Reports, with Bird Lists, of our Meetings, Walks and Outings

Secret Britain
by Andy Sands

Date: Thursday 18 October 2018 at 19:30


Forty-five people attended the meeting and were fortunate to hear Andy Sands give a most interesting illustrated talk titled Secret Britain.

The photography was simply superb and the talk was delivered in an authoritative, clear and amusing manner. The tour of Britain’s lesser known bird and nature rich sites began in the western isles of Scotland on Coll Island. This was shown to be a small wildlife paradise because of the low intensity traditional farming carried out on the island and the absence of ground-based predators. The island claims to be the sunniest and windiest place in Great Britain!

Sanderling, dunlin (high numbers), little tern and arctic tern (the global migrants), great northern diver, oystercatcher, corn crake (240 calling males!!!), redshank, snipe, wheatear, meadow pipit and wagtail all breed on the island. Cuckoos are abundant and large numbers of brown hares can be seen. It is a hidden wildlife treasure!

The next stop was Upper Teesdale in the north Pennines; often described as England’s last wilderness. A huge selection of wild flower meadows (low intensity farming practices) give rise to a high number and variety of insects and an abundance of ground-nesting birds including yellowhammer, curlew, golden plover, wheatear, ring ouzel, merlin, snipe and even the odd hen harrier nest. Water voles and hares are also present in good numbers. The reason why the wildlife is so abundant is rather controversial as much of this area is red grouse moorland and managed by game keepers. Predators such as stoats, weasels, rats, crows and magpies are routinely trapped or shot and while this is not popular with many people it does create a wildlife environment which is favourable to a lot of species that are threatened in other areas. “There are always two sides to any story.” The issue of the hen harriers was addressed and on the moors visited by Andy the game keepers try to protect hen harriers and at least one pair nested last year. However it is clear that in other parts game keepers may not be so lawful or understanding.

The tour continued with a visit to lowland heathland, wet meadows and deciduous woodland and in each habitat we were shown special birds, mammals and insects that exist there but are quite secretive so need looking and listening for.

In all the different habitats visited we were shown a lot of insects which were preyed upon by parasitic insects and even parasitic insects being preyed upon by yet another species of insect! It was fascinating to learn just how competitive and complex life is for insects which are so often overlooked when we observe nature.

This presentation was one of the most interesting, educational and entertaining we have experienced. Well done Andy Sands!

Brian Clews gave the What’s About report:

Little Marlow – 4 Cetti’s warblers, ruff
Queen Mary Reservoir – Short-eared owls, rock pipit
Eton Wick – water rail, 4 Cetti’s warblers
Greenham Common – 2 yellow browed warblers, firecrest
Heathrow – 25 redwings

--- Original Programme Information ---


This talk shows a few secret areas of the British Isles and many secretive creatures from nocturnal mammal such as dormouse to tiny insects, a few millimetres long, that are often overlooked.

Female Cuckoo Harvest Mouse


Female Cuckoo Harvest Mouse


Naturally the talk will also feature a good range of British secretive birds including nightingale, woodcock, garden warbler and many more.

Garden Warbler Acorn Weevil


Garden Warbler Acorn Weevil



Andy has worked in a camera shop since leaving school in 1987 and taught himself photography, combining it with a lifelong love of natural history. He now owns Chiswick Camera Centre and still photographs natural history, specialising in British species. His work is marketed by Nature Picture Library and is regularly published in magazines and books.

Smooth Snake
Smooth Snake

All pictures are © Copyright. Do not reproduce without permission from Andy Sands.