Sunday, 21 December 2014

Horus the Peregrine - Childrens Book Review

The latest children's book in the 'Chick Book' series is out this winter (Dec 2014) and is named Horus the Peregrine Falcon, which follows the story of a newly fledged peregrine surviving in the city of London. The name Horus comes from a highly worshipped falcon god in Egypt 5000 years ago, with worshipping continuing by the conquering Greeks and Romans 2500 years later!

The book starts with the hatching of Horus and three other chicks at the Houses of Parliament, high up Victoria Tower, looking across to some of the cities iconic landmarks like Big Ben and The London Eye. An abundance of factual species information is included, starting from the very first page, with two examples of sexual dimorphism of peregrines, with the females being larger than the males from birth. 
Front cover
Urban peregrines main food source, feral pigeon are featured strongly in the book due to the damage the pigeons can cause to urban areas through the spread of disease, and also their droppings damaging stonework. This emphasises the important role the raptors play in controlling their numbers. Page 6-7 of the book quickly confirms why the subtitle is 'Catch the Pigeon'. 

There is a very powerful message included in the story regarding the influence MPs and Lords housed in the Houses of Parliament have dictated the life (or death) of peregrines. This is due to their participation in grouse shooting which involves managing areas of moorland just for grouse to be shot for fun. This causes instances of illegal persecution of predators such as peregrines, harriers, eagles and wildcats, to protect grouse and make Great Britain one of the worst countries in the world for wildlife crime! 
This is a vital inclusion for children and adults to learn about the serious threats to their native species and their natural heritage as a whole. Providing honesty to children from a young age is very important for their development. 

Peregrines illegally killed on grouse moors...
Towards the end of the book Horus even hunts in the back garden of Buckingham Palace and targets one of the queens fantail doves, as it just escapes the falcons grasp. Again this is a powerful message relating to the Royal families involvement and enjoyment in killing animals, and their connection with shooting estates.

Horus hunting in the queens back garden
Horus ends up visiting a number London attractions including, Big Ben, The London Eye, Trafalgar Sq, Tower of London, Canary Wharf, O2 Arena and the Victoria Embankment on his search for pigeons. The author promotes the species with clear intent that he wants peregrines to be a major London attraction of the future!

Horus preening on the London Eye
This book finishes with information about one of the most famous nature conservationists of the 20th century, Derek Ratcliffe, who helped make the discovery that agricultural chemicals weakened peregrines egg shells. This discovery enabled a major recovery of the bird that we can all enjoy today. 

The story of Horus works on two levels, enthusing and educating adults as well as children, and makes you want to go out and witness a peregrine ruling an urbanian skyline. With 80% of the UK population living in an urban environment, with the figure set to increase to 90% by 2050, the title could be an integral way to keep children connected with nature. The book of Horus has the power to inspire the next generation to 'worship' peregrines and maybe even help produce the next Derek Radcliffe! 

View more in the 'Chick Book' series here - 

Horus is available to buy here -

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Saturday on the Solway...

On the 13th Dec, myself and Dad went to the Solway for the afternoon to see what winter wildlife we could encounter. The first port of call was Skinburness near Silloth to do the short walk to Grune point which provides nice views of the surrounding salt marsh and tidal mud flats. Our first sight was a huge number of barnacle geese (3000+) all lifting in sync due to a low flying aircraft overhead. 

As we approached the point we saw small numbers of shelduck, goosanders, mallard, wigeon and redshank on the east side with groups of teal, wigeon and very active redshanks round to the west. Three small groups of very compact golden plovers flew past heading north and we flushed a male short-eared owl from the vegetation while looking for the recently reported snow buntings. 

We worked our way back east on a number of minor roads and at Anthorn we got a large number of golden plover (400+) and a small flock of lapwings (40+) in flight over the car, a great sight. 

We arrived at the Campfield marsh hide just before 3pm, with enough light left to persevere and see what we could observe. If it was a football match then we would have scored a screamer in the first 10 seconds, as we got onto an adult male hen harrier working the far side of the marsh before lifting a group of thirty teal into flight. Five minutes later we got a juv male peregrine flyby which again got teal on the wing and perched on a prominent branch in the mature birch plantation. A buzzard chased the peregrine off back to the east, swapping places with the tiersal. The next sighting would be a little egret coming in from the north, landing on the edge of the same woodland before heading back in the same direction twenty minutes later. 

As the light was dropping a few people left the hide as we stayed on for a short while longer with huge rewards. The first sighting was a female peregrine on hot pursuit of four barnacle geese as she managed to brake on away, trying to drop down on it with her talons out just missing the target as the solitary goose got away! 
Moments later while panning across the long grass I got onto a red fox! It was a dog and it was sat patiently listening for activity before he started working the marsh, potentially trying to flush snipe. He made his way to the north walking with real prowess, right past the hide. 
All animals are equal, but I have always had a real soft spot for the fox. Their beauty, elegance and iconic status are a few of the reasons along with their 'super species' status due to the one species having a range spanning five out of the seven continents! 
no one can ever refer to them self as a 'dog lover' unless they have full admiration for the top dog on the planet!

Thanks for looking...

Friday, 5 December 2014

Wild Scotland Conference 2014 - Guest Blog part 2 - Ewan Miles

The Wild Scotland Conference was held at the Concert Hall, Perth on Wednesday, November 26th. It was named 'The Nature of Change'.

Myself and colleague Cain Scrimgeour arrived at the venue for the 10.30 start and were warmly welcomed by Wild Scotland representatives. We had a look around the stalls before heading into the conference hall for the morning session. 

An introduction to the event was given by the newly designated WS chairman Ben Mardall. He encouraged all the guests to interact and engage with each other and be very proactive, as we need to be in the wildlife/adventure industries we are all involved in. He gave an example of an excellent wildlife tourism operator based in Scotland showing the high levels that the country provides along with the level that other operators can aspire towards. 

Richard Whitcomb (Associate Director of Ekosgen) was the first guest speaker and he gave an informative talk before giving delegates the opportunity to discuss and contribute to The National Adventure Tourism Research Study by working together and sharing ideas in small groups. 

The next guest speaker was Gert Nieuwboer who set up an adventure walking holiday company in Holland called SNP Nature Travel which has grown to become the leading brand in the country. He discussed the benefits of researching every fine detail within your business which could reap huge rewards. He gave an example of researching the different age categories of his customers and what they wanted to gain from the experience. He discovered that the age group 16-25 was a lot lower than the other age groups and another discovery was that those customers in the 16-25 age category were regarding 'meeting new people' as one of the major factors of going on a trip. With all this collated data SNP Nature Travel created a tailor-made trip with criteria suited just to that specific customer. A highly informative talk by Gert showing the importance of going through every statistic in a business and leaving nothing to chance. 

After the lunch break myself and Cain attended a couple of workshops with the first one being Market Data run by Mike Dennison and Katherine Taylor and the second one Industry-led Training by Sally Dowden. Excellent talks and engaging with other delegates was beneficial again in sharing ideas and business techniques in group discussions. 

The final guest speaker was Karen Darke who is the 2012 Paralympic silver medallist, 2012 Paratriathlon world champion and a ground breaking adventurer. Karen became paralysed from the waist down, in a rock climbing accident in 1992 and she discussed how she overcame her challenges in life and achieved some seemingly impossible feats. She used words like commitment, belief, motivation and inspiration and her 40 minute talk inspired me and I am sure many others in the room. She quoted that inspiration is an energy which comes in many shapes and forms. I am going to use her inspirations to help fuel my career aspirations in the future. 

Ben Mardall's closing remarks were spoken with real care, passion and determination encouraging us to digest all that we experienced on the day and to work harder and commit to our business to make it succeed.   

A highly beneficial experience and special thanks to Ben, Gillian and all at WS for their hard work in making the day happen and also for my opportunity to be a guest blogger for the organisation. I hope to see you all at the conference next year!

Ewan Miles