Wednesday 29 January 2020

Raven- Beddington Farmlands

Did a lightning tour of the farmlands this morning with Kojak (who had to get back for 1pm) . Ebird list HERE

Highlight was a Raven which we first picked up on call and then performed brilliantly overhead in the sunny conditions. Also a first-winter Caspian Gull, 3 Chiffchaff including a rather drab and contrasting looking one , one Tree Sparrow and a couple of Green Sandpipers. 

 Raven vs Carrion Crow . Following 12 records before 2018 and 7 records last year alone, this is the 20th record of this locally increasing species 
 Chiffchaff (above and below) Would have been interesting to hear this bird call and also see it in less contrasting light. The bird also seems to have rather long primary projection? 

 First-winter Caspian Gull.The plumage details look spot on for Caspian but the bill length rather short and head profile rather soft, perhaps a female or perhaps not an entirely pure bird.  
At least five foxes today 

Monday 27 January 2020

Little Oak Environmental 2019 Report

Here's a few stats from our Little Oak Group 2019 Report. 

Saturday 25 January 2020

A week in local eco-politics

Tuesday night was Extinction Rebellion Sutton meeting, Wednesday night was the bird group AGM and Thursday night was an Extinction Rebellion London meeting with very busy works days at Little Oak in between and also discussions with local councillors about implementation of the neighbourhood plan and the revival of the Hackbridge Forum and Neighbourhood Development Group. 

Discussions in Extinction Rebellion were centred around strategy for 2020 and the Bird Group AGM was focused on the future of 100 acre and south east corner, the annual reports and a new composition for the executive committee. 

Our new local conservative MP Elliot Colburn is doing a speech about incinerators in the Commons this Tuesday. He campaigned on better air quality monitoring around the Beddington incinerator which got him elected so hopefully he will deliver on his pledges. 

 View from the Beddington obs this week- campaign and work in 2020 will focus on mitigation for the 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emitted from the incinerator, improved air quality monitoring in the local area, monitoring the progress of the restoration ahead of reporting back to the six monthly HEB committee meetings, pushing forward the objectives of the Hackbridge Neighbourhood Plan (including visitor facilities for the reserve), preparations for the arrival of the new warden and continuing with the biodiversity monitoring and streamlining reporting systems. 

 The theory of change discussed at the London Extinction Rebellion meeting. The objective of the group is to tackle climate change and repair ecosystems, so Beddington Farmlands with its 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year and important highly stressed and declining ecosystem is an excellent regional case study. There are effectively two main strands to the XR strategy- one of winning over supporters, by appealing to elites and people in power to adopt change, to develop mainstream appeal and to grow the movement and achieve it's aims of addressing climate change and halting biodiversity loss through not co-operating with business as usual and taking action through regenerative culture, connectedness and self organising society to deliver solutions. The other main strand (which attracts much of the media attention) is achieving that shift through making it more costly to carry on with business as usual by the use of disruption (check out the 12 person lock on device below hanging around the meeting room!). Our local XR group focus/strategy is to appeal to people in power to adopt change and with such a well developed local network of environmentalists, community groups and ecological expertise  that change is highly facilitated.   

Extinction Rebellion were hoping to meet with the Pennon CEO to discuss a way forward to address biodiversity loss, mitigation measures for the negative impact of the incinerator on the local area and carbon emissions at Beddington Farmlands but news broke this week about Pennon selling Viridor (and it's obligations at Beddington Farmlands) so that will have to be put on hold until we find out who the new owners will be. On the market for £4 billion the buyer will presumably be someone with a few billion in loose change so it seems most likely that such a buyer won't be too familiar with our local concerns but should have the money to deal with them. 

Sunday 19 January 2020

Black-throated Thrush

Took the family to Whipsnade Zoo and stealth twitched the thrush- all done and photographed in less than a minute before back to the muppet line. 

Friday 17 January 2020

Bulgaria, January 2020, Done Deal

Currently at Varna airport, in time to get my flight back to London after a hectic day running around Bulgarian bureaucracy. I had to go to Dobrich, the district centre today to get a registration number, then back to the notary to pick up the notary deed before filing it at the Town Hall with a declaration before checking out of the hotel and back to the airport. All went as well as hoped thanks to emergency assistance from Dimiter and my translator after the registry office wouldn't release the number without the notary deeds (I thought it was going to be another incident like the autumn where we fell foul to Bulgarian bureaucracy HERE). However this time an electronic version was allowed to be sent and everything went through and I am now the very proud owner of a tiny bit of the Via Pontica Migration Flyway.  Very excited about returning in the spring to launch the 'pop up' Black Sea Observatory.

Between Dobrich and the notary office I managed to sneak in a short session photographing the town centre Long-eared Owls.

 Long-eared Owls
 Dobrich above- something very evocative about these ex-communist town centres 

You can just about see the owls in this photo
 What the area lacks in jaw dropping urban design is more than made up for in the natural heritage of this area- the cliffs at the end of my road (above) and our local beach (below)

Thursday 16 January 2020

Bulgaria January 2020, Local Birding

I had the day off today while the notary draws up the final documents. It gave me a chance to visit the land I've bought in Kamen Bryag and explore the immediate area in winter (a time I probably won't be visiting much) and in the afternoon I visited Shabla Tuzla and then did the harrier roost at Durankulak. 

Ebird list of all sites HERE 

Tomorrow is going to be a work day with three meetings (with the listing office, notary and then the municipality)  to finalise all the paperwork before getting the plane back. I'll be back here in April to start work on the land and set up the recording systems. 

Had about 40 Marsh Harriers (above) and 10 Hen Harrier (below) come into the roost. Also had a Long-legged Buzzard go over. 

I was glad to see these White-fronts pass over the land we bought- on the garden list! Also had Fieldfare and Reed Bunting- birds that might be difficult in the spring and autumn (which is the time of year I'll be mainly visiting). Within a short walking distance I had Black-throated Diver and Hen Harrier too which will presumably be more difficult in spring and autumn,  I also had a good look in the nearby woodland for woodpeckers- not a single pecker but did have Woodcock and Red Squirrel. There was Syrian and Green woodpecker in the garden/land.
Corn Buntings in Kamen Bryag- I was quite surprised how few birds there were in the area (ebird list HERE ). It might be because it's been such a mild winter. The geese that we saw in Romania earlier in the week are usually here in mid-January but are a good 80 miles to the north. The geese staying north mirrors what's going on with White-fronts, wild swans and Smew in UK too- presumably due to global warming. 
Amazingly I had the Great Bustard again which decided to do a fly by 
and here's what the land looks like at the moment 

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Bulgaria January 2020, Day in the office

We spent most of today in the notary office doing all the paperwork which hopefully should all be finalised by Friday. I got up early and went down to the harbour at Kavarna, had a few Black Redstarts on the sea front, Black-necked Grebe and a few Yellow-legged Gulls. On the way to the notary office there were four Long-eared Owls in Birch by the cafe, more or less in full view- will go back when I can with the camera to get some pics. 

After we finished work this afternoon I went to lake Darankulak to see the harriers coming into roost but the fog was so dense I couldn't see anything. There's a birding group in the same hotel as me and they went to the site Dimiter and I recced out yesterday but unfortunately today was think fog bank all day and they could only hear the birds. 

Hopefully the fog clears tomorrow as I've got the day off so planning on birding all day. 

 Male (above) and female-type (below) Black Redstart

White-fronts in the fog 

Tuesday 14 January 2020

Bulgaria January 2020, Wild Goose Chase

I'm currently in Bulgaria finalising some paperwork to complete the sale of our private nature reserve. Today I joined Dimiter in doing a recce for wild geese. The weather has been mild this winter so the geese haven't arrived in Bulgaria so we set off across the border to Romania to find some geese- mission successful! 
 We started the morning at Lake Durankulak - about 50 Marsh Harriers and 10 Hen Harrier came out the reed bed roost. We also had an immature White-tailed Eagle. Also about 200+ Pygmy Cormorant, 2 Smew,  20 Red-breasted Mergansers and Black-necked Grebes.
 These five Whooper Swans flew over calling at dawn- a magical evocative sight and sound. By the end of the day we had seen about 1500 on our journey. 
 It wasn't until we arrived at the Danube Delta biosphere reserve that we found some geese- over 300 Red-breasted Geese (above). The Branta jizz and flock shape and movements were very distinctive amongst the 20,000 White-fronted Geese, even at considerable distance.
 Whooper and one Bewick's Swan
 White-fronts and Red-breasted Geese
 White-fronted Goose
 More Bewicks Swans
 Whoopers in the mist
This adult Snow Goose was amongst the White-fronts found by Dimiter. There had been a Snow Goose seen in Romania to the north so presumably the same bird. The provenance of this bird is in question but obviously if it is a genuine vagrant which has come over the top of the melting north pole it will be an absolute local mega. 
Highlight of the day was this single vagrant Great Bustard 

Thursday 9 January 2020

Slim Pickings

 The evenings have been mild this week so I've had the MV on at the Beddington obs. Just a couple of micro moths.

Did a few hours on Wednesday along the permissive footpath at Beddington- very quiet. 

Gulls and micro moths- this is real bottom of the barrel stuff, and I can't even put a name to most of them! 

 This gull had features of a first-winter Yellow-legged Gull but the upperparts looked more argenteus Herring Gull like. 
Acleris sp (above and below) . According to Hants Moths flying tonight page the most common Acleris is schalleriana at the moment although sparsana, ferrugana and notana are all possible.  The one below with the costal blotch looks okay for schalleriana but not sure about the above one.  
Several of these acleris species require genital dissection to identify them. I remember Neil Stocks (A barrister from the Beddington Farm Bird Group) who made the remark that once a naturalist find them-self staring at the genitals of a micro moth (especially in light of global inequality and the sixth extinction etc) they probably need to question life choices that brought them to that point. For those who have arrived at that point, which could be a result of all the right choices, this website is the place to be: MOTHS TWIG AND BERRIES. I'm not quite there yet but heading that way. 
Not sure what this is supposed to be? A worn mompha? A caddis? For God's sake we need Spring to arrive! 

Monday 6 January 2020

Day Trip to Arundel

Went to Arundel WWT yesterday with the family. Was thinking of doing a bit more video work on my 7D Mark 2 this year. The quality is pretty good and I should be able to use my noc mig sound recording equipment to get some decent sounds too. Here's a few seconds of a Robin showing the quality. 

Birding highlight was the Harrier roost with at least 6 Marsh Harriers and 1 Hen Harrier coming into the reserve as it was getting dark and roosting in the small reed bed.

Here's one of Jacob enjoying feeding the birds (best with sound!) 

Saturday 4 January 2020



 Star birds of Corvo 2019- Connecticut Warbler (Thijs Valkenburg) and Prothonotary Warbler (Paul French) 

Friday 3 January 2020

2020 PLANS

The last decade has taught me about committee nightmares, large slow wheels and the usefulness of using activism as something to lubricate and shake things up.

So going forward into the next decade the emphasis is going to be more on independence, less on mainstream society and more of being part of a community with shared values. Hoping that our small company/organisation can support regional and global objectives by helping to implement initiatives and opportunities on the front line. So even though there may not be an official global nature conservation corporation we will act as if we are part of one by supporting leads and implementing initiatives from where ever they might come and hopefully the community that we are part of will all evolve into something more coherent , structured and influential.

The key regional and global objectives that will benefit us most is incentives for environmental friendly businesses, penalties and high taxes for the bad guys, better nature conservation policies and enforcement and more representative government at all levels, particularly local government for us. So will we be supporting and campaigning for that higher level framework as we will need it to achieve things on the ground.

Here's a few key objectives on our projects LITTLE OAK GROUP   over this year and the coming decade.


After successfully navigating through the stormy brexit muddied waters of 2019, I'm predicting at least one or more years of difficult economic times as everyone still tries to get some orientation on where things are heading. It gives us time to tighten things up, push some of our wildlife friendly products/services and scope out any potential for growth, which we ideally hope to achieve through franchising. Keeping things ticking over and tidying things up is the 2020 plan. 

Really hoping for a big push on this in 2020. We've got a new website due to be launched soon, hope to make progress by working with friends and partners with catching up on the Azores Rare Bird Report and the Azores Bird List, got one or two papers due to be published and with any luck will be marketing both our trips, the Azores Safari and the Birder's Pelagic and increasing our social media impact. 

Blog here

I'm heading off to the Black Sea next week to finalise the purchase on a 2000 m2 piece of land within a Natura 2000 network area. The plan is to spend several weeks over the Spring and Autumn to build a small naturalists lodge, develop a wildlife garden/mini reserve with photography hides and set up wildlife recording systems. Eventually hoping to invite guests to stay on the mini lodge. Very excited about this! 

The plan this year is to revisit the target/study area and continue with the birds and lepidoptera inventory to look for any ecological unique selling points. 

The plan is to record some new songs and also perform at the Carshalton Environmental Fair. We are planning on supporting Extinction Rebellion and will campaign for a local focus on the issues at Beddington Farmlands. With the local councillor elections coming up in 2022, also want to support any initiatives to have local councillors that support local nature or to replace those councillors with those that do. 

Having to deal with people who are legally obliged to create a major nature reserve in London but who are not interested in nature or nature conservation is absolute hell so stepping well back from all this from now on. Lessons have been learnt- do not waste your time trying to work with or help people who don't care about what you care about - its better to use activism and political gaming on them.
Planning on still visiting the farmlands at least once a week, hoping that I can hand over all the report writing to another group member (or scrap it all together as its only used as toilet paper), will try and automate and simplify systems as much as possible (we have been providing champagne services for beer drinking decision makers so we can de-civilise down to their levels and save a lot of work) and happy to review documents and plans and support committee members in challenging corruption and also supporting activist groups in maintaining pressure. After a small leap forward in 2019 ahead of the petition hearing (where they quickly carried out a few cosmetic works), the next four years are going to be Viridor dragging their feet along,attempting to reach a crisis point where they will try and persuade stakeholders to scale down ecological ambitions and we will then get to the end of 2023 (the legal completion date) with the reserve incomplete and a potential horrendous legal quagmire for all involved where they will push for a quick finish and open it in a shadow of the form it was planned. All we can do is maintain and apply sustained pressure on them at every level and using every means possible, expose them locally and nationally for their ecocide and corporate hypocrisy (they masquerade as an environmentally friendly business)  while not loosing any sleep over it. We've already wiped out three local councillors and the local MP and we will wipe out the lot in 2022 local elections if there isn't more opposition to the Viridor agenda and more support for localism from our local councillors. 

So here's to 2020 and beyond! 

Otmoor Video

Visited Otmoor yesterday to try and get some video of the amazing flocks of Golden Plovers and Lapwings. Had a single Hen Harrier, two Marsh Harrier and a couple of Dunlins. 

Here's the video. The calls of Golden Plovers were very mournful on a grey solemn day so I set the video to a rather cathartic sound track we did on THEE BRYANS called Planes.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Happy 2020 !

I decided that 2020 can't just be another new slog. After basically bumming around the world last year, consuming nature like it was on a roll back in Asda, while waiting to get some direction on Brexit- it's now time to start this new decade with a bit of purpose and perhaps even a little bit of meaning.

I think my biggest lesson from the last decade was discovering the nature and weaknesses of community structures and the enormous inefficiency of a conservation model like a multi-stakeholder group at Beddington Farmlands, especially when the lead stakeholder is not particularly interested in nature or nature conservation. Another revelation was that most nature conservation charities are being funded by organisations that destroy nature as their day job and hand over bits of loose change to make them feel like they are saints instead of cunts.

This got me thinking about what the most efficient model for nature conservation is. Ideally it would be for an organisation or individual to have vast amounts of money and for them to buy up land, turn it into nature reserves or nature friendly environments (nature friendly farming, housing developments, business parks etc) and then engage as many people as possible into those environments. So basically exactly how a capitalist corporation works but instead of the global oligarchy being comprised of someone who destroys nature and turns it into mansions, super yachts, prostitutes and crack for that to be switched on its head and  an enormously wealthy and powerful organisation or individual to use that power  to buy up forests, wetlands and land and manage it for nature and people. 

The national and global conservation community is fragmented and weak. The argument for fragmentation is specialisation e.g. Plantlife campaign for plants, Buglife for bugs, the RSPB for birds etc etc. However large corporations that control the planet have fucking departments- hasn't anyone heard of them?? There must be a strong argument for maintaining specialisation but merging effort into fewer more powerful organisations? 

We are not going back in time so contrary to some of hard environmentalists fantasies, western societies are not about to collapse into dystopian paradises where trees and birds reclaim the streets and our pet dogs start forming wolf packs and start hunting fat bastards who have lost the skills to farm due to binge watching Love Island reducing the human population to pre-industrial age and we see out eternity in a return to Eden, agrarian vegan societies powered by composting toilets set in the ruins of western civilisation and everyone sharing farming techniques, vegan recipes and selfies through iphones powered by small energy recovery units plugged into your arsehole.  

Time only moves forward, one tiny branch emanating from an existing branch, an enormous timeless organic structure, intrinsically and infinitely complexly dependent on the past from which there is no going back as the energy flows and time move unidirectionally which means we are heading to two fundamental possible futures for nature. One where nature is reduced to tiny pockets and humanity overcomes any problems of detachment and ecological imbalance by technology, bioengineering and just basically existing in depressed lack lustre states propped up with happy pills or one where nature is firmly embedded into the algorithms and value systems of the future and modern corporate and power structures. We need global nature conservation corporations. 

Ok so that puts the problems of world conservation to rest. Now I need to work out how to either become a global oligarch or be part of an organisation that does the same job. Therein lies the rub.

Tomorrow I'll try and scribble down some thoughts on here of how we can help to achieve that at Little Oak Group. This decade has to be the turning point for nature- something colossal needs to happen.