Blogger: Simon Tonkin, Senior Farmland Conservation Officer
All this royal wedding stuff has left me wondering a few things about how great it is to be British, but also two issues in particular that I'm not so happy about. I pondered whilst watching the public royal hysteria, what it must have been like in our countryside during those previous royal weddings.
Isn't it really frustrating and absolutely shameful that we have lost our birds of prey or their populations are now at such a small level. Lets be truthful, one of the biggest threats for our birds of prey today is persecution, which still continues, despite it being illegal, not much to be proud of there.
Thanks to the Royals giving us a day off I was lucky enough to observe a Red Kite floating over Norwich. Red Kites along with Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawks are now returning to their former haunts of decades ago, thanks to conservation efforts, that's something we should be proud of, isn't it?
Unfortunately not everyone welcomes these returning birds, often sighted erroneously as the reason for farmland bird declines the poor old Sparrowhawk suffers a dose of bad image that the royal public relations manager would struggle to turnaround. The weight of scientific evidence shows that birds of prey like sparrowhawks are certainly not to blame for these declines, but farmers can take real positive action in creating habitats on their farms to make a vast difference.
Declining farmland birds are the second thing I'm really upset about; I don't want the countryside devoid of the jangling song of corn buntings or the chipping of tree sparrows. I think we are starting to lose the knowledge of what is acceptable in our countryside in terms of wildlife populations, as our baseline of these species continually shifts through new generations.
I have just returned from guiding a group of sixteen very enthusiastic birdwatchers around the agricultural lands of Extremadura in Spain. It is immediately apparent just how many corn buntings there are, one jangling key crescendo for every 100m of barbed wire! It's also striking just how many raptors there are too and not just species diversity, but also sheer numbers. Makes me wonder just what we have lost that I don't really know about. Oh and by the way, I defy anyone not to be impressed and moved by the 'imperial' nature of a Spanish Imperial Eagle, even if they are a little scary!
One farmer I know rather well is Dick Johnson at Lode Hall, the RSPB helped him directly enter both of the governments Entry Level and Higher Level Schemes to provide habitat for farmland birds and whole host of other farm wildlife. Dick now how has tree sparrows, grey partridge and corn bunting back on the farm in good numbers. He also happens to have a range of birds of prey now visiting the farm, sparrowhawks, kestrels, common buzzard and even a hen harrier back last winter.
Its clear to me something went horribly wrong in the past for farmland birds and other wildlife inhabitants of farmland not just in the UK but throughout Europe. Results of increasingly modernised agriculture, undoubtedly, but alongside this increasing modernisation, we now have the ability, knowledge and opportunity to reverse these continuing delirious negative effects seen on our farm wildlife.
The RSPB are doing just that at Hope Farm, balancing the needs of a commercial farm business with that of the needs of farm wildlife and it is making a huge difference. Hope Farm isn't on its own, farmers like Dick and others in Eastern England are stepping up for nature on their farms providing much needed insect rich habitat, seed sources throughout the winter and safe in-field nesting habitat. Plus they have quite a few raptors, indicating that things are doing rather nicely, as predators are rather obviously, ultimately determined by the success of their prey.
Are you asking what the problem is then? I certainly am! Well here it is.....unfortunately, we need a lot more farmers like Dick stepping up for nature, we need farmers to select the right types of land management options at the right scale through these government schemes that really do make a difference for farm wildlife. How about a few skylark plots, a bit of nectar rich habitat for insects and some wild bird seed mixes for food over the winter?
We now have the answers, farmers like Dick are leading the way, but we need a lot more farmers to step-up for nature, maybe then we can all beam with pride and analyse just what us Brits won back.......
............almost makes you proud to be British doesn't it?
Photo Credit: Sparrowhawk by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Blogger: Gena Correale-Wardle, Community Fundraising Officer
Last weekend I visited Titchwell Marsh reserve for the first time in about 18 months. I was hoping to spy some of the ‘star species’ that the North Norfolk coast has to offer, including marsh harrier, bittern and bearded tit. Before I started work at the RSPB I had never heard of, let alone seen any of these birds, but it’s strange how they so easily become a part of your world and you expect to see these new-found-friends every time you visit their home. So along I went, dragging my boyfriend with me in an attempt to introduce him to these magnificent avian allies of mine.
Unless you’ve been living under a very sheltered rock you’ll remember that last weekend was very blustery and birds aren’t particularly fond of the wind. Titchwell definitely seemed to be feeling the effects of the strong winds, the skies were almost clear except for a few hardy gulls battling against the gusts and summer swifts swirling above our heads.
I couldn’t help but be disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to use my birdie knowledge to educate my teacher boyfriend on the delights of North Norfolk’s nature, although he seemed to be more interested in enjoying the delights of Titchwell’s tea room anyway! Nevertheless we ventured to the new Parrinder hide (so cool!) to look out over the quiet lagoon. No marsh harriers dancing but plenty of mallards with their ducklings, greylag geese with their goslings and avocets with their fluffy, straight-beaked chicks. Oh so cute.
Then we saw our ‘star spot’ for the day. A courageous coot was walking along the bank of the lagoon being blown about by the wind, his feathers in total disarray, making me feel a lot better about my own windswept ‘do! My man was so blown away by this little guy going about his daily business, I was glad that the ‘star species’ of Titchwell were hiding for the day. I’m sure if there had been bitterns booming and beardies pinging we would’ve overlooked our coot friend, but it was nice to see this ‘ordinary’ species bringing such joy to someone who has never really been interested in birds before. Oh so coot.
Birding is a little bit like celeb spotting sometimes, brilliant to see the most famous rarities in the flesh, although they never stay long, preferring to get back to their exclusive lifestyles. Watching our coot was more like seeing one of your mates in a flap trying his best to scrape together a yummy lunch despite the adverse weather and the wind blown barnet. We can all relate to that!
Coot. Photo Credit: Jodie Randall (rspb-images.com)
Love Nature Week: Saturday 28 May to Sunday 5 June
Spring Watch Monday 30 May to Thursday 16 June
Make your Nature Count Saturday 4 June to Sunday 12 June
Home of Spring Watch 2011, Ynys-hir woodland canopy hide, Ynys-hir RSPB reserve. Photo Credit: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Blogger: Emily Field, RSPB Volunteer & Farmer Alliance Project Officer (Bird Survey Data & Advice)
Raaagh! My Camera Broke just as I knew I had my last opportunity to snap the great tits feeding chicks in our nest box! Sure enough I went there this morning and my allotment was silent, a quick peep confirmed my suspicion- yes they’d gone! Frustration aside- this is such a lovely story for me.
It all starts last Autumn, when I dragged my kids up to ‘Wild About Norfolk’- at Dereham High School- really I just wanted to show off this fabulous event to them as I’d helped set up the night before...
I live with my husband and our two boys, they’re into motorbikes, computer games, electric guitars and drums... nothing bad there- but sometimes I wish I could kindle a bit more excitement for nature. So I’d seen on the programme there was going to be bird box making- bingo- if there are hammers involved the boys would be there! So I got them there without too much whining.
We had loads of fun on the way around to the workshop- the event was a huge success with so much to see & do (lots of activities for the boys), and I felt very proud as I identified most of the items in the wildlife quiz. When we finally found the right place, I was delighted to see a friendly face- one of my Volunteer & Farmer Alliance (V&FA) farmland bird surveyors was also volunteering that day! He helped my four year old, Tom, build a bird box and Tom listened carefully to every instruction- he was delighted to hear that the wood is all pre-cut by prisoners at Wayland Prison, not far from us.
Tom chose a spot at our on the half dead bramley apple tree, by the tree house for it, duly north-east facing and we forgot all about. Then while laying in the hammock a few weeks ago, I noticed a pair of great tits busily darting to a fro from the box, gradually the noise form the box got louder, and I lost many a minute watching mum bringing in a daddy long legs, a caterpillar or small beetle.
This Monday, I was so worried the box would fly off the branch in the wind, and it was swaying it was so weighted down with chicks! The behaviour of the parents changed as they started to call from a branch outside the box instead of going straight in with the food and then a baby popped its head out of the hole! So I know they weren’t far from fledging.
Now I feel silly with excitement & can’t wait for next spring!
Great Tit. Photo Credit: Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
We went in to the city on Saturday, for the bank and for me to buy a dress for a wedding. It reminded us that we are more country folk than city folk. There’s not much space in the city is there? Still, ask my sister or my best friend Huw, both hardened city types, and they’ll tell you of their favourite view; lights twinkling from a darkened cluster of skyscrapers, or their favourite place to be; a bustling cafe-bar, full of chatter until the early hours.
It got me to thinking what my favourite things are. Morning, just as the sun appears over the rim of night and breathing cool, fresh air. Trees, in craggy winter dress or in their first green flush. Birdsong at dusk. At the moment, the verges are alive with flowers and at this time of year they are definitely some of my favourite things.
Bubbling waves of white on fleshy green stems, cow parsley clothes the roadsides. It reminds me of tanned skin from playing outdoors, the end of school terms and riding plump ponies along narrow, country lanes. I’d be on my strawberries and cream coloured cob my sister on her more glamorous cowboy-coloured pony, slowly meandering along with the flies. The cow parsley would be too good to resist and the ponies would snatch great mouthfuls as we went, teeth clunk-ing through the stems.
Yellow flag iris
I grew up more a coastal north Norfolk girl and it wasn’t until later that we crept closer and still closer to the magnificent Broads. It was walking through the tangled alder and reed carrs as I explored my new homelands that I came across these flowers. And what an apt name for a flower! You are surrounded by the damp calm of the woods and water but standing strong and tall amongst the greens and browns will be a statue of yellow. Flower heads in a stiff salute and almost neon against the muted backdrop of undergrowth.
It lined the wooded paths. Bright, stars of pink or red fading to crisp buckets of seed. Press one of these hard seed-shells just as they turn husky and dry and hundreds of brown seeds will pour from them, scattering on to the leaves below to become next years sea of pink-red.
And so many more! The vibrant blue of cornflowers and comfrey and the crumpled red skins of poppy petals. Oxlips and cowslips and the brightness of valerian in the driest of spots. Magnificent in their diversity can they all be my favourites?
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Cow parsley. Photo credit: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)