Archive for March 2019

March 9th   1 comment

I write my blog because I want to share my enjoyment of the wildlife around where I live and hopefully encourage one or two others to get out there and feel the same way. If we don’t appreciate what we have, have some knowledge of what is out there, then we will not note its passing. Being out and looking at wildlife is a very positive process. It is interesting, sometimes exciting and it makes you happy: a lot of research is now showing that a pleasant natural environment with animals in it makes for good mental health. But not always and today was one of the days where it might be better to have my head in the sand, indifferent to what we have and what we are losing every day.

I cycled through Kilminning after doing my usual circuit of Wormiston and Fife Ness. Now Kilminning is not the most beautiful place on that route, but it is on my local patch and it has wild corners where there is wildlife. Now it has one less corner. The field between the go kart track and the water treatment site was common good land – at least in the sense that it is owned by our representatives – Fife Council. This field was rented to a local farmer but has now been sold (on your behalf and I am sure you were already aware of this…). The field is very intensive arable land, as almost all of the farmland around Crail is. But it did have a margin of rough grass running along the road to the bottom of Kilminning and in the south-west corner a larger bit of grass and scrub complete with a few large bushes. Nothing very special but a breeding territory for a whitethroat and reed bunting each year, a feeding ground for linnets and yellowhammers each winter, and a great place to look for migrant birds refuelling on their journeys – things like whinchats and a lovely grasshopper warbler that sang there for a week last spring. This is all gone now – ploughed up and the field extended: the wild patch is no more, an ex-habitat. The ferocity of this ploughing is such that the edge of the road is now exactly on the edge of the field with even bits of the tarmac edge being ploughed up. A mouse couldn’t walk alongside the field now without walking on the road. And the rocks and the “spoil” from the field corner has been piled up on the Kilminning side, flattening some of the sea buckthorn habitat that is still in council ownership – I must assume so because I don’t think it would have been “spared” otherwise.

Another one bites the dust…

In total 480m2 – or 5% of a hectare has been cleared. That is 0.12 acres, and you might produce 3.75 tons of wheat per acre, so that’s 0.45 tonnes. It costs about £120 a tonne to grow wheat so about £54 to grow a crop on the new land. You can sell wheat at £150 a tonne, so 0.45 tonnes will give a price of £67.50, or a net profit of £13.50. That sounds ridiculously low to me (I have used average figures posted on farming forums for the UK and they are very variable), but if you consider the whole 9 hectare field, that margin would yield a profit of £2,500 – and in a high yield year that might be 50-100% more. So that seems more realistic. But back to the field corner – if the net profit from the reclaimed land is £13.50, then it will be many years before the cost of the clearing is covered. Even it was just a digger for day, I suspect that costs many multiples of £13.50. So how can it be worth it…I suspect because it is grant subsidised. There are many farm improvement schemes paid for by UK government or EU grants. It is galling. One arm of government and society works to conserve and the other works in the opposite direction. It’s true we all have to eat, and we need to farm. But there are also many other people making a living from the land and the environment of Crail. How much is a green and pleasant country environment worth to tourists visiting the area, never mind how much it is worth to us residents for our quality of life? I would personally pay £13.50 annually to keep that bit of field corner wild and to see a whinchat and a whitethroat there every year. I have paid that in any case through my taxes to destroy it rather than conserve it.

Some terms and conditions. My calculations above are back of the envelope and may be incorrect; there may not have been a grant involved in this case (if not they got the maths wrong too). But the principle remains broadly true however you do the maths. Much of the marginal wildlife value of our farmland still gets dug up, chopped down or drained despite the knowledge that this land has greater value in terms of other ecosystem services (carbon storage, flood prevention, biodiversity) that give benefit to us all. Yet we still have these perverse subsidies to encourage “rural development”. We really need to redirect these and reward farmers properly for conserving rather destroying.

Some eiders to be more cheerful – they are displaying like crazy at the moment and the males and females are looking at their best

Posted March 10, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 7th   Leave a comment

I saw the Kingsbarns’ short-eared owl tonight. I was passing the big stubble field on the west of the road coming into Kingsbarns from the north. Really only a minute’s owls flight from the golf course where I should think it has been resident since I last saw it in January. All my recent visits to the area have been in the morning, which I know from bitter experience is not when this owl does any hunting. This evening it looked like a proper owl in the gloaming: hovering over the stubble and swooping up to perch on the big hedge. It was just a fleeting view as the car I was in went past, but any owl at any time is a real treat. It will be on its way back to the Highlands or Scandinavia to breed in a couple of weeks.

Short-eared owl

Posted March 7, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings

March 3rd   Leave a comment

Last Sunday it was the fog making birding impossible and this morning it was a gale. Everything was taking cover and there was little to see. The dunlins were feeding in the small muddy areas amongst the rocks north of Balcomie Beach. They are small enough that they probably then could completely escape the buffeting and the chilling of the wind. But at a price. A sheltered spot is also one without a view in at least one direction, and in a gale the noise of the wind makes it hard to hear alarm calls from birds that can see. So the dunlin would have been very vulnerable to the sparrowhawk if it had been out hunting the shore this morning.

Dunlin

The wind also makes flying more difficult. On the way back into Crail, a flock of starlings kept pace with my car, maintaining their usual flight speed of about 50 km/h, even into the wind. But they achieved this by flying about 20cm above the ground over the adjacent sheep field, contour hugging and keeping as low as possible: wind speed is much lower close to the ground. Again this will be a trade-off, progress versus safety. They looked like they were a crack synchronous display team showing off at an airshow, with tiny margins of error.

There are lots of gannets back now. Yesterday there was a steady stream passing Fife Ness heading north. Still nothing like the thousands there will be in a few weeks but an encouraging start for the spring.

Gannet

Posted March 3, 2019 by wildcrail in Sightings