June 2018 – Wildlife and Habitat Destruction

Two incidents lately on our patch highlights problems and frustrations that all of us feel when damage to habitat occurs, particularly during the breeding season. Down at West Mill Farm many of us were delighted to see that lapwings bred on one of the fields, with at least 9 youngsters being seen, a real bonus for this declining species.

On the 24th May, local border Guy Border posted on Facebook that the field had been ploughed and after that, only 3 youngsters were noted. Val followed this up with Natural England as it was thought that this field was in an Environmental Stewardship Scheme, which, in fact, it is but only for field edge options such as buffer strips, beetle banks and field corners, so the ploughing up the field to plant maize even though lapwings were nesting does not contravene the terms of the stewardship agreement.

More recently, Birdwatch member Sara Taylor reported that on land next door that was owned by developers to her had been completely ‘trashed’ right in the middle of the breeding season, displacing many young birds and presumably destroying nests in the process. Sara has admirably followed this up, trying, so far with little success, to engage with a local Wildlife Crimes Officer and not much help from the Sussex Wildlife Trust or RSPB.

And herein lies the real problem that leaves us all so frustrated and helpless. In terms of legislation, wildlife protection is governed by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and, in relation to the two above incidents, the part of the act that these will come under, is below:

Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs

(1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person intentionally 

(a)kills, injures or takes any wild bird;

(b)takes, damages , (destroys or otherwise interferes with) the nest of any wild bird while that nest is in use or being built; or

at any other time takes, damages, destroys or otherwise interferes with any nest habitually used by any wild bird included in Schedule A1;

obstructs or prevents any wild bird from using its nest;

ttakes or destroys an egg of any wild bird,

he shall be guilty of an offence.

But the onus to prove that damage has been done falls on ‘us’, we would have to have evidence that birds and/or their nests have been damaged. The defendant will usually deny knowledge that they knew of any nesting birds as they wouldn’t have undergone a survey prior to taking the action that they did and I don’t think there is any legal duty for them to undertake one.

Also, even if it can be proved that the above act has been contravened, getting something done about it, such as a prosecution, is extremely difficult. Trying to get the police engaged, as Sara is finding out, is impossible; most constabularies have a nominated Wildlife Crime Officers, but usually it is only a very small part of a wider remit and wildlife crime is a very low priority for them. It is actually the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the Wildlife and Countryside Act through Natural England, part of DEFRA. Unfortunately, the present Government has been eroding Natural England’s ability to enforce the Act by both decreasing their funding and resources and by a clear direction that they are not to take out prosecutions, theoretically withdrawing all the remaining teeth it had.

Unable to get any satisfaction from the organisations that are supposed to enforce our laws, they turn to organisations such as the Trusts or RSPB. Now, big as they are, they have no more legislative powers than you and I as individuals and also, they don’t have the resources to undertake expensive legal processes. Having worked for the Sussex WT for 30 plus years, I’m only too aware of the frustrations of both individuals who want the Trust to take on their particular issue and of the staff who see habitats being destroyed over the whole county and are generally powerless to do anything. What they have to put their very limited resources towards is at the level of trying to influence and encourage good practice through advice to planning authorities, companies and land owners. This on top of then having to fight major threats to the environment such as the proposed A27 road extensions, the continual problem of fracking applications, and the destruction of important habitats because of extensions to Newhaven port.

Until wildlife becomes a much more important issue on the political agenda, we will all continue to be frustrated and angered by seeing our local wildlife and habitats being destroyed and nothing being done about it. Despite the RSPB having well over a million members and the Wildlife Trusts heading towards that number, whenever elections come along, wildlife and its conservation slips right down and often off the agenda altogether. That high degree of membership of these organisations should be able to have a massive influence on politicians, perhaps we need to exert that influence more ourselves.

March Sightings – Paula

Male GreenfinchAt Woods Mill on a warm sunny day on the 9th Paula clocked up 21 species at Woods Mill, though birds weren’t the real highlight (see below!).  In an after breakfast wander down Windmill Lane on the 10th I flushed a Woodcock from a copse.  Paula noticed Mallards had returned to the Tanyard pond, and 2 Jackdaws turned up in Yvonne’s lounge! Brenda noticed 3 Little Egrets by the Beeding roundabout on the 4th – they were there again for Wendy a week later!  There is a heronry (egrettery?) not far away on the Coombes Road.  Some serious nest building was going on in Paula’s garden on the 11th.  A Blue Tit was taking sheep’s wool from a hanging container.  Other nest boxes were being visited and a pair of Great Spots were drumming in the dead area of an oak tree next door.  She heard a Chiffchaff singing, a pair of Greenfinches were in the conifers at the back – the male an amazing bright yellow.

March Bird Sightings – Nige and Libby

WrenAt the overflow pit Nige, Libby & I were annoyed to find two people training dogs to retrieve game from the water by throwing in objects – that is until a Mute Swan hauled itself up from the nearby stream and flapped aggressively towards the dogs.  Dogs & people beat a retreat and we gave the swan a round of applause! Further afield Graham & Liz visited Dungeness (51 species) and Rye (60 species), while Yvonne nipped down to Hove and found Waxwings! Sallie went to Burton Mill Pond and saw a probable Marsh Tit collecting bits of lichen. On the 26th Graham & Liz had their 2nd ever garden visit (in 28 years) from a Treecreeper.  At Woods Mill on the 28th Paula got a telling off from a pair of Wrens, but it gave her a chance for a photo.  The same day a pair of Coal Tits was in Lesley A’s garden in Benson Road.

March Sightings

Sallie was surprised to watch a Blackbird by her pond helping himself to some tiny tadpoles, while Paula Shovelerreckons her garden is Dunnock Central – no less than 11 of them on the 27th!  The next day along the Millstream she found a male Linnet, a Yellowhammer, a pair of Reed Buntings, half a dozen Meadow Pipits on a power line, and on the wet area 2 pairs of Shoveler, a pair of Teal, Mallards, 2 Coots and a lone Lapwing taking a rest and standing on one leg.  There was an influx there later that day when Mike came across 12 Shovelers!


Barn Owl
Copyright David Plummer

Bryan saw a Barn Owl flying near Betley on the 3rd; Peter & Penny had wonderful views of another (down south?) a few days later. Will’s garden pond was visited by a Firecrest on the 4th.  The next day a Blackcap was at Sallie’s. Two male Reed Buntings arrived at my garden feeder on the 6th, but Brian L trumped me by saying he & Karen had at least 6 regularly coming! At Truleigh Ponds on the 5th John & Pauline watched a male Red-crested Pochard on the water. Just outside our boundary but an angler arrived and the duck flew off not only giving a very clear view of its wing markings as it flew into our domain. Quite a skittish bird so could well be truly wild and not on a visit from a London park where John has previously seen them. Darrell counted 8 Buzzards together on the Lydds on the 7th.  Three found a thermal and drifted off north while one was harried by crows and headed east pursued by the mob (it’s beginning to sound like one of those rhymes we used to learn…)   Also, he was fairly convinced he saw a Turtle Dove, but wouldn’t call it as such as it seems far too early in the year and he was without binoculars. Just wishful thinking or an early arrival?

Val Bentley

Val Bentley

Val describes herself as the general dogsbody!

Sussex born and bred, Val spent a few years in the West Country before returning to the county in 1986, and settling in Henfield in 1992. Seriously birdwatching since the late 70s, and bird ringing since 1983, Val has been Secretary of the Sussex Ornithological Society 3 times and is still very involved with their activities. She looks after “Area 9”, the patch including Rye Farm, and the stretch of river from Stretham to New Inn Farm, which in 2014 produced a brilliant Grey Phalarope!

Paula Blake

Paula Blake

When I was eight years old, my family moved to a house on what was then the rural outskirts of Burgess Hill.  It was there in the large, wildlife friendly garden and the woodland beyond that I first developed a passion for birds and other wildlife.  Later we moved to Small Dole and I spent most of my free time in Tottington Woods and up at Woods Mill.  I joined Henfield Birdwatch in 2009 and have since become a keen amateur bird photographer.  In 2014, the Committee of HBW was brave enough to let me loose as one of its Area Surveyors and I very much enjoyed making monthly records of the birds in the area allotted to me.  At a later date, I was delighted that some of my photos were also chosen for the fourth Henfield Birdwatch book which you can find on sale in the village.  In addition to being a proud member of Henfield Birdwatch and The Sussex Wildlife Trust, I am also a member of the RSPB, the BTO, the Sussex Ornithological Society, the Shoreham & District Ornithological Society, The Barn Owl Trust, Friends of Warnham Nature Reserve and Butterfly Conservation.

Debbie Colgate

Debbie Colgate

I’ve been a member of Birdwatch since 2005. In 2007 I rang Mike and offered to help with any general admin and was asked to take over the Secretary vacancy and have filled that role since then.

I’m a member of BTO, SOS, RSPB and am shortly to become involved in the Breeding Birds Survey.

Nigel Colgate

Nigel Colgate

I have been involved with Henfield Birdwatch since 2005 and the committee since 2013 but have been birdwatching in Henfield over 50 years. My role is Treasurer.

I am also a member of RSPB, Sussex Ornithological Society (SOS), and have done surveys for British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Will Green

Will Green

I have been a committee member since the beginning. I also belong to RSPB, SOS and the BTO. I am a Wildlife artist and regularly contribute to the HBW newsletter.

Val and I have done the annual nightingale count since 1998, monitoring the numbers of these wonderful visitors . I also lead Bird walks for HBW 5 year survey as well as other walks for the group.