Should we stop placing such high value on rare species?

Attended an interesting talk by Martin Colledge on Gisburn Forest Past Present and Future organised by the Friends of Bowland. One of the things he highlighted was a meadow restoration project at the Gisburn Forest Hub. This meadow now has an abundance of common meadow species but he said apologetically no “rare species”. I think he said this because he believed there was a lot of  “hardened naturalists” in the audience. I think it is sad that there is, I am afraid to say, a well deserved perception that naturalists value rarity above all.  I have to say I strongly disagree with ascribing this high value to rarity,  if a species is rare it is by its very nature less ecologically significant than an abundant species (excluding apex predators). I believe this attitude damages wildlife conservation because it devalues the common, the wildlife most people encounter most of the time. I also think this attitude is a barrier to a lot of people becoming more deeply involved with natural history organisations.

We have a pair of Pied wagtails and at least one Gray wagtail about the place. Interestingly every year at this time we see Grey wagtails then they disappear,  later we always see fledglings about the place for a while where they go in between no idea. Plus the first Redpolls of the year. Not seen the Starling with the damaged wing for a few days hope it has been able to rejoin its companions.

A visit to the fishery cafe end of Stocks reservoir revealed large quantities of frog spawn in the pond and a few Toads near the pond, with one pair in amplexus but no spawn in the pond or the reservoir.

March

On the 9th a Gray wagtail singing at the back of the house. Yesterday loud chattering in the trees and when we went indoors about 30 Siskins descended on the feeders. Today we are back down to 6 or 7 Siskins so presume we have seen migration in action. Regularly hearing and seeing at least one pair of Curlew. More and more plants starting to bud and a few now in flower such as the lungwort Pulmonaria  we eagerly await the bursting into flower of the Primula denticulata as these provide excellent early nectar for any early flying insects coming out of hibernation or emerging from pupa. Had a meeting yesterday with some fellow members of the Clitheroe Naturalists about how we could promote the group and bring in new “younger” blood. One of the things discussed was having one or more “Wildlife Wanders”. My idea for these are a group of us meet at an interesting location and wander about looking at the wildlife. Hopefully there would be a mix of people who “know a bit” and people who would like to “learn a bit” about wildlife, a provisional date for one of these wanders is 27th May.

Some other dates for the diary; next week Th 16 Mar at 7.30pm a  Talk on Gisburn Forest, Past Present and Future by Martin Colledge at Tosside village hall  Organised by Friends of Bowland and save the date Sat 13 May, Join Sharon & Peter Flint to explore the trails in Gisburn Forest, visiting Bottoms Beck and some nearby marshy areas to examine aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. Craven Conservation.

Spring thick and fast

In the last week so much is happening have had no time to record it. 26 Feb. the first lump of frogspawn in the pond followed by a new clump on each of the following two days. Then a break until this morning with one more clump.

Frog spawn
Frog spawn

Blue tits are exploring the nest boxes and possibly a Robin is building in one of the old kettles I have recycled as a nest box in the big tin shed. Now hearing Curlews and lots of bird song. Gamy wing the Starling has now learned to use both the peanut and fat snack feeders. Saw a queen wasp yesterday. We are getting more Siskins and Goldfinches now, plus still the occasional Brambling. Longtailed tits still visiting as groups but also as pairs. Been frantically sowing seed and splitting/transplanting perennials in the garden. At this time of year I dig up a lot of the Oxeyed daisy’s Leucanthemum vulgare and other wild flowers which have self seeded in the beds and plant them out in the meadow areas. I find this a very effective way of creating meadow areas.

A lot of people don’t realise that many native wild flower species make excellent garden border plants, I wish I had a pound for every time someone has said, I would grow wild flowers in my garden but my soil is too rich! This is a complete MYTH, wild flowers will thrive in garden borders and the richer the soil the better the show. Many will produce a better display than a lot of so called “garden plants”. The poor soil rule only applies to WILDFLOWER MEADOWS where you are growing a mix of flowers and grasses. In this situation the grasses would grow too strong and smother the flowers if the soil was rich.

Had another Sparrowhawk close encounter when one chased some Blue tits around the small Holly bush about three meters from where I was stood.

Frog and Toad survey, I am very interested in what is going on with Frogs and Toads in Bowland and am interested in any sightings of Frog or Toad spawn and in particular any sightings or evidence of Toads crossing roads in the Bowland area if you want you can use the online form on this site.

Also I would encourage everyone to report sightings to the PondNet Spawn Survey 2017 http://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/pondnet/spawnsurvey2017/ there are also some really good identification guides on that page.

Is February the most annoying month?

The weather is horrible I hate and love February one day there can be sunshine and warmth enough to make us feel Spring has arrived the next can plunge us back into an arctic winter. Gamy wing the starling is still with us and I now wonder if it might become a permanent fixture. I should mention we have two other disabled avian residents Gamy leg a male blackbird who has a healed broken leg, he has been with us for at least three years and the year before last raised at least two broods. The third not quite right resident is Hoppy a Pheasant with a dodgy leg.

There are a few signs of Spring the Dunnocks are chasing each other and flapping at each other. Pigeons are wing flapping, Wood peckers are drumming and the amount of song seams to increase daily.

Saw a large Hare cross the field opposite the kitchen window this morning whilst making coffee.

Found this very interesting Grey squirrels in North Yorkshire are being given contraceptives in their food in a bid to control their population http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-38880095. I would love for there to be a Bowland Red squirrel reintroduction project.

Sparrowhawk wins a meal and a surprise visitor

Witnessed a Sparrowhawk take a Starling, I was outside changing the gas bottle when I heard a noise behind me, which sounded like a very muffled explosion. In the field behind me was a compact ball of Starlings the ball was much denser than the ball the form when moving around feeding and the sound was much louder. At first I only saw the Starlings and then a fraction of a second later I saw the Sparrowhawk swoop at the ball  from the right with its back to me looking like a fighter plane, part of the ball fragmented with a few Starlings peeling off from the group one in particular headed to the left as the main group headed to the right. The Sparrowhawk with a few twists and dives was immediately on the tail of this one Starling heading left. There was a few microseconds of move and counter move with eventually the Starling flying low over the ground where it was overtaken in mid flight and I lost sight of the Sparrowhawk  with its prize as it went into the trees.

Whilst taking Louise to work we spotted a white bird feeding with the sheep next to the track the bird turned out to be a Little Egret. It was very tame suggesting it was very hungry/exhausted unfortunately we only had the compact camera with us but got a photo from the car to prove it had existed, amazed at how yellow its feet are, which unfortunately are hidden in the grass. Sadly it was gone by the time I got back.

Little Egret
Little Egret

Getting ready for Spring

Decided to revamp the pond before any frogs turned up. Last year we had a single male take up residence and over about a week, five lots of spawn appeared. So dug out the waders baled out some of the water into water butts along with some of the pond weed and algae. Then waded in and started digging, managed to deepen the centre by about a foot, so  now it is about one meter deep in the centre when full. I was hoping to add a liner but the pond was filling so fast I gave up on the idea. Not too worried as last summer I only had to top it up a few times though the level did fluctuate dramatically.

Pond

Also hard pruned a section of the boundary hedge amazingly this has added about one and a half meters to the wet meadow area.  Important to get this done before any nesting activity starts. The bird ringers visited us on Sunday and over a hundred new birds were rung, mainly Coal tits as usual. The injured Starling is still with us the wing is noticeably still drooping but it seems to be flying OK. A Brambling turned up the day after  the Garden bird watch (typical). Now starting to see a few Siskins and Gold finches. Robins are pairing up, but occasionally make mistakes and attack their partner.

The wild primroses in the stream bed have put out a few flowers but in the garden the only things in flower are the Snowdrops and Dames violet which has never stopped flowering all winter.

Wild Primrose

Discovered today the rats or mice have been eating my chainsaw, my fault for using vegetable oil as chain lubricant.

 

Big Garden Birdwatch

Highest number seen in the garden at one time

backbirds 4
Blue tit 5
Chaffinch 6
Coal tit 12
Dunnock 2
Great tit 4
Long-tailed tit 10
Robin 4
Starling 1 (this is the injured bird which looks to be getting better it can now fly up into the trees but the wing is still noticeably drooping)

Also seen Nuthatch, Great spotted woodpecker and the ubiquitous Phesants and luckily two Buzzards flew through the woodland bordering the garden. Behind the house there is a flock of about 50 Starlings. Also early this morning saw a wagtail but could not tell which type. The Rabbits have started to venture into the garden to nibble on new shoots starting to emerge I will have to get out the chicken wire cylinders, to protect some of the more vulnerable plants.

Have recently caught and dispatched a couple of rats who had moved into the barn presumably after sheep feed. Unfortunately the rubble filled walls of the barn are continuous with the walls of the house so there is no barrier to them being able to get into the roof space. When we first moved in we had quite a large colony establish themselves in the roof that took some shifting.

Another justification for controlling rats is they have an impact on the small mammal population, I am not happy about using poison because it also poisons Woodmice and Voles which in turn also poisons Owls and Kestrels.

Return of the Lapwing

16th Jan on the way to Clitheroe saw a flock of about 60 Lapwing presumably on one of their reconnaissance  flights from the coast. 17th Jan the Great spotted woodpecker is drumming on the tin plate capping a telegraph pole. Raked all the leaves off the gravel meadow and gave it a quick mow to knock back some of the grass and rush and both to help reduce the fertility of the soil.

A talk prompts a rediscovery

Went to a talk on Cross hill and Salt Hill nature reserves Clitheroe by Phil Dykes. The rich diversity of wildflower species was an eye opener  and now a firm promise to myself to pay these two sites much more attention. The talk was hosted by Clitheroe Naturalists and there hopefully will be a guided walk lead by Phil in the summer.

This sudden cold spell has made the feeders even busier. The wounded Starling is still with us and can fly a bit, it managed to get about 30cm off the ground today.

Not sure if it is related to the cold weather but we haven’t seen any Starlings flying over the house for a few days. Also today saw a Buzzard in the Ash tree by the gate, this is the closest we have ever seen one to the garden.

Looking forward to the Big Garden Birdwatch

Very simple to do sometime between 28-30 January watch the birds in your garden for an hour and record what you see. You can get full details and a free pack from https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch by post or you can download it.

Currently in our garden we are getting Blue and Great tits, Coal tits, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Longtailed tit, Robin, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Dunnock. We also have lots of Phesants!

In the woodland outside the garden we regularly also see Tree creeper, Tawney owl, Jay and Magpie and in the fields Starlings Fieldfares and Redwings as well as Crows and Rooks. Above us we see Buzzards, Ravens and recently Kestrels.

The injured starling is still about and is starting to fly a bit so fingers crossed for it making a full recovery.

A great help is this BTO collection of youtube videos on how to identify birds, the good thing about these is they show you how to tell the difference between easy to confuse species. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLE3B611F475AA00AF

New Year at Crow Wood Farm

Had a quick look around for wild flowers in bloom yesterday and found none. A look round the garden found the following garden plants in flower Dame’s Violet (Hesperis matronalis) Primrose and Wallflower both garden varieties. Over the last couple of weeks a male Sparrowhawk has been a regular visitor sitting on the bird table, in a vain hope his dinner would come to him. Not seen him for a couple of days which is fortunate for an injured Starling that appeared the garden three days ago with a drooping wing and unable to fly. Talking of Starlings every few days large flocks fly directly over the house on their way to roost, possibly they are part of the roost at Blackpool. As they regularly fly directly over the house and sometimes low enough to hear the wing beats, we wonder if our house is used as a landmark. The sound of a flock of Starlings overhead is possibly one of the most magical sounds in nature along with the buzz of insects in a meadow. Went for a walk on Boxing day but the only thing of note was a Hare we disturbed.

Going back to Starlings we have a small flock that feeds in the fields behind our house and we see varying numbers of Redwings and Fieldfares about the fields and hedgerows.

The Friends of Bowland have published their programme for 2017 you can download it from their website www.friendsofbowland.org.uk.

Sustainable Tourism

Went to the Forest of Bowland Sustainable Tourism Forum last night. This is an annual event for Tourism businesses who support the aims of the AONB and want to be more environmentally friendly. The night was also the venue for the annual meetings of two organisations. Bowland Experience a business support network of which I am a Director and Champion Bowland a charity which gives small grants for environmental projects. One of the speakers was Amanda Parker from Browsholme Hall who had just won the Lancs. Tourism Sustainable Tourism Award.

The debate to ban driven grouse shooting

After listening to the full debate I was left very depressed and it did nothing to dissuade me that this is not the beginning of the end for shooting. All of the fine arguments of biodiversity, employment and rural economic sustainability will not sway or influence the majority of ban supporters or stop that support growing whilst illegal raptor persecution continues. I think we are years away from a ban but unless the shooting industry radically changes I believe a ban is inevitable.

The shooting industry has the power to stamp out illegal killing. If they don’t I think the support for a ban will just keep relentlessly growing especially as technical advances and increase in public awareness will lead to more reporting and discovery of persecution.  Eventually like fox hunting the numbers will grow sufficiently to start possibly influencing a few marginals and when that happens it is curtains for shooting. I believe if the shooting industry wishes to survive it must stop killing raptors and mountain hares.

One of the arguments expressed is that the antis do not understand the countryside and this is probably true, but they do understand the concept of illegal persecution and  many will just see this as another example of  the law turning a blind eye to criminal behaviour by the rich or on behalf of the rich.

It was also touching to see all these Tory MPs suddenly become so concerned with the employment needs of the rural working class! In many rural areas there is no shortage of jobs especially low paid jobs, but a shortage of people to do those jobs because of a lack of affordable housing and public transport plus a higher cost of living, it would be nice if those MP also turned their attention to these problems.

 

Thank you Slaidburn Brownies and Rainbows

Slaidburn Brownies and Rainbows won a class The Friends of Bowland sponsored at this years Hodder Show me and Louise and Jane Baddeley Chair of FoB visited them at one of their sessions to present the prize and talk to them about wildlife. We also took along some wildlife stuff to show them. It was a fantastic evening the children were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and we plan to help them do some wildlife projects next summer. We were really pleased when I got a call from the AONB office that someone had left a card for me it turned out to be a wonderful hand drawn card from the group see below.

brownies-card-1

An interesting talk and Bowland’s future as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Went to an interesting talk hosted by the Friends of Bowland last night, the speaker was John Alpe who farms behind the Inn at Whitewell. Most of the talk was about the educational work he has done, on and off the farm. I got the impression that most if not all the land was or is farmed organically and farmed for conservation. However, and I apologise if I have got this completely wrong, but the impression I got was that the motivation for this was financial and that if it had been more profitable to go in the opposite direction he would.

This got me thinking about how things may change in the future and how fragile the natural beauty of Bowland is. The first thing that came to mind is realisation that The Forest of Bowland is not an area of “Outstanding Natural Beauty”, it is an area containing outstanding natural beauty. That natural beauty is there because past and present land management  by accident or design has not destroyed that natural beauty. I say not destroyed because I doubt there is any aspect of the natural beauty of Bowland that would not be profitable to destroy if the current protection and financial support was removed.

The political and economic pressures of Brexit, I worry will severely test that protection and support. However I also believe Brexit could lead to innovative ways to satisfy both wildlife conservation needs and farming profitability if the political will was there.

Petition to ban driven Grouse Shooting

Following the online petition to ban driven Grouse Shooting passing the 100,000 mark which now means there will be a parliamentary debate on the subject on 31st October. In preparation for this the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and Petitions Committee questioned Dr Mark Avery, petition creator, Jeff Knott, Head of Nature Policy, RSPB, Amanda Anderson, Director, The Moorland Association, and Liam Stokes, Head of Shooting, The Countryside Alliance. You can watch this interesting presentation of ideas in full here parliamentlive.tv/event/index/cf85fa5a-c53d-40d7-9b6a-abe86c35ee4e my personal view is that ecologically well managed Grouse Moors can play a positive role in the mix of upland land uses and the loss of active management could have serious negative environmental consequences. However I do believe if Grouse Shooting and shooting as whole is to have a long term future it must tackle the illegal killing of birds of prey issue.

An interesting perspective on shooting can be found in the following information on the Fieldsports Magazine website https://www.fieldsportsmagazine.com/Gamekeeping/the-view-from-the-coalface-part-1.html and https://www.fieldsportsmagazine.com/Gamekeeping/the-view-from-the-coalface-part-2.html here they interviewed some of the top gamekeepers. A common concern was the intensification of shoots and the constant pressure to supply larger and larger numbers of birds for the shooters.