Archive for the ‘biodiversity’ Category

Cowslip flowering in Autumn!

1 November, 2010

Last week I found Cowslip and Small Scabious in flower. I reckon the frosts then the mild weather triggered them. Have you seen any unseasonal flowers?


Give Weeds a Chance

26 October, 2010

Naturalist Richard Mabey tells Gillian Orr how today’s disrespected ‘weeds’ could be the cure-all cuttings of tomorrow…
The Independent, Viewspaper (26 Oct 2010, p.10)

Learn more about the little green things we all depend on, and Support Plantlife.

Will cuts to Natural England hurt nature conservation?

23 October, 2010

Although it’s good news that Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) will be spared the axe of the  comprehensive spending review – what about the people who administer the grant scheme?

Natural England faces a heavy budget squeeze – they’ve had a recruitment freeze for most of 2010. Delays to applications already suffer significant delays, and the expectation among NE staff is that there will soon be fewer of them… to do the same work!

Dr Martin Warren at Butterfly Conservation said “It is great news that extra funds have been found to support HLS, which is crucial for halting the decline of our farmland wildlife, including many declining butterflies and moths. But it is difficult to reconcile these cuts with the claim to be the Greenest Government ever. We will be monitoring the true impact closely as the situation becomes clearer in coming months”

Mark Avery at RSPB said, “Organisations like the Environment Agency and Natural England will be considerably smaller and there will be less money available to spend on conservation projects aimed at halting the decline in biodiversity in this country.”

People worth their salt

I hope Natural England doesn’t get rid of the teams who make Environmental Stewardship really work. NE has specialist advisors on the ground, working with farmers and landowners to help them choose the best options and pushing for best value for money in each grant aid agreement. These people are precious to England’s wildlife. (The same applies for each national agency, obviously. Sorry, I would comment more specifically on the other parts of the UK, but only want to write about what I know. )

Could pro-active change be more effective than cuts?

Defra has to consider what it’s trying to achieve. Bear in mind the UK’s failure to deliver biodiversity targets – along with everyone else floundering at the UN Biodiversity Convention at Nagoya. Why constrain Natural England at this point?

I’m all for chopping bureaucracy – and there are bound to be savings ripe for the picking – but they must be cost-effective. Some of the people I speak to over the phone are new to the job (a worrying proportion of them) and whilst I believe they should keep and invest in current staff, NE could save money by simplifying the process, and using the most knowledgeable office staff to tackle queries and problems.

In fact, a new web-based FAQ forum could ease the enquiry workload and help everyone to get things done faster.

The government could also save money by removing barriers to effective collaboration between agencies and government departments. One bloody obvious example – NE and RPA use different mapping systems and databases. Each has different field data sets for the same farm. This guarantees a particular rate of failure to get things right first time – probably close to 100% based on my experience.

Ask any ecologist or farm wildlife adviser – we can expect errors to be embedded in the application pack they produce. Field numbers, maps, contact details… everything needs checking and single errors can require replacement of the whole pack. (a kilo of paper?) Oh, and if you’re organic, you can expect your of certifying body to keep an out-of-date land schedule, with different field numbers. That in itself could delay your application, and might be worth updating with the current RLR numbers. The waste generated by dysfunctional system is massive.

Jason Ball

Badger kills OK by Defra?

12 September, 2010

According to recent news items, farmers and land managers in England’s Bovine TB hotspots might soon be able to obtain licences from Natural England allowing them to kill badgers. Bovine TB is a major problem with 30,000 cattle slaughtered in 2009 in a bid to control it.

The CLA welcomed rumours that Defra could change the rules and allow licenced badger culls in the areas of England most affected by the disease.

CLA President William Worsley said, “We are very pleased that it appears that farmers and land managers in Bovine TB ‘hotspots’ will be allowed to apply for a Natural England licence to cull badgers. Permitting a cull in the worst affected parts of England is absolutely the right decision.”

Natural England would, it seems, have to rethink its policy position in response to the latest Defra thinking.

Currently the NE website explains why badger culling for Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) has not been something for which they provided a licence. Their website says (12 Seot 2010): “Natural England accepts that badgers are a disease reservoir and their role in transmitting bTB to cattle cannot be ignored. However, the scientific evidence indicates that culling badgers can exacerbate the spread of the disease in cattle through perturbation of the badger population.”

The Secretary of State back in 2008 (Hilary Benn) announced that killing badgers would not form part of the strategy to tackle bTB – a decision reviewable in the light of any new research evidence about the potential value of killing your local badgers. Defra set up the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project.

Badger vaccinations in Gloucestershire will be featured in the next episode of BBC Countryfile 19 Sept 2010.

There has been plenty of talk during 2010 of u-turns and counter u-turns on this issue of to kill or not to kill. In July the Badger Trust challenged a cull planned in western Wales, and their campaign succeeded when the Appeal Court found the Welsh Assembly Government did not have a proper justification for the exercise. It has been suggested that all the Welsh Assembly agriculture department needs to do is reconfigure a fresh project to meet the necessary requirements and has intentions to establish another cull.

This was despite the 2009 research which showed how unhelpful killing out badgers is in practice. The same was true of both proactive and reactive culls in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) – a  large scale experiment which killed 11,000 badgers.

Defra’s web pages on bTB and the badger killing question features research papers on the effectiveness of shooting, trapping, snares and gassing.

Gassing methods discussed include suffocating the occupants of a badger sett with the fumes from a badly tuned petrol engine; an easy option with death-camp practicality.

Eco targets missed globally

17 August, 2010

“No country has met its targets to protect nature. We are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. If current levels [of destruction] go on we will reach a tipping point very soon. The future of the planet now depends on governments taking action in the next few years.”

Ahmed Djoghlaf, the secretary-general of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – The Guardian – 17 August 2010

Save Our Butterflies

20 July, 2010

SOBW2010 runs from Sat 24 July to Sun 1st August. This year’s theme is PARKS AND GARDENS FOR BUTTERFLIES. Search the national events listings for an activity near you.

The lead charity for flutterbyes – Butterfly Conservation – has teamed up with Marks and Spencer to launch the biggest ever public butterfly count to date.

Big  Butterfly Count

BC says, “You can join in and help us track butterflies, so we know where they need our help the most. Find a sunny spot in your garden, local park or other open space and spend 15 minutes counting butterflies.”

For more information, to download an ID chart and submit your sightings please visit the big butterfly count website.

A downward spiral for nature?

16 May, 2010

No matter how many dedicated organisations like Amphibian and Reptile Conservation try to halt the decline of our native species and habitats, the decline continues. According to IUCN (the…

more at ARC News >>>

Barn Owls and house or barn renovations

28 April, 2010

I use this excellent Barn Owl Trust publication and have recommended it to hundreds of people. The authors make the decision-making process very clear for any developer or planning officer trying to figure out what to do about Barn Owl surveys and how to interpret the evidence that a Barn Owl survey presents.

Planning guidance – “Barn Owls and Rural Planning Applications”

Owl Lofts

The last page has a sketch of an ‘owl loft’ which is a neat way to achieve a built-in solution to the challenge of keeping a site permanently available for Barn Owls – and complete the building beautifully.

I’m not sure that I totally approve of the sketch. The drawing portrays a massive space – which is great for owls – but if you’re ever going to need monitoring or maintenance done, consider the accessibility, safety and structural strength (could it take a roofer’s weight?).

I would also advise any architect or builder involved with the project to carefully finish the detail of the entrance. Even with a sloped shape, an occasionally fierce wind might force a bit of rainwater in towards interfaces or unprotected material.

Consider ventilation and drainage for the Barn Owl cavity. I’ve seen an example where the owl loft had its own little vents and drains to allow for the intense activity that a Barn Owl family goes through. Many hundreds of prey items are delivered to the chicks – which means plenty of waste products..!

Helpfully, specialist moths and beetles will slowly break down the pellets which the owls regurgitate, but one day the box might benefit from a winter clearout – and that’s why I highlighted maintenance earlier.

Having mentioned these details, I must say I love owl lofts. Attic spaces for owls have a tradition dating back hundreds of years, and they work equally well as part of a renovation or a new build.

Barn Owl surveys

Many rural buildings with planning proposals need a Barn Owl survey and a bat survey done. My best advice for developers is this: get advice at the soonest opportunity, ideally from somebody who has experience of a similar situation.

I am experienced in Barn Owl conservation and I can carry out your Barn Owl survey (if it’s too far from me I can find a local expert through the Barn Owl Conservation Network or my Natureheads Network). As an experienced owl conservationist and qualified BTO ringer I am able to judge the best methods for survey and if necessary I can inspect the nest during the breeding season.

When it comes to planning authorities and Barn Owls they often like to ‘play on the safe side’ and request a Barn Owl survey for structures which are ‘unlikely’ – but that’s good for the owls! Believe it or not this is good for you too – because a survey and sound advice should help you avoid delays and can conform to the legislation that protects Barn Owls and their nest sites.

One of the easiest sites I have ever surveyed was an agricultural store which was in excellent condition and after a very quick survey session it was obvious that a Barn Owl could not access the building. There was no need for a big survey effort or a complex report. My fee was correspondingly small of course!

If your planning officer requests a survey for Barn Owls please contact and we can source an ecologist with the relevant experience and skills.

Jason Ball BSc (hons) MCMI (DipMan)
m: 07719 225965

Free download: has sourced the guidance from Natural England’s website and here it is – get the Barn Owl guidance for planning authorities approved by Natural England for free.

Berkshire Wildlife Postcard

27 April, 2010


Berkshire Nature Conservation Forum has launched “Have you seen me?” postcards to encourage people to send in their sightings of Stag Beetle, Hedgehog, Bullfinch and Slow-Worm.

Free to download here:

Berkshire biodiversity postcard – \’have you seen me?\’

Old lifeforms

22 April, 2010

Find some astounding pictures at…