Friday, 25 November 2016

My Hen Harrier Day 2016

My Hen Harrier Day 2016 started in Bristol on 12th March after a conversation with Mark Avery.
I asked if he had heard anything about plans for Hen Harrier Day 2016 and where it would be.
Mark wasn't sure but had heard that a large event was being talked about down south. I remember being disappointed at the time, thinking that moving the main event away from the heart of the country & the centre of the problem was a mistake. Mark suggested I talk to BAWC, (Birders Against Wildlife Crime) that was it really, I never gave it another thought.

Then in late April I met up with Mark, Ruth Tingay & the Wilde family for a picnic with Henry. Hen Harrier Day was mentioned again and I said how disappointed I was about not having an event in the Peak District. After some encouragement I said I would contact Phil at BAWC to see if they would like me to make plans for #HHDay2016 in the Peak. Then on the way home I began to question whether I could actually pull it off given the success of the Derwent Valley & Goyt Valley events in previous years.  I also wondered if people would turn up without the drawer of Chris Packham as a speaker. This turned out to be a ridiculous worry as I soon realised that, as wonderful as Chris is, it's the Hen Harrier that is the true reason people turn out all over the country for HHDays.

The hardest part of the process was finding a venue. While marshaling last year people had mentioned that friends had not attended as they felt the walk was too far to where the meeting point was, so I was keen to make access to the event much easier. After driving around over several weekends and covering many miles a few sites seemed OK. Then Nick Moyes suggested I take a look at a site in Edale, so the following weekend we went to have a look and it ticked lots of boxes. Then with help from Richard Taylor (Head of countryside services, Derbyshire County Council) & support & permission from Anne Western (Leader of Derbyshire County Council) meant we had a great place to hold #HHDay2016 with Train Station, Toilets, Car Park & Cafe.

So 3 months of emails & telephone calls followed and a great list of speakers soon started to emerge.

My partner Lynne deserves a lot of credit as she put up with many nights after work of me tapping away on social media trying to publicise the event and didn't complain as she knows how important this issue is to me.

First up was Findlay Wilde, a young conservationist who I admire greatly. He works hard to bring many issues to the attention of people and always speaks with thought, intelligence but also lots of passion. I was so pleased he agreed to speak, Findlay' family were also a great help before & on the day, so a huge thanks must go to Nigel, Heather & Harley.

A couple of years ago I listened to the then Derbyshire Police & Crime Commissioner Alan Charles talk at the 2015 BAWC conference. He was very vocal about wildlife crime, I had contacted all of the new PCC candidates prior to the election in 2016 to find out if they would commit to helping crack down on wildlife crime in Derbyshire. Only one candidate replied, that was the newly elected PCC Hardyal Dhindsa. Without hesitation he agreed to speak at #HHday2016, He must be given great credit for carrying on with the same attitude as Alan Charles had towards wildlife crime, two Derbyshire Wildlife Crime Officers came along too.

Back in the Derwent Valley in 2014 on a very rainy day I made my way to the first Hen Harrier Day,
I introduced myself to Mark Avery, a man who despite much criticism from the shooting industry has created such a powerful movement against Driven Grouse Shooting, he had no idea who I was but was so grateful that I and 569 others had made the effort in awful conditions to  protest about the state of our Hen Harrier populations. We have come a long way in two years, Mark agreed to talk even though he had already spoken at the Rainham Marshes event the day before. A top man.

The next speaker was an interesting one, Jon Stewart. Jon is The National Trusts General Manager in the Peak District & had recently been in the news for withdrawing shooting licences at Hope Woodlands & Park Hall in the Peak District. A move that sent ripples of concern through the shooting fraternity as some one had finally said enough is enough. His speech was about a future for the Peak District with Birds of Prey at its heart. Jon was brave to face up to what could have been a mildly volatile audience. He was received with the warm welcome he deserved and people were given hope in what he said.

Natalie Bennett was next up, the then leader of the Green Party had made a 4 plus hour journey from London to talk at Hen Harrier Day. This impressed many before she even spoke a word, me in particular. Natalie had responded to me at the beginning of the process and was one of the first on board the event. She also impressed all that heard her speak with her knowledge of the issues and passion behind the words, she obviously cares deeply about the climate and issues relating to its decline.

Last to speak and one I was looking forward to was Tim Birch of The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. I know Tim a little from my volunteering with the trust and had the heads up from him about his speech. Full of hope and a vision for the Peak District of a world where predators were welcome and allowed to play their part in the ecosystem of the Peaks. He spoke of Hen Harriers of course but also of Pine Martins and Golden Eagles. Who wouldn't want that? Well we know who.

Last but not least I must mention Alan Davies, he stepped in and did a fantastic job as compere. He was passionate, you could almost say angry, and introduced all the speakers brilliantly. 

A quick mention too for every one that helped marshal the event, without them it really couldn't have happened. 

And of course all who attended, your enthusiasm and passion was overwhelming, you were also generous and donated well over £500 towards BAWC and next years events. Thank you.

Who knows what will happen next year, I still think that one big event with a thousand plus attendees would be the best option, this would surely attract main stream press and push the issue into the public domain again. Let's wait and see.

Here is a 15 minute version of the days events introduced by Georgia Locock & with extra interviews with the speakers.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

60 minutes of wisdom

The view from the hide at Wyver Lane

I had been dreading today as I was having a wisdom tooth removed and I really hate the dentists. So as a treat, as I'd been such a brave chap, I decided to visit Wyver Lane Nature Reserve. I pulled up to park and as I was putting on my walking boots on I immediately added a year tick with 2 Common Terns and that was just the start of a wonderful 60 minutes of nature watching. Here are a few pictures of a few species I saw.

Common Tern flew past as I arrived

The 2 birds fed for the whole 60 minutes of my visit

Lots of arguing Canada Geese as breeding season takes hold 

This Coot was busy nest buiding
This Chiffchaff was almost oblivious that I was there

At least 4 Cormorant were on the reserve

This Wren kept appearing on the top of the stone wall

Turns out it was collecting Moss for its nest

Stunning Reed Bunting just outside the Hide

Friday, 8 April 2016

Welcome to BOB, Derbyshire 'Barn Owl Box' Project

Photo by : Stuart Pike @raptorwatcher

In 2008 I went on a FSC (Field Studies Council) Bird ringing for beginners course at Flatford Mill, I had a fantastic time and met some great people. One person that had a lasting effect on me was Steve Piotrowski, he was one of the ringing trainers. On a wet afternoon, when ringing wasn't possible, he talked about his work with the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project and how they had brought the Barn Owl back from the brink in Suffolk. I remember thinking at the time that I would love to start a similar project in Derbyshire. I had only seen Barn Owls a couple of times and hoped for a time when they were abundant in the county and could be seen by many people, quartering over fields and marshes.

This dream was put on a back burner over the next few years as funding for such a scheme was well out of my reach. Then I joined the committee of the Chesterfield & North East Derbyshire Wildlife Trust local group. We started organising wildlife events in 2012 which enabled us to raise money to help out with some local conservation projects. After the 2014 event we had funds available for a new project and this was my chance to put forward the plight of the Barn Owl. All on the committee were instantly on board and the BOB (Barn Owl Box) project was born.

With funds to start we were up & running, Brian Goodwin (our resident craftsman) ordered the timber, roofing felt, nails etc. He stored the timber until we could find time to start building the boxes.

Brian carefully marks out the cutting lines on the outdoor ply

In December 2015 we began building 10 boxes and also started trying to find local landowners who would let us install them on their land.

We used The Barn Owl Trust design for our boxes

Over a period of around 3 weeks we slowly assembled the boxes, I must admit Brian did most of the work and I turned up on Tuesdays to help put the boxes together and then Brian treated the timber and felted the roofs.

The boxes were made into kits ready to assemble

One by one boxes were glued, sealed & screwed

This project would not have been possible without Brian's skill & the use of his workshop

Now the boxes were made, 10 in all, it was time to get them installed ready for the 2016 breeding season & hopefully the local Barn Owls would soon be moving in. The chance to try and help a wonderful species like the Barn Owl was a very exciting prospect. I'm sure we'd make a few errors along the way, like siting boxes in the wrong place etc. Our aim is to give the Barn Owl more breeding opportunities as natural nesting sites have been lost.

I had the privilege of ringing Barn Owl chicks on The Avenue Washlands in 2014, so we decided to make that the starting point and work our way out from there. The box there had been up for 7 years before it was used so we weren't expecting the new boxes to be used straight away but we all feel optimistic that some of the boxes will be used within a few years.

Our first success with 5 Owls fledging in 2014

The 5 sites are a mixture of private residences & farms, all situated near Matlock, Hardwick & Clay Cross. The first box went up on Valentines day, February 14th 2016. I had been advised that 2 boxes on each site was the best way to go. Once the female had laid eggs the male would require his own roosting box as he is not allowed in the nesting box unless he was bringing in food.

It took around 3 hours to get the first box up, a combination of a big heavy box, naivety and a downfall of snow made it a tricky job!

Suitable sites are found & secured ladders used to attach fixings

A securing bracket is fixed to tree

The boxes were placed in a harness and lifted up ready for fixing

Safety ropes and a steady nerve were required to get the boxes fixed onto the brackets
Then hooked over the bracket to hold in place

Screws were then used to fix the box permanently in position

By box 4, installation times were dropping, we soon realised 2 ladders were better than 1
By the end boxes were being put up in around half hour

Some great locations were found where Barn Owls were known to be in the area

Locations were varied, like this one near Hardwick

Great views for this land owner from his man shed if Owls moved in

A fully installed Barn Owl Box at a Farm near Clay Cross

The next stage is to raise another £450 for 10 more boxes and find 5 more sites for 2017. We are having another wildlife event on July 2nd this year (2016) called 'A Venue for Nature' at The Avenue Washlands Nature reserve near Chesterfield. The theme is to encourage people to invite wildlife into their gardens.
Keep an eye out for more information about this event closer to the time I would love to see you if you fancy a day full of excitement, wildlife walks and workshops.

Team BOB: Me, Ron Turner, Angela Goodwin, Brian Goodwin, Mike Backler & Geoff Ruff
Also a big thank you to Lynne Allsop & Nikki Mahadevan (not in Photo)
Plus of course all of the land owners