In November 2020 DEFRA (Crikey, I used to work for them) banned the shooting of jackdaws because there was no evidence that they predated on young birds (they should have asked me!).  They also banned the shooting of gulls under the licences already issued.  This was because “Wild Justice” the wildlife group led by Chris Packham took legal action and surprisingly were successful.  This action by Wild Justice also meant the farmers could not shoot wood pigeons.  My farmer friend was livid but did it stop him?  “Woodies” reduced his young oilseed rape seedlings to just stalks.

However, the Government has now ruled that grouse and pheasants are now classed as livestock and new guidelines allow certain wild birds to be shot to protect these “sporting” birds.  Carrion crows, jackdaws, feral pigeons, rooks and wood pigeons can now all be legally killed to protect game birds that eventually will be shot themselves by sportsmen.  This comes after DEFRA updated its guidelines on general licences.  Those guidelines state that 'livestock includes game birds kept in an enclosure or which are free roaming but remain significantly dependent upon the provision of food water or shelter by a keeper for their survival'.

The RSPB (Crikey, I used to work for them) said that the move could represent a massive backward step for conservation.   DEFRA responded that the guidelines had been updated to clarify the situation and make clear when a game-bird ceases to be livestock and becomes a wild bird.  The RSPB fears that it will lead to an increase in the killing of wild birds to protect game-bird interests.  Is this a massive backward step?  I think so.  Gamekeepers rear game-birds to be shot and to protect these pheasants it is now okay to shoot carrion crows.  I suppose pigeons eat the corn put down by keepers for their pheasants, and I don't see that this is a problem.  So, gamekeepers lose a bit of corn?  Crows are a concern to me but not because of game-birds.  In the last jottings, I suggested a cull of crows (they don't mention magpies or jays) because of the damage they do to our songbirds.  Perhaps Wild Justice, DEFRA and the RSPB should have their communal heads banged together to encourage them to do something about the dire situation of our songbirds.  There is no mention of munjac or grey squirrels.  Is it because these two animals have little effect on game-birds kept in an enclosure?   Surely, the answer is simple.  Woodies in the winter arrive in thousands from the continent and destroy winter crops.  So, shoot them, I say.  That would make my farm manager friend pleased.  Crows, including magpies and jays, are far too numerous and out of control, making life difficult for our songbirds.  So cull them.  We have lost about 38 million songbirds over the past 20 years or so.  Muntjac destroy the valuable habitat that birds such as the nightingale need in which to breed.  So cull these alien animals, or will something be done when the only way you can listen to a nightingale singing is on a recording.

By the way, I went through my notes made in exercise books when I was attending Priory Heath Junior School – in nineteen hundred and frozen to death!  Did I really have red-backed shrikes nesting in the hawthorn and brambles at the bottom of my garden? Did cuckoos really used to call when sitting on the chain-link fence which divided our gardens, and did spotted flycatchers always return in June to nest in the rambling rose which clambered over our front porch?  And on the small piece of heath which separated our houses from the trolley bus depot did several pairs of skylarks nest?  What a joy to be awakened by a skylark singing overhead.  Did wheatears really feed their young down disused rabbit holes, and did whitethroats, chiffchaffs and willow warblers sing all through spring from clumps of birches and brambles?  And did I really collect thousands of moths from the tram depot, which were attracted to the lights of this large glass building?  I could go on about what else I found – adders, grass snakes, toads and frogs galore and how I used to gaze at hordes of swallows and martins and of course hundreds of house sparrows.  Was it all a dream, or has what we call progress systematically destroyed all that?  I really think that those three aforementioned organisations should wake up to what is happening to our wildlife. 

Because Covid has forced us to hibernate for the past two years, many of us have found it less easy to visit our favourite birdwatching habitats and nature reserves.  Some of us have had to concentrate on our local patch or even our gardens.  Like many others, I have used the promenade at Felixstowe for my exercise.  On the shore I have watched turnstone and purple sandpiper, migrating pied wagtails, would you believe, Brent geese hugging the coastline and shearwaters and auks further out to sea.  But you know I think that the most wondrous bird of Felixstowe is the most common bird of all that being the ubiquitous house sparrow.  What is it about our coast that pleases them?  I find them at Bawdsey, Shingle Street, Aldeburgh and other Suffolk coastal areas.  At Felixstowe they can be seen at Landguard, then along the Promenade from Manor End to the Pier, then to Bent Hill, Cobbold Point and along to the Ferry.  Spudgers, that little bird that I can no longer find in my garden, or our Park, is really thriving in coastal gardens and public places. They are so busy doing what they do in shrubs and small trees and seem to take very little notice of human beings.  And there are starlings too, hundreds of them.  Isn't it wonderful that certain species cling on in the most unlikely habitat? Perhaps they like chips!  At least one little flock of sparrows were rummaging through a discarded bag of chips near the Alex.  Will we soon be putting up chip feeders, I joke?

Reg Snook