Thursday 30 November 2023

This and That...

I seem to have embraced the sentiments of the previous post's title a bit too zealously, and have done virtually no birding in the fortnight since. Even so, there is a ton of stuff to blog about. Here is some of it...

First, a nice bit of good news. Almost three years ago I was fortunate enough to get this photo...

Female Cirl Bunting (foreground) and Yellowhammer, West Bexington, January 2021.

Several weeks back I had an email from Ed Stubbs at Birdwatch magazine, asking if they might use the image in an upcoming article. And if you turn to page 38 of the December edition, there it is, in an inspirational piece about winter bunting flocks. As well as the obvious fame bestowed by such exposure, there was fortune too, and I am fifteen quid to the good.

In an earlier edition of the same magazine (November? October?) was a thought-provoking opinion piece by Matt Phelps, in which he bemoaned the negative tone that pervades much of birdy Twitter. I've recycled the relevant Birdwatch mag but my memory tells me this was the gist of it: Matt suggested that the depressing tendency of 'older' birders to dwell on the glory days of yore - when Tree Sparrow flocks were a driving hazard and every suburban garden was carpeted in Turtle Doves - is essentially a discouragement to younger folk taking up the conservation cause, and that we should focus more on the success stories.

I cannot help wondering if Matt has underestimated the ability of youthful enthusiasm to triumph over adversity. I am sure that most twenty-somethings regard the doom-mongering utterances of grumpy has-beens as exactly that. And rightly so. I mean, what do they know? Okay, so there might well have been Redstarts and Wood Warblers bursting from every leafy glade fifty years ago, but there were virtually no breeding Peregrines in the whole of southern England. But look at them now! So put that in your wrinkly old pipe and smoke it, Mr Fart.

That latter fact was brought home to me by some other recent reading material...

Cover image nicked from web, but I do have the book and have just finished reading it.

Although the name rang a bell, I think Kenneth Allsop was just before my time. His star rose principally in the '60s, as a journalist and TV presenter mainly of current affairs, but his first book (Adventure Lit Their Star - published 1949) was about Britain's first breeding Little Ringed Plovers. Kenneth Allsop was a birder. For the last three years of his life he resided at West Milton Mill, just down the road from where I live, and was a vigorous environmental campaigner. Prior to reading this book I had no idea he was largely responsible for the preservation of Powerstock Common's oak woodland. The Forestry Commission were already in the process of felling it for conifer planting when Kenneth Allsop and a couple of friends intervened. The book cover features nearby Eggardon Hill, an area which in the early '70s was being prospected for oil and gas. I find it hard to believe that 120ft drilling rigs were blotting the landscape of the lovely West Dorset AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) back then, but apparently so, and KA was instrumental in galvanising local opposition.

The book is about those final years, and how he used his various public platforms (including the BBC and Sunday Times) to turn a spotlight on individuals, companies and organisations wreaking - or allowing - environmental havoc. It is also about the resistance and opposition he faced, and about the almost inevitable emasculation of his influential voice. Kenneth Allsop took his own life in May 1973. He was more than ten years younger than I am now. He was not a saint, but I know two people who worked for him at that time, and both have only fond memories and kind words.

The book is both inspiring and depressing. Plenty that KA railed against is as much an issue today as it was then, but there have also been many environmental battles fought and won in the last fifty years. I don't think Matt Phelps need worry too much. Clearly there are always willing combatants, and the grumpy old moaners aren't going to change that.


  1. Adventure Lit Their Star!! I remember reading that on the mid-70s in the school library. An excellently written book.

    1. The writer of 'Keeping the Barbarians at Bay' suggests in it that KA actually discovered those first breeding LRPs, though I haven't investigated the accuracy of that. A great story if true. 😊

  2. The young are more than willing to fight the good fight. Increasingly so in fact.

    1. I think you're right. Refreshingly optimistic too.