All The Fun At The Fair

On 22nd August, Liza and I went to the Bird Fair at Rutland Water. I was there to give a talk at the Authors Forum on an update of my book “A Sparrowhawk’s Lament” which was published last year. With me were Nigel Middleton, the Hawk and Owl Trusts Conservation Officer for East Anglia and Mark Avery, formerly Conservation Director at the RSPB and now famous for attempting to get the government to ban driven grouse shooting. We were showing various film clips and Eddie Anderson, a long time chum and film maker, was there to ensure that everything went smoothly.

natures powers and spells_carrie akroyd_ David CobhamWe’d arrived early and as we were not performing until 1.30 pm there was plenty of time to visit the various marquees. First stop was the artist’s marquee where we went to see Carry Ackroyd, whose work I have coveted, bought and admired for many years. Her book Nature’s Powers and Spells. Landscape Change, John Clare and Me. is about the devastation of his landscape in the interest of more profitable farming today. The images are spectacular and thought provoking. Close by we found Bruce Pearson, whom I first met in the Antarctic in 1976. We’ve made several films together and he produced the wonderful sketches of birds of prey for “A Sparrowhawk’s Lament.” We talked about my new book and I’m delighted that he’s agreed to illustrate it.

Then on to another marquee to visit The Hawk and Owl Trust stand. Here we met Lin Murray, HOTs Information Officer. There were plenty of volunteers answering questions and of course there was Martin Hayward Smith, ace photographer and wildlife cameraman, dressed in tweeds, promoting his excellent book on Hares. It was hot and we went outside again and found a bench to relax on.

We were shortly joined by Dave Culley, an astonishing wildlife cameraman who devoted six years of his life to filming a pair of Sparrowhawks in a copse by his home in Cheshire. He’s just finished another film on the Tawny Owl which he approached with the same tenacity and dedication. I knew that a pair of Sparrowhawks never took prey from around the nest so that when the young fledged there was food for them to catch. Dave told me that it was exactly the reverse with Tawny Owls: they kill everything around the nest from day one, even taking out three pairs of Magpies and their young.

Stephen Moss, who used to work at the BBC Natural History Unit, came over to say hello, John Lister-Kaye, who created the Aigas Visitor Centre near Beaully in Scotland, waved as he passed and then it was time to shake hands with Chris Packham who’d just finished a talk to a crowd of children in a nearby marquee.

Then it was time for our talk. Everything went according to plan, questions were asked and Mark answered them with great patience. Mark and I retreated to a small tent to sign and sell books.

Conflict in the uplands_Mark Avery_David CobhamIf you want to understand Mark’s decision to get the government to ban driven grouse shooting then his book, INGLORIOUS, is a must to read. Chapter by chapter it sets out how a minority of very rich people who are willing to pay over £4,000 a day to shoot driven grouse have persuaded the grouse moor owners that red grouse are a cash crop that cannot be ignored. Any predator that appears is summarily despatched. The Hen Harrier in England today is reduced to half a dozen pairs, when there is room for over 300. There are very good chapters on the natural history of the Hen Harrier, the history of grouse shooting, the experimental work at Langholm, and the history of persecution. I particularly enjoyed his diary of events in 2014. On May 21st he goes through all the pros and cons of organising a petition to get driven grouse shooting stopped. His year ends, climaxes, with the realisation that if enough people are angry enough and protest about what is happening to the Hen Harrier there is a chance that it may be saved. INGLORIOUS is a thought-provoking book.

New Hide_Sculthorpe Moor_David CobhamFrom Hen Harriers to Marsh Harriers and The Hawk and Owl Trust reserve at Sculthorpe Moor near Fakenham. It has long been Nigel Middleton’s dream to have a hide that was almost at tree height looking down over the reed bed. Thanks to BIFFA, Friends of Sculthorpe Moor and private donations that dream has become a reality. Tucked into the edge of the wet woodland at the SW corner of the reserve stands the new canopy hide. Access to the hide is wheel chair friendly with a very gradual ascent. All the work has been carried out by our big-hearted and multi-talented volunteers. It is a unique facility and one which I hope will be much enjoyed. Last Saturday my wife, Liza, and David Smith, both trustees, had great pleasure in cutting the tape, opening the hide for birdwatchers to enjoy it for many years to come.