Blogger: Simon Tonkin, RSPB Senior Farmland Conservation Officer
Where am I? Over 800,000 square kilometres of land, surrounded on three sides by seas, serving as a bridge between three continents and forming a critical flyway for migrating birds? .....Turkey of course!
Turkey encompasses two main routes for birds migrating en mass, referred to as a flyway. Twice a year, the land and water habitats of Turkey offer hospitality to thousands of migrating birds.
Bird migration is with out doubt one of nature’s greatest miracles. The epic flights of migratory birds connect us all - crossing our borders, cultures and lives. I can not describe the fascination, awe and shear miracle that bird migration continually demonstrates to me. Yet there is still so much we do not understand about one of the world’s greatest events.
The birds, wildlife and culture of Turkey had a real effect on Tristan Reid when he visited and delighted in the spectacle of wildlife and the friendly people he met on his travels. Imagine the shock, disbelief and anger that Tristan must have felt after realising that the mass development of hydro-electric damns right across that 800,000 hectares. Not just one or two but a head-spinning 1,738 hydro-electric damns are planned.
What’s the problem? – the creation of these damns on such a mass scale would destroy the vital ecosystems on which migrating and resident birds depend, but also destroy the habitats which many people rely on for food and a huge variety of other resources.
In Europe this type of development would have to pass the EU’s Habitats Directive - helping to ensure development limits its effects on important habitats and species. The government in this country recently announced a review of the implementation of this directive, feeling the directive constrains on the ability of our economy to overcome the current bleak outlook. RSPB and many others strongly disagree. Sacrificing the environment, and for example destroying that jaw dropping miracle of flyways for short-term economic gain has no long-term sustainable economic, environmental or social future.
Unfortunately Turkey isn’t part of the EU and doesn’t have such a cornerstone of protection for nature. It is important to note that the development of renewable energy sources is important to us all, but they must not be at the expense of the ecosystems that so many of us rely on. In Turkey 2,000,000 Turkish villagers will be forced to migrate away from their homes as a result of these damn developments.
Tristan decided to step-up for Turkey’s nature – He is helping Birdlife partner Doğa Derneği in their work and give them and the issues they are fighting against greater publicity. He literally decided to give his right (and left) arm!
Photo: Tristan enthusing RSPB staff about Turkey’s fabulous wildlife and his very cool, but no doubt very painful tattoo’s.
Here is Tristan’s plan:
1. Commission an artist to design a montage of ten of the iconic birds of Turkey (this will be auctioned off once the project is complete)
2. Have the design tattooed on his complete arm and shoulder (funded completely himself)
3. If he raises over £10,000 he will add a further £1,000 to the total and have a montage of a further ten species tattooed onto his left arm and shoulder
And here’s what YOU can do to help!
You can donate by following this link:
Alternatively you can donate via text message! Text the code VWFE83 followed by the amount (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5 or £10) to 70070 (all letters in the text must be in higher case)
30% of the global population of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis
25% of the European breeding population of the Endangered White-headed Duck
> 10% of the global population of the Endangered Egyptian Vulture (a species which now only really survives in large numbers on Yemen’s Socotra Island)
> 30% of the global population of European Rollers (pictured)
> 70% of the global population of the near Turkish endemic and Near Threatened Krueper’s Nuthatch
> 90% of the global population of the Cinereous Bunting
Additionally Turkey holds five endemic mammals (mountains here still apparently hold the Anatolian or Asia Minor Leopard Panthera pardus tulliana), has 52 endemic freshwater fish, 13 endemic reptiles, 30.6 Turkish plant species are endemic to Turkey and the nearby Aegean Islands.
Blogger - Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
I have fallen in love with keeping chickens. They are quirky, personality filled creatures and I can fill hours in a day watching them. We now have five in total, including Colin the cockerel, but with the cold weather and drawn in nights we still have very few eggs. I can do without the scrambled egg suppers until spring time though if it means letting the chickens lead a natural day-night cycle and an outdoors life.
This wouldn’t work commercially however. Consumer demand doesn’t allow for seasonality. We seem to appreciate quantity over quality. However, this hasn’t been possible without a considerable environmental impact. Cattle produce huge amounts of methane in their belches and farts. We burn fossil fuels to produce fertiliser to grow cattle feed and use vast amounts of water (990 litres!) to produce one litre of milk.
All this information should perhaps make me leap towards a vegetarian diet but actually I am proud to maintain an element of meat eating. Farm animals are part of a traditional British landscape and it could be argued have become part of our ecosystem. We wouldn’t have our vast Breckland heaths without grazing animals, nor would we enjoy the grazing marshes of the Broads.
So I am more than happy to be an orator of the benefits of farmland animals. As such I have been intrigued by the recent news that extensive systems of grazing animals might actually hold great advantages for the environment. Researchers have realised that there is increasing evidence of the critical role that grassland soils play in storing carbon. Restoring agricultural grassland to a wildlife-rich state can lead to it storing over three tonnes of extra carbon per hectare per year.
I would glory in a return to more traditional, mixed farming. Wildlife would benefit, our climate would benefit, the cows would benefit and we’d still be in for a joint of beef on the occasional Sunday. What’s not to like?
Actually, I can already tell you. How can we feed a growing population on small mixed farms? Perhaps we need to start farming not for wealth and maximum production but instead to ensure we feed ourselves, and others. For any of you who find something in this idea, I thoroughly recommend looking up Colin Tudge, a biologist and writer on agriculture. He states with great clarity that ‘basic principles, common sense, a certain amount of empirical data—and the entire history of humankind—all indicate that lots of small environmentally friendly farms can feed us all, and well.’
Until someone persuades me otherwise I’ll stick with this common-sensical approach too. Natural and traditional is the way forwards for me.
Featured in EDP, Saturday 4 Feb
Blogger - Erica Howe
I’m house sitting at the moment while our friends are off on a holiday of a lifetime! It sounds wonderful doesn’t it? I’ve left the city, living in the Norfolk countryside, in a bigger house with a garden – sounds like a holiday itself? Well, sort of!
It’s funny when you step into the shoes of someone else, live their life for a brief moment. That’s what it feels like when you live in someone elses house. It felt a bit wrong for a while, like was trespassing or living a double life. But, in my second week, i’m starting to get used to it. Actually, enjoying it!
Now, the thing with house sitting is that it comes with a set of rules that you should really follow. Put the bins out on the set days. Check. Water the plants. Check. Walk the dogs. Check. Feed digestive biscuits and raisins to the birds. What???? I’m not joking, this is exactly what we’ve been doing for the last fortnight. And do you know what, i’ve never seen hungrier birds! They love it. At least three times a day i have to replenish the stocks. And it’s all kind of birds too. Fieldfares have been hanging around, woodpeckers, blue tits, great tits, green finches, black birds, wood pigeons, sparrows, the occasional bird of prey too! It has been a breath of fresh air (quite literally) living out of the city, but wow the birds are demanding!
But, what a delight it is to look out of your kitchen window and actually see wildlife, real, live wildlife enjoying your garden, flying above your rooftop and more importantly, relying on you for dinner. I only have a short time left at the house and going back to my town house terrace in the city will take some getting used to.
It is funny when you find out the quirky habits other people have in their own homes, and i was the first person to giggle at the thought of feeding the birds with digestive biscuits and raisins, but I have been converted! Whatever you feed your garden birds (I was on a radio phone-in once and a lady called in to say that her birds like parmesan cheese!!) take the time to enjoy it and relish the fact that they’re frequenting your garden.
Blogger: Emily Field, RSPB Volunteer & Farmer Alliance Team
The Sunday before last, it was a beautiful sunny morning and with my husband home to watch the children, I finally got round to setting up my telescope on a patch of "wild bird seed mix" (a crop on farmland planted to feed the birds) by my home, a few miles west of Norwich. In the 15 short minutes I spent there before breakfast: enjoying the spectacle of 80+ linnets and 60+ yellowhammer, chattering away above me in the trees and swirling in and out of the mix, with the odd sparrowhawk fly by, and lapwing calling atmospherically in the distance, I had three interesting conversations with passers by.
The first, a dog walker asked me what I was watching, and whether I knew why the farmer hadn’t knocked the crop back, I of course relished the chance to big up the farmers efforts to help farmland birds & insects.
In this small field which had previously been a damp bit of farmland set-aside which walkers used to cut off a corner on the road, two thirds had been providing a spectacle all summer long of purple flowered phacelia, teeming with bees (photo below) and other insects. This was to provide chick food for farmland birds including the yellowhammer, skylark and even lapwing which nested in the neighbouring sugar beet field.
Now the seed bearing plants were coming into their own on the other third. This contains plants like barley & linseed, (and kale- a biennial which will provide seed next winter) and farmland birds flock to it in their hundreds in late winter when food elsewhere is scarce, to feed on the seeds which fall to the ground.
The farmer receives £30 of public money per hectare farmed for using a small percentage of the land to support wildlife in this way. Suddenly seeing that public money is providing real public interest, brightening up our mornings with the sound of chattering linnets and bright flashes of yellowhammers, this dog walker wasn’t so miffed about losing the short cut once enjoyed across the field- if it meant more to see while walking round it!
The next dog walker told me that his friend who lived opposite the mix was also a keen birdwatcher and had been monitoring the numbers of linnets & yellowhammer, swelling to a couple of hundred by mid-February, as more & more birds honed in on this lifeline in the coldest hours of winter.
Then a chap with a smart pair of binoculars around his neck, on the way to a nature reserve stopped his car and exclaimed- are you from the village? I didn’t know there were any other birders in the village!
Isn’t it nice that this little bit of seed, sown by a local farmer can bring so many people in a community together?
Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer
I went to boarding school. It was a funny old place. There were the metal-framed boarding-house windows that didn’t quite shut, lumpy horse-hair mattresses and thick canary yellow socks. We marched in to lunch to a band and had study on every day of the week.
Sounds a bit austere, doesn’t it? Except for the socks perhaps. But despite memories of rain sodden woollen uniforms, a large degree of ‘rigour’ and of missing home comforts, we did have some fun times. Watching cricket in the sun, secretly roller blading in the ‘day’ rooms and putting on plays in the professional theatre. All in all, I was privileged to a great education that, incredibly, was free as well. I was lucky.
This week I have been trying to understand when and why it became personally necessary to work in conservation. When did I become inspired by the outdoors and nature? Was it a certain teacher, my A level in Biology or reading a particular book? Through this thought I have realised that for all the great scientific minds that taught at my school, and the place’s general academic merit, the teachers that influenced me most were the ones that quite simply offered us pupils time to muse.
I remember a lesson in coppicing. What a fine art coppicing is and to how much do we owe the woodsman! The heart shaped leaves and bright yellow crowns of our spring messenger, the lesser celandine. Carpets of creamy primroses or pungent ramsons and the purple ear-lobes of common dog violet. The hammering of woodpeckers, the urgency of a nuthatch calling, great flocks of tits flitting in crowds amongst the branches.
But I haven’t come to know this because of my school lesson in coppicing. In fact I still, to my dismay, can remember little of the practicalities of this craft. I was too busy answering the questions on my worksheet and getting the maths right. And then I would have been too busy racing off to my next task, my next netball match or my next lesson to become inspired by what I had just seen.
But I also remember Mr Reid. He took us to the woods on the hill beyond the playing fields and let us sit there. Bluebells carpeted every inch of the glades that we explored or simply mused upon. The lesson involved no right or wrong, no outcomes or expected results but gave us time to ask ourselves, ‘are you interested?’
Perhaps some of my peers weren’t inspired by that woodland excursion and more structured study suited them far better. But I hope that for those of us that need to ponder, the current curriculum will give time to just that. Here is to Mr Reid. May many more teachers follow his path.
Photo by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Article on 18 Feb 2012 in EDP