The welcome return of BBC Autumnwatch


Colour spreading through a single tree

Yesterday marked the welcome return of Autumnwatch to the BBC, at a time when the trees are turning a multitude of golden colours. I’m never certain what my favourite season is, except that it’s not that boring wretch that it is summer. Autumn is certainly a contender. Spring has new life bursting out all over. Winter has frost, crystal clear mornings, snow, and a barren beauty. But autumn has a riot of colour and a changing of the guard. Continue reading

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Monday Bird of the Week No.13 – The Blue Tit

When I started this blog I had intended to run a weekly ‘bird of the week’ feature. I figured I could reasonably do about 200 of those, taking me about four years. Here we are, four years later, and how many have we had? Continue reading

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Get Wild About Gardens

The total acreage of UK gardens exceeds that of all the nature reserves combined. So just imagine if all 15 million were managed to give a bit of assistance to struggling wildlife. That’s the idea behind Wild About Gardens. Continue reading

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The Rest Test and Green Exercise

Watching birds at lunch. restful for me. Not for the fish.

Watching birds at lunch. restful for me. Not for the fish.

Today, the Wellcome Trust announced the results of The Rest Test, a study of 18,000 people that shows 68% of us feel we need more rest. Based on the results, I have one suggestion I think will help. Continue reading

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Where are our garden birds/songbirds?

“Where have all our garden birds gone?” I’ve noticed this question appear in the letters page of our local paper a bit this summer, and it has felt like a quiet one. So what’s happening?

As always with wildlife, the answer is complicated and there are positive and negative factors that can affect what you are seeing in your garden.

As a positive, let’s remember that birds go where the food is, and if Spring/Summer provides bountiful natural food sources, the birds are more likely to go for that rather than our garden feeders. So seed eaters that we often see on our garden feeders might stick to natural sources in a good year. Many birds also prefer to eat insects in the summer, and switch to seeds in winter.

Also, at this time of year birds are forming flocks and looking at migrating. This can create a temporary void as incoming migrants may not yet have arrived. It’s easy to assume the goldfinch you see in May and the one you see in January are one and the same. But often our Spring/Summer birds head South and are replaced by migrants from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It may not even be that dramatic. A Yorkshire-bred Goldfinch might head for Cornwall, with one from Scotland incoming.

So in that regard, numbers will certainly increase on feeders later in the year, so keep them clean, topped up, and have fresh water available, especially when it’s otherwise icy.

Now, the more worrying stuff. In the same way that weather can make things good for birds, it can also make it bad. Low availability of suitable food, especially insect sources, can contribute to nest failures. Predation by cats, birds of prey, and corvids such as magpies and crows has an effect, though not that dramatic usually. That being said, a recent study suggested feral cat and dog populations have directly caused the extinction of more than 100 species worldwide in recent years. But humans have managed far more than that, especially given those cat/dog stats sit with us too.

The recent ‘State of Nature’ report identified changing habitats as a major issue in the decline of a large number of species, with industrialisation of farming and our own overly-manicured gardens being a significant problem for breeding birds.

Finally, climate change is an ever-present factor. This however has more of a tendency to change the make-up of what we think of as ‘garden birds’. Remember, there were no gardens when those birds evolved, they have adapted to us. As some species disappear in the UK and others enter, there may be a lag as new species start to adapt. This is already being seen with previously migrant warblers such as Blackcap starting to stay and use garden feeders over the British winter.


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Are we getting an invasion of deadly, killer Asian Hornets?

As you read this, chances are the headlines will have already started. The first Asian Hornet has arrived in the UK and there are legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons to be concerned about that.

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An autumnal highlight – The Garden Spider

Araneus diadematus

Araneus diadematus – 24 August

For me, a highlight of late Summer and early Autumn is the proliferation of the Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus). It’s a beautiful spider that creates wonderful orb webs, and always worth close study. Continue reading

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A slice of life

_DSC8099 (1280x852)

What do you think we are seeing here? Just a section through an old tree? Continue reading

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Pandas up, Gorillas down, but what’s the real lesson?

So there we have it. After twenty years and hundreds of millions spent, the Giant Panda is slightly less endangered than it used to be. Great news for the panda.

But this news arrives at the same time as the news the Eastern Gorilla is critically endangered, making it four out of the six great apes that are at real risk of imminent extinction in the wild.

The big problem for the Gorilla is economics. It pays to hunt them more than it pays to conserve them. Contrast this to the Giant Panda which is a money-making machine, literally iconic. We could easily turn things around for the Gorilla by simply paying people not to hunt them.

But that isn’t good conservation. The penultimate paragraph in that Guardian piece is the important one, and it highlights a real problem. Look at nearly any article on this IUCN story today and you will see it framed in terms of either improving pandas, or suffering gorillas. Yet the reality is of the 5000 or so species that are critically endangered, most are not mammals. Most are not big, charismatic and furry. They are plants, invertebrates, fish, and amphibians. Yet there is rarely a campaign fronted by these animals.

It’s a necessary evil to use ‘charismatic megafauna’ like pandas to ‘sell’ conservation to the people and corporations that can provide the funding. Very few will get their chequebooks out for a marine snail. But if that funding is then directed at just the one species, it is a sticking plaster that will never address the real decline.

For all that money spent, all those new pandas created in labs, the chances are the next thirty years will still see the wild population decrease. Because climate change and forestry will take a third of the suitable habitat go.

We also have to remember that ecosystems are linked on a global scale. Warming seas at the poles affect oceanic currents which affect winds, which affect terrestrial weather systems, which affect plants, which affect pollinators, and so on up the foodweb. That affects us too incidentally.

By all means we should use icons to drive fundraising. But the money has to be better spent, and it has to create areas of genuine wild habitat. It has to focus on plants and prawns, not just pandas.


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The last throes of summer

Juvenile Long Tailed Tit

Juvenile Long Tailed Tit

With summer coming to an end and Autumn on the horizon last week, we took our usual walk along the river and through local woodland. But we have entered the hinterland between seasons… Continue reading

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