Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 30th March 2013

An update from Ceri Levy.

January 12th

I don’t quite understand what is happening at this point in time as far as the natural world goes but it seems like the environment and wildlife is getting a kicking. The EU budget is being decided in February and everything is pointing to a cut in funding for nature. For some reason the recession has meant that politicians have picked on the environment as the recipient of stringent measures and there is fear amongst many that this is only the beginning.

In the UK of particular relevance is the Early Day Motion 603, which will hopefully persuade the government to continue funding the fantastic Wildlife Crime Unit. The budget is a pathetic £136,000 but needs to be agreed otherwise there will be no more specialised protection of our wildlife in this country. Come on Tories – Do the right thing.

(March footnote – The funding was eventually approved but what was interesting is that of the 136 politicians who signed EDM 603 only seven were Conservatives. This sets the stall out for this government. We have to be more and more wary of them and their attitudes towards our environment.)

January 18th

I have just read Nest – The Art of Birds by Janine Burke. I thought it was going to be all about the art of bird’s nests, which can be incredibly beautiful and amazing inventions. Look at bowerbirds, which create magnificent homes, artistically arranged, consisting of various objects, sticks and colourful objects to create an environment to seduce and knock a female off its claws. But this book, even though it does mention nests throughout, is more of a nest itself containing the author’s anecdotes and thoughts on birds. It is a random selection of stories but an entertaining compendium of bird stories that tries to relate to the theme of bird nests wherever possible. But did I really need to know that the author has a crush on David Attenborough and fantasises about meeting him in the Namibian desert and to go off on adventures together? Probably not. There are many stories involving such luminaries as Virginia Woolf, Wordsworth and Karen Blixen and makes a good compendium to dip in and out of but I felt that this could have been a more substantial and intriguing book than it actually is and it feels like an opportunity lost. There are nuggets of information throughout as Burke has collected shiny trinkets to adorn her nest of a book but I was left wanting more of the author to appear and to relate more personal stories and to show just what it is about birds that made her really want to write a book about them.

January 31st

Reports have been coming in of guillemots being washed ashore on the south coast covered in a sticky substance that is an oil additive, which has acted like glue sticking the birds’ feathers together. There was talk of it being unwanted waste that has been illegally dumped at sea but we will probably never know. People have rushed to help the birds and one wishes that we had some kind of ecological plan to put into place when these disasters occur whereby effort is put in to finding out exactly what has happened and who has committed the crime and when found, the culprits should be severely punished.

I keep thinking that politicians and especially Cameron’s cronies are never going to serve our wildlife and natural world well. What we need is a government for the environment. No politicians need apply. We need people who care and have no ulterior motive for making things right in nature. Last night I watched Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song and was moved by his relentless commitment to the issues of colour throughout America and Africa. He is a relentless juggernaut of emotion and belief that never wavers in his efforts for the black community. Nature is in a situation where it needs its own champions to stand up for its future. People who will take on politicians and play the game a new way and not the old pussyfooting way, which has become synonymous with the corporate world of the 21st century. It was a timely reminder of how the fight is always continual.

February 8th

The 27 EU Heads of State have agreed on and announced the EU budget for the years 2014-2020 and surprise, surprise, the environment comes off badly. No chance of a greening of the Common Agricultural Policy with cuts made in all environmental directions. The last hope is with the European Parliament, which votes on the deal made by the Heads of State in the next few weeks. The last word goes to Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at BirdLife International “Vested interests are now cashing in on the EU budget, while the vital needs of European citizens are ignored. Instead, Europe is offered a budget that scales back investment in the environment and caters for the usual fat cats that have been milking the system until now.”

February 23rd.


It’s my birthday and Jackie and I are down in Eastbourne seeing family. It is one of the coldest days I can ever remember as we face and brace ourselves in the sea-soaked winds that hurtle in from the icy horizon. There has been a sighting of a Bonaparte’s gull on a small boating lake in Princes Park. This is a rare North American vagrant, which looks like our black-headed gull but differs in that it is smaller, more delicate, has a black bill and pink legs. I head down early in the morning to the lake and mooch around it with other hardened birders but there is no sign of Monsieur Bonaparte. (I wonder what Ralph would do with this bird). A frozen dripping-nosed birder informs me that the bird usually turns up later in the day when we are meant to be heading back to London.

We pop back on the way home to see if the bird has returned. There is quite a miserable, forlorn looking crowd gathered by the lake. No bird. I look to the lake and watch a gull to the side of the birders that cannot be more than two feet in front of me. I double take and hesitantly, I pipe up and ask the collective, “Excuse me for me being daft, but isn’t this the bird?” Everyone does a volte-face and hysteria takes over. It is indeed the bird. Joy washes over the assembly. The bird even flies onto the path and starts parading up and down for its audience. The gaggle of gawpers are energised, phones ring and cameras flash, the mood has changed to one of exultation. This is a real rarity and a perfect present for me. Thank you Mother Nature, show me the way to the M25.

Ceri Levy.