TN60 The Conference Calls 10 Sept 11


The one with guest Mark Lawlor, Guernsey Bird Recorder and the man behind the wonderful Gyr Crakes, where we talk about birding on Guernsey, the Pendeen Madeira Petrel, the feeble attempt by the Scottish Gamekeeper’s Association to malign the White-tailed Eagle, Mark reads out a letter from ‘Grandpa Gyr’ and Nick reads out a letter from a clearly confused ‘S. Backshall’, and we have pre-recorded interviews with BirdLife Malta volunteer Nimrod Mifsud, and with musician Jimi Goodwin (Doves) and Ceri Levy (of Ghosts of Gone Birds fame) who talk about music, extinct birds, and Ralph Steadman’s ‘Needless Smut’.

NB: All opinions and views expressed by an individual panel member and/or guest during a Conference Calls podcast are those of the individual speaker alone, and are not to be taken as being held by or representative of any other individual, organisation, or sponsor unless specifically identified as such during the recording of that podcast.


Show Notes

And your Panel today consists of…

  • Charlie Moores, a freelance writer and podcaster (and now sadly intermittent birder) who either lives in a warm little cottage in north Wiltshire with his family or in a cold ‘podding shed’ editing an endless series of podcasts that more and more people appear to now be listening to.
  • John Hague, a birding psychiatric nurse from Barnsley who now lives in Leicester where he’s a prominent member of the Leicester and Rutland Ornithological Society. John blogs extensively at The Drunkbirder where he rants “about the world and the absurdities of life“.
  • Tom McKinney, the Derbyshire-based birder and award-winning musician who founded The House of Bedlam and gigs as part of Tango 5, and author of the much-missed Skills Bills blog. Tom now blogs weekly at
  • Nick Moran, an expat Yorkshireman living in Norfolk, where he runs BirdTrack at the BTO. Nick spent most of the noughties birding and occasionally teaching Biology in China and the UAE; he is an OSME Council member and secretary and voting member on the Emirates Bird Records Committee which keeps him in touch with Middle East birding.






The Needless Smut shocks the More Pen

Copyright Ralph Steadman






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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores


  1. Peter says:

    I really enjoyed TN60 a nice mix of conservation news, bird news and good humoured banter. Keep up the good work.

  2. Owen Foley says:

    I stayed at the raptor counting camp in Messina, Sicily a few years ago, and the one thing that struck home with me about this whole issue is that it is a long ball game. The Messina group has been operating for decades, counting raptors, reporting poachers and educating school children on the Raptor migration. This is a cultural phenomenon. And for that reason I find it annoying and counter productive when people on our side of the argument come on with insulting comments regarding these hunters. They aren’t scum. They aren’t evil. You polarize the situation needlessly with words and responses like that.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I do not condone this hunting for a second. But this is something their Father’s did. Their Grandfathers did. Their Great Grandfathers did. These people probably have very happy childhood memories of hunting trips with their families. To them it is not wrong. It is not self evident that they should not be shooting migrating birds. They grew up with it. It is natural for them.

    What we are asking of them, on that basis, is actually monumental. To remove an entire aspect of their lives, for reasons they actually do not understand.

    The analogy would be asking people in Britain and Ireland to give up alcohol. We know it is stupid. We know it causes illnesses. We know it is involved in large amounts of anti social behaviour. We know it costs the health services millions in Accident and Emergency expenses every weekend. But if you banned drinking tomorrow what would the response be?

    That is the reality of what we face. A cultural change…not just a legal change. It is worthwhile to promote the conservation in malta, and highlight the actions of poachers and hunters. But always with an eye on the long ball game, with an aim to educate rather than insult. It is not something that is going to happen over night. It will probably never be an outright victory for one side or the other. It will be decades of hard work.

  3. Nick Moran says:

    Owen I’ve experienced various forms of hunting first hand too and you may have a point with your ‘hearts and minds’ argument. Personally I’m not inclined to be too sympathetic though – after all, it was OK to be an egg collector in Britain when Bill Oddie was a lad, yet he and many others like him knew that it was wrong at the time, despite it being as much of a ‘cultural phenomenon’ as shooting migrant birds is in Malta in 2011.

    Your alcohol analogy falls down in that the consequences of shooting migrants lie entirely outside of those individuals who choose to do it. Drinking alcohol can affect those around the drinker – though not always – whilst alcohol in responsible moderation should not have any effect on those around the drinker, by definition. The end result of any health problems from alcohol abuse (which seems to be what you are talking about, rather than alcohol consumption in general) lie primarily with the individual drinker and his/her family and friends.

    In contrast, shooting migrants not only directly (and always negatively) affects the individual birds that are killed or injured, but also everyone else who shares the planet.

    In my opinion the sheer volume of birds being killed means that whilst there are clear benefits of a long-term approach, there is also a need to highlight the issue to the international community now, by whatever means work.

  4. Hi Owen

    I’m a little confused by your comment for a number of reasons to be honest.

    Firstly no-one on this podcast called anyone ‘scum’. In a discussion I had with Geoffrey Saliba of BirdLife Malta some two years ago I was convinced by him that to do so would be counter-productive and I’ve been very careful not to do so since. We mocked the FKNK and will continue to do so – but to equate mockery of an organisation that richly deserves to be mocked on more occasions than I can count with calling individuals ‘scum’ is simply wrong.

    Secondly, Owen, I’m astonished that you would compare the illegal (under EU law) killing of migrant birds with drinking alcohol. Whether or not I would ban alcohol is not the point: it is illegal to kill these birds. Everyone over in Malta knows it, and in Cyprus it’s being done by racketeers to fuel a black market making huge profits illegally mist netting Europe’s breeding birds. There are a lot of things I would like to see banned, but whether they are or not doesn’t change the fact in any way at all that Europe says what these people are doing is illegal.

    Thirdly, I’ve personally discussed the ‘culture’ issue with BirdLife Malta, BirdLife Cyprus, CABS, and many volunteers and they – who know far better than I do – absolutely dismiss the idea that cultural forces still operate. This is about people thinking they’re above the law, not caring about the law, or making money. My personal opinion is that ‘culture’ is not an excuse anyway – if it was we’d still be cock-fighting, badger-baiting, and slaughtering seabirds. When something is wrong, it’s wrong – and when it’s illegal according to the wishes of the rest of Europe then there is no excuse whatsoever.

    Where I do agree with you is that of course implementing change will take time (but Cyprus and Malta joined the EU in 2004 after a long run in where the implications of the EU Birds Directive were widely discussed). But that time will only be extended if we offer trappers and poachers excuses in some sort of misguided attempt at understanding their ‘culture’ and give misty-eyed accounts of families enjoying killing birds together

    Yes, ‘our side’ needs to be very clear about the problems birds face, avoid personal insults (despite the violence and insults conservation staff and volunteers face), and to explain exactly why the Birds Directive is in place – but I do think that you’ve got this wrong Owen, and that’s based on a lot of discussions with people who live and work in the region trying to protect Europe’s birds.

  5. Owen Foley says:

    Hi Charlie/Nick,

    First off..I am not advocating sympathy. I am advocating understanding and tact. Yes hunting the birds is illegal…now…it was not when their Great Grandfathers and Grandfathers were taking these guys out hunting.

    These things do not just stop overnight when someone somewhere passes a law. Especially when there is a perception of external forces coming in and telling locals what to do.

    In fact your responses are indicative of a polarized view rather than an all encompassing view. To you the killing of birds is wrong and just seems stupid (and would undoubtedly remain the case even if the hunting was actually legal) and so you bring the issue to the world stage, as though this hunting issue affects the whole planet. The reality is that most people in the world have never heard of the hunting problem in Malta, and probably do not care much beyond a “That’s a shame” response. Which is indeed a pity, and the raising of awareness for the issue is indeed important. But as it stands, this tree is for the most part falling in the woods and no one is hearing it.

    In regards to the “scum” comment, I was referring to the larger debate on forums etc not the podcasts specifically. But my point stands. These people are not evil. They were used to doing things a certain way, however stupid it may seem to us in our “modern conservation” world (lets not forget how long it took us to get to where we are today with regards our own shooting, trapping and poisoning scenario….with still some way to go with regards to our own raptors).

    I believe you have missed the point in regards to the alcohol analogy and gone into the semantics of alcohol abuse (though if you have ever been punched by a drunk or had to clean up the puke outside your premises on a Saturday morning then perhaps you will get it.).

    Really it does not matter what aspect of any culture you would wish to ban. Even the reasons for the ban may not matter. If the culture is not ready to accept the change then you have a problem. I absolutely agree that the culture issue is not an excuse. But regardless of you saying that…it may nonetheless be a solid reality on the ground. People do not wake up in the morning, decide to buy guns and blow birds and animals away. That kind of behaviour is passed down. To these people it is as stupid to wish to ban shooting, as the shooting is stupid to you.

    And with regards to it not being a cultural thing. I do not buy that for one second. The hunting and eating of passerines in systemic around the Mediterranean. It’s there in recipes and folk tales going way back. That is the essence of culture. Illegal and Outdated yes. But the fact remains that it is/was there. Yes there is probably someone making money out of it under the table…but what is new there? You do not make money from a product if there is no demand for the product if you get my meaning.

    Now I have not spoken to the conservation representatives that you have, but as I said I did participate in a camp myself, and from hearing the history of that (very successful I might add) project, it took exceptional time and effort to win people around. They had to put in the time on the hills, reporting shots fired etc, and that is without a doubt important. But they also took the education approach, and that is even more important. To the point now that the number of poaching incidents per year is a mere fraction of that when they started out. You can’t argue with success.

    You can combat the problem, without demon-izing the these people. When you apply labels, when you back people into a corner, you actually generate a comeback where they feel there is no recourse but to act in spite of the law. To win at all costs.

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