Friday, October 30, 2015

Black Grouse Lek

If you've never seen black grouse perform their annual courting ritual, known as a lek, you've really missed a treat. I painted the picture below after spending a week out in freezing temperatures waiting for the fog to lift for long enough to photograph the grouse. 

The spectacular way these birds strut and display their feathers was something I had only seen once before. The display is spellbinding, if at times a little comical. The males charge around with their curiously-curved tails fanned and erect, wings spread and drooped, whilst making a loud continuous bubbling sound. Then, every now and then, they jump in the air and call out before they resume circling again. It makes them look a bit like a remote-controlled toy on the blink.

Meanwhile the dull-feathered females strut nonchalantly through the commotion, occasionally fanning their tail feathers and flirting with the males. For a new painting, I needed some really good photographs to paint from. Black grouse lek in April and will use the same site for the display over many years. It took a quite few phone calls to gain permission from landowners to photograph at two sites, one near Hawes in the Dales and the second in Upper Teesdale. At each location I found a local contact to help me find the lek.

I set off to the Dales for a week at the beginning of April. In the mating season, male and female black grouse gather early in the morning for this communal courtship display and so it was important to get there well before the action began each day. My guide was willing to let me use a hide he had built close to the lek and I agreed to meet him at 4.45am at the bottom of the moor. I followed him up a stony track that seemed to lead high up onto the moor into the clouds.  It was 3°C and the wind blew so hard I was nearly swept off my feet as I got out of the car. 

The sky was black and it was only with the help of my guide’s headlights that I could make out a canvas hide, braced against the wind. The guy ropes were taut and the pegs had been weighed down with boulders to keep the hide from flying off. As I clambered inside with all my camera gear and began to set up, I was reminded of the first time I photographed black grouse in North West Scotland. It was even colder there; I had snow showers to contend with and, back then when I used film cameras, photographing in low light was hard work. I was better prepared this time with warmer clothes and digital cameras, but the weather was still against me. 

I had just got the cameras onto the tripod when I heard the unmistakeable ‘tcheway’ call of the black cock, shortly followed by another one. It sounds a bit like a tyre being let out suddenly. Before long I could see seven male birds, their white bottoms glowing in the gloom. As dawn approached, the noise climaxed. A hen was on the horizon. She wandered through the lek, casually inspecting each male. They were frantic to impress her and fights soon broke out amongst them. 

But she sauntered nonchalantly through them and before wandering to the edge of the lek and watching intently as another female arrived on the scene – the females like to take their time before picking out the fittest and strongest male.

It was a great morning, but by 8am all the action was over and the grouse wandered off to feed. Once their tails are back down and no longer fanned they look like an entirely different species, in fact more like you would expect a grouse to look.

Over the next two days the weather got worse and when I woke at 4am the rain was battering so hard against the window panes that I decided to go back to sleep.
The next day I was awake at 4am as usual. The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t want to lose a third day so I set off for the lek anyway. As I started the drive high up into the hill clouds on the moor, the wind and rain hammered against my windscreen.  But I stuck it out and by 7am the weather had improved a bit. 

I got some quite good shots but was getting edgy; I only had two days left and I still hadn’t got the pictures I wanted. I felt relieved when I watched the weather forecast that night: things were set to brighten. On the fifth day of the trip, I woke even earlier than usual, drew back the curtains and looked out of the window. I could see the stars twinkling brightly, promising a clear day at last.

As I got into the hide it was still dark. There was not a cloud in sight, but that strong wind was still there.  The black cock arrived at 5am and started to lek but as the sun came over the hill a short-eared owl flew by. There was an explosion of whirring wings and in an instant all the birds were gone. Luckily they reappeared 20 minutes later and started lekking again.

I was pretty pleased with the result; so nice to see them with a bit of sun on their backs, which brings out their iridescent sheen. But again by 8am they were off. 
I was due to travel back home on Saturday and decided to give it one last go that morning. Again there was not a cloud in the sky but for the first time all week the wind had dropped. As I waited in the hide in the dark I could hear the haunting call of curlews ringing out across the moor followed by the signal whistle of a golden plover. As the black cock arrived and also began to call, I knew this would be the morning I had waited for. I had been up at 4am for four days and on the last day of this trip it all seemed to be coming together. 

Towards the end of the month I made my second trip, this time to Upper Teesdale to a much bigger lek used by up to 20 males. This time I had to get up at 3am to catch the lekking birds before dawn. Again I was plagued by bitterly cold winds, but the sun came out each day and I was able to get more photographs – plenty to take back to the studio and paint from.To me the black cock lek is one of the most unusual courtship displays I have seen. It is so spectacular you would expect it to be the dance of a tropical bird in an exotic rain forest, not a grouse on a bleak windswept moor in the North of England.

There are just 5,000 black grouse males left. Their decline is mainly due to dramatic changes to their moorland habitat. But the RSPB is restoring moorland reserves with heather and low shrubs for these beautiful birds to feed on. Find out how you can do to help save these beautiful birds at my exhibition: Saving Nature which opens at my gallery in Thixendale this Saturday, November 7th.  

My latest paintings of endangered species from around the world will also be on show alongside all my wildlife photography and video clips from around the world. The exhibition is open daily and runs until Nov 29th. 

Hedgehog Rescue. Saving Nature

I like to think there is a reciprocal relationship between my conservation work and my paintings – I do a creature a good turn and it helps me out by posing for its portrait. Never was this truer than when I painted this hedgehog - the limited edition print will be on show alongside a new collection of paintings of endangered species at my gallery between November 7th-29th.

Up until then, I had never painted this prickly creature since it’s was subject that I considered a bit ‘twee.’ In fact I have to confess to habitually letting out a great groan when I saw it topping the surveys of Britain’s favourite mammal or when someone asks me to paint one. But then I found to my horror that I had trapped a young hedgehog in a rat trap in my garden. My subsequent efforts to rescue this helpless animal made me see the species in a whole different light.

Fortunately, the hoglet was not injured but I was worried about letting it go since it was so small and I didn’t think it would make it through the fast-approaching winter. I scooped up the bristly handful and took it inside to weigh it on the kitchen scales - it weighed a mere 280g. Thankfully my wife said nothing when she saw it in her clean stainless steel weighing bowls.

Ideally a hedgehog needs to weigh closer to 600g before it is ‘safe’ to go into hibernation as it relies on fat reserves to stay alive during the long winter. This little one would need some special attention to help it through the coldest part of the year so I put it in the porch in a pen designed for a puppy and fed it a can of cat food until I had time to think of a longer term solution.

The next day I began converting an overgrown, fenced section of my vegetable patch for it and made a wooden hedgehog house in one corner which I filled with hay. That evening I found a second young hedgehog in the garden. This one was slightly bulkier, weighing 300g, but again it was only at half its target hibernation weight. I suspected they were siblings, the first being a female and the second its brother.

The hedgehogs seemed to relish the warmth of my farmhouse and regular food. They were so cute I couldn’t resist taking a couple of photographs of them and posting a snap of them on my Facebook page. The photographs caused quite a stir – hedgehogs really seem to capture the public’s imagination – and before the day was out a friend rang to say she had also found a very small hedgehog in her neighbour’s garden. It had been wandering around disorientated and squeaking and, at just 120 grams, was even lighter than my two charges. She brought it across to the gallery straightaway. I was taken aback by how tiny it was - it fitted into the palm of my hand.

And it was cold: a bad sign. To keep it warm, my friend had put a hot water bottle in the box she had brought it to me in. I noticed that even the fleas and lice, which are so common in hedgehogs, had given it up for dead and were lurking on the hot water bottle instead. Unlike my two protégés, I knew it would be touch and go for this little character. I warmed it up gradually in my cupped hands and then put the box in the freezer to kill off the fleas, hoping that my wife wouldn’t notice. Hedgehogs on the kitchen scales were one thing but fleas in the freezer might just be a step too far.  

After some invaluable advice from an animal rescue care centre in Malton, run by my very knowledgeable and trusted friend Jean Thorpe, I syringed some warm water with critical care formula into the corner of the hoglet’s mouth followed by a paste of Spikes hedgehog food and crushed mealworms. It swallowed this down feebly.

I kept up the tiny feeds for the rest of the day, little and often. As night advanced, I began to worry about how I was going to keep the tiny creature warm. It was a fine balance: too cold and it would die, too hot and it would become dehydrated and overheat. After trying to come up with all sorts of ideas to try to regulate various artificial sources of heat, it suddenly occurred to me that I could leave this part up to nature. I put all three hedgehogs together into a small cardboard box filled with hay and let the two siblings to share their warmth with the weaker one.

The following day, I woke early and rushed downstairs to see how they had fared.  I plunged my hand enthusiastically into the hay – only to withdraw it instantly as the sharp spines stabbed my fingertips. Feeling a little foolish I went off to find some gardening gloves and then carefully parted the hay. There was the little hedgehog: alive, well and warm; snuggled in between the other two.

After three nights of sleeping huddled together like this the larger two were ready to go outside, but I decided to keep them until the littlest hoglet was stronger. They ended up staying inside for just over a week.But I noticed that during feeding time, the smallest hedgehog was starting to get pushed around by the others, so I began to take him out to eat on his own. At this time I had my mum and dad over to stay and one evening, as I sat in an armchair absently stroking the littlest hoglet as it lay asleep in the crook of my arm, my dad looked at my mum and said ‘I’m getting a bit worried about our Bob – I think he’s fallen for a hedgehog.”

It was true, there I was – a 6ft 2 inch beef farmer’s son - grown fond of a tiny little bundle of spikes. It was time to make this relationship formal. A great deal of my paintings are actually portraits of wild animals or birds that I know well and I decided it was time to get this little creature posing for me in a professional capacity. He was soon large enough to fend for himself so I put all three out in the pen in the vegetable patch and got busy with my camera.

I habituated them to the outside world on a series of short ‘photo shoots.’ I selected my backdrops carefully, letting them wander through a woodland set, over a series of branches, traverse a particularly attractive leafy glade and curl up in some fetching autumn leaves until I was happy with a few composition ideas and ready to start work at the easel.

Soon the weather turned really cold, so I put them inside my log store behind the gallery and fed them on dry cat food. They only came out sporadically now and other food could go off. As soon as the worst of the winter weather passed I put them back in the outside pen – but with such a cold spring I kept them longer than I expected releasing them back into the countryside in the beginning of May. By that time I had been busy in my studio working on their portraits. 

Hedgehogs are endangered. Don't miss my exhibition of paintings of animals that need your help. Saving Nature opens on Saturday November 7th and is open daily at my gallery in Thixendale until Nov 29th. See my latest paintings, limited edition prints, photographs, video and pick up tips on what you can do to help your favourite species survive. There are  a number of nature walks and kids wildlife events to book on to too. Click here to see my website for times and prices. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Art Exhibition to Save Nature: Near & Far

I’ve got a new art exhibition opening at my gallery in Thixendale on November 7th at which I aim to raise awareness for the plight of creatures in crisis. The event features lifelike paintings of endangered species from around the globe. Wildlife is my life and I hope to offer visitors practical advice on what they can do to help the animals on their own doorsteps.

 Wildlife everywhere is in crisis. Here in the UK there are species that we take for granted, like sparrows and hedgehogs, which could disappear altogether if we don’t do something. It's almost Christmas and I’m hoping that visitors to my exhibition will embrace the seasonal spirit of giving to do what they can to help nature.

A report by the World Wildlife Fund this autumn suggested the world has already lost 52% of species. I will also be exhibiting photographs of endangered wildlife from around the world, including pictures of rare desert elephants that I photographed in Namibia this August.

The best of my research video into animal behaviour will also be on show, among them engaging footage of endangered species. If I can show people how wonderful the wildlife that I watch is, I hope they will want to preserve them as much as I do.

I’m planning to use this exhibition to show visitors how to protect British species via information boards and workshops. When so many species are struggling, sometimes it is difficult to know where to begin. But there are plenty of things people can do in their own gardens that will make a big difference. I hope my exhibition will show them how.

Mr own garden in Thixendale is a great example as to what can be achieved. Since I moved here in 1998 my tree sparrow population has flourished. Tree sparrows are endangered in the UK, but my regime of planting woodland and wildflowers, digging a pond and putting up bird feeders and nest boxes has ensured the future of local populations.
A number of nature walks, falconry lessons and birdwatching safaris accompany the exhibition.

My Exhibition: Saving Nature: Near and Far runs from November 7th-29th  here at The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, North Yorkshire, YO17 9LS. 
For more details go to my website or to book on a nature event follow the links below:

Accompanying events:  

Falconry, Sunday Nov 8th 
Learn how to fly a live bird of prey with experts Eagle Eye Falconry.
10-11am. £6 adults £4 children Buy Tickets 

 Red Kite Roost, Saturday Nov 14th 
A guided tour to a red kite roost with a professional birdwatcher Michael Flowers.
1pm at the Robert Fuller Gallery. £9.50 Buy Tickets

Falconry, Sunday Nov 15th 
Learn how to fly a live bird of prey with experts Eagle Eye Falconry.
10-11am. £6 adults £4 children Buy Tickets

KIDS: Endangered Animals Mini Zoo, Sunday Nov 15th 
Hold and touch rare exotic animals in the safe environment of the gallery
10-11am. £6 adults £4 children. Buy Tickets

Talk & Slideshow by Wildlife Artist Robert Fuller, Saturday Nov 21st 
Robert will talk about the wildlife of Namibia.
7.30pm. £9.50 Buy Tickets

Falconry, Sunday Nov 22nd 
Learn how to fly a live bird of prey  with experts Eagle Eye Falconry.
10-11am. £6 adults £4 children Buy Tickets

Raptor & Seal Safari, Sunday Nov 28th
A safari around Sunk Island on the Humber Estuary to see barn owls, peregrine falcons and seals. 
1.30pm. £9.50 Buy Tickets

KIDS: Endangered Animals Mini Zoo, Sunday Nov 29th 
Hold and touch rare exotic animals in the safe environment of the gallery
10-11am. £6 adults £4 children. Buy Tickets

Falconry, Sunday Nov 29th
Learn how to fly a live bird of prey  with experts Eagle Eye Falconry.
10-11am. £6 adults £4 children Buy Tickets

Wild Barn Owl Mum Takes on Foundlings

I have discovered that the instinct to nurture and protect young is so fiercely ingrained in birds of prey that it is possible to get them to act as surrogate mothers and raise chicks that are not their own.

This year, I have successfully re-homed kestrel, barn owl and tawny owl chicks that have been found and handed in to me, putting them back into wild nests. Now wildlife rehabilitation centres have even begun to bring me rescued chicks, which I ‘foster’ onto unsuspecting parent birds. And I’ve been sharing my findings with the World Owl Trust of which I am a patron in the hope that it can help their conservation efforts abroad.

Last year I put the parenting skills of a pair of tawny owls to the test by persuading them to take on six extra owlets: making their entire brood up to 10! I helped support this large brood by offering food to supplement their diet until the chicks became independent.

Then this year I pushed the boundaries further by persuading a pair of barn owls to accept two foster barn owl chicks before their own eggs had even hatched. A farmer had found these chicks after emptying out a barn of straw and brought them to me. They were less than a week old and were very frail. They needed to be kept warm so I put them on a heat mat in a box in my porch while I decided what to do with them. I have raised owlets this size before, feeding them every couple of hours and trying to release them back into the wild when they are full grown. But the young chick can become ‘imprinted’ on you, mistaking you for its real mother. It causes them real difficulty when they try and make their own way in the wild as they are instinctively drawn to humans. It makes far more sense to get a wild owl to raise them if you can.

Earlier in the year a pair of barn owls living close to my gallery that had just won a vicious battle with a kestrel over a nesting site. I already had this nesting site wired with a camera which could relay live video footage to a screen in my studio. So I decided to foster the barn owl chicks onto this pair so that I could see how the female took to the new chicks and monitor the situation in case I needed to intervene if things started to go awry. I have put chicks into a barn owl nest before but always when the bird’s own chicks had hatched and were already well grown. But this pair was still incubating eggs in a nest box in a sycamore tree so I was unsure how they would react.

That evening I got my ladder out and propped it against the tree. The female flew out as I climbed up the rungs with the chicks balanced in my left hand. As the box was vacated I could quickly place the two chicks next to the still warm eggs. I left as quickly as possible and headed back home. I was intrigued to see on screen how these new chicks would be received. I was surprised to see that the female owl was already inside the box by the time I got back. She was standing over the chicks, looking down at them in surprise, as if to say, ‘Cor blimey I’ve only been gone a second’. She reached down with her beak and hesitated. For a horrible moment I wondered whether she was going to brood them or eat them. Then she touched each chick with her beak and started to try and work out how she was going to get these  helpless wriggling white blobs underneath her to brood.

It was important that these young chicks survived as 2015 has been a very disappointing year so far for breeding barn owls. Their success is closely linked to the availability of their main prey, field voles. Vole numbers fluctuate along a four to five year cycle, but these cycles can also be affected by the weather. Last year, for instance, there was a relatively mild winter followed by a great summer and this brought about a ‘boom’ year for voles. Consequently it was the best year on record for breeding barn owls, with many pairs rearing two clutches of chicks, which is known as ‘double brooding.’But this year there has been so few voles that females have not been able to eat enough to get into healthy breeding condition and when they are below a certain weight they don’t bother to breed.

I had rung the female the year before with a colleague so I knew that she was a new parent and these two extra owlets were her first ever chicks. She didn’t seem to know how to go about brooding them and where to put her long sharp talons. She kept lifting one foot and then the other and clenched her claws into a tight fist in an attempt to keep the chicks safe but she still managed to stand on them in the process. Talk about being all fingers and thumbs!
I watched as she pecked at her own feet in frustration, but finally, after a lot of fidgeting, she was sitting on her new brood.

Just before midnight the male arrived in the nest box. Whenever he comes into the box he always briefly greets her and then tries to mate her. Normally when he does this, even if she is incubating the eggs, she bows her head in submission. But this time she looked him straight in the eye and pecked at him in disbelief. He took a step back in confusion, as if to say ‘What’s wrong with you tonight?’ before stepping forward to try again. But again she rebuffed his advances, this time standing up with her wings out and pushing him around the large nest box, pecking him all the while. She forced him into the far corner and made him stay there while she returned to tend to her chicks. She sat back carefully onto her cherished owlets a look of complete contentment writ large across her face and then glanced up disdainfully to check that the male was keeping his distance. He watched on forlornly from the sidelines and shuffled around the edges of the box.

It was fascinating to watch but even better to see that she had taken to her role as surrogate with such dedication. The next morning I watched as she fed the chicks in turn, each chick tucked neatly under a wing. A week later her own eggs hatched. There was a sizable difference between the largest and smallest chick in the nest, but this didn’t overly concern me. It is perfectly natural for barn owls to have a range of differently sized young. Barn owls incubate the first egg as soon as it is laid while most birds lay the whole clutch of eggs before starting to incubate them, so that they all hatch at the same time. A barn owl usually lays one egg every three days. So if they lay six, there will be 18 days between the oldest and youngest chick. This, however, can present a very nasty problem. The chicks grow so fast that the largest is big enough to swallow the youngest one whole.

But, I’m putting out extra food for this artificially expanded family so I’m hoping that that these four chicks will all make it to fledging time. They will certainly be an added bonus for the population of barn owls on the Yorkshire Wolds this season. And I’m hoping that this wild surrogacy technique that I’ve honed near my home in Thixendale can be used in conservation projects around the world to help increase populations of endangered owl species in the future.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Some Special Offers for Christmas...

I've got a Special Offer for Christmas

Valid until 1st December 2015

Spend £85.00 on any of my products

& choose a free mixed pack of cards of your choice worth up to £20.00.
Quote special offer: It’s a cracker - mixed pack or enter Cracker on-line

Spend £35.00 on any products in the catalogue

& get one free pack of small greetings cards of your choice worth £5.00
Quote special offer: It’s a cracker - small cards or enter Cracker on-line

To take advantage of this order:

Place your order before 1st December by one of the following methods:
By telephone: 01759 368355 and be sure to quote the special offer code above.
By post: The Robert Fuller Gallery, Fotherdale Farm, Thixendale, Malton YO17 9LS
and write the special offer code on the order form.
On-line: Click here to go to my online shop and simply enter Cracker at checkout.
In the gallery: Print this offer letter out and bring it with you when you buy in the gallery.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Art to Save Nature

A report published by World Wildlife Fund last month claimed that 52% of the world's animals have vanished. It followed research earlier in the year that claimed the cumulative effects of climate change, pollution and deforestation has meant vertebrates are disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than normal. Apparently, since 1900 more than 400 more vertebrates have disappeared. Such a loss would normally be seen over a period of up to 10,000 years. Thankfully, the authors of this new report believe it is still possible to avoid a "dramatic decay of biodiversity" through intensive conservation. But we need to act fast to save what we can. Already, according to one of the scientists, Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich, "There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead.”

Oil painting
by Robert E Fuller

I found that statement really chilling. Conservation is at the heart of what I do - after all I owe my livelihood to the animals that I paint. Last year I worked alongside conservationists in The Galapagos Islands helping to preserve unique species in the remote Ecuadorian archipelago. I also donate a percentage of the sales of my paintings of tigers to a conservation group protecting tigers in India and also support Save the Albatross.

Tiger of Kanha, l
imited edition print

by Robert E Fuller

Closer to home, I am the founder of a conservation group to protect barn owls on the Yorkshire Wolds, putting up nest boxes on farmland throughout the area, monitoring local populations and even putting out supplementary food for owls during tough times. Although barn owls are not endangered, they struggle to survive on the Yorkshire Wolds where the winters can be harsh. Prolonged snowfall or a lack of voles, their main diet, can have devastating effects on owl populations. 

I also work with Jean Thorpe of Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation to restore owls, hedgehogs, and any other creature that is handed in to me by customers or friends, to the wild. This summer a scheme I devised to persuade wild owls to adopt injured or abandoned owlets has proved so successful I have been sharing my experiences with the World Owl Trust, of which I am a patron. To read about how I did this and to watch a short video of how the wild owls took to the chicks click here

Sometimes my efforts to save the creatures I love get me into difficulties - like the time I stumbled across a gang baiting badgers with dogs. I was so upset by their cruelty I called the police and photographed them in the act, which led to my becoming the main witness in a criminal prosecution. The gang were eventually sent to prison. You can read more on this grim story by clicking here

But helping wildlife doesn't need to be so dramatic. In fact, it's the small things that make the most difference. My garden in Thixendale, North Yorkshire, is planted specifically for wildlife, for instance. 

Since I moved here in 1998 I have planted a woodland and wildflower meadow, dug a pond and filled the borders with shrubs and bushes to attract everything from sparrows to weasels and stoats. Since I've been here my tree sparrow population has burgeoned from just one pair to 30! 

Tree sparrows are disappearing at an alarming rate, with 93% reduction since the 1970s. I found that just by slowly improving the habitat in my own garden I have been able to make a huge difference for them. Within the first year of planting out my garden my population had tripled and so I built special nest boxes adapted for them.

Now by then end of each summer there are 250-300 sparrows flocking around the garden. By early winter most of these birds disperse to other farms where they have now formed new colonies. I love tree sparrows, they are such characters. I love hearing their deafening chatter in the hedgerows as they squabble. The only problem is my bird food bill. They easily consumer 20kgs a week!

But when it comes to conservation you can never do enough and I'm forever working against the clock to help the creatures living near me as well as the exotic animals I come across on my travels.

My latest plan is to devote an exhibition of my paintings to raise awareness for endangered species. The event, which I have called Saving Nature: Near & Far, runs from November 7-29th here at my gallery in Thixendale. 

Squirrel of Formby,
limited edition print
by Robert E Fuller
I will be exhibiting paintings of the animals that need help alongside  information boards and videos proffering information on what visitors can do. There is so much that ordinary people can do to conserve wildlife on their own doorsteps. 

Sometimes it’s just small things like putting up a nest box or leaving grass verges uncut for barn owls to hunt in. I think sometimes conservation can feel a little overwhelming, but if everybody does one small thing then we can achieve quite a lot. 

I've compiled a list of UK species that could be extinct by the end of the century. Click here to see my list and find out what you can do to help. I've posted a painting next to each which I hope will inspire you to act.

Do One Thing to Save Nature

Our wildlife is in trouble. My Christmas exhibition, which runs at my gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire, from November 7-29th, is aimed at raising awareness for endangered species through art. 

Here I've picked some UK species you can help bring back from the brink and suggested one thing you can do. I hope my paintings inspire you to action! 

Hedgehog in Autumn Leaves,
limited edition print
 by Robert E Fuller
The rapid decline of hedgehogs is due to the effect of climate change on hibernation patterns, road casualties and the increased use of pesticides, especially slug pellets.
What can you do Slug pellets kill hedgehogs. Encourage hedgehogs to eat your slugs instead of using pesticides. Attract a hedgehog to your garden by building them a house to hibernate in - an old log pile will do. Websites such as Hedgehog Street have some fun suggestions for hedgehog houses.

Squirrel Nutkin,
Limited edition print
by Robert E Fuller
Red Squirrels
With just 14,000 left, this is one of Britain’s most endangered species. Its decline is mainly due to invasive grey squirrels, a loss of habitat and squirrel pox.
What can you do Grey squirrels have to be kept under control and charities that tackle this need support.

Lapwing Study
Acrylic painting
by Robert E Fuller

Due to intensive farming practises, there are now just 140,000 breeding pairs left in the UK.
What you can do: Farmers: take advantage of stewardship schemes to protect them and to compensate you for productivity losses. Walkers: keep dogs on a lead during the breeding season so they don’t disturb eggs and young hatchlings.

Black Grouse Lek
Oil painting
by Robert E Fuller
Black Grouse
Dramatic changes to moorlands means there are just 5,000 males left.
What you can do Drink whisky!! Distillers Famous Grouse have teamed up with the RSPB to restore heather and low shrubs on moorland reserves for these birds. A percentage from the sale of each Black Grouse bottle goes to this scheme.

Grey Partridge
Not to be confused with red-legged partridges, English, or, native, greys appear on the RSPB's red list of birds in crisis. Controversially where greys are managed as game, numbers are recovering.
What you can do: Support the Game Conservancy Trust’s work to preserve the insects and provide nesting cover for them.

Tree Sparrows
Numbers of tree sparrows have dropped by 93%.
What you can do: Put nest boxes up in the garden. Tree sparrows are social birds that live in colonies so site boxes next to each other or build a sparrow terrace. Below is a terrace I built.

Barn Owl
Oil Painting
by Robert E Fuller
Barn Owls
On the Yorkshire Wolds, where winters can be extreme, populations have reached a dangerous low.
What you can do: Farmers: barn owls eat voles, which live in rough grassland: set aside field margins for them. Gardeners: Don’t trim the roadside verges outside your home where these owls hunt.

Butterflies and Bees
Three quarters of UK’s butterfly species have halved in the last decade and bees are suffering a serious decline too.
What you can do: Plant wildflowers to provide nectar. A variety of native species with early and late flowering plants will provide nectar all year round. Butterflies like warmth so choose a sunny spot.

Yellow Hammer
Oil Painting
by Robert E Fuller
Garden Birds
House sparrows and starlings are among the worst hit species. Others like yellow hammers or willow warblers are increasingly rare.
What you can do: Put food out over winter. Seeds and fat bars are best. If you can, provide water. A pond gives clean water to bathe and drink. In winter, break the ice on the ponds. Cats are one of the causes of decline. Keep cats in at night when they do most harm.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Art for Nature: National Badger Day Paintings

Today is National Badger Day and so I thought I would share my paintings and my passion for these gentle creatures in the hope that I can convince people that they really are worth protecting.

Although badgers are not endangered - like most of the species I've am raising awareness for  through my campaign #artsavingnature - they have been persecuted for centuries. In 2011, I found myself helping to convict some badger baiters after stumbling across them attacking badgers with dogs. To read more on that story click here

Badgers are really such lovable creatures. I've been captivated by them since the day when, as a youngster and at just 14 years old, I stumbled, quite literally, into a sett. A storm was blowing my scent away and since badgers have such poor eyesight they didn’t notice me as I stood among them watching the cubs tumble about my boots. It was quite magical to see the way in which they interacted. The experience had me hooked and all these years later, I’m still watching them. There is always something to learn about their complex social structure and nocturnal wanderings.

But getting close to badgers has never been easy. They are naturally very wary of humans – rightly so since they have been persecuted for centuries. Perhaps if more people got to watch them in the wild there would be more of a general incentive to protect them. But badgers have a particularly keen sense of smell and if they get the slightest whiff of human scent they remain underground. 

Over the years I’ve perched in some very uncomfortable, and usually unreliable, places to try to watch them. But six years ago I built a deluxe hide five metres up a tree overlooking a sett. I have watched the clan at this sett every night since and I've painted quite a few of their portraits. In time the badgers have become so accustomed to me that I can walk amongst them. They are curious about what I am up to - on one occasion Humbug, my favourite, decided she wanted to see if she approved of the pictures I had taken!

Below is the portrait I painted of her when she was just a year old. 

The clan always appear at dusk or just before and as night falls they gain confidence. They emerge like clockwork each evening and always disappear off in the same direction. Over the years I have got to know each member of the clan well and have watched as cubs grow. This painting is of Tufty, one of my favourites. 

Although badgers are largely nocturnal, in the spring and summer the nights are too short to forage and they often venture out at sunset.They usually spend some time at the sett playing and grooming before heading off. This time is important for them socially as it helps them to cement their bonds. It also makes great badger watching, especially if there are playful cubs around.

When I sit down to paint their portraits I always feel that I have to make sure I get their characters right to do them justice. In November I am staging a major new exhibition featuring paintings of species around the world that need protecting. The exhibition opens here in my gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire between November 7-29th and will focus on a number of UK species that are in trouble and offer you advice on what you can do to help.