An apology to Greenpeace: it all comes down to money!

Recently I’ve had a go at Greenpeace on Twitter for pestering me to give more money per month. After recent news headlines of charities pestering people for money, I felt empowered to make a stand. I give monthly to a number of charities as well as giving quite a lot of my free time to charitable volunteering, so receiving calls from charities (Greenpeace certainly weren’t the first and won’t be the last) trying to guilt-trip me into giving more irked somewhat.

It started with one call, and then another, and another, and another. Over the past 18 months I’ve been plagued by nuisance calls by ‘companies’ trying to get me to make false claims for compensation as a result of the extremely minor and short-lived discomfort I suffered after a road accident last year. I have resorted to disconnecting my landline phone and not answering any mobile calls from a number I don’t recognise just to stop the endless harassment of these ambulance-chasers. These insurance scam companies don’t often use the same telephone number, they seem to be able to channel their calls through numbers all around the country, so when I started to receive multiple missed calls from the same number, I eventually called it back. When I did, I heard a recorded message saying it was a company working on behalf of Greenpeace and that they would be in touch again shortly. After a few more missed calls, I finally had my mobile on me when it rang from the same number and I spoke to a representative of Greenpeace. The nicely spoken young chap wanted to tell me about all the good things that Greenpeace had done recently; I instantly knew where this was going, eventually it would lead to a request for more money. At that time I was already giving more money per month to Greenpeace than any other individual charity, so I didn’t want to give any more. I said to the chap that I didn’t have time to talk and I politely ended the call. Over the following few days, I received more and more calls from the same number until I’d finally had enough. Not only was I being harassed by scam insurance companies, I was now being pestered by the charity I gave more money to per month than any other! (this is an apology, honest! Just keep on reading!).

I posted a tweet and got a tweeted apology from Greenpeace and I then sent an e-mail complaining about their behaviour and I cancelled my direct debit. I thought the only way that charities will learn will be for people affected by this behaviour to make some noise as well as stopping donations. I quite quickly got a nice e-mail in return again apologising, promising I would receive no more contact from them but saying that they hoped I would return to them sometime – ‘not I chance’ I thought! My mind was even more firmly made up when later that day I received a text from Greenpeace asking me to increase my donation to them by £10 per month. That was the last straw and I tweeted my annoyance again.

The issue of being pestered with calls from charities, which has been in the news quite a lot over the past few months, is, for me, coupled with a feeling that charities don’t always treat their staff and volunteers in the way they should. I should say here that I’m not pointing the finger at Greenpeace at all – I have no particular knowledge of their staff or volunteers’ conditions; this is a general rather than specific observation. For some time I have thought that some charities use those who want to work in their particular areas or ‘industries’, for want of a better word, by squeezing as much out of them as they can for as little investment as possible to a point where it gets close to, if not actually, exploitation. There are many charities, especially those working in areas where there is a great demand for jobs, which offer unpaid work, long term volunteering posts or internships, leaving those who want to get a foothold in those areas work without an income for months and in some cases many years.

However, these are blinkered, short-sighted views, of both the telephone calls and the employment of staff and volunteers, from a position of being comfortably off and already well into the career I set out to build. When the interests that environmental charities, for example, are up against can throw money at more frivolous activities such as the arts and sport (I’m not having a go at the hard work and dedication of sports men and women, just the elitist hangers-on) it just shows the difference in financial clout.

The hard truth is that the interests that cause the greatest damage to the earth and its environment are those with the most money. Oil companies, agri-chemical businesses, land owners or, indeed, whole groups or classes of people who have enough money and low enough scruples not to care what damage their desires have, all have huge vested interests against which environmental charities are struggling to have an impact. To be able to fight for their causes, charities rely on the contributions both in the form of money and time from the general public, and they have to account for every last penny and make the best of every hour. Few charities have products they can sell to generate millions or billions of pounds of revenue; they can only persuade the public to support them as much as they can. When those major industrial and landowning interests have such huge resources, and regularly don’t play clean, it’s no wonder that charities have to resort to sometimes less than comfortable practices to even vaguely compete.

The phone calls and the treatment of those who work and volunteer for charities is, for me, coupled with an increasing corporatisation of large charities. It’s not the local, individual charity staff who decide to make those calls, and they do not decide to squeeze budgets to such an extent that they have to turn paid jobs into voluntary posts; they have to deal with the day-to-day, the coal face, the delivery of the overall charity’s aims. It is, rather, the head offices of large charities that make those decisions, head offices in many cases staffed to a significant degree by people from the corporate world not the charitable one, people who have less interest in the charitable concerns and more thought on general finance and resources, as well that their own promotion and self-development. However, big charities need to have a corporate approach to enable them to combat the actions of the big corporates, but this can go too far. I get the general feeling that large charities, in trying to do their best for their primary goals, are actually moving away from what matters most; engaging on a human scale with those whose support they desperately need.

The sometimes hard actions of charities, whether it be nuisance phone calls or treatment of staff, do deserve inspection and frustration is at times understandable. However, these issues pale into insignificance when compared to the damage caused by the organisations and groups they are facing up to. It is right that charities have to account for the money they receive and spend, it’s the public’s money afterall, and they need to treat their staff and volunteers correctly. However, by fighting against them on these issues, we’re only making it more difficult for charities to succeed and hoping for them to succeed is why people give their money and time to them in the first place. Charities try to be whiter-than-white but this is a real struggle when they have to make the most of their resources and their opponents have enough money to liberally spray-paint their operations with white or, indeed, green-wash.

Time to give charities a break, give more money to support their campaigns, give more voluntary time in the hope they can provide more paid jobs and give them some leeway when they get it a bit wrong.

Sorry, Greenpeace!

Why we protect nests…

The brightness doesn’t look set to remain as I turn onto the quiet Sunday morning roads. The clouds are building in compliance with the forecast, spreading beneath the blue sky, pushed on by the strengthening breeze. In the countryside spring is still battling to win through; after a week of four season confusion, there’s still no sign of the much longed for warmth. The trees and hedges are doing their bit, leaves breaking out and blossom starting to form but the sense that summer may not be far away is dulled and diminished. Turning from main road to country lane, there are signs that work in the fields is bringing forward the time for growth; fields ploughed, muck spread and seeds drilled. The pastures are also starting to build their crop; grass growing stronger and brighter, helped by the rain and occasional sun. The short drive doesn’t give me much time to ponder the scenes I pass but time enough to observe more of the constant changing patterns in the countryside. There’s also time to start considering the purpose of my journey and it’s continued need…


This morning I was out in the countryside again but this time to do my second shift protecting a nesting pair of peregrine falcons.

As I arrived it was thankfully less chilly than my first shift and there is now a heater to keep the volunteers warm. I also arrived later in the day as I wasn’t on the dawn shift, which would have meant getting up well before 5:00am and the need for even more layers. All was quiet as I took over the watch, with the male stood above the nest and the female, unseen, incubating the eggs below. There was soon activity however, as both falcons took to the air to drive off a buzzard that came far too close to the nest for their comfort. I later saw the buzzard doing its rollercoaster display but much further away from the nest.

This is the first year I’ve volunteered with the peregrine team, after a number of seasons doing shifts protecting the osprey nest at Glaslyn. I’m still volunteering at Glaslyn but thought I would help out somewhere closer to home.

The Glaslyn osprey nest has thankfully so far managed to avoid the fate of many other raptor nests; being raided for its eggs. After so long with no successful attempt to harm the nest, it’s easy to think that the threat isn’t there and doing a Glaslyn protection shift is simply a bit of fun and an opportunity to spend some time close to nature. Any sense of complacency that may have started to creep in has quickly been knocked out of me by volunteering at the peregrine site.

It’s only three weeks since my first shift at the beginning of the ‘protection season’ but already there have been a number of incidents at the peregrine site involving people more than likely trying to take the eggs or destroy the nest. I’ve also learnt of at least one other clutch of peregrine eggs in the area that has already been taken.

Having got used to the relative safety of the Glaslyn nest, it’s quite shocking to know that other nests are under what appears to be constant threat of attack. Raiding raptor nests seems like something from the past; it’s ridiculous that in our ‘modern’ world there are still people who think it is their right to harm wildlife for their own benefit. Whether it be for sporting gratification or protecting sporting interests, satisfying a need to collect rare objects or purely for financial gain through serving a demand for wildlife trade, there are still many people who will act with ill intent towards raptors and their nests.

This shows quite starkly that at Glaslyn we can’t lower our guard and that there are those out there who may wish harm to the nest. Whilst I wouldn’t want to scale the Glaslyn nest tree myself, there are some who would and could. Compared to Glaslyn, the peregrine nest is in a no less awkward, inaccessible or dangerous location to attack yet people appear to regularly try to get to it. Furthermore, whilst the peregrine nest may be targeted by a wide range of interests (egg collectors, falconers, pigeon-racers, etc), the range of interests that threaten the osprey nest isn’t much narrower.

As long as there are people who will prey on raptor nests, there need to be others who are willing to spend time trying to ensure they don’t succeed. Just because no one has successfully targeted the Glaslyn nest to date doesn’t mean there are aren’t people willing to take significant risks to get at it. I’m no longer open to even the slightest sense of complacency.

Mid-winter? The lowest ebb?

It’s been a strange winter so far; well, it’s hardly winter is it? Surely 2015 was just one long autumn with occasional bright day to give hope which was cruelly ripped away again by the now predictable misery of cloud, wind and rain.


With the first signs of spring appearing over Christmas (I saw flowering brambles and hawthorn coming out in leaf), it seems strange that we haven’t even got to the point in the seasons when the northern hemisphere should be at its lowest ebb. The end of January and early February should be the coldest period of the year but up until very recently the signs have been that the usual lowest ebb might not even happen this time around.

Yesterday morning as I left home, well before even the slightest rumour of light appeared on the horizon, a robin was singing from a nearby hedge and as I left my car at the station a song thrush called out from the darkness. I previously wrote a post about the first time last year that I had heard the birds starting to sing as I left home – the date of that post was well over a month later than the first time I heard the initial notes of the dawn chorus this year.

I’m sure my body clock is still waiting for last summer to happen and I think without a bit of proper winter weather it might go completely out sync with the world.

Maybe the weather over the past year and particularly the recent warm few weeks has been exactly that…weather. Alternatively, it could be that El Niño is having an effect, causing our temperature and rain records to be broken. However, it could also be that global warming is starting to take hold, to some extent, and the exceptionally early blooming of flowers and bursting of leaf buds is something we may need to get used to – we certainly will if predictions come to pass.

If global warming means the weather over the past 12 months is a sign of things to come, I might just have to move to somewhere that still has proper seasons.

I thought that the time birds started singing at dawn was more linked to light levels that weather but perhaps the higher temperatures have kickstarted their territorial behaviour early. But what wider effects will changing climate have on flora and fauna? I’m no expert but there are some obvious implications – habitat loss, changing levels of food availability and shifting of migration patterns.

Take just one species – ospreys (okay, they don’t really do the dawn chorus but humour me!) – what could global warming do to them? They have two habitats to rely on, at either end of their migration. Will rising temperatures mean that their food source changes? Will fish stocks deplete or current species move out and new ones move in? We can only wait and see…and hope.

In just a couple of months the ospreys will begin their journeys north from their wintering grounds. In North Wales there is a group of dedicated volunteers who will once again spend days and nights protecting a nest from egg collectors and showing the public views of the birds from a visitor centre. Their hard work is undertaken in the hope that their efforts will help establish a larger and sustainable population of these birds not just in Wales but across the UK.

However, in the long term, if equal efforts aren’t made by everyone, to reduce their environmental impacts and help to restore what has already been lost, it could be that the work of these volunteers, and thousands like them working elsewhere, is permanently undone by climate change; the work of the few undone by the many.

The biggest threat is the indifference of the many leaving the fight to the few; this is not a fight that the few can win, it can only succeed if fought by the many. Without that effort, it could be that missing the lowest ebb of the seasons this winter is just one of a growing number of signs that the life our environment as a whole will irrecoverably ebb away.

(P.S. In writing this, I am, of course, a hypocrite; I do enjoy those two-hour drives each way for a protection shift!)

Standing up for bird song…

Nearly a year ago I wrote a post about how road noise is making it more difficult to hear nature’s sounds and that instead of complaining about traffic, we should be more positive and stand up for bird song (link to post).

Well, today there was an article in The Guardian reporting on research from the US showing that we are slowly becoming deaf to nature’s sounds and that there are positive effects on people from being able to hear the natural world around them.

So I can have good ideas when walking home from the pub!

Hard work and dedication don’t guarantee happy endings…

A few posts ago, I was celebrating the fact that a chick from the first year I helped to protect the Glaslyn osprey nest (2012) had successfully returned to the UK for the first time. It was, for me, a reason to be very happy and proud that I had played a small part in helping this to happen – many others, and the osprey itself of course, can take much more credit!

However, this joy has now been tempered somewhat.

On one protection shift this year, I took along a friend, Jack (fellow wildlife enthusiast, womble tsar, long range cyclist, unstoppable camera-trapper and very poor whisky drinker), to show him what we do. He seemed to enjoy himself and hopefully will come along again next year.

Over the course of the summer, Jack got a job with the RSPB on their (now award-winning) Skydancer project doing the same role that the volunteers undertake at Glaslyn, but for hen harriers rather than ospreys. Based in the Forest of Bowland in north Lancashire, Jack spent many nights watching over a hen harrier nest from within a hide. Whilst there, Jack got some great views of wildlife in general as well as the hen harriers themselves. Unfortunately not all of the locals were friendly and many a night was spent fending off the unwanted advances of overly insistent midges (an experience I know all too well!).

In England, hen harriers are even rarer than their fish-eating cousin raptors and no pairs successfully bred in the country at all last year. So it was with some relief that three nests managed to fledge chicks this summer (two nests in Bowland and one in the Lakes). However, it was with great sadness and extreme anger that I heard today that two chicks from the Bowland nests have disappeared. They were fitted with trackers, which have both now fallen silent. The trackers are very reliable and it is highly unlikely that one of them, let alone both, will have failed whilst the birds were still alive. The most likely explanation is that both birds have been killed and probably at the hands of man. Whether this can be blamed on their nemesis, the gamekeeper, we may never know, but if I were a betting man…

It just goes to show that the collective will of many does not always overcome the selfishness of a few.  It also shows that the hard work of species protection teams is still of importance in the fight against our fellow humans who will not let a little thing like legal protection get in the way of their destructive hobbies.

IMG_6427.1 I don’t often see hen harriers (obviously, I suppose) but when I do, it’s usually pretty memorable.  No other sighting I’ve had, however, can beat seeing a male harrier mobbing a wolf; and I even got a snap! In the photo above, the wolf is in the centre, on the track, while the light-coloured spot above and to the left is the harrier (it is, honest – they were at least a mile away after all!)

Malta’s Shame

Each year, millions of birds make their Spring migration passage across the Mediterranean Sea.  We see and hear these birds at the end of their journeys as they arrive to breed during the British Summer. However, there is a major obstacle in their way; they don’t just have to contend with the long journey, with poor weather, with the sea crossing, with navigation, with finding food, they also have to contend with the hunters of Malta.

Each year, migrating birds are shot out of the sky for no other reason than the pitiful enjoyment of a few gunmen on a small Mediterranean island.  This activity is having a major effect on the populations of many birds, both rare and plentiful, and in many cases the activity is illegal – shooting birds protected by European law.

Chris Packham has gone out to Malta this Spring to highlight the fate of so many migrating birds.  He has made a series of short films about the issue and they can be seen on Youtube.

You can also support the work Chris is doing by donating to the Indiegogo Stop Spring Hunting on Malta campaign via this link.

Chris has now returned to the UK after being questioned by the Police in connection with complaints by hunters about defamation.

As you can see from my other blog posts, I spend some of my time protecting an osprey nest from egg collectors.  If some of these Maltese hunters get their way, I won’t need to do it next year as they will have shot the ospreys on their way past.



Car v Cyclist Conflict

On my walk each morning from my parked car to the railway station, I frequently have to move aside while on the footway to avoid being knocked over by a cyclist.  When I say ‘frequently’, I mean this happens several times a week to me and I’m sure it happens on an hourly basis every day in that particular area.  Yes, the road isn’t that nice for cyclists; with cars having little room to pass, I’m sure it can be a quite intimidating stretch of road. However, out of concern for themselves, these cyclists show no concern for others, and this is the real issue I’ve been thinking about.

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Car versus cyclist conflict is rarely out of the media these days and most people can gripe about cyclists on footways.   I’m a driver, cyclist and pedestrian, and my views change whenever I change mode. Cyclists on footways annoy me but so do drivers passing too close to me when I’m cycling, while cyclists riding two abreast on narrow roads is just plain stupidity; so I can see arguments from all sides, but most people should be able to.  This leads to the over-riding issue, as it really is about thinking about the other person.

The big issue isn’t about cars versus cyclists, cyclists versus pedestrians, or cars versus pedestrians for that matter, the issue really is about an absolute lack of care and respect for each other.  The society we live in has led to people becoming so self-absorbed and blinkered towards their own well-being and comfort, that many, if not most, people show a complete disregard for their impact on others. If we all started to consider the impact we each individually have, instead of automatically putting ourselves first, these kinds of conflicts would reduce.  I think it likely that a change of attitude towards each other would have a bigger impact than spending millions of pounds of road safety engineering.

Unfortunately, changing behaviour is a lot more difficult than putting in speed humps.

Link – THINK! Road Safety

Don’t complain about road noise…

After a late Saturday afternoon trip to the pub, I listened to the dusk chorus of robins, wrens and blackbirds while slowly making my way back to the warmth of my house. The accompaniment to these wanderings got me thinking, quite deeply. As I strolled along suburban lanes and across a busy main road, my concentration on those songs, bringing the day to a close, was interrupted by the passing of cars, vans and lorries.

Whether it is the soft but ever-present rumble of the far off A-road or the neck-less, under-developed one burbling past in his Subaru, road noise has an impact on all our lives. Even in the depths of the far off wilds of this nation, you are often never quite free of the background hiss thrown out by our metal dreams.

Many people in this modern world complain of the seeping, penetrating, all-pervasive presence of road noise in their lives; that it disturbs their peace; that it prevents silence. Yet, there is little silence in this world, and if there is silence, there is something missing, and something very wrong. As, if silence exists, other sounds are absent.

Wishing for silence is like wiping the paint from the canvas of a masterpiece. Wishing for silence means denying the chorus at dawn and dusk. Wishing for silence means hoping for a world empty of birds. Instead of complaining about road noise, we should be more positive, more aspirational, more in touch with the non-human world around us; we should be standing up for bird song.

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Bovine TB and Badgers

Well, I’m not scientist or accountant but the badger cull makes no sense, scientifically or financially.  Don’t get me wrong, Bovine TB is yet another battle for farmers and I have sympathy for them, but the Government’s approach is just plain wrong.

Leaving the science to one side (I might come back to that later), the bean counters have surely got their sums wrong.  Bovine TB, both the testing and compensation to farmers, costs a great deal each year.  According to DEFRA’s own figures, in 2009/10 (this the latest year I came across with a quick Googling) testing and compensation cost a total of £72m – a very significant sum in anyone’s book.

However, the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset cost over £4.5m (this excludes the £2.6m spent on policing). If the cull was widened to cover the rest of the worst affected areas, the cost would surely soon rise to match or pass the current costs of Bovine TB.  Furthermore, of that £72m, some £44m is spent on testing, which would clearly continue to be spent even when a cull is underway.

Time for the Government to admit that they have got their sums wrong and give up on this nonsense.  Instead, they should be lobbying the EU more strongly on licensing the use of a vaccine for cattle and spending more on developing a test to differentiate between vaccinated and non-vaccinated cattle.

I’m not a scientist, farmer or bean-counter; just a concerned amateur.