Monday, 13 April 2020

North of England Raptor Forum

NERF’s ‘Most Wanted’

‘The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand and the determination that whether we win or lose we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand’.
Vince Lombardi 1913 – 1970
The thoughts, as expressed by Lombardi, exactly identify the characteristics that NERF looks for in the individuals who are awarded the NERF Certificate of Appreciation. All of the recipients have demonstrated their total commitment to protecting birds of prey in the North of England.
The dedication of two legendary Raptor Workers (Bill Hesketh and Bill Murphy) is recognised by NERF
The history of ornithology is littered with explorers who traveled the globe identifying new species, in the days when travel was all but impossible. There are biologists, statisticians, scientists and all manner of academics who bring both old and new avian information to us almost daily. Our bookshelves groan under the weight of their combined literary output. Whist we acknowledge and celebrate the work undertaken by this group of ornithologists we must never forget that the academic world of ornithology is under-pinned by a vast network of millions of ‘ordinary’ birders. For more than a century birders who have collectively spent countless hours, voluntarily surveying and monitoring birds whilst keeping meticulous notes to be shared with the rest of the birding community. A handful of these ‘ordinary’ birders achieve legendary status amongst their peers and NERF is fortunate enough to have two such legends within its ranks.
The names Bill Hesketh and Bill Murphy are synonymous with monitoring and protecting birds of prey in the Forest of Bowland. It is impossible to overstate the fantastic contribution that they have made to our collective knowledge over five decades. Not only have they collected a vast wealth of data they have touched the lives of all of us who know them.
Mick Demain is an extremely talented wildlife artist, a member of NERF and he is also the RSPB Warden working on the United Utilities / RSPB Reserve in the Forest of Bowland. Here Mick recounts his relationship with the Bills.
“I first encountered Bill Hesketh and Bill Murphy, affectionately known as the two Bills, on a long sweeping windswept fell on the eastern edge of Bowland, they approached me and introduced themselves and the conversation lasted no more than a couple of minutes before we parted, the date was 10th May 1992 and although we didn’t know it at the time it would be eighteen years before our paths crossed again and this time we would go on to become great friends.
In 2010 I became involved with the RSPB in Bowland and in 2012 I became RSPB seasonal warden at which time I adopted a team of volunteers, including the Bills who had a great knowledge of Bowland and its birds. Their experience, going back fifty years, has been invaluable to the RSPB.
As the years have passed the friendship has grown and they have been a massive help to me with the fieldwork and great companions on many walks into remote areas to check and monitor sites. I can’t envisage a day when the Bills will not be here to help for they have become a part of Bowland and certainly for me it won’t be the same without them.
These two guys have put in countless hours at a considerable cost to themselves and the RSPB owes them a massive debt of gratitude.”
We all owe them a debt of gratitude and it is with great pleasure that we award the Bills NERF Certificates of Merit.
April 2020
Dr. Cathleen Thomas, PhD
Project Manager, RSPB Hen Harrier Life Plus Project

Monday, 3 February 2020

Help Bees By Not Mowing Dandelions

Help bees by not mowing dandelions, gardeners told. Plants provide key food source for pollinators as they come out of hibernation

Each dandelion head has up to 100 individual flowers. Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images  

Gardeners should avoid mowing over dandelions on their lawn if they want to help bees, according to the new president of the British Ecological Society.
Dandelions – which will start flowering in the UK this month – provide a valuable food source for early pollinators coming out of hibernation, including solitary bees, honey bees and hoverflies.
Each dandelion head contains up to 100 individual flowers, known as florets, which contain nectar and pollen. There are 240 species of dandelion in the UK.
Prof Jane Memmott said: “If dandelions were rare, people would be fighting over them. Because they’re common, people pull them out and spray them off and all sorts of horrible things. Just let them flower.”
Memmott, who took over as president of the BES at the start of this year, is also a professor of ecology at the University of Bristol.
She said gardeners should avoid planting too many “pompom shaped” flowers, such as old English roses and dahlia, because they focus so much of their energy on producing petals and have very little nectar and pollen. “As a rule, if you can see the pollen and nectar parts of a flower without pulling back petals, then it’s OK for pollinators,” she said.
Carrots that have flowered, or “bolted”, and onions in unkempt vegetable gardens are also some of the best plants for pollinators.
“People are a lot tidier than they used to be. This whole business of keeping your lawn clipped and pulling the weeds out is part of some British obsession with tidiness,” Memmott said. “If you look back at old pictures, people weren’t as tidy. I think bohemian untidiness is what we’re aiming for – you don’t want it to look like neglect.”
Leaving the grass to grow 8-10cm (3-4in) tall means clovers, daisies, self-heal and creeping buttercup can also flower. “You can’t personally help tigers, whales and elephants but you really can do something for the insects, birds and plants that are local to you,” said Memmott, who encouraged gardeners to halve the amount of mowing they do.
The global mass of insects is falling by 2.5% a year and many could be extinct within a century, according to a global scientific review last year.
The charity Buglife encourages people to leave a strip of garden that is cut only once in autumn and once in spring. “An awful lot of lawns, especially in older houses, will be built on old meadows so wildflowers come up quite quickly. In a new house they might take a bit longer as they could have had a turf put down,” said Paul Hetherington, the director of communications at Buglife.

Help bees by not mowing dandelions

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Hen Harriers Again © Mark Avery

Poor old Duke

Mark 9 Comments
We are often told that Hen Harriers depend on grouse moors for their survival – this is a big lie rather than a small one. The fact is that Hen Harrier breeding success over a long period of time (in England and Scotland) and survival (as measured by the lack of survival of satellite-tagged birds by Natural England) is very poor on intensively-managed grouse moors.
But those are large-scale analyses (and obviously powerful because of that), so let’s just illustrate what that actually means on the ground in one corner of the English uplands.
Let’s have a look at the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whose logo happens to be a Hen Harrier. It’s not a random choice, this area has been at times the stronghold of this bird in England. Although it’s difficult to believe these days (when some recent years have seen a complete absence of breeding), there have often been double-figured numbers of Hen Harrier nests here in the past. And that’s why part of this area is designated by the UK as a Special Protection Area for birds under the EU Birds Directive. The Bowland Fells SPA qualified for this designation by holding significant proportion of the UK breeding population – 13 pairs over a period of years.
There are many landowners in this area but the three largest are United Utilities plc (what used to be called a water company – which owns part of this catchment to maintain water quality and which does have a few days grouse shooting on its land each year but cannot remotely be called a grouse moor), the Abbeystead Estate (owned by the Duke of Westminster) and the Bleasdale Estate (owned by businessman Jeremy Duckworth).
The land ownerships are roughly in the following proportions:
Estate% of HHSAs by area% of Bowland Fells SPA by area
United Utilities7034
The rest58
Abbeystead Estate is a famous grouse moor – it holds the record for the most Red Grouse shot in a single day in the UK. Can you guess how many Red Grouse were shot by eight ‘guns’ on 12 August 1915?
Did you guess 2929? That’s more than 350 dead birds for each shooter – what sport eh? But those were the days when Abbeystead was owned by the Earls of Sefton, the Grosvenor family acquired the moor in 1980.
You’d think that a famous grouse moor, owned by His Grace the Duke of Westminster, usually the highest ranking UK-born individual in the Sunday Times Rich List, and the most recently created Dukedom in the UK, with a wealth of £10bn, would be in a perfect position to demonstrate the value of driven grouse moors for Hen Harriers – particularly at this former stronghold for the bird, and particularly because of his large land holding.
But poor old (actually, rather young) Duke of Westminster. No nesting Hen Harriers on Abbeystead this year despite there being five successful pairs on the adjacent United Utilities land (where the birds are guarded by volunteers organised by the RSPB and United Utilities). His Grace must be gutted. All that prime Hen Harrier habitat in an area whose very logo is the Hen Harrier, all those gamekeepers looking after the Hen Harriers and not a thing to show for it.
Maybe there’ll be lots next year, although recent history suggests not, as I am told (by local, experienced, raptor workers) that the last time that Hen Harriers nested successfully on the Abbeystead Estate was 2003 – so don’t hold your breath! All but one of the successful Hen Harrier nests in the last decade in Bowland has been on the United Utilities land.
So in passing we must note too, that the other large grouse shooting estate in Bowland has been unlucky in attracting and keeping safe Hen Harriers too – the Bleasdale Estate’s last reported successful Hen Harrier nest was in 1993. In fact, Bleasdale Estate has been unlucky with its breeding Peregrine Falcons too in recent years (see a disturbing video here).
It’s a shame that being very rich, and owning lots of land in a prime location doesn’t seem to guarantee the riches of successful Hen Harrier nests. I’d recommend that His Grace and Mr Duckworth get in touch with the RSPB team operating locally to discover the secret of getting successful Hen Harrier nests in the Bowland Fells. But until they do, can we hear a little less about how great are driven grouse moors for the threatened Hen Harrier, please?
For all sorts of reasons, I’d be delighted if you would give your support to this e-petition.