Saturday, 25 April 2015

No time for the Environment

On the 30th March I e-mails all the candidates in the forthcoming General Election for my constituency Warwick and Leamington. I asked each of them the same two questions:

 How will your party improve the environment in the national and international arena?

 What are your specific environment concerns/policy for your constituency?

As of today (25th April) I can say that the response has been abysmal. Out of the 5 candidates representing the Conservatives, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and UKIP only 1 candidate bothered to reply.

This reply came from the current defending MP, Chris White the Conservative candidate, an irony given that the Conservative Manifesto doesn’t offer much to the environmental movement.
Here is some of what he wrote:

On National Policies

"The Government has reduced carbon emissions by 6 percent since 2010 contributing to a 27 per cent reduction since 1990, addressing the challenge of climate change while delivering some of the highest economic growth in Europe. The UK is set to be the most attractive EU destination for investors in clean energy. Britain's share of electricity generated from renewables has doubled since 2009 and Ministers are determined to ensure we become a world leader in the new green economy."

On Local Policies

On local environmental issues, it is vital that we protect green belt land and that housing developments are placed on brownfield land where possible. Protecting our open spaces, of which we have many to pride ourselves on, is a priority for me. I have written to the local authority on a number of occasions regarding the Local Plan to ensure that developments are placed with the best interests of our community considered.”

These are just excerpts from a much longer letter that detailed all that the government had currently done. This was not what I asked – I am well aware of what has been done or not done – I wanted to know what they are going to do, having said that at least he had the manners to reply.

The only other effect my mini campaign had was to get me added to the Labour Party mailing list resulting in emails from  Ed Milliband urging me to donate to the party and giving me a special campaign zone to canvas on behalf of the party that included a field, a park and an office block.

To say that I am disappointed in the response is an understatement, in the past 2 general elections all three of the main parties replied to me and helped me to understand their policies. The environment is notably absent from the campaign as a whole, and whilst I understand the importance of the Economy and NHS I want to live in a country that balances all its duties.

So has this exercise helped me come to a decision... quite frankly no. As a local MP the Conservative candidate has a fairly good environmental record especially in opposing government projects such as HS2. The Labour Party has a very tempting offer to end the Badger Cull and tighten animal welfare policies. The Liberals in my opinion have the best policy involving a Nature Act to back up change with legislation. The Greens likewise have good policies and UKIP... well they have some good ideas and some worrying ones.

With 2 weeks to go I am none the wiser and I m sure much of the electorate is the same.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A weekend of Wildlife and a salutary tale.

Friday was an exciting day, I saw my first newt. This excitement became grounded as my own hubris was exposed. I was printing off worksheets in the work room when a teacher came in telling me I was needed in the courtyard as another teacher had found a newt. This is not odd, I am often called into deal with sick animals or those in stress. In the past 15 years at the school I have dealt with numerous birds, a rabbit and a hedgehog. I have even been called to check on corpses of Foxes and Grey Herons that have been found on the grounds.

I found the teacher in the car park with a gang of kids huddled round. At their feet was a newt. Carefully I bent and picked it up. It was remarkably lively and crawled gamely across my hands. The kids were fascinated and I took the time for each to take a look and explain why it wasn't a lizard even though it looked like one.

As more cars arrived we cleared the area and I decided to take the newt round to the school garden which had plenty of cover and a pond. I took a quick photo to confirm ID. It was a Smooth Newt but its orange underbelly made me cautious about it being the rarer Great Crested Newt. Nevertheless as I fumbled for my keys to open the gate the newt ran off my hand an plummeted to the tarmac. I quickly scooped it up and went inside. Now the newt was disturbingly still and I feared the worst. I laid it in the water and still it remained motionless. I moved it to a covered side of the pond and still it refused to move. I was terrified I had killed it by allowing it to run off my hand. I decided the best policy was to leave it in a safe place and check on it later.

I left the newt alone for an hour. In that hour the excitement of seeing my first newt had been crushed by the weight of what had happened and I found myself increasingly depressed. the newt had been left in my care and the kids had trusted me to look after it. My colleagues found it mildly amusing but saw the effect it had on me. Eventually I plucked up the courage to return to the garden and check. Barely hoping I opened the gate and found that the Newt had gone. I suspect he was only dazed by the fall and had decided that playing dead was a better option than running. My relief was palpable, I found it a telling lesson in not letting ones own excitement and needs get above those of the wildlife I profess to care so much about.

To continue this blog I thought I would add in some photos from the last couple of days. First of all a shot taken in the glorious sunshine on Saturday.

The next three photos were taken this morning. A second exciting sight was had when myself and my mother spotted a pair of Stoats tussling in the scrub. They were too quick to photograph however.

The first Lady's Smock of the season out in flower on my patch.

Harking back to the last post - A Chiffchaff the sound of spring.

And lastly a close up of the Robin that visits my feeding station.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


I ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks now and I ve finally got around to posting it.

Quite often when birdwatching it is the call that is diagnostic or reveals the presence of a species. In both cases it is easy to overlook the beauty of a sound or what that sound means, so here are some of my favourite calls and what they mean to me.

The common buzzard wasn't common in England when I was growing up but when I moved to Wales they were everywhere. Returning to Warwickshire in 2000 I found they had now colonised the county. They are majestic birds and their mewing calls are haunting.

Jackdaws are a common species but I love the gregarious nature of their calls, the joy they seem to exhibit in the calls as the wheel around in the sky pulling of some quite remarkable maneuvers.

The call of the Herring Gull is something that reminds me of my few happy years at university by the sea at Aberystwyth. Hearing this call takes me back to watching the gulls on the lawn outside the Llandinam Tower to watching them try and nick chips along the promenade. 

Few bird songs compete with the Skylark and they have a resonance to me because they are with me much of the time in the summer. On a calm day I can hear them from my garden, in spring and summer I always here them as I cycle to work and once at work I hear them on the fields nearby. Sadly major construction around the schools mean that future years will now be silent.

Now you may think having the Grey Heron call as one of my favourites but the sound really does evoke something in me. I used to do Heronry counts and I would hear this sound as the brids flapped over head just glimpsed through the trees. The sound is almost prehistoric and it relates to the manner of this large looming loping shape of a bird so well. Stood amongst the conifers with them calling around me I felt as if I could have been million years ago.

I could go on and on, so many songs have stories or feelings attached to them. I could have included Kingfisher, Kestrel, Tawny Owl and Green Woodpecker but I think these 5 are my top 5.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Snap the Snipe

This week I had originally been working on a post about the sounds of my patch. Whilst I was thinking through the logistics of putting sound clips into the blog however events occurred to change my mind.

Just as I was locking up my bike a shrill call alerted me to something interesting on the mill pond. I caught the flash of a small bird whiz round into the backwater next to the bridge. It was all sharp angles and swift flight. For a second I wondered if it was a common sandpiper. These waders sometimes pass through on their way to and from upland breeding areas but its speed and size suggested it was perhaps the Snipe I had been flushing from my land recently.

Taking up my most stealthy gait I readied my camera and prepared to creep up to where I believed he had landed. Of course my creeping skills were no match for a bird that is used to avoiding the stealthy skills of foxes and the like and it was soon flushed up and out before I even saw it. The snipe angled round and moved to another section of the river. This was good news, normally it left the area. So keeping its location in mind I made a detour to reach a vantage point. Other walkers flushed it but it seemed to return to the same stretch of quiet water on the mill pond.

I set myself up on the bankside and opted to wait it out. I scoured the water line and reeds with my binoculars and then I saw something. The vaguest of shapes, was that the squat body with wings tucked in? Carefully raising my camera I fired off a number of shots before following up with my binoculars. The best shot is shown below - can you spot the Snipe?

If you can you are better than me, because what I thought was a snipe, there in the centre of the shot is in fact just a leaf. The snipe never trotted into view and so still lacking a picture I continued with my circuit.

Down into the main meadow I found a female Kestrel. She was exhibiting some interesting behaviour. I first caught sight of her rising from the grass and into a willow tree where she seemed to be eating something. It didn't appear to be a rodent but could have been a frog or a worm I guess. She then spent the next few minutes moving from perch to perch before diving down into the long grass.

It was particularly windy today and so she had obviously avoided the trademark hovering for a more sedentary perch based hunting that would avoid her using up too much energy on the wing. She made 4 perhaps 5 more attempts at things in the grass, each unsuccessful before wheeling up in to the sky and disappearing.

Kestrel sightings have increased this year and I am certain a pair is now resident in the area, perhaps displacing the Sparrowhawks that I have not seen yet this spring. In previous years the meadow was too overgrown for the Kestrel to hunt in, but with it being cut I think they will do much better. This could be a good year for them and I will keep my eyes peeled.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

And so it begins...

The election is now well and truly underway and so far nothing environmental has been mentioned and sadly I doubt it will.

For the last two elections I have challenged my local candidates to come out and state their case and this election is no different. The emails went off this week and now I am just waiting for replies. The letter I sent was:

Dear Candidate
I write to you in this lead up to the General Election to urge you to consider the environment during your campaign. Environmental issues often play second fiddle to wider policies especially in times of economic uncertainty. In February I surveyed the websites of all main parties and found an appalling lack of information on this matter.
As a prospective candidate for Member of Parliament I would like you to answer 2 questions,
1.      How will your party improve the environment in the national and international arena?
2.      What are your specific environmental concerns/policy for the constituency?
In answer to these questions I want you and your party’s views, do not use it to have a bash at the other parties or what others have done wrong. It would be nice to have a positive approach to campaigning.
If you’re struggling for inspiration here are my top ten ideas:
  1. Ensure that 80% of SSSI's are in favourable or better condition by 2020
  2. Reduce bTB using scientific advice involving the deployment of vaccines and bio security rather than culling.
  3. To reduce the risk of flooding invest in the reforestation of headwaters and on unprofitable/nonviable farmland beside rivers create wetlands and reed beds to soak up excess water.
  4. Ideally scrap HS2 and if not to ensure that a wildlife corridor at least as wide is created along its length.
  5. Seriously examine the reintroduction of certain species such a Lynx and Beaver to act as ecosystem engineers in re wilding projects.
  6. Designate all of the 127 marine conservation zones that were proposed.
  7. Ensure biodiversity offsetting does not just become 'greenwash'. Regulate to ensure replacements are like for like and that they are protected from further development.
  8. Develop a new designation of No-build Zones to stop urban sprawl and the conglomeration of towns and villages.
  9. Untie the hands of English Nature, SNH and CCW and Environment Agency to do their job more independently of central government.
  10. Lastly and most importantly listen to the scientific advice given by the NGO's and government bodies consulted.
Thank you for your time and I hope your responses will help me to decide which party to vote for.

Yours Sincerely
Feel free to use this as a template to challenge your own candidates.

If like me your undecided then take a moment to consider the environmental factors. Aprils issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine has an excellent feature on what the parties plan for British Wildlife. I have analysed this information and drawn it up into a table showing what I think this means.

Green Party
Tackling bovine TB
Culling focused with cattle movement restriction and vaccine development.
Stop culling. Use vaccination, cattle testing and cattle movement restrictions.
Stop culling. Use vaccination, cattle testing and cattle movement restrictions.
Allow culls to continue alongside vaccine development.
Doesn’t explicitly state a continuance of culling but does call for vaccination around edge zones.
Controlling Development
No new efforts described just reference to the National Planning Policy Framework.
Opposition to developments damaging Habitats Directive and Ramsar sites.
Against Biodiversity Offsetting
More control to local communities but nothing specific on safeguarding wildlife
Proposition of new Nature Act to halt biodiversity declines and impose duty on local authority.
Defend Green Belt and AONB and greater prioritisation of brown field sites.
Neonicotinoid ban
Want to examine science
Only ban after definitive scientific proof
Farming Incentives
£3billion investment in agri-environmental schemes.
Support subsidies  to promote biodiversity and soil health
No definitive policy.
No definitive policy
Introduction of new Single Payment Farm system based on ELS.
Marine Protection
No policy statement just description of what they have done.
Increase Sea Reserves to 30% and end over fishing by 2018 and enforce a deep sea trawling ban.
No policy statement just complaining of government only creating 27 MCZ’s.
Proposition of marine protection in the proposed Nature Act.
Leave the EU to run our own fish stocks outside of the Common Fisheries Policy.
Hunting Ban
Free vote on repealing the Hunting Act 2004
Extension of the 1911 Protection of Animals Act to include shooting and coursing.
No policy on improving the legislation or expanding it but against a repealing of the act.
No policy.
No policy.
Reintroduction of species
No policy, willing to allow Natural England to manage it.
No policy.
No policy.
Against reintroduction programmes.
Raptor Persecution
No policy but against it.
Policy for every rural police force to have a Wildlife and Animal Crimes Unit.
No policy.
No policy but highlights
current action.
No policy other than enforcing existing laws.

Obviously the Green Party have the best policies. Surprisingly UKIP have some good ideas followed by the Liberals. The Conservatives and Labour Party seem to be level pegging, although the refusal to stop the Badger Cull and the free vote on the Hunting Act. The most exciting thing on the whole list to me is the Liberals proposal for a Nature Act. It has been awhile since we have had major nature conservation legislation and this promises to be interesting. Obviously the act needs to have a solid framework and actually have solid laws but its the most promisingics  piece of politics I have heard for a long time.