Saturday, 24 January 2015

BBC Countryfile film at GWCT farm to help promote the BFBC

BBC Countryfile film at the GWCT's farm at Loddington, for the forthcoming BFBC in February
I spent Friday with GWCT colleagues Jim Egan and Phil Jarvis filming a piece for BBC Countryfile, all about the forthcoming Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC). The GWCT farm at Loddington in Leicestershire hosted the day and some local farmers came along to attend the bird ID training event and to talk to the programme as well.

I must say that the presenter Ellie Harrison and the crew were all charming and helped along by bright sunshine all day, seemed to get what they wanted for the programme which will go out on the 8th of February. 

Countryfile presenter and farmer Adam Henson, will also be filmed doing the BFBC on his own farm in the Cotswolds, helped by a good friend of mine, Neil Harris of Natural England – so no miss identification there as Neil is a top notch birder!

Last year saw the launch of this GWCT inspired bird count and 500 farmers took part, but already this year with excellent support from a wide range of other countryside based organisations, around 1600 people have downloaded the count forms from our website, so hopefully there will be loads of binoculars focussed on an assortment of species between the 7th & 14th of February – the count week.

So make sure you watch the programme and also find just half an hour to get out onto the farm and note down the species of birds that you spot. Send in your results to the GWCT and we will make sure that we get lots of good publicity on your behalf – lets show just how much is happening on farms for wildlife!

For more information and also to download your recording sheets if you have not already done so – go to:

Monday, 19 January 2015

Is wildlife photography becoming too "Arty-farty"? Discuss.

The 2014 GWCT photographic competition's adult category winning image - a superb shot of a Cuckoo. 
Each winter, as part of my birthday present, my daughter treats me to tickets for the Wildlife photographer of the year exhibition, held in the Natural History Museum in London. I really look forward to this occasion as not only do I get to see my daughter - we always have a good lunch together after viewing the exhibition – but the photography on show is amazing too.

As this year is the 50th year that the exhibition has been held, there was a selection of previous winners and notable pictures being shown on a loop, which clearly demonstrated just how images have got better and better as technology has improved over the years. The image quality is now unbelievably sharp and many of the photos are truly spectacular.

However, that said, both my daughter and I thought that the competition maybe, just maybe, has started to become a little too “arty-farty” for its own good. It is though the judges can’t just choose a spectacular photograph of an animal or landscape that shows off its individual beauty or indeed, ugliness or brutality. No, it seems that to be chosen as “worthy” of inclusion for the exhibition, increasingly a photograph has to be taken from a particularly strange angle, shot in weird light, purposefully blurred or depicting only a small section of the target species.

Of course photography should be clever, different and often challenge or even shock the onlooker. But sometimes the most amazing photographs are relatively simple, portraying an incredible landscape or spectacular individual species in its natural environment, allowing nature to show itself off, without the photographer manipulating the outcome too much.

On occasions the “arty” shot can produce the most stunning of images and should definitely make up a part of anyone’s photography portfolio, but not in my opinion, become the required format to win prizes.

Don’t forget that the GWCT’s photographic competition is now open and ready to welcome all your entries – arty and otherwise!!  Last year was without doubt the best range and highest standard that we have ever had – so come on, get out there and get that shutter whirring!  2015 could see your entry win first prize!

If you are interested in entering the competition, go to:

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Spider venom project to provide lifeline for bees!

"Come on now - spit it out!"
A headline caught my eye recently “Government funded spider venom project to provide lifeline for bees”. I immediately had a mental image of scientist in a white coat, surrounded by happy buzzing bees, talking to a large, captive spider and saying “spit your venom out and I promise to let you go”!

Apparently this is a £1 million project led by Arch UK Biocides Limited and in collaboration with the University of Durham, the Food and Research Agency (FERA) and I2LRESEARCH LTD, which will receive over £650,000 from Government to further develop an environmentally friendly pesticide which is harmless to non-target species including bees. This next generation pesticide will use naturally occurring peptides, found in spider venom, to produce an orally effective treatment which can be produced commercially.

Venom peptides, known to be harmless to mammals, are fused to a ‘carrier’ protein that can then be applied to crops on a large scale. When treated crops are eaten by pests, such as slugs or beetles, the ‘carrier’ protein transports the spider toxin from the pests gut and into the nervous system; eradicating the threat without impacting on other species. 

That is a very bold statement this early on - "without impacting on other species"! We shall see - but lets hope that given extensive trials, scientists can indeed make it "target specific".

The initial programme will develop formulations targeting slugs and beetle pests of wheat and oil seed rape. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Dairy farmers need our support.

Waiting to be milked. But for how much longer?
Dairy farmers are once again hitting the news for all the wrong reasons as milk prices plummet. A massively steep drop has occurred from around 34p per litre seen at the start of last year, to prices now quoted in the low 20s in some cases.

Asda, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland are selling four pints of milk for just 89p, while Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose are not far behind at £1, making a pint of milk cheaper than mineral water in most supermarkets.

To add to the woes, FIRST Milk – a large farmer co-operative, have announced that their farmers will not be paid their next scheduled milk cheque on January 12 as significant cash flow issues have emerged at the co-operative.

Unfortunately in the short term things look as though they are only going to get worse before they get better again. Many think that more dairy farmers will go bust in the EU this year than has ever happened before.

It is not just that Supermarkets are using milk as a lost leader, which must surely devalue the product in the public’s eyes, but it is also that milk supplies remain high, as the world is producing far too much milk.

Independent dairy analyst Ian Potter says “If anyone is thinking these are the final cuts they are very optimistic and are not reading the tea leaves. The pinch point will come in the spring and unless things change we are going to be in a very serious situation”.

I always feel that dairy farmers, almost more than any other type of farming, are so dedicated and “tied into” what they do – milking their cows morning and evening, 365 days of the year. So don’t just grab the cheapest milk when you shop – a few extra pence spent on your pint can help to see our British farmers through this crisis. Also, make sure it is British milk that you buy!

Otherwise, all we will be left with in the future will be a few massive, industrial scale indoor milking units, with cows never feeling the grass under their hooves. Meanwhile we will find ourselves explaining to future generations how black and white cows used to walk about in the fields and children listening in disbelief.