Ironically, lockdown has been busy for me. It has given me a unique opportunity to spend quality time with my local wildlife that even I, as a nature lover, perhaps have taken for granted in the past. Today is a break in my time with the birds and animals of the uplands, it is blowing 50-60mph outside and grey with sleet at times, not a great situation for a wildlife hide or photography!
I have watched birds pairing up and had the excitement of finding them sitting on eggs. I have witnessed chicks hatching in front of me, the joy of seeing the little bundles of fluff with legs to run and mouths to eat running around while their mother tries to control them and keep them safe. But, I have also witnessed the broods reduce in size day by day and some, like Lily the lapwing, who I have spoken of in previous blogs and Instagram posts, have had to completely start again having lost her entire brood of four. I have reflected upon the fact that the majority of the birds I have been watching are red-listed and yet they gather in numbers in such small areas and even those areas are protected by keepers from dawn until dusk but still they cannot be fully protected.
During the intense amount of time I have spent with these birds in the last few months I, like many others I have discussed these matters with, have noticed many changes due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Life as we know it has changed and this has affected nature and wildlife just as much, in both good and bad ways. For my ground nesting birds there has always been issues with predators, many of these are managed by keepers which help the lapwings, curlews, oyster catchers and many more, raise some young successfully. During this lockdown one predator I have certainly noticed a huge increase in is gulls, yes the ones that steal your fish and chips!! These huge birds usually spend most of their time doing just that, hanging around the seaside pestering tourists. During this lockdown we have taken away what has become their food source, no tourists = no fish and chips and less rubbish etc near the coast. For the first time in a while, more gulls are having food issues and are having to travel inland to find something to eat. This is extremely unfortunate for my red-listed ground nesting species whose chicks are a simple mouthful for the likes of a herring gull. Day in, day out I have noticed their numbers increasing and the chicks suffering as a consequence. This is also not helped by the fact that gull licences for keepers have not been issued this year by Natural England. Remember the chaos over the General Licence last year too? This is the second year these red-listed species have not been protected properly due to burocracy and in-fighting between wildlife countryside organisations which supposedly have the well-being of these birds at heart.
Another impact is less traffic on the roads. This is fantastic in so many ways but it is also having an affect as there is less roadkill. Many of us see a squashed rabbit on the road and take no notice but that rabbit is a food source for many species such as kestrel, peregrines or any other raptors, gulls and corvids, it is an easy meal! Taking this food source away has meant more predators hunting, searching for anything they can pick off. If a peregrine spots a ground nesting bird they will take out the parent leaving the chicks as an easy target for others. So even though no one ever intends or enjoys hitting the occasional rabbit with their car, they rarely go to waste.
As we have seen on every news channel, social media platform and heard on the radio, the amount of people walking, running and enjoying exercise has also increased dramatically! Unfortunately this has led to a lot of people exploring off the beaten track ignoring the occasional ‘private property’ sign or the ‘keep dogs on a lead’ sign. These signs are always in place for a reason. Where I spend most of my time photographing is private property. I have permission under certain conditions linked to respecting the wildlife and I make sure I cause as little to no disturbance to the species I photograph. Many times people have had to be removed from the property along with their dogs and even argued that they have the right to be there. The reason they are asked to leave is because currently there are hundreds, if not thousands, of birds with chicks. If a human or dog disturbs them, they often scatter leading the parent to become very stressed which can even lead to a parent abandoning her young for her own protection. Throughout my time with these birds I have learnt a great deal about which birds will tolerate me and which will not so I have become very dependent on remote cameras and hides. It may seem like these birds are plentiful but the reality is that such areas are the very last strongholds for certain species so please, do not be mislead by the numbers you see.
All of this experience has led me to speak to many more conservation and wildlife people. We are so often in conflict with different views on how wildlife should or should not be managed. The most relevant quote that comes to mind is that there used to be pockets of population with vast areas of wildnerness and wildlife, now we have vast areas of population and pockets of wilderness and wildlife. We have taken away and impacted too much habitat. We have impacted the balance of nature too much. For me personally, I believe we are too late to leave nature to it and now we have to manage areas specifically for the wildlife we want to keep to thrive.
I realise this blog is slightly gloomy but this is the harsh reality we face in 2020. I fear some of these species may disappear in my lifetime. Please, if you are on a path leading across a field or the uplands, stick to that path, keep your dogs under control and do not leave rubbish behind. I know it is very tempting to walk up to a bird or a chick but if you see them on the ground, try to walk away or give them a wide berth. If you have a lapwing going crazy above you, there is a reason. She is letting you know she is not happy with how close you are to her young. It is these small changes that could result in a bird raising all of her chicks to adulthood or none.
Here is a gallery of my personal favourites I have taken during this time. I feel privileged to have spent this lockdown with them.