Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

Blackbird links Lambourn, England and Backebo, Sweden

14 December, 2010

John Swallow is a volunteer who comes to survey birds at at Sheepdrove Organic Farm near Lambourn each winter. John is a qualified ringer (and trainer) and the little metal leg-rings can be a brilliant way of monitoring birds.

John, along with fellow ringers Andy and Mike, have banded hundreds of birds at the farm. Of course lots of birds don’t live very long in the wild, but occasionally they recapture one, which provides clues about bird ages and numbers.

To have a bird found by somebody else is rare too. When it happens, it’s usually because the bird has died, and somebody has reported the find, using the leg ring number. (Contact the BTO if you find a ringed bird.)

A female blackbird ringed HERE at Sheepdrove Organic Farm exactly 2 years ago, on 14 December 2008, was found in SWEDEN in August 2010. I knew that winter birds here might often be migrants from Skandinavia, but this is still really interesting to know – especially because John kindly provided a link to the exact location at Backebo, Alsterbro, Kalmar, Sweden!

Jason Ball


2011 River Restoration Conference

2 December, 2010

Managing Rivers
at the Local and Catchment Scale

Bookings now being taken

The 2011 conference will be an extended one-day event at the University of Nottingham on Thursday 14th April 2011. There are different options available for attendees with bookings available for the Extended Day (10.30am to 8pm), Day Delegate (10.30am to 5pm) and the Evening Session (6pm to 8pm). There will also be an optional site visit on Friday 15th April with details to be circulated shortly.

Save by booking early

For bookings made and paid in full by 31st December 2010, Members can attend as a Day Delegate for just £99 plus VAT.

Payment can be made by credit card using PayPal. The draft programme is available online. Full details of the pricing options for both Members and Non Members are included on the 2011 Conference Booking Form.


Overnight accommodation at the University

Rooms are available at £43.70 plus VAT per person which includes breakfast. Accommodation bookings need to be made directly with the University on 0115 846 8000.

Barn Owls too reliant on conservationists?

26 November, 2010

Anne Diamond spoke with Jason Ball live on BBC Radio Berkshire yesterday about Barn Owls. Anne was following up the national news story about owls being dependent on nestboxes.

Jason pointed out that actually it’s a sign of success, and reason to congratulate the nation’s Barn Owl conservation volunteers, and the farmers they work with.

The headlines were sparked by a BBC news interview with Colin Shawyer, who founded the BOCN (Barn Owl Conservation Network). The Sheepdrove Trust sponsors the BOCN and Sheepdrove Organic Farm is its national HQ.

Colin, who trained Jason in monitoring and ringing owls, carried out a study in the 1980s which revealed a massive decline in the Barn Owl population. So he set up the BOCN and it soon became a key network for advisors and owl conservationists across the UK and Eire.

In some areas, such as Salisbury Plain, nest box schemes have increased the barn owl population by up to five times. But the reliance on nest boxes is now so great, the birds will need constant conservation,” explained Colin.

Lambourn Valley Barn Owl Group has been very busy building nest boxes at Sheepdrove Organic Farm, to sell as a way to raise money for the group. Of course those boxes must go into areas with good owl habitat, otherwise they won’t help owls at all. So LVBOG also provides advice to farmers and landowners about how to manage grass for the prey that owls rely on.

Listen again to that Anne Diamond show.
The interview starts 32 minutes in. (available 6 days on iPlayer)

Butterfly Conservation half price membership

24 November, 2010

Butterfly Conservation half price gift membership – a perfect Christmas present that will last for a whole year!

From now until 10 December you can buy a friend or loved one membership of Butterfly Conservation for a bargain half price:

Single                                       was £28                        now £14

Joint                                         was £32                        now £16

Family                                      was £38                        now £19

Young person/student                was £20                        now £10

Gift membership includes all the usual benefits e.g. new member welcome pack, Butterfly magazine three times a year, membership of the local Branch etc … but in addition every gift member pack also includes a FREE copy of the Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Richard Lewington (rrp £9.95) – what a fantastic deal!!

Download your gift membership form or phone Catherine on 01929 406015 for more details.

All forms and orders must be received by 10 December at the latest to ensure they are processed in time for Christmas.

Barn Owl on BBC Berkshire

24 November, 2010

LVBOG installing a Barn Owl box

Anne Diamond will talk with me live on BBC Radio Berkshire tomorrow about Barn Owls. Thursday morning, sometime after 10.30am…There’s a national news story about owls relying on nestboxes. I suspect the embedded question is: “are they too reliant on boxes?”

Anyway, I will point out that actually it’s a sign of success, and let’s say ‘well done’ to the nation’s owl conservation volunteers. Good chance to plug Lambourn Vally Barn Owl Group.

I know I will sound daft. Don’t laugh.

Listen to BBC Berks…

Listen again to that Anne Diamond show. The interview starts 32 minutes in. (available 6 days on iPlayer)

Cache for the birds

18 November, 2010

In the garden, small birds feel the loss of plentiful winged prey – they’re going nuts at the feeders now.

The other day I saw a perfect example of a bird caching food. I watched a manic Marsh Tit relentlessly flitting between the bird table and every nearby notch – storing sunflower seeds like there was no tomorrow!

We want… a shrubbery!

18 November, 2010

Next week join me and the volunteers as we plant native Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) part of the Sheepdrove Rare Butterfly Project – and we’re helping moths too.

We ordered locally-grown trees from Murray Maclean at Frilford, tel: 01865 391242.

Hawthorn will provide shade and shelter in years to come. I’ve seen small bushes make a big difference for some butterflies on a windy day. Cowslips already grow in our target areas, and with a little bit of scrub cover, we might just see the endangered Duke of Burgundy at Sheepdrove one day.

Barberry is the caterpillar food plant for the cute Barberry Carpet moth – probably locally extinct because barberry shrubs were ripped out of England’s hedges. It harbours a rust fungus that affects cereal, but modern varieties are resistant to the disease, so we’re bringing this bush back. Hopefully the moths will find it one day – Barberry Carpet has been found in western Oxfordshire. Meanwhile the Barberry is a wonderful food source for bees and birds.

Your spade work could leave a lasting legacy for wildlife! Please join us on a task, we’d love you to be part of the project.

Jason Ball
Manager for Biodiversity and Alternative Energy

These latest volunteer tasks are in association with the local branch of Butterfly Conservation. Coming soon, the 2011 event list for the Lambourn Valley Barn Owl Group.

Contact us: Please tell us if you wish to attend a task – it is vital to our preparation. Please email me or call me on 01488 674727.
What to bring:
Please bring a packed lunch – we will picnic on the farm! Bring clothes ready for any weather and sensible boots or wellies.
Meet here:
The farm office, at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, Sheepdrove Road, Lambourn, Berkshire. Map and directions here…

Saturday 27 Nov 2010

Scrub up for Butterflies! 10am – 3pm
Join us for some scrub planting & woodland edge cutting. We aim to create scrubby edge habitat to benefit butterflies and moths.  They love the shelter effect as well as the nectar – and some species will eat the trees at caterpillar stage.

In association with Butterfly Conservation’s Upper Thames branch. Be sure to bring a packed lunch and wrap up warm with outdoor clothes and boots. Bring garden gloves if you have them – we have spares too. We will provide tools and tea – so please tell us if you’re coming. Call us on 01488 674727.

(PLEASE NOTE –  some steep slopes and uneven ground).

Monday 29 Nov 2010

Scrub up for Butterflies! (session two) 10am – 3pm
Scrub planting & woodland edge cutting. Details as per Saturday’s task.

More wildlife events and volunteer tasks…

Sunbirds in India

2 November, 2010

Link to my friend’s facebook gallery…

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

Fix the Food Chain

22 October, 2010

Clare Oxborrow at FoE talks about the globalised mess that is our food supply.