Mark Avery: thinking ahead


Hello! The Political Birder column is back, every other month, as we head towards a UK general election in 2024. At the time of my last column, we were getting used to Boris Johnson as a relatively new Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon looked well established in Scotland, Northern Ireland had no proper administration and Wales was a Labour bastion. Two years on and we have seen Liz Truss come and go, Rishi Sunak arrive, Sturgeon fall from power and our finest environmental parliamentarian, Caroline Lucas, is calling it a day. Zac Goldsmith resigned as a minister saying that Sunak has no interest in the environment and Nadine Dorries echoed those criticisms when she eventually remembered to resign. 

Had you noticed that UK politics was in turmoil or did you steadfastly regard the only important news as being that of rarities? Even the most rarity-obsessed birder must pause to wonder whether masses of Wilson's Storm Petrels, South Polar Skuas, Scopoli's Shearwaters and a couple of boobies perched on the Bishop Rock lighthouse constitute an unadulterated bonus, or if ocean warming might have consequences beyond one's list?

A year ago, migrating Northern Gannets died in Cornish streets after bird flu had hit seabird breeding colonies. This spring, bird flu moved inland – my own local patch of Stanwick Lakes was littered with dead Black-headed Gulls. Governments have been slow to recognise this threat.

The brief, chaotic Truss government should have reminded all birders that politics matter. Policy changes were planned that even our docile and infinitely forgiving wildlife charities called an #attackonature. Wildlife protection was to be reduced and payments for sustainable farming were to be scrapped. Those were missteps by government – they were very unpopular with many Conservative voters and jerked the snoozing wildlife organisations into protest. We'll need more protest in the run up to the general election if wildlife is to be protected in the future.

The planet's wildlife is facing a wide range of threats, such as avian influenza, which has killed huge numbers of seabirds over the past two years. Now is the time to make sure your vote in next year's election will count, says our columnist (Esme Coles).


Mobilising the masses

The polluted state of UK rivers has been a game-changer, mobilising people who you will not see on Fair Isle or a Scillonian pelagic – the anglers, wild swimmers, surfers and those who simply don't want a stench to rise from their local river.  When cartoonists portray the government drowning in sewage then an issue really has hit home.

Whereas farming, building and water policy are complex subjects (each with its own powerful vested interest), issues such as shortening the shooting season for Eurasian Woodcock and requiring nest bricks in new buildings for Common Swifts are tiny, easy, cheap and effective measures. Both were debated in the Westminster Parliament as their petitions each secured more than 100,000 signatures. The government has done nothing, so far, on either. What hope is there for difficult big changes if easy small changes aren't made?

In our small world, birding, the Global Birdfair (what a modest title!) sprang back into life at a new site, but very much clinging to the old ideas of zooming around the world. It seems even more wedded to travel firms and even less mindful of climate change. The chance of a new start, perhaps a wildlife festival with more debate and a wider reach, has been fumbled. With towering temperatures in year one and torrential downpours in year two, one wonders whether the climate gods are trying to tell us all something.

Politics is about the future – our future, the future of our friends, family, fellow Brits and fellow Earthlings. Get ready to vote for wildlife in 2024!


  • This column first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Birdwatch. To be the first to read the magazine each month, take out a subscription to Birdwatch or Bird News Ultimate.
Written by: Mark Avery