpected legal bills warns ACEVO”

& Martin Harper’s blog featured a guest blog by Carol Day In for a Penny … Under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 charity membership may mean more than you bargained for

might understandably have conservation campaigners a ‘tad’ concerned?

The Government have recently undertaken a consultation:  Reform of Judicial Review. Proposals for the provision and use of financial information.

The Ministerial Foreword in the aforementioned document makes fascinating reading, particularly if you ponder on the people in power who abused that power and continued to and what was done about it when it was made public?  So, we might be forgiven for wondering about ‘protection’?  Spectating from the sidelines of politics I struggle to think of many reviews resulting in revised ‘protection’ which have delivered Public Benefit, the hedgerow regulations were preceeeded by miles of hedgerows being grubbed out, change in rules for agri-welfare subsidies saw ancient grasslands ploughed up.  Some ROMPPs to safeguard Natura 2000 sites are still to be completed here in the Humberhead Levels, Nero & Rome?

The Rt Honorable Michael Gove in his capacity as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice explained that he would defend, above all else, the rule of law. Gove explains that without the rule of law power can be abused.  He continues that JR is an essential foundation of the rule of law.

Anyone who has been involved in compiling and submitting documents to the JR process will know how hard it is never mind inordinately expensive.  Charities in the main, or at least those I have either been involved with or observed from the sidelines who have applied for JR because all else had failed and significantly with great reluctance (not least on cost grounds) it had been undertaken in the Public Interest and not for pecuniary or private benefit or interest.

28 organisations are named as having been sent copies, but para. 8 on page 5 assures the reader that the list is not exhaustive or exclusive ….

So, the consultation has now closed.  Respondents to the Minister’s sixteen questions set in four sections are asked to provide reasons for a positive or negative response, so thereby encouraged to provide evidence to support any submission.  Thirty three pages of carefully crafted narrative, we await deliberations ….

In the interim, the next post will feature an equally worrying update on this same issue ….

Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori?



BIRDING SITE GUIDE - Birding Site Guide

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Hatfield Moors Birding Blog

Bird and other wildlife information service for Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire, UK © HMBSG 17/11/2010

Mark Avery

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

UK and Ireland Natural History Bloggers

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?