Monday, 14 April 2014


For many of us who are actively involved in the countryside and what happens in it, the BBC television "Countryfile" programme has become little more than a weekly advert for countryside tourism in recent years. Sure I still watch it, the young female presenters are always attractive and what's left of the countryside always looks nice, but rarely do the BBC dig beneath the surface and show the warts and all side of countryside management. It's been a long time since we had a countryside programme that could equal "Out of Town" with Jack Hargreaves, a programme that was never afraid to show the side of the countryside that involved country pursuits and things getting killed. My hopes were raised therefore to read, prior to yesterday's programme, that it would contain a feature on Britain's disappearing farmland birds and that one person being interviewed in the programme was Robin Page, who has firm but well balanced views on how best to manage the countryside for wildlife.
But true to form, the good old BBC simply skimmed over the surface of the subject. First of all the regular kicking post, Britain's farmers, took a lot of the blame, and rightly in some cases but almost as if to apologise for suggesting it, they then showed a farmer wandering around spreading a bag of wild bird seed. This then had what looked like an old bit of library footage tacked on to make it look like, wonder of wonders, all of these farmland birds immediately sprung out of the hedgerow behind him - Jesus and the loaves of bread came to mind!
The worst bit for me however, was when they finally came to Robin Page, who I feel sure, from reading his articles, would of given a lengthy discourse on necessary pest controls such as the trapping and culling of species such as crows, magpies and foxes to aid the existence of farmland birds. But no, instead of showing him talking about a wide range of measures, they simply cut it down, deliberately in my mind, to a few minutes of him complaing about the resurgence of Buzzards. This made him look like a bit of a countryside villain but no doubt retained the appeal of the programme to those like "bunny huggers" who think that the countryside is always all things bright and beautiful. And on that subject, some misguided fool obviously thought he/she was doing right at the weekend by releasing a crow from one of the reserve's traps. I wonder if that same person would deliberately smash a nest of Lapwing's eggs, yet they release a crow to likely do the same, as the number of eaten eggs that I find around the reserve each Spring testify.

Talking of farmers, let's go to my patch, the Swale National Nature Reserve. The next three photos show what farmers can and do achieve. The fence line is the reserve's boundary and 10-12 years ago the ditch to the right of it was just a bare banked thing of little attraction to wildlife until the neighbouring farmer planted thousands of young trees and bushes all over Harty. The result is now this example, a thick hedge of hawthorn and bramble, combined with the tall reed growths, that give habitat to all manner of birds, including Cettis Warblers.

 In the photo below the farm tractor was out today breaking down the soil in a narrow cover strip round the winter corn that will be sown with maize ready for the game birds and next winter's shooting season.

 Below we have some photos taken today from the Sea Wall Hide, showing the Delph Fleet in the foreground with Tufted and Pochard ducks and the Flood Field behind.

Here we have a view between two of the old salt-working mounds on the reserve, with a crossing plank in between. It combines three views, the reed beds of the Delph Fleet, the seawall and in the far distance, the hills of the mainland.

 This year has to be one of the earliest that I've known for the rape fields to be in flower, a beautiful and welcome sight but this year tinged with a slight worry. In recent years Marsh Harriers have been known to nest in some rape fields but clearly if that occurs this year then an early harvest will almost certainly see un-recorded nests of young lost to the combines.

I found this tight ball of caterpillars and webbing in a hawthorn bush on the reserve this morning. I presume that they're a type of sawfly but stand to be corrected.

Lastly we have Ellie and Midge watching a distant rabbit...

..... and convinced that if they stick their noses far enough down it's burrow that they might catch it, but they never did, this time.


  1. Hi Derek,

    The trouble with Robin Page is that on the one hand he's quite sensible when it comes to discussing Skylarks, Yellowhammers etc and the need to farm in a tolerant way, but on the other he tends to witter on about how evil birds of prey are, like some kind of sterotypical Victorian gamekeeper. It's exactly that kind of attitude to raptors that brough about the catastrophic declines in the firts place. It is only now that some species have recovered and are, thankfully, recolonising their former haunts - Buzzards spreading back to the South East of England for example. His views on raptors means the viewer goes from listening to him (when he talks about hedgerows, for example) to thinking he seriously needs to gain some knowledge of ecology and predator-prey relationships regarding birds of prey. He therefore undermines himself, so to be fair to the TV show I think they just showed him as he often is when given a platform.

    Many farmers are conservation-minded and do their bit, but their are also many that don't deserve so much sympathy - flailing hedgerows, spraying too much pesticide, blaming Badgers for everything for example just makes them look bad. It is not entirtely their fault - the current system rewards high yields at all costs and doesn't pay them well, there are cheap imports and so on. The whole process of food production and land management needs serious reform but nothing will happen because politicians and those with influence are too detached from nature. Countryfile is perhaps a bit "light" to do these big issues real justice and presumably wants to be a cheerful family programme!

  2. Joe,
    Thanks for your sensible comments, all of which I agree with. From what I gather, the guy who interviewed Robin, is alleged to be an anti. shooting type and therefore I feel Robin got set up a bit by just showing his Buzzard comments.
    It's sad that the only programme on TV dealing eclusively with the countryside is "Countryfile", there is a need these days, with the countryside under such threats, for another that deals with the issues in proper depth.
    Thanks again.

  3. Derek, You may have a point about the selectiveness of the production team - perhaps they focussed on the juicier comments a bit too much.

    I absolutely agree with your second paragraph:

    "It's sad that the only programme on TV dealing eclusively with the countryside is "Countryfile", there is a need these days, with the countryside under such threats, for another that deals with the issues in proper depth."

    Yes, exactly! More programmes to bridge the gap in knowledge between the environment/countryside and the majority of the population, including our political leaders and economic leaders, who are detached from nature and wouldn't know a Skylark if it hit them in the face. I also think that schools should have wildlife/environmental modules as part of the curriculum. Everyone should be able, for example, to identify the common trees and a bit about how important they are for us and wild animals. It is unnatural and damaging to lose contact with nature and it's not only disatrous for our land and its biodiversity, but deeply unfair on the generations that are missing out.

  4. Joe,

    I'm sure that Robin Page would have had a more balanced and fuller statement to make than the BBC showed.
    When they broadcast the programme featuring Elmley several weeks ago, a local historian that I know well, seen standing in the rain with an umbrella, spoke very briefly about Elmley's lost village and I was disappointed as it's a subject that I have researched quite thoroughly.
    I asked him after the programme why he said so little and he said that the BBC filmed about an hour of him talking on the subject and yet cut it down to about two minutes viewing.
    The BBC show the countryside in far too a rosier light, whilst ignoring the threats, and like you say, education on the subject is much needed.

  5. The ball of caterpillars are Brown Tail ... a type of moth.

    Phil (Ramsgate)

  6. Thanks Phil, it's always nice to know.