Monday, March 26, 2007

Southport - coastal and regional wetland park

The Sefton Coast is to be the site of a new coastal and wetlands regional park. The coastline, including the Ribble estuary, is probably the UK’s primary site for wintering birds. With the RSPB (at Marshside and Mount Baker) and the WWT (at Martin Mere) plus other assets such as Hesketh Out Marsh and areas controlled by the Wildlife Trust (Mere Sands Wood) the plan has a good basis. Further details will be posted as they become ‘confirmed’.

Picture borrowed from the Daily Post - a wonderful local paper.

The new Department of Animal Health

Remember when they changed Windscale to Seascale in order that we would all think it was another place and so would forget about all those radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea? Then they did it again with English Nature (Natural England) so they (the bad boys!) could change its direction, water down its effectiveness and reduce its budget. Well now they’ve gone and done it again with the State Veterinary Service – soon to be called Animal Health (exciting captivating name). This new AH will encompass the SVS, the Dairy Hygiene and Egg Marketing Inspectorates and the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service – all in the name of efficiency.

I’ll wait and see how much the amalgamation affects the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service which is responsible for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and licensing of birds under Schedule 4 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (captive-bred, disabled-wild and imported birds). Let’s hope it improves or, at the very least, stays as it is, and is not ‘watered-down’ in the name of cost efficiency.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Something else suffering on the wing.

Most of Britain's butterfly species are in serious decline which is the result of ongoing deteriation of wildlife habitats, pollution and climate change.

However, there is increasing evidence that in the case of some species conservation programes are reversing declines.

Butterfly Conservation has issued a new report. It's the first assessment of the state of Britain's butterflies this century and is based on over 5,000,000 million records from over 10,000 observers. The report can be downloaded from:

Avian Influenza update from BOU

Avian Influenza - migratory birds: innocent scapegoats for the dispersal of the H5N1 virus

If ever you needed something to prove what you knew all along.

(all credit to Steve Dudley at BOU

A review to be published shortly in the British Ornithologists' Union's journal, Ibis, critically examines the arguments concerning the role of migratory birds in the global dispersal of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1. Ecologists of the Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat and of the GEMI-CNRS in the Camargue (France), Michel Gauthier-Clerc, Camille Lebarbenchon and Frédéric Thomas conclude that human commercial activities, particularly those associated with poultry, are the major factors that have determined its global dispersal.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus subtype H5N1 was first detected in poultry in November 1996 in south-east China. The virus subsequently dispersed throughout most of Asia, and also to Africa and Europe. From mid-2005, migratory wild birds have been widely considered to be the primary source of the dispersal of H5N1 outside Asia. This claim was based on the discovery in May 2005 that hundreds of wild birds had died on Lake Quinghaihu, on the high Asian plateau in China. It is however clear that the trajectory of the virus does not correspond with to the main migration routes of wild birds. The global network of migration routes seemed to hide the globalisation - without strict health control - of the exchanges of poultry, the more likely mechanism for disease spread.

During the previous epizooties of highly pathogenic subtypes of H5 and H7, it was shown that the expansion of these viruses was due to human activities, in particular, movements of poultry or their products. This commercial scenario is the one that explained the expansion and the maintenance of the H5N1 virus in south-east Asia until 2004, via the legal and illegal trade in poultry.

The cases in western Europe in February 2006 after a cold spell on the Black Sea showed that virus can spread through infected wild birds travelling short distances, but no evidence for long distance transmission during seasonal migration has yet been found. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that human movements of domestic poultry have been the main agent of global dispersal of the virus to date. The occurrence of an outbreak at a commercial turkey farm in Suffolk, England, in February 2007 fits this wider pattern.

Wild birds, particularly waterfowl, are a key element of the viral ecology of low pathogenic avian influenza. Very high densities of domestic animals and increased stress factors are particularly favourable for the maintenance and transmission of virulent agents, in particular subtypes of highly pathogenic influenza. Paradoxically, the H5N1 virus coupled with a fear of transmission by wild birds could lead to a reversion to battery farming which increases risk of outbreaks. This would stall the current trend to better animal welfare resulting from free-range agriculture. Maintaining these trends, whilst controlling disease through strong veterinary scrutiny and control of trade, is more likely to be a successful strategy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

You’ve got to be joking?

Have a look at the picture – would you be fooled? The City Council has purchased ten of these ‘Robops’ to move around the city in an attempt to scare all of the feral pigeons out of the city centre and into the parks and other opens spaces. The Peregrine Falcon look-alikes (ha) can move about, flap their wings and squawk in an attempt to frighten the feral pigeons into submission. Sorry to be cynical but I doubt it will work.

So in 2008, Capital of Culture Year, you’ll not only be able to see all the things you would expect to see but you’ll also be able to go on Robop spotting tours – have your picture taken next to one and generally wallow in the gentle humour of this initiative.

Seriously though the council spends 88 man hours a day to a cost of £160,000 per annum clearing up after these “faecal pigeons”.

With thanks to BBC News:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


The BOU have now published BIRDS & RECREATIONAL DISTURBANCE as a free-to-view, online supplement of the BOU's journal, Ibis. To view go to

Allan Drewitt (Natural England) said -

“The implications of disturbance to breeding birds have been the focus of
much research and review in recent years and the potential effects of recreational disturbance on birds in the countryside have attracted particular attention. The introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act in England and Wales in 2000 provided added incentive and resources for nature conservationists to develop further an understanding of how recreational access might affect bird populations. The CRoW Act grants a right of access on foot for the purpose of open air recreation to specified categories of land, with the majority of the new access land focused on the uplands in the north and west and the downlands and heathlands in the south.
The potential for interaction between people enjoying these new access rights and birds is highlighted by the extent of the overlap between access land and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), with 55% of all access land covering little more than a million hectares of land designated as SSSIs. With SSSIs receiving some 370 million visits even before the introduction of a statutory right of access, further research into the potential effect of recreational access on wildlife was considered
a high priority among nature conservation organizations”.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wild Bird Indicators 1994-2005

On Friday 16th March DEFRA released the report ‘Wild Bird Indicators for the English Regions 1994-2005’.

Figures for the North West indicated that all native bird species and woodland birds showed an increase (average 8%) while, for farmland birds, there was no reliable change (only 10 of 18 species increasing). Overall however ALL indices for the North West were above the national trend.

Sparrowhawk and Green Woodpecker had the largest increases from the woodland indicator species, with Nuthatch, Blackcap and Goldcrest doing particularly well. Farmland birds increasing include Stock Dove, Greenfinch and Goldfinch with, conversely, Yellow Wagtail, Starling and Tree Sparrow showing large declines. Other birds indicated as doing well within the region were Kingfisher and Sand Martin.

However, the report states that results must be viewed with caution as comparisons between regions are not strictly valid – “some regional values are partly based on data from areas outside the region!” So not really a regional value then?

The full (44 page) report can be seen at:


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Job as a nanny?

A round-the-clock nest protection operation is ready to swing into action this spring when one of the UK’s rarest birds returns to nest on the Ribble estuary.

Each spring for at least the last ten years black-tailed godwits have nested on marshland on the Ribble estuary, near Preston. Less than 60 pairs of the long-legged wading birds breed in the whole of the UK and the two pairs on the Ribble are the only ones to nest in north west England. When the birds return next month, the RSPB andFylde Bird Club will mount a 24-hr guard on the nest to deter egg thieves.

The two organisations today (14 March 2007) launched an appeal for more volunteers to come forward to help protect the Ribble’s special birds, and are inviting local people to a meeting in St Annes next month (5th April) to recruit more godwit guardians.

Anybody who would like to find out more about volunteering is invited to come along to the Ribble Discovery Centre, Fairhaven Lake, St Annes at 7pm on Thursday 5th April, or contact Carol Coupe on 01995 642251 or e-mail

For additional information see:

Picture 'taken' from website of Steve Round at

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Acrocephalus orinus Rediscovered in Thailand

I must admit that this piece of news had passed me by. Discovering it now has not deminished its importance. I think it's great that species out there can survive in the face of all that humanity can throw at it.
Previously the Large-billed Reed Warbler was known only from one specimen - collected in the Sutlej Valley near Rampoor, Himachal Pradesh, India in 1867. On 27th March 2006 a single bird, netted in South-west Thailand, became the first record of this enigmatic reed-warbler Acrocephalus orinus, since the species discovery. DNA tests were given top priority, and confirmed the identity of the individual. Now that the species is known to be extant, the most urgent requirement is to locate its remaining populations. With so little information to go on, the challenge is enormous, but the species proven survival undoubtely provides great encouragment.

Waterbirds Around the World, Holland 2007.

The second Waterbirds Around the World Conference is being held in The Hague this week. Participants from across the world are discussing the global actions necessary to protect migratory waterbirds – who often take second place to economic development. Data from 162 countries of 614 species (of waterbird) indicate that 170 are currently listed as globally threatened.

Barry Gardiner, the UK minister for Biodiversity, visited the conference to pledge the ‘massive’ sum of £176,000 in order to fund projects that will protect and conserve these migratory birds.

The Government has committed this money to the following initiatives:

  • £70,000 to a Defra research project that will focus on identifying migratory species that can act as indicators of climate change.
  • £66,000 to the international Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) to fund an Overseas Officer in the UK’s Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic.
  • £40,000 to the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) to fund research projects that will help to identify population trends, and the species most at risk from the negative impacts of climate change.

Let’s hope that more money will be forthcoming for additional ventures.

The proceedings of the first conference (Edinburgh 2004) have just been published (HMSO 940pages £50) but, as always, downloadable pdf’s are available at:

Sunday, March 11, 2007

NW Ringers Conference

I attended this Conference yesterday, held at Thurstaston Country Park Visitors Centre. It was a packed and intimate affair with most present knowing most of the other attendees.
The morning session was a celebration of 50 years of Hilbre Bird Observatory - with a potted history given by Chris Williams and Bob Anderson. This was following by a joint presentation by Jack Taylor and John Elliot comparing the movement of Northern Wheatears through Hilbre, Seaforth and the Sefton Coast. (Hopefully they will be writing up these results for publication). Tony Duckels followed with his 40 years of ringing Barn Owls in SW Lancs and Bill Hale presented some interesting data on theories around why some redshank show full breeding plumage during the nesting season and others do not. Although Bill has officially retired it was nice to learn that he is still very active on Banks Marsh adding to his studies of this little wader.
Stephen Murphy gave a nice presentation on his work for Natural England monitoring breeding successes, dispersal and movement of Hen Harriers in the North West.
Rob Robinson used BTO Ringing Data, from CES and RAS studies, to tell us what ringing provides in order to be able to analyse bird survival rates and trends, and Pete Fearnon gave a very nice presentation on his annual August ringing trips to Portugal - producing more than a pang of envy.
The meeting finished with a round-up of Skylark data produced by Ian Wolfenden and his years of study on the coastal dunes, a presentation and question and answer session with Jacquie Clark from the Ringing Scheme and a 'what if' analysis by Ian Spence on the future of ringing.

It was nice to renew acquaintances, put faces to names, and generally contribute to what was a nice and sociable day.

Plovers (last post on the subject till the results come in)

I have managed to allocate all but six of the 34 plots I was asked to cover. The six outstanding are all Little Ringed Plover plots at SD31Y, SD40P, SJ39T, SJ39Y, SJ48X and SJ49Q. If anyone wants to take one on please let me know.
Thanks to John, Jack, David, Tony, Stephen, Steve, Chris, Rob, Ian (and me) for picking up the rest.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Them plovers again.

During 2007 the BTO is running a UK-wide breeding survey of Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover. This will be the second concurrent survey of these two species; the first being over 20 years ago in 1984. More detail can be found at:

Merseyside has its allocation of sites that need to be visited in order to determine whether we are hosting any of these two species. Most of the sites are based in the north and west of the region and are listed below. If you would like to visit one of these sites formally, or have incidental records you would like to submit, please let me know.

Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover survey.

For the Ringed Plover survey two visits are required during the period 15Apr-14May and 15May – 30June (with visits fourteen days apart). Where suitable habitat is not present – either via local knowledge or a recent visit, a zero count may be assumed and returned.

For Little Ringed Plover three visits are required – 15Apr-14May, 15May-14June, 15June-15July.

The following plots are available for Ringed Plover.
From around Southport and Formby – SD20S (Raven Meols), SD20V(Hall Road), SD20W(Formby Bank), SD20X(Battery Cottage), SD20Y, SD30A(Hightown), SD30B(Hightown), SD31B(Birkdale), SD31C(Birkdale), SD31I (Southport), SD31J(Southport Sands), SD31P(Marshside), SJ38X.

Moving further south SJ39D(Seaforth), SJ39E(Crosby), SJ39E(Pier Head), SJ39G, SJ39H(Bootle Docks).

The following for Little Ringed.
SD31I(Southport), SD31Y(Wyke House), SD40P, SJ39G, SJ39L, SJ39T(Fazakerley), SJ39Y(Fazakerley), SJ48U(Windy Arbor), SJ48X(Ditton Marsh), SJ48Q(Whiston)

Director Designate

The new Director Designate of the BTO is Dr Andy Clements.

Andy spent the last 15 years at English Nature, where he ended as Director of Protected Areas, and subsequently at Natural England as Director of Science, Evidence and Policy. He led English Nature's successful defence of Dibden Bay (relying heavily on WeBS data). He is a lifelong birder and BTO supporter - he took part in the first Atlas and has a BBS square. He has led a number of Naturetrek tours to India, Africa and South America, served on the Oriental Bird Club Conservation Committee and published on Asian birds and bird behaviour.

  • Dr Andy Clements is married and has two children. He lives in Cambridge.
  • Andy was educated at University of Wales obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree (1976) and PhD in Zoology (1980) before starting his career lecturing in Zoology. He joined Nature Conservancy Council in 1982 and contributed to fieldwork knowledge on upland birds.
  • During his career with NCC and subsequently English Nature, Andy was a conservation officer in Hertfordshire, Head of Science for the Southern Region and European Officer, working to implement standard practices to protect nature across Europe.
  • Dr Clements spent four years in the Department of Environment, licensing registered keepers of birds of prey and advising Customs and Excise on the trade in endangered species under the CITES convention.
  • As a General Manager, Andy led English Nature’s external communications programme and initiated the emphasis on people and wildlife: Reconnecting people with nature. He developed relationships with Lottery Funding which enabled the English Nature/New Opportunities Fund partnership on Wildscape!, a £6m grant scheme delivering community areas for wildlife at the local level.
  • Andy was Director - Protected Areas, with overall responsibility for English Nature’s programme of protected areas. This includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest, International sites and National Nature Reserves.
  • Andy was seconded to Natural England in 2006. As Director - Science Evidence & Policy, he selected the new senior management team, set & published strategy and determined science & policy targets.
  • Andy currently runs Ferrypath Consulting Ltd, offering strategic environmental advice to clients as diverse as Naturetrek and the Anglian Water Group.

Andy will take up his post in September, when Jeremy retires.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

surfing the birds

It's back! No, not this Pacific Diver (photo copyright of Peter Beesley) but
The site was hacked and basically trashed earlier in the year and it's taken them some time to get back to 'virtually' normal service. It's not until you cannot get access to a website that you begin to realise just how much you do use the resources of what is has to offer.
It's one of the better birding sites so for one I'm glad it's back.

Where did February go?

No, really, where did February go? For me it just seems to have vanished. I did some survey visits for the CAWOS Atlas, some (non-existent) plover counts, one ringing session and went on my BTO Council Induction course (meet and greet the senior staff and ask some naughty questions about the future and funding). Oh, and I had a much needed sunny break to southern Spain (26 degrees in the shade) and managed to see my first ever Penduline tit.
So what now? This weekend is the AGM of the Lancs and Cheshire Fauna Society, where we will be discussing the local as well as the National Atlas, Monday (5th) will be an exciting day as the new Director of the BTO is due to be announced and next weekend is the NW Ringers Conference at Thurstaston, Wirral. In between times I shall be posting survey forms for this years Breeding Birds Survey and the Wetlands Breeding Bird Survey, closely followed by Ringed Plover and Little Ringed Plover surveys. The Heronries have already been taken care of (Tony Duckels et al at South West Lancs Ringing Group and Richard Charles for Knowsley).
Also moving about in the background is (another) Lapwing survey - funded by Defra - looking at breeding and feeding 'plot's on Countryside stewardship farms.
Let's hope that March is not so manic.
Credit: The picture was taken from the fyldebirdclub website. My views were better than this picture but the context is about right.