I have spent some time considering whether or not to post this blog piece but I have decided to do so. Too often problems are swept under the carpet, false narratives are promoted and criminals, no matter how petty some might consider it, get away with their crimes.
I have been ringing in Red Lodge since December 2012. In that time I have carried out 50 ringing sessions and never had a problem with the public there. In fact, of all of my sites I would say that the local people and the other visiting users of it are the most friendly and interested of any at my ringing sites. We always chat and I have entertained their extended families with ringing demonstrations, training on handling, explanations on ageing and sexing birds and, apart from someone who took exception to my bird table and feeders in 2016 / 17, there has never been a problem at this site. That was the case until Saturday morning.
I was working solo, which I prefer not to do any more since the problems in Ravensroost Wood last July, but none of my team were available, and I had missed enough sessions recently through illness not to want to miss any more.
I was on site for 6:00 and set up three net rides quite quickly, with the nets open just after 6:30. My information signs were, as ever, placed at the end of each net ride. They are bright, colourful and unmissable. As there was some bird activity along the main path, I thought I would set another ride along it. I had been gone from the farm-side ride for a couple of minutes, whilst setting the first net for my putative next ride. While I was busy, I heard some voices coming from the farm-side ride. When the people didn’t appear straight away I went to investigate.
I found a middle-aged man and a younger woman stood next to the net and the woman was fiddling with something in it. The male was aggressive from the outset. I politely asked them to move away from the net, to which the male replied “No”. I asked again and got the same reply. I asked if they had seen my signs, which they had but said they weren’t interested because they wanted to free the bird. So I pointed out that they were breaking the law (at the least, criminal damage) and went to the net. The woman moved away mouthing all of the usual platitudes about the bird being trapped and struggling! Why do they think the net is there? Why do I bother with signs?
When I got to the bird I found she had dislocated its leg and also torn a hole in the net. I pointed this out and he got even more aggressive and subjected me to a torrent of abuse: every swear word you can think of was thrown in my direction. Looking at the age discrepancy, I suspect that the woman was his daughter and he was reacting to distract from her actions. I have reported the incident to the police, but I don’t have their details and don’t expect anything to come of it, unless they make themselves known. They might, because he said he was going to report my “attitude” to the police and I suspect he is dumb enough to do so. I released the bird from the net and let it fly off. There was nothing I could do about the damaged leg, and I don’t ring birds with illness or injury. You never know who might blame it on the ringing process. I followed them up the path to ensure no further damage to my nets or any birds (fortunately there were no other birds in those nets). Damaged nets can be repaired or replaced, damaged birds have to struggle for what remains of their lives. Ringing training is primarily about safely extracting birds from nets: why do these people think they can do it with no training at all?
I have also reported the incident to Forestry England and the BTO. I think this has to be the end of solo ringing for me. It is too dangerous, both the threat of assault and not having witnesses when these self-righteous, unthinking vandals decide they have the right to interfere, regardless of the consequences for the poor bird.
Soon after the altercation I was met by some of my usual contacts who exercise themselves and their dogs at Red Lodge. They were suitably horrified at what had occurred. Unfortunately, they were unable to identify who the vandals might be. One of them, who lives in the cottages adjacent to the site, has kindly given me his mobile number, so I can call for backup if there are any issues in the future.
So to the actual ringing: I lost all enthusiasm for setting any more nets, so left things as they were and put away the ride I was working on when the altercation occurred. Naturally I spent the rest of the morning watching birds fly across where I would have set those nets.
The list for the morning was: Blue Tit 4; Great Tit 1; Coal Tit 2; Wren 1(1); Robin 1; Song Thrush 1; Blackcap 6(1); Chiffchaff 1. Totals: 17 birds ringed from 8 species and 2 birds retrapped from 2 species, making 19 birds processed from 8 species.
There was an interesting element to the catch. Blackcaps and Garden Warblers are antagonistic: primarily coming from Blackcaps. Having played a lure for Blackcap, which brought in the 2 males processed, I put on a lure for Garden Warbler on the off chance there might be some about. It attracted in 4 of the 5 female Blackcaps that I processed. Perhaps the aggression comes from the females!
The Coal Tits were definitely a pair: a male and female within 12″ of each other in the same net. When I released the male he stayed close, calling, until I released the female, whereupon they both flew off in the same direction.
One of my other regulars was out walking his lovely Black Labrador and stopped for the usual chat. He mentioned that he had found a dead Buzzard along the main track and could see no signs of damage. However, he thought he would save it for me to get it investigated, so he put it in his freezer. It is now in my freezer, as this is the second dead Buzzard found in the area in the last couple of weeks, plus 3 dead foxes dumped at Somerford Common. I discussed it with the police when I made my initial complaint and they have pointed me in the direction of the RSPCA. I have contacted the RSPCA by email and am waiting to hear what to do next.