Saturday, 19 December 2015

Book now for bird ID courses, so you don't miss out - as they are filling fast. We are counting on you!

What's that birdie? This lot know because they have attended a farmland bird ID course! 
Well, well, well! It is nearly time once again to dust those binoculars off and take part in the GWCT’s third “Big Farmland Bird Count”. Whether you took part last year or if it’s your first time, this is
your chance to see how numbers have changed or to find out what different species are around on your own farm, or indeed if you are not a farmer, then on a nearby farm (with permission of course!!).

Last year nearly a thousand farmers took part and recorded an amazing 127 species!  Farmers from every county in England participated and there were responses from Ireland, Scotland and Wales too. Very well done to the county of Norfolk as they had the most returns with 64 farmers completing the survey, closely followed by Yorkshire with 62. 

Yorkshire second – surely not! Now that has to be a challenge to those who farm in “God’s own country” – their words not mine!! (Norfolk farmers – don’t let them beat you this year as we will never hear the end of it!!). As for my own county of Hampshire – I have some chivvying to do – surely we can come top, both on the number of farmers counting and species recorded!

Guy Smith – well known farmer and NFU vice president says; “I often hear farmers grumble that while they are quietly proud of how much wildlife they have on their farms they get fed up with reports in the media that modern farming is bad for birds. I can understand the frustration but to my
mind the answer is, don't just be proud – be loud. So, come next February get the binoculars out, dust off the notepad, sharpen the pencil and get recording!”

So why am I shouting about the BFBC if it doesn't happen, as Guy says, until February? Well my little budding twitchers, I am giving you time to get some training in beforehand! No, not fitness training after Christmas's debauchery, but some preparation time before the big event, so that you can tell a Dunnock (little grey and brown job – LGBJ) from a Meadow Pipit (little brown job - LBJ).  

Yes, this is your chance to come on a farmland bird ID course before you go out to check up on what you have got on the farm. Let’s face it, some of these LBJ’s are just that and not a lot else, as they sit silently in a thorn bush or shuffle about in a stubble field.

But wait, this ID course will tell you all about the bird’s “Jizz” – a fabulous birding word that is used to describe what the bird does and how it behaves. How does it sit in that thorn bush – on its own or in a flock, in an upright way or horizontally, on top of the bush or skulking around at the base? How does it move about in the stubble field – does it hop, walk, shuffle or run!  

All these things help you slowly eliminate some birds and home in on others, eventually nailing the bird that you are looking at! Each course will also cover what different bird species need to over-winter successfully on your farm and give details of how you can help them do just that, by providing what they need. Indeed, once you know what species you have in your locality, then you can target your management directly at those birds.

So, how about signing up to one of these ID days that is happening near you – we have arranged 18 locations across the country, so there should be one not too far away. This will then enable you to strut, stride, skip or stomp, (depending on your personal jizz) around the farm for about half-an-hour, on one day between 6-14 February, with enormous confidence that you are noting down birds that you really have identified correctly with your newly learnt skills!

Finally, this year we have a superb new offer. Along with our very loyal sponsors BASF who enable us to hold these training days and the great BFBC event, if you complete all the relevant information and send your forms back to the GWCT, you will automatically be entered into a prize draw for a fantastic pair of SLC 8x42 binoculars, donated by Swarovski Optic. These are seriously good binoculars that will last you a lifetime.

Go on a training course AND win these superb binoculars and you will really have absolutely no excuse - any bird preening before you will prove to be an absolute walk in the park for you to ID!

To sign up to our Bird Identification Days being held in 18 locations across the country, or to download count forms, please visit: or telephone: 01425 651000. 

Come on everyone - lets smash last year's totals!!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Congratulations Paris. But now the real work starts.

Soil and water management; carrying on as we are currently, is not an option
So, with the bang of a gavel last Saturday evening, representatives of 195 nations reached a landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. This is of course very encouraging news, however, only time will tell if collectively, humanity can deliver on this agreement.

Climate change is of course caused by a host of different reasons and is intricately linked to the way we manage and use the resources that the world offers us. If you just look at two such resources, soil and water, you can see that we need to change our ways big-time and rapidly.

A new report on soils published this month by the Sustainable Food Trust, is to put it bluntly, alarming. I have taken some extracts for you to read:

“Soil is a vital resource for the future of humanity. It needs to be protected and enhanced. Instead, more than half (52%) of all fertile, food-producing soils globally are now classified as degraded, many of them severely degraded (UNCCD 2015).

Throughout human history, at least twelve past civilisations have flowered on fertile soils and made huge advances, such as the development of written language, mathematics and financial systems, only to disappear over time as their soils progressively degraded and could no longer feed their populations.

These civilisations occupied, or depended on, defined geographical regions: the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, the Roman Empire’s exploitation of the once highly fertile soils of north Africa, parts of ancient Greece, China, Central America, India and elsewhere. The damage done to soils in these regions is still present today, but new civilisations were able to spring up elsewhere, converting forests and native grasslands to agriculture and thriving on the fertility that had built up over thousands of years in the soil.

Today, however, due to the global trade in food, the global adoption of exploitative farming methods and the extent to which forests and natural grasslands have already been converted to crop production, it is the entire global civilisation that is threatened by progressive soil degradation.

Research by the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative in 2015 calculated that soil degradation is costing between $6.3 and $10.6 trillion dollars per year globally, but these costs could be reduced by enhancing soil carbon stocks and adopting more sustainable farming methods.

A research group at Cranfield University estimated that in England and Wales soil degradation costs £1.33 billion annually. Half of this cost relates to loss of soil organic carbon (SOC), and the intensity of farming is a major cause of soil carbon loss.

Agriculture and the food we eat depend on soil. Under appropriate management soils are an infinitely renewable resource, while under inappropriate management they are effectively a very finite resource. Under natural conditions it can take 500 - 1,000 years to form an inch of soil from parent rock”. (I have highlighted this).

Here are a few statistics to ram the message home – if it really needs to be, any longer, that is. Recent estimates indicate that every year:
Soil degradation affects 1.9 billion hectares
12 million hectares (23 hectares a minute) of land is lost to food production
24 billion tonnes of fertile soil is irretrievably washed or blown away (3.4 tonnes for every human on the planet).

If you would like to read more from this report, go to:

Meanwhile, perhaps the most important world resource of all, water, is also causing major concerns.

Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water. The world faces a water crisis that will touch every part of the globe, a point that has been stressed by Jean Chr├ętien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council. “The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating,” he said. “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”

With expected increases in population, by 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% (70% by 2050) (Bruinsma, 2009), while energy demand from hydropower and other renewable energy resources will rise by 60% (WWAP, 2009). These issues are interconnected – increasing agricultural output, for example, will substantially increase both water and energy consumption, leading to increased competition for water between water-using sectors.

The world runs on water. Clean, reliable water supplies are vital for industry, agriculture, and energy production. Every community and ecosystem on Earth depends on water for sanitation, hygiene, and daily survival.

Yet, around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water stressed conditions. With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.

So you can see that although the Paris agreement is all about “climate change” – if you lift off the lid and look in, it is in fact about so, so, much more. I have just highlighted two elements here. Let us all hope that it truly marks a monumental turning point in the way we treat the world’s resources, otherwise, the future really does not bear thinking about.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Ramblings on Bramblings!

I think it going to be a good winter for spotting Bramblings, maybe even in your back garden! 

Last year, we had an enormous Beech tree mast supply in the UK – “mast” being the name of the Beech tree’s seed. Bramblings simply love this seed and large flocks will spend the winter foraging around under Beech trees, so accordingly they don’t really need to rely on our garden bird table hand-outs. I only occasionally saw a lone male visiting my garden last winter.

However, this year the Beech mast harvest has been quite small and already I have at least 6 Brambling visiting my garden on a daily basis.  So, what exactly does this bird look like, because to be honest, it could easily be over-looked and noted down as a common old Chaffinch!

Brambling are similar in size and shape to the chaffinch, and they do team up in the winter months with their close cousins, feeding together as a mixed flock. The noticeable difference is that the male has a dark head and appears to look like a rather “orangey” Chaffinch. The other clue to look out for is when they fly up and away from you, as they have a bright, really strikingly obvious white rump patch, so keep a good look out for this.

Bramblings are winter visitors to this country, as they breed in Scandinavia and Western Siberia. They come to our shores to escape the harsh continental winter, and turn up in particularly big numbers here, when snow and lack of food forces them to venture across the North Sea.

They particularly like to feed on the ground, but will also perch on feeders to eat various small seeds. They love sunflower seeds – in or out of their husks!! So I chuck some mixed corn and a few sunflower seeds onto the ground each morning and they fly down and are pecking around before I am even back in the house! 
To help you know what you are looking out for, I have put up a picture of both the Chaffinch and Brambling – so keep an eye open for them and do let me know if you a lucky enough to get a visit from this great little finch in your garden.

The "orangey" male Brambling

The much more "pinky" male Chaffinch