Friday, 28 June 2013

Response from Natural England...

Dear Mr Harris

Thank you for your email received on the 23rd May 2013  in which you raised concerns  over the recent decision to issue a licence for the removal  of four buzzard nests from a pheasant shoot.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding

The recovery of the common buzzard population in England is a fantastic conservation success story and we should celebrate the fact that they can regularly be seen soaring above the countryside in most areas of the country.

Most recent authoritative population figures provided by the Avian Population Estimate Panel (APEP) estimate the number of territorial breeding pairs of common buzzard in the UK as between 57,000 and 79,000. This means that at its peak, in late summer, the total population, including non-breeding birds and young of the year, is likely to be about 300,000 birds.

While the available evidence suggests that on average, predation of pheasants by buzzards is low in certain isolated cases buzzards can cause serious problems. In this particular case a small scale shooting enterprise had sustained increased levels of predation by buzzards over a period of several years.

Where there are conflicts between protected species and human interests, Natural England always advocates the least severe measures to resolve problems. On this occasion Natural England provided advice on a wide range of non-lethal methods - including scaring, diversionary feeding and habitat improvements - but despite these measures being used over a number of years, buzzard predation continued.

Owing to the impact of predation on the viability of the shooting enterprise, the shoot submitted a licence application seeking permission to carry out lethal control (shooting) and nest destruction. The application was rigorously assessed in line with Government policy, which permits the management of protected species, including birds of prey, where specified criteria are met. We concluded that the damage being caused was not serious enough to licence lethal control, but did meet the criteria for the less severe option of nest destruction. A licence authorising the removal of a total of four buzzard nests was issued on that basis, with the licence operating over a short time period to reduce the risk of eggs being present. A total of four nests were removed with no evidence that eggs were present at the time of removal. No further control activity has been authorised.

Natural England recognises that some people object to birds of prey being controlled to protect pheasants released for the purposes of shooting.  As the body responsible for issuing licences in England, Natural England is duty bound to operate in accordance with Government policy and the law. The legislation, in this case the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), allows people to apply for permission to take action against protected species to prevent serious damage to livestock, which includes any ‘animal kept for the provision or improvement of shooting’ (section 27 of the Act). Birds of prey are not afforded any special status under the law and it is Government licensing policy that all applications, whether for birds or prey or more commonly controlled protected species like gulls and corvids, are judged against the same criteria.  Natural England assesses each application objectively on its merits in line with the principle that licences may not be unreasonably withheld. If we receive future applications to destroy buzzard nests then these will be assessed on their merits, as are all licence applications.

While accepting that not everyone will agree with our decision in this case, we are confident that the conservation status of buzzards will not be adversely impacted by the destruction of a small number of nests. Nest destruction was authorised early in the nesting season to deter the buzzards from the area where they are causing problems and give them maximum opportunity to successfully nest elsewhere this year.

If you would like to know more about why we decided to issue the licences please refer licence documents published on our Disclosure Log(i).

While Government policy for species licensing is freely available for the public to scrutinise(ii) members of the public are entitled to expect a reasonable degree of privacy in their use of the licensing system, and it is not current practice to provide an opportunity for third parties to scrutinise licence applications that we receive. A summary of all licences issued is made available on the Natural England website(iii) and we submit details of licences issued under the Birds Directive annually to the European Commission(iv).

Further information, and copies of the licences issued can be found on our website:


(i): Details of licences and assessment in recent cases are available from the disclosure log (see 24 May 2013 entry):

(ii): Government policy for licensing:
(iii): Natural England licence statistics (not yet updated for 2012) are available at:

(iv): National reports on wild bird licensing are available from the EU at:

Thank you

Customer Services
Natural England


Thursday, 27 June 2013


If you are interested in bumblebees, why not take a look at my Bumblebee Blog for sightings and photos of these enigmatic little creatures:

If you see and photograph any unusual species, feel free to email them to me and I'll place them on that Blog.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

False widows are back...

My son alerted me to the first spider shown. He knows to shout "daddy a spider, come and get it" whenever he sees one and probably just as well he did. Although not particularly large Steatoda nobilis (sometimes called the false widow), can inflict a very nasty bite. I did find them in the house last year and they are spreading further across the country - so keep an eye out for them!

Steatoda nobilis: R. Harris
Next up we have it's very close relative, Steatoda grossa - this is also known as a false widow in North America. It too can inflict a bit of a nip and it was walking across the floor of my office last night:

Steatoda grossa: R. Harris
Last but not least, another visitor in the house (I was just capturing this one when I noticed the above in my office) - this one is harmless though, despite the huge fangs. It's Amaurobius similis, only about 5mm in body length.

Amaurobius similis (immature): R. Harris
And here's an adult that was sitting under the lid of the compost bin at lunchtime today...

Amaurobius similis: R. Harris
Take a close look at those fangs...
Few more macro shots from today while the lens was on the camera...

Bombus pascuorum: R Harris
B. pascuorum: R. Harris
Rutpela maculata (immature): R. Harris
Yellow dung fly: R. Harris
Panorpa communis: R. Harris
Scarlet pimpernel: R. Harris

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Lizard lovelies...

Thanks to Duncan Harris (big bruv) for a few botanical shots from a recent holiday down on the Lizard. Brings back memories of hunting for Trifolium molinerii, bocconei, strictum and occidentale - among other things...this time though we have:

Southern Marsh orchid: Duncan Harris
Heath-spotted orchid: Duncan Harris
Ivy Broomrape: Duncan Harris
Fringed Rupturewort: Duncan Harris
Restharrow: Duncan Harris
Which one is the rarest? Yes, the incredibly boring fringed rupturewort, found only in Cornwall in the UK.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Tragedy in Bristol...

Well, as if the evidence wasn't compelling enough it saddens me to have to read tweets like this today:

"It does sound bad. Getting pictures at weekend of evidence of diggings where Lizard orchids taken from Bristol site."

When will people learn not to tweet or Blog every bloody site out to all in sundry!!  What's wrong with some people that they feel that sharing sites of rare and vulnerable species over social media is an OK thing to do? There ARE still people out there who will pin butterflies, there ARE still people out there that will dig up rare orchids and there ARE still people out there who will take eggs from bird nests - look at the recent Little Tern colony episode in the north of the country. And if you Blog or tweet out sites YOU are responsible for contributing to the actions of those few idiots! And please, don't be ignorant enough to say, 'well, it's already out there - you can find it if you look on the web', do your bit and protect them, don't repeat the mistakes of others. We should't tolerate outrages like the digging up of lizard orchids or the pilfering of little tern nests...what a bloody sad day.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Bombus hypnorum

Still they spread, more sightings than ever this year (glad the weather's good for some things!). Two great shots of these lovely bumblebees from Dave Helliar's back garden in Chard, Somerset:

Bombus hypnorum: Dave Helliar

Bombus hypnorum: Dave Helliar

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


Managed to get back to the nightjars again last night along with Andy Grinter. Good result with two, possibly three singing birds (and much more song than a couple of weeks ago). Only brief views and a bit of wing-clapping though, which was disappointing for mid-June. Managed to get a recording of one of them:

Great birds to hear or see. Hopefully activity will increase over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Blast from a distant past....

So, I'm still sifting through my hundreds of old transparencies to see how they're standing up to time. Despite the years they are in excellent condition, mostly because they have been stored in reels and boxed, so out of the light. I'd still like to get some of them scanned professionally as the little slide scanner I have is rubbish really. Found a few that brought memories flooding back today...

Hudsonian godwit, adult, Countess Weir, 1981 (far right) with two Blackwits.
If only I'd had the camera I have now back then! This was taken with a 200mm
lens, so you can see how close they were.

Little auk, picked up off a main road in Chard after a storm (1982).
Pity it's such a crap photo - too much flash. Taken in near
complete darkness as we released it at Seaton.
Couldn't check your pics and shoot again in those days.
Spiked speedwell, Avon Gorge
Risked life and limb climbing above the Bridge Valley Road
to see this rare beauty!
Dolomedes fimbriatus, Catcott Heath
Monster spider - what an amazing sight these are.

Must have been mad in those days. Many of the rarest plants involved dangerous escapades to see and photograph them. Much as I'd love to see them all again with a digital camera, I'm not sure I'd be foolish enough to try and get them all again...

Patch tick today!

Long overdue (and really not sure why) - a green woodpecker this morning constituted the first record on patch since I moved here in 2006. Otherwise the fields close by are very quiet at the moment. I've been hoping for a repeat of 2011 when I had two singing quail here but no such luck this year. I ended up spending time watching the house martins gather mud after last night's thunder storm:

Guess they must be struggling if they are still nest building? Also this smart male yellowhammer singing this morning.

Local wanderings...

Thanks to Andy Grinter, who's been trekking a lot of the local Chard area recently surveying the wildlife, for supplying a few photos from his recent walks:

Yellow flag: Andy Grinter

Woolhayes meadow: Andy Grinter

Common toad: Andy Grinter

Nice to see some of our wildlife appears to be doing well this summer.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Prince Caspian...

After been tied to the desk for most of the day, I finally managed to shoot off at 3pm today to see the adult Caspian Tern, which has been gracing West Bexington since this morning. After a frantic drive through the back roads, via Bridport, constantly slowed by an endless stream of law abiding citizens, I managed to park up and reach a small group of birders standing on the pebble ridge above the mere. There it was, sat on the beach looking quite incredible. They are such striking birds and never fail to impress. After half an hour, it decided to feed over the mere and gave brilliant views:

Adult Caspian Tern, West Bexington: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: R. Harris
Caspian Tern: Dave Helliar

Caspian Tern: Dave Helliar

Thankfully fellow Chard birders Dave Helliar and Andy Grinter managed to catch up with it at various points in the evening too.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A few Odonata...

Now that they're out on the wing, a few shots of various Odonata from the last few days:

Coenagrion puella, male: R. Harris
Erythromma najas, male: R Harris
Orthetrum cancellatum, female: R. Harris

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Memorial to a great birder and all-round naturalist...

It's been over three years since Alan Bundy passed away so suddenly, leaving a huge gap in the lives of everyone who had been lucky enough to know him and experience his passion for wildlife. Today, thanks to the hard work of some of his closest friends, a permanent memorial seat was officially opened in his name out on Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve in Somerset - one of Alan's favourite places. The seat overlooks Noah's Lake (click here for a map) and will no doubt be witness to many rare birds over the coming years, a very fitting tribute to one of Somerset's great characters, he really was one of nature's gentlemen...

Alan Bundy, 1947-2010

Family and friends who met for the unveiling
From left to right: Mr & Mrs Bill Urwin,Henry Squire, Dave Paull,
Julian Thomas, Roger Harris (cousin), Dave Helliar,
Derek Bundy (brother), Angie Bundy, Jan Bundy (sister)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Anyone for Cricket!

Wartbiter to be precise. This is another old transparency I scanned from 1983 but would really like to go back and get some digital images (assuming they are still there). These amazing (and very rare) bush crickets are only known from three sites in the UK and get their name because it is believed they were used to bite warts off the skin with their powerful jaws.

Wartbiter: R Harris

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Stand to attention!!

I've been digging around my old transparencies of late, not sure I can scan them all, there are hundreds mostly dating back to the Eighties but when I came across this little beauty, I had to give it a go. One of our rarest plants, this is a Military Orchid photographed in Buckinghamshire in 1982 (hence the slight colour shift in the slide). You'll have to excuse the out of focus close-up too, in those days my 'macro' lens consisted of an old 50mm binocular objective lens held over the front of the standard camera lens! Amazing it worked at all...

As far as I know it only has two sites in the country these days (I believe it was only three in 1982) - even back then it was a military operation getting in to see it (is that where the name came from?), involving a planning session with our 'mole', a pre-dawn visit and fence climb to get the shots and out again. Happy days spent with the late and great Alan Bundy and my older brother - can't beat 'em! And, if you ever wondered why species like this are not 'fair game' to be tweeted out to all and sundry, here's why - I recently discovered that a collector who learned of this site (it was well publicised in the 1990's so that everyone and their mother could go and see it), went in and dug up six plants!! I urge you, think again before posting locations of rare or scarce species of any sort, before we loose the lot!

This is another rarity too although much more widespread than Military orchid - this is a Man Orchid photographed...well, somewhere - it was over 30 years ago :-)

Five for silver...

After dropping the boy off at scouts last night, I popped over to one of the local nature reserves for a walk-about. Didn't even get inside the gate when I was met with five magpie fledglings, who were clearly not long out of the can see the difference between the youngest and the oldest. Check out the little guy falling asleep in the video...

Youngest of the fledglings: R. Harris

Oldest of the fledglings: R. Harris