Forty Years of the EU’s Birds Directive

Forty Years of the EU’s Birds Directive
In April, there was a notable anniversary for all nature conservationists. It was 40 years since the European Union’s Birds’ Directive, the first environmental legislation from the EU and still a cornerstone of nature conservation.
More formally this is the ‘Council Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds.’ It is best known for setting up a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs, as we call them in the UK). It also gives obligations to protect and conserve habitats for 194 species and subspecies, listed under Annex 1: bitterns, pelicans, terns and many birds of prey are just a few of these; passerines are often those with restricted distribution, such as semi-collared flycatcher and trocaz pigeon.
The agreement of the ‘Birds Directive’ in April 1979 coincides with my own career in nature conservation. I arrived at the RSPB’s HQ in the second half of 1978. The UK’s nature legislation had to be improved to implement the Birds Dire…


It was an invitation too good to miss. Martin Collier, Norfolk’s beetle recorder, had heard about NWT Thorpe Marshes and was keen to visit the reserve to see what he could find. Could I show him around? Writing Christmas cards was postponed and the inevitable family conversations about beetle drives and popular beat combos from Liverpool were put to one side. It was a bright December morning when I joined Martin and recording colleague Steve Lane on the marshes. Beetle records on the reserve to date have been mostly relatively big, bright species on summer flowers. Surely an icy day in December was far from promising?  How wrong that was. The key technique was a fistful of damp marsh vegetation, often from a ditch edge, shaken through a coarse mesh sieve into a white bowl. The volume of invertebrates, once you had your eye in, was remarkable. Most were tiny: beetles of various shapes, almost microscopic harvestmen, pseudoscorpions. I photographed and noted names of bigger species; a lo…

Here comes the elephant (inspired by Namibia)

Here comes the elephant
For anyone missing the regular Namibia blogs, here's a little poem by Christopher Durdin, aged about 62½, inspired by elephants at waterholes in Namibia, November 2018. I had a little trouble with rhymes, which you might be able to help with (not necessarily out loud).
Here comes the elephant Why did he stop? Now I know why Plop! Plop! Plop!
His name is Tiny I know that sounds silly. If you think his trunk’s long Just look at his tusks.
African people Live in huts. Elephants break in To steal their pizzas.
There goes the elephant He’s done a bunk. He’ll be back soon He forgot his ... suitcase.

Namibia, day 14 ... homeward bound

Day 14, 24 November – Walvis Bay to Johannesburg and home With our flight at one o’clock there was time for a leisurely breakfast, packing and a final stroll along the strand alongside flamingos and large numbers of chestnut-banded plovers, or to look at common waxbills in local gardens.  Having only one minibus available wasn’t a problem for the group as Walvis Bayairport was such a short distance away. Geoff ferried up those staying at Flamingo Villas first and was soon back at Lagoon Loge for the rest of us. We paused briefly for thousands of lesser flamingos at a former water treatment plant, a dense flock of them in the water behind a single black-necked grebe and many in the air as some people approached.

Walvis BayInternational is very much an airport in the desert. We had an uneventful wait there before walking to the plane for the flight to Johannesburg. In the meantime Geoff and Darrin went back to the garage in Swakopmund: repairs would take time so they returned to Cape Town…

Namibia, day 13 ... Walvis Bay and Namib Desert

23 November – Walvis Bay and Namib-NaukluftNational Park
Pre-breakfast birdwatching was along the strand again, alongside early morning keep fit enthusiasts. Chestnut-banded plover was a new bird and there was a Caspian tern that many of us had missed yesterday. In the minibuses we went farther along Walvis Bay after breakfast. The large numbers of lesser flamingos in this area was quite a sight. Waders included thousands of avocets mixed with black-winged stilts, little stints alongside hundreds of curlew sandpipers and many chestnut-banded plovers, as well as those mentioned in yesterday’s account. We then drove into the Namib-NaukluftNational Park: after nearly a fortnight in Namibia, in the Namib desert at last. It was hotter than the relative cool of the coast, but much less so than inland. We stopped to look at a range of flowering plants adapted to the harsh conditions, then tucked into the shade of small copse with a convenient picnic tables for the lunch Geoff had bought firs…

Namibia, day 12 ... to coastal Walvis Bay

22 November – ErongoMountains to Walvis Bay The stone-edged pond and adjacent trees were alive with birds at breakfast time, including at least 22 rosy-faced lovebirds.  The morning was spent travelling south and west towards the coast, with stops for fuel/coffee and to photograph wayside wild flowers near Omaruru: there must have been some rain in that area recently. These kept Sue and me puzzling over IDs (they'll be listed in the holiday report) as we travelled to the next stop, a collection of stalls selling gemstones and curios, former roadside stalls brought under one roof. Purchases were compared as we crossed the Namib Desert, the road part of a corridor of services including a railway line, water pipe and numerous wires, with several turns for the mines that are big business here. We had lunch outside a nice café in Swakopmund, a cool sea breeze here quite a contrast with the hot interior. Our first Cape wagtail was easy to see as it walked around: there were more dozens mor…

Namibia, day 11 ... bushcraft and rock art

21 November – Erongo Mountains After a seven o’clock breakfast, the party split. Gill and John were driven in an open-sided vehicle. The rest of us were on foot led through the bush by guide Immanuel. It was proper bushcraft stuff. Tracks of aardvark and giraffe, and aardvark holes where we were advised not to stand in front of the entrance as they get taken over by all sorts, including warthogs that are prone to dashing out and sending you flying. There were piles of droppings, small to large, of springbok, gemsbok and giraffe, and leopard droppings like dog poo but containing lots of fur. Immanuel extracted an ant-lion larva from one of big patch of larval traps. 

There were many dead giant millipedes, not a popular prey item as they contain strychnine. Ant trails led to holes surrounded by drying seeds, waiting to be taken underground. There were also the wiggly surface tunnels of harvest termites, which explained what the aardwolf seen on the Etosha night drive must have fed on in a…