Coverage of the Bribery Act reminded me of the only time I have put 'bribe' on my expense claim. I was travelling to Ghana to see our partner the Ghana Wildlife Society, with whom we were working on the conservation of the beautiful roseate tern.
I arrived at Accra airport and was going through the various checks of passport, visa, luggage etc when one official asked about the box I had under my arm. I told him it was full of badges with pictures of roseate terns, and he asked how many badges there were. I didn't have a clue and said so. So the official suggested that we should count them all - unless we could agree that there were 4000 and that therefore I pay the appropriate 'badge tax'. The 'badge tax' was paid and it later appeared under 'bribe' on my expenses - a sum of about £1.
Lest that little story should give the wrong impression - I loved Ghana and Ghanaians. I found it an immensely friendly country full of lovely people, and that seems to be the view of many migrant birds which spend our winter in Ghana and neighbouring countries and are now heading back to the UK and Europe for the summer.
Many migrant species across Europe are declining in numbers and the RSPB and the BTO are working together and separately to look at the reasons behind these declines at both ends of their migration routes. The joint Migrants in Africa project has taken our staff to Ghana and Burkina Faso to find which areas are used by which migrant species. Sounds easy put like that, but I remember that we found it difficult enough locating roseate terns along the coast when we knew from ringing recoveries where they occurred - locating nightingales, wood warblers and other 'European' migrants amongst a host of African species in sometimes thick vegetation when they are not bursting into song is a mammoth task. But I am glad to report that as we come to the end of the second winter, much progress has been made which bodes well for the future.
Earlier this month, the team netted a garden warbler which had been ringed in Suffolk last August - at Hollesly on 25 August. Whether this bird is a 'UK bird' or had started its migration somewhere else in Europe we do not know. But now we do know that it was Nsuatre in central Ghana on 8 March.
Last year I had a rather early garden warbler at Stanwick Lakes in east Northants on 10 April - I would normally expect them to arrive about 10 days later. But whenever I hear my first garden warbler this year I can smile because we now know just a little bit more about this species and other trans-Saharan migrants.
It is a pleasant change to report that Robin Page has written something in the Daily Telegraph with which I can whole-heartedly agree.
He writes in praise of Natural England's (and the Zoological Society's of London and Oxford University's) work on adders - our only venomous snake. Robin discloses a personal nervousness about snakes which is touchingly open of him.
Adders, or vipers, are apparently declining in numbers with only 100,000 estimated to be left. Habitat fragmentation and intensive agriculture are leading to the isolation of some populations and that may lead, in turn, to inbreeding. Their problems, though different in detail, exemplify the needs of many species which were summarised in the Lawton report published last year. That report called for more, bigger, better managed and more joined up protected areas and if we had more, bigger, better managed and more joined up heathland habitat pockets then the population level of the adder would add up to a bigger number. Let's see what the long-awaited, much-heralded and vitally important Natural Environment White Paper says on the subject of habitat re-creation and restoration at a landscape scale.
A former RSPB boss, the late Ian Prestt, studied adders in his youth. I remember talking to him about his work, which he spoke about with relish.
Robin Page points out that the presence of adders indicates a healthy countryside because this predator relies on the presence of a variety of prey such as young birds, voles, frogs and lizards to survive. If the adder is in trouble then it indicates that the rest of nature is too. How true. I look forward to further articles from Robin in praise of the sparrowhawk and the white-tailed eagle.
The RSPB has had a green energy scheme with Scottish and Southern Energy since 2000. It was one of the first, one of the best and one of the most successful green energy schemes around. But, the scheme closes on 31 March this year. I have moved my custom to another green energy provider.
On Thursday evening I took part in an event in Ely where the RSPB laid out our Fens Futurescapes plans to a room full of farmers and others. It was also by way of a big 'thank you' to farmers with whom we have been working in the Fens for years on farmland bird recovery projects.
It was nice to see the event and the project covered very positively in Farmers' Guardian and Farmers' Weekly.
Several farmers on the night came and thanked me for the help of local RSPB staff in filling in forms (at no charge) which led to HLS agreements coming their way and for the RSPB's campaign over the summer to protect agri-environment funding from potential government cuts. It was very easy to 'love these farmers to bits' - because they are 'stepping up for nature'.
This was the type of event that cheers me up. I had a stinking cold, had been late to bed the night before, early up that morning and had an almost 2 hour drive home from Ely in front of me - but as I left I was buoyed up by the warmth of the farmers in the audience and the obviously good working relationships that we have with them.
The Fens are special - big skies and open landscapes. Together we can fill the air with the sound of buzzing bumblebees and singing skylarks - we can turn up the volume on the Fenland Futurescape.
Last year we met with the pesticide producers for a wide-ranging chat about life and death.
We agreed to work together to promote the safe use and disposal of garden pesticides (and I blogged about it at the time).
Now we have jointly produced a leaflet which you may see in a garden centre near you over the next few weeks.
Here are the main points to keep in mind:
Ways to ensure safe use:- Do not buy more than you need- Read the label and use according to instructions- Check for any restrictions on use – ie near ponds, fish tanks etc- Use appropriate equipment to apply the chemical- Accurately measure the product. Do not make up more than you need- Only use on the area/plants where you identify a problem that needs tackling- Spray early morning or late evening when bees and other insects are less active- Spray in calm conditions, avoid spraying in strong sunshine and before or just after rain- Consider Ready to Use products which can be reused until empty and disposed of in household wasteWays to ensure safe disposal:- Use up surplus spray solution by applying on the areas covered by the approved use- Never dispose of unwanted product, diluted product or rinsings in household drains or ditches- Rinse empty containers three times and use up rinsings by applying to the area you are treating. Containers can then be safely disposed of in household waste- Dispose of unused product in its container at a registered household waste site