Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Otmoor Wipit

 Did Otmoor today. Highlights were a Water Pipit from the second screen (Oxon lifer), a Chiffchaff from first screen, three Marsh Harriers, a Dunlin, good numbers of Snipe and good numbers of Golden Plover at last. Also had a load of Goldies (about 400)  near Bernwood Forest on the way over to Otmoor.  Ebird list from today HERE

Water Pipit (above and below) 

Reeve's Muntjac by the feeders. Also had 3 Roe Deer, another Muntjac and 3-4 Brown Hares today. 

Early Moth

The Old Vic moth year list kicks off with an Early Moth over the porch light. 

Early Moth
This partially leucistic Redwing is still around the garden 
The garden Siskins are still performing- not seen them here in previous winters so not sure how unusual this winter's influx is 

Monday, 24 January 2022

Don't just read the Guardian or the Daily Mail for Nature Conservation/Environmental News

 The two most polarised  sources of news in this country are widely recognised as the Guardian and the Daily Mail. In terms of quality personally I think they are worse than the Sun which is neither pretentious or obnoxiously snobby and nobody really takes it too seriously which sadly appears to be not true for the Guardian or Daily Mail.  For a modern, multi-source balanced view (well you get all the information anyway to construct your own narrative) on nature conservation and environmental matters INKCAP Journal is pure brilliance bringing together more or less everything from everywhere written about nature conservation every single week of the year. 

I guess nobody reading this actually does only read one source of news from the old fashioned increasingly ridiculous and irrelevant pre-digital main stream media but there is a small chance not everyone interested in UK nature conservation and the environment have subscribed to INKCAP yet. If not here's the link. 


Also while on the subject of the disease of division, great to see Birdguides with Lucy McRobert flying the flag for balance and choice here : ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

Sunday, 23 January 2022

The Old Vicarage Winter Weekend

A few more garden year ticks this weekend including Black-headed Gull, Fieldfare and Grey Heron. Now on 45 species for the year HERE . Highlights included a flock of 35 Siskin flying around the village (with up to four on the feeders) and the Blackcap is still around. Lots of territorial behaviour especially Robins and Dunnocks (singing and fighting), Collared Doves and Stock Doves singing, Greenfinches singing, Jackdaws inspecting holes, Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming and fighting and Green Woodpeckers chasing each other this morning too. Song Thrush are still hard to come by, one was in the garden yesterday and there is a distant singing one but no territories in the garden yet. The Tawny Owls were calling again last night. 

Went to Crocodiles of the World Zoo today with the family. Just when you think the weird world of Oxon/Bucks biodiversity can't get any more strange then this happens- a Crocodile Farm! . Basically a series of ram shackle agricultural sheds in the Cotswolds stacked full of crocodiles and reptiles. HERE. Apparently there are 23 species of Crocodiles, Alligators, Caimans and Gharials globally and there are a good selection of the species here. 

Still haven't caught or seen a moth this year. 

The mini-farm still has Beetroot, Kale, Parsley and Savoy Cabbage still ready for harvesting and the Onions, Garlic and Broad Beans are coming along. Might need to do a bit more bed extension and winter clearing before the Spring comes. 

We've added a couple more species to Jacob's bedroom zoo. There are a couple of excellent outlets nearby at Bradmore Farm. A reptile shop called EXOTICS AT HEART  HERE (check out this incredible species stock list HERE- over 150 species of Reptile, Amphibian, Scorpions, Spiders, Millipedes and Mantis) and an Aquarium called  FISHNFINS HERE.  This weekend we added Black-fin Cory to the Aquarium and a Giant Asian Mantis to replace the Syrian Hamster which unfortunately died this week (they only live about 2 years). 

Male and female Siskin (above and below) 

Male Chaffinch
Female Greenfinch
Schneider's Dwarf Camain 
Nile Crocodile 
Also a Fishing Cat thrown in to the collection! 
Our leopard gecko meets the aquarium 
Western African Dwarf Crocodile with West African fish species including Chichlids and Talapia
The new Black-fin Corys in our Aquarium 
Our new Asian Giant Mantis. Only about 2 inches at the moment. Feeds on fruit fly. The prey items we have to feed our mini-zoo animals on are also interesting including Meal worms, Wax worms (the larvae of Wax moths), Desert Locust and now Fruit flies. What with the exotic plants to add to the tanks and the stowaways such as snails etc the mini-zoo species lists continues to grow. 

Friday, 21 January 2022

Natural Capitalist Update


A quick update on how this is going (Background here) which is basically an investment drive to raise enough money to buy a 12 acre farm for regenerative agriculture/rewilding within five years and to support/grow satellite projects. 

1) Further Investment in the buy to let market in Hackbridge (Hub of Wandle Valley Regional Park and Beddington Farmlands) 

Going pretty well so far, we won an auction on a new buy to let property (at a very good price) and so far looking good in raising the finance and working towards completion.  Refurb builders and letting agency all ready to move forward too. 

All good on our existing rental property in Hackbridge. We continue to work on the Beddington Farmlands and Hackbridge Development Project in order to achieve community improvements and nature reserve integration in this area HERE to improve the whole environment. 

2) Investment in Green Investment Funds and Stocks/shares in Green Transition/Alternative Markets

Not so good. As warned by my advisors, investments in Green Funds are long term investments (no expectation of short term gain) and indeed the Jupiter Green Fund we invested in has dropped by 15% since COP26 resulting in a 10% overall drop in our stocks and shares fund. That has been countered by good returns on Solona and Etherium cryptocurrency, punting the FTSE (currently shorting it with 2X geared ETF vehicle) and some steady traditional investments. Our KKR investment has been terrible too (the investment company that own Beddington Farmlands).  Overall a trading loss across the platforms (HL and FTX) of about £200 (From a £5000 investment with another £5000 to invest once more experience gained) . By investing in Jupiter Green seems like we are basically subsidising the green transition which we expected but not quite to the tune of 15%! Anyway all new and interesting and paying the price for 'investment training' (aka being mugged off :-) )    

3) Purchasing of land in project sites such as Bulgaria, Ghana and also UK and explore opportunities in carbon credit trading/ tree planting/ carbon storage financial incentives. 

All good, our local partner bought a further 1000m2 in Bulgaria to add to the existing plot last year and we have allocated funds to construct a small lodge this year for birding holiday renting. Some ground clearance were carried out last week and currently looking to tender the lodge construction (a small 'mobile'/ready made wooden cabin/tiny house). 

Hope to visit Andy's farm soon, he is looking into the new incentives available in the new natural capital government schemes.  Also keeping an eye on the land/farm market- got my heart set on East Kent. Might buy a small area of woodland within next five years just to get the ball rolling and do some hobby woodland management - can pick these up for about £10K an acre in some cases. Five years is a long time to wait! so this will be a way of 'doing something' while waiting/saving up.

4) Growth in core business activity of green space management 

All going well, busy through the winter and working on our online marketing. Working on one of our favourite jobs next week - doing the trees at the London Wetland Centre.  Got a few tree management plans to do over the next few weeks too which is good winter work. Record turnover last year, so fingers crossed that keeps up.  

5) The monetisation of projects in Azores and Bulgaria (through eco-tourism) 

The lodge in Bulgaria is the main objective at the moment. Will keep an eye on the travelling environment whether to try and get the Azores Safari running next year. Hopefully the Azores pelagic trip will run this year. 

6) Continue investment/improvements into current HQs in London and Bucks.  

We got a new mop! 


Tuesday, 18 January 2022


Finally managed to get out in the field. Spent a few hours at Otmoor. Ebird list HERE. Very quiet really although I didn't have my scope (in for repairs) and there was a lot of work going on in the reed bed. Seems a lot drier than last winter too.

At least one female-type Marsh Harrier around. Also had Peregrine.
Good numbers of Wigeon and Teal around but didn't see many Golden Plovers or Lapwings this morning. Had a couple of Dunlin. 
Female and male Bullfinch (above and below) 

Monday, 17 January 2022

West Midlands Safari Park

Another family day out and more exploring into the weird and wonderful world of 'Wildlife Parks' , this time West Midlands Safari Park. The prehistoric large mammal display is a clear highlight and the dinosaur display is one of the best we've visited too. These displays of incredible lost megafauna set the context of present day natural history and the threats to surviving megafauna which frames the park's captive breeding programs of extinct-in-the-wild and threatened species relevant, important and urgent.

The focus on ungulates, particularly antelopes and deer is a fascinating focus (quite an academic one presumably afforded by more populist attractions elsewhere in the park) and there is an incredible range of species including Ellipsen Waterbuck, Red Lechwe, Eland, Gemsbok, Barbary Sheep, Ankole Cow, Congo Buffalo, Cape Buffalo, Persian Fallow Deer, Eld's Deer, Axis Deer, Formosan Sika Deer, Blackbuck, Barasingha, Banteng, Bactrian Camel, Lowland Anoa, Philippine Spotted Deer, Pere David's Deer, Nilgai and domestic breeds of sheep too. 

What with Sea Lion shows, all the other classics (Penguins, Lions, Tigers etc), Reptile house, Aquarium and Bats plus a full on amusement park and roller coasters thrown in on the side, this is pretty mega place but not one to visit while simultaneously attempting to inspire your four year old with hybrid large gull identification. 

A lot of the deer groups were mixed up so not sure on the identification below (please jump in on any mistakes) 

Presumed hybrid adult Lesser black-backed x Herring Gull 
Red Lechwe
Pere David's Deer (Extinct in the wild)
Eld's Deer?
Axis Deer
Persian Fallow Deer ?
Phorusrhacos (Terror-bird) - 5 million years ago
Embolotherium (on right about 30 million years ago) and Chalicotherium (about 4 million years ago)
Playbeledon (left) the ancestor of elephants about 10 million years ago and Enteledont (aka Terror-pig) from 16 million years ago
Ice age animals, Woolly Mammoths, Cave Lions and Elasmotherium 

The ancestors of gulls proved more interesting than the gulls themselves to my other family members 

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Old Vic Ticks

Still house and work bound (been busy with both family and making various investments recently to save up for the farm- going pretty well, will update on how my 'natural capitalist' adventure is going soon). So still mincing around the garden and been having a look at fungi recently with the help of Lee Dingain. Here's a few which are new species for the Old Vic (now on 1023). 

Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutumn (above and below). Also known as False Turkey-tail. 
Turkey-tail Trametes versicolor (Probably this species, Lee wanted to looked at the pore spacing more closely, images above and below, showing the underside below and the difference to 'False Turkey-tail' or Hairy Curtain Crust also featured in this post, with Turkey-tail being white on the underside ) 

An Exidia sp, probably nucleata also known as Crystal Brain.
Possibly Smoky Bracket (Bjerkandera adusta)
A table from the Pan Species Listing Facebook group showing the total number of species in different groups. There are 15000 species of fungi in UK compared to 620 odd species of bird. I'm hoping Lee will visit soon so we can explore for more garden lifers. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Not allowed to be happy according to former lead conservation adviser at Natural England

According to the former lead conservation adviser at Natural England, Jonathan Hickling (now retired),  I'm not allowed to be positive about the new nature conservation framework and the capitalisation of nature. Check out his comments on this Birdguides facebook post below (the comments were removed from the post so I've reproduced them here also with the other interesting comments he was making ). He launches into an attack on me for being positive and keen to embrace the new changes and to deploy a diverse strategy  to maximise opportunities (he calls that a rosy and narrow view) and even though my family are successful nature conservation/nature friendly small holding farmers and horticulturists/arborists he calls me a private sector worker with unfounded views, told me before I comment I should research first and someone who doesn't understand rural communities and that I live in a private working world cocoon. None of that is true considering I work from a rural small holding (where my brother lives and my other brother is an organic farmer in Bulgaria) in North Surrey where we operate our arboriculture/horticulture business and have spent a lot of time volunteering in the public sector at Beddington Farmlands and working in Localism. I also live in a rural village in Bucks with a pheasant hunting father in law, a father in law whose mates are all farmers. 

Hickling also dismisses projects like Knepp and celebrity led re-wilding and the whole boom in private companies jumping on the re-wilding band wagon, dismissing it as a millionaire culture. I agree what he says when not all farmers are millionaires (e.g, some hill farmers) but a lot of them are, especially round here! Maybe he is echoing others people's concerns of a private wildlife inaccessible to the public- but a lot of RSPB and wildlife trust reserves are mostly inaccessible and kept low profile from the public anyway.   

These senior government advisers (or at least former ones) don't do themselves any favours in terms of dispelling the myths of being detached from the people they are supposed to be representing. He sounded a bit worked up and really upset about Brexit and referred to an optimistic past and looks like a bit of an old boy. I can sympathise that things didn't turn out the way they had hoped, in the way they wanted but attacking people who still have a bit of hope and keen to look for a new road ahead is a bit odd.   I didn't vote for Brexit for fucks sake, I wrote Revolution not Referendum on my ballot paper as I want to see Proportional Representation in this country and the introduction of multi-value indices to replace GDP (like New Zealand). If I can't live in a country that does that I'll create a parallel structure (a bubble) that creates that around me.   It was actually an interesting conversation/debate and very helpful for me so I don't know why he deleted it. I was agreeing with him for most of it just could have done without the offensive patronising that clearly reveals some deep prejudices and polarised opinions (maybe the problem of 'lefties' that I keep sensing).   


Monday, 10 January 2022

Ultra Low Carbon Birding

New baby lockdown continues and I still haven't been able to do anything but garden birding. Garden year list now on an ultra low carbon 39:  HERE. Highlight was a male Blackcap yesterday and with a bit of sun, the raptors were up and had my first Common Buzzard of the year. 

Male Blackcap (aboves)
Adult Buzzard- aged by thick black broad band on trailing edge to wing and sub-terminal tail bar
Desperate times call for desperate measures- I'm having this as 'Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove'. 

If you follow low carbon birding to it's logical conclusion then ultra low carbon birding (garden birding) is where the most committed devotees should end up. Cycling round on asphalt roads on carbon fibre bikes dressed in lycra (I only found out today that lycra is petrochemicals- silly boy) has a higher carbon footprint than staying in the garden birding (especially if you're not dressed in lycra).

I would rather just look at other areas that make up my carbon footprint and make changes there rather than cutting back on birding experiences and compensate the carbon footprint of those experiences by planting, buying land and rewilding it etc.  Here's the global sources of carbon (below chart). Seems like cutting back on my cement which is 3.8% of global emissions is better than cutting back on my flying (1.6%). 

Any birders not willing to approach the climate and ecological emergency holistically will probably be compelled to drift towards ultra low carbon birding. Funnily enough I'm actually getting into garden birding more anyway.   


Sunday, 9 January 2022

The Problem with Lefties in Birding (Time for a new story?)

Last week the UK government launched their new policies for nature. The response from the Daily Mail was outrage ANGER AND RAGE HERE and MORE UMBRAGE. You would have thought bad news for the far right would be good news for the far left (see disclaimer below). However it would appear that 'nobody' is happy with very little this week in the way of celebration in the nature conservation social media or birding media about the nature conservation revolution. That revolution is the greatest change to land management for nature in the UK in over 50 years. It is part of a whole series of policy and law changes that include a 25 year Environment Plan, a Nature Recovery Network, a 30 by 30 target (30 percent of the UK to be managed primarily for nature by 2030), a new Environment Bill, a new Agriculture Bill, a Net Biodiversity Gain Framework for new developments, Carbon markets, Natural Capital markets, Public money for public goods to farmers (paying farmers to grow nature via ELMs), government backed massive Re-wilding initiatives and the official replacement of the EU highly destructive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). 

All this has been carried out by a Conservative Government (see below disclaimer) with the underlying ideology being one of incentivising markets and using metrics to deliver biodiversity gains, to redirect funding to farmers (rather than charities) and to basically move away from public spending to NGOs. I presume this is the reason why the traditional nature conservation establishment aren't celebrating?? 

However I can't see many reasons to not be positive (apart from the de-regulation in food standards) and in my life time myself (and anyone reading this) are perhaps unlikely to see a similar complete overhaul of nature conservation policy of this scale. Even if this is not a long term state (the world is changing so fast, complete policy overhauls could become more regular events) , it is almost certainly the state for the foreseeable, a decade or so. So this is a new beginning and the beginning of a new chapter in nature conservation. Personally I think it is something to celebrate and I am very positive about. 

With eco-anxiety a real issue, it's important to be mindful of the impact a narrative can have on the chances of success. The narrative the RSPB (and most NGOs)  are still spinning is that nature is in trouble (who can disagree with that, even the most broadest definitions of nature raise concerns) and the answer is for people to put their trust and money in NGOs to solve it. I find that story absolutely nauseating - probably because I'm heading towards 50 years old  (and been turned over by the conservation establishment on many occasions for championing people power nature conservation) and been hearing it for half a century and every year I give my money and every year things get worse and worse with the red data list species growing longer and longer.  Maybe we are in a death spiral with nature and are all heading towards self extinction and our only hope was the NGOs (who have consistently failed) but that is a bleak conclusion and also a self fulfilling prophecy- the story we tell ourselves is partly responsible for the reality we create. It's more likely that the old system needed an overhaul and here we are- we have got a new nature conservation system. It's not going to work if the traditional nature conservation establishment keep trying to convince people it won't work in order to preserve their traditional culture. There are a lot of jobs tied up in tradition but tradition is the enemy of change.

So change is the enemy of tradition, which might explain why social media hasn't been ablaze with celebration. Nature conservation by it's own nature (conservation and managing change) seems to attract its fair share of traditional minded people. Also to me seems like the traditional left (see disclaimer below) has been gatekeepers of nature conservation in the past decades and there is a grieving that is occurring from this left leaning (see disclaimer) community. The new changes are all about transplanting nature into the DNA of the system, an emerging sustainable system. It's about embedding nature into farming more, embedding nature into development, embedding nature into corporations, embedding nature into the very blueprint of society. This is a great cause for celebration. This is a shift from nature being treated by charities as an externality (that needed counter measures) of the core value system of society to nature being part of that core value and no longer external to it. In a way traditional nature conservationists have succeeded, but in doing so have sacrificed themselves. That needs celebrating too and maybe compensating even. Time will tell.         

So surely it's now time to change the story. What a load of bollox the message in the film Dont Look Up was, basically a story about traditional US neo-liberals/democrats (Laurence and Di Caprio playing undervalued scientists)  trying to save the world (from an asteroid impact metaphor for climate change)  but where thwarted by traditional right wing/republicans (Streep playing a female Trump with her nepotistic advisor , Hill and a deluded crony businessman, Rylance). The film was a fun xmas comedy and I enjoyed it but the bullshit on social media about the importance of the message is alarming! Its basically saying the right are a threat to the existence of the planet. If taken seriously this is a war footing narrative.  This is dangerous and divisive ideology. Of course, it was just a comedy and the message was a bit silly but funny. However it does highlight the anxiety and vulnerability there is out there. How can anyone read anything too serious or meaningful into Don't Look Up? These traditional left-right divide stories are not only boring now but also potentially harmful. 

We need a new story, a story of environmental unification (of traditional groupings) and the embracing of the new opportunities in the emerging sustainable society. We need wild dreams and wide visions. For me (a hopeless dreamer and optimist) that wild dream is in owning my own nature reserve and being part of building the 30 by 30 vision, by adding a piece in the nature recovery network in the UK, by doing all I can to help develop the Beddington Farmlands nature reserve in London and also being part of the UN decade for biodiversity and working within a global community and travelling the world to help build the global 30 by 30. 

I sense a depression within nature conservation in the UK. The popularity of low energy movements like low carbon birding are both indicators of an awareness of the importance of individual behavioural changes but the trolling and judging that goes along side it (I noticed Steve Gantlett, the former editor of the game changing Birding World in the 1980s through to recent,  has become the target of hateful extremists) is telling of a darker depressed and insecure movement. Anxiety and depression are linked (I know very well having suffered terribly as a younger person and still cope like everyone now) and hopeless stories of increasing red data list species despite decades of trying and failing and the need to retreat into low energy toxic and aggressive states sounds pretty shit to me. I wrote something for Birdwatch about it and the response column to it was very disappointing, incoherent (XR are capitalists apparently- ok agree extremists are herded by capitalists and can be unknowing lackeys but XR are not capitalists)  and more or less proved the worrying point as I was getting at (although thanks to Tim for taking the time to reply and whether you know it or not we are on the same page, which was my point!) . 

The point is its time for new positive story, a story of right and left being fused more closely together (they are anyway but often in a negative way- ie. being riled up by social media algorithms to fight each other) and embracing the global decade of biodiversity and new nature conservation system. This is a story where empowered individuals can make massive differences, an era of people power and private nature conservation working in partnership with charities and academics (truly progressive ones, not rent seekers) and where people detach from traditional global narratives (such as the existence of a left and right divided global community) and start telling themselves a story of creating a new nature filled world. I got annoyed on twitter yesterday seeing a prominent academic moaning about a farmer who had cut their hedges wrong (some ditch improvements)- it's just so depressing, even a 30 by 30 vision means that 70 percent of the UK will be fucked for nature (at the moment its about 95 percent) so don't be surprised when you see that and feel like you have to go to twitter every time someone outside the nature recovery network flails a hedge in the way you don't like. If you don't like what others are doing then become a land owner and do it yourself, there are plenty of incentives and a new framework to facilitate that.   

So that's the story I'm telling myself anyway. I know that's not the story that most others want or believe, it appears things are on a war footing and there is so much momentum and overshoot that a tipping point has been passed as far as I can see. Before the sustainable society becomes crystallised the old tribes of left and right need to 'obliterate' each other (financial and personal power) to make way for new growth. In that obliteration there will be important wins for the future and a new more unified global ideology will be thrashed out and a new world vision for human's place in nature.  Many radicalised people and those who align with the extremes will become victims. The 'cross fire' will wipe out others so nobody is safe. Extremism and polarisation puts everybody at risk. As far as I can see the best way out of that is to keep positive, cross your fingers, keep calm and keep going, keep ducking the bullets, keep focusing on the divine comedy and keep telling yourself a happy story with a happy ending! That's the plan! Here's the birdwatch article and the response article.  

(disclaimer: without getting into too much detail left and right are almost meaningless terms nowadays with many people embracing a complex world view (to serve complex self serving narratives)  constructed from tailor made information streams from the internet multi-media universe but apparently there are still people that just read the UK Daily Mail or the Guardian for their 'news' so I'm using the terms cheekily and loosely to basically refer to people stuck in the old system (not really a main stream anymore but a desiccated canyon formed by ancient largely extinct forces ) with heavily influenced/herded Daily Mail readers (right) and Guardian readers (left)- the extremes of the old information system, apparently these people still exist in their millions in the UK.)