Results of 2010 RSPB Garden Birdwatch

As expected, small birds struggled to survive the big freeze: long tailed tits, who had prospered over a succession of mild winters, dropped by 27% compared to last year, when they made the top ten for the first time.  The biggest decline was in goldcrest sightings – down by 75%.  Losses would have been worse without the tremendous response to calls for keeping bird tables well stocked.

Another effect of the hard winter was a movement of countryside birds into gardens in their search for food.  Sightings of redwings increased by 185%, fieldfares by 73% and song thrushes by 51%.  Yellowhammers and bullfinches were also more frequent garden visitors. Continue reading Results of 2010 RSPB Garden Birdwatch

The world’s oldest osprey

The female osprey has lived to three times the average lifespan of her breed and produced 46 chicks

The world’s oldest known osprey has just returned for the 20th time to Scotland after completing the 3,000-mile flight from Africa to her summer breeding territory at Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire. Britainnature wishes her a very 25th happy birthday. The bird has already lived three time longer than the average osprey. Her secret? Lots of fresh fish and foreign travel. More in The Independent (Photo by Kevin Hacker)

Spring will be spectacular

The long, hard winter means that nature is just dying to get up and and do its thing: spring this year could well be the most spectacular we’ve seen for a long time. We’re all going to enjoy it too!

Up in the plane and ash trees, all London’s wildlife appeared hard at spring yesterday. Tail feathers were shaking along the Regent’s canal, the first buds were bursting on brambles and honeysuckle and carpets of crocuses were delighting crowds in the grand royal parks.

More from the Guardian

The ghost orchid still haunts British woods

Photo by Andy Swash

The location is a secret: somewhere in Herefordshire, and in an oak wood.  So secret that it’s taken several months to even disclose the news of its finding to the public.

The last sighting of the Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) was in Buckinghamshire back in 1986 and in 2005 it was declared extinct.  But amateur botanist sleuth Mark Jannink never gave up.  He runs a motorbike business for a living, but his passion is wild flowers, and last September his persistence paid off. Continue reading The ghost orchid still haunts British woods

Fictional countryside

Interesting article by Jonathan Meades in The Guardian.

No longer a place of work, the English countryside has been tidied up and made picturesque, based on a mythical rural idyll…Read

Reminds me of DH Auden comment in the 1940s on the Lake District.

“Am I to see in the Lake District, then….Another bourgeois invention like the piano?”

Swift survey

The RSPB is gathering extensive information about exactly where swifts are nesting in the UK.  It is suspected that their rapid decline in recent years is linked with a drop in suitable nesting sites, as buildings are modernised.

The first year’s survey reveals that of the houses where swifts are nesting:

  • Over half (51%) were built before 1919
  • Exactly a quarter were built between 1919-1944
  • Over half (52%)had been known swift nesting sites for more than 10 years
  • Almost a fifth (16%) were considered threatened
  • Almost 5% of swifts were recorded in churches

The data will be used to make sure that exhilarating displays of screaming swifts continue being part of British summers.

New Forest conservation

A new generation of commoners will receive financial support to ensure animals continue to graze in the New Forest and so conserve its rich biodiversity.

Commoning has shaped the New Forest over hundreds of years. It is because of it that we have this beautiful landscape, a mosaic of pasture, heath and lawn. And it needs to be encouraged – Lyndsey Stride, commoner.


Isolated cottage in Scottish Highlands

Affordable Achleek Cottage (week’s stay £495, sleeps five) is found on the south banks of Loch Sunart.  Views, mountains and remoteness guaranteed.  The nearest village is Strontian, 3 miles away, with the facilities of Fort William 23 miles by the Corran Ferry.  In contrast with the wild landscape all around, the cottage is warm and snug, with central heating and an open fireplace.  It’s also pet-friendly. Information

Magpies: Not guilty

The clamour for magpie culls is like the baying of a crowd at a witch trial.  There’s no basis in fact for the claim that magpies are threatening British songbirds, only entrenched irrational ideas about corvids.

Organisations like the Songbird Survival Trust have in the past made badly misjudged calls for such culls. The real cause of population declines of species such as the bullfinch and yellowhammer is human activity: unsustainable land management, unecological farming practices and rampant urbanisation.  A new large-scale study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology has confirmed this. Continue reading Magpies: Not guilty

The presence of whales in Britain

Photo by TallGuy

The famous whalebone arch on Whitby’s West Cliff is a symbol of the whaling industry that thrived there and in other English ports like Hull and Yarmouth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The 15 ft bones are from a Bowhead whale, killed under license by Alaskan Inuits, and unveiled by Miss Alaska in 2003.  An even larger arch stood on the same spot, made from the 20 ft jaw bones of a Fin whale, presented to the town by Norway in 1963.

During England’s years as a whaling nation, captains returning from Greenland would bring home these huge bones as souvenirs. Ship crews would tie a pair of whale jaw bones to the mast to let anxious families on land know there’d been no casualties.  Some of the bones were used in construction as house ends. Some were set in fields for cattle to rub against. Continue reading The presence of whales in Britain

Urban bee project

The Co-op is further expanding its Plan Bee campaign by providing aspiring urban bee-keepers with free training and equipment. Life in the city can be better for bees than in the countryside, points out Chris Shearlock, the Co-op’s Environment Manager:

They can find flowers in city parks and gardens, and they are away from some of the pesticides that are threatening them on farmland. It’s a misconception to think that they won’t thrive in cities and towns. I’ve heard of honey being sold from apiaries around King’s Cross station in London.

In the end, what’s going to save the British honeybee, whose population has dropped sharply in the last 25 years, is its value to the economy: as fruit-tree pollinators and annual producers of 5,000 tonnes of honey, they’re worth 165m a year. Independent