It may have escaped your notice but we have been working tirelessly on a project with the RSPB to make bird food Fair to Nature. In doing so we have organised UK grown ingredients that you happily put in your bird feeders for hungry Long-tailed Tits, House Sparrows and Robins, and also worked in Bulgaria and France to source sunflowers. However what about peanuts? These tend be grown in far flung places and the nearest reliable growers are in West Africa. Of course working on making West African peanut farms Fair to Nature does also mean that we would be encountering birds that would have bred here in the UK now wintering in this Sahelian zone. Some of those species include Turtle Dove, Yellow Wagtails and Northern Wheatears.
Embarking on this quest means that we have the potential to influence land management right across the flyway for our migrants and also resident species of birds and other wildlife….bit of a result if we can do it!
The next few weeks you will hear of our adventures on this blog, about some of the things that we plan to do, and some of the species and people we met with. Having spent the last few weeks internet and largely mobile phone free I’m not acclimatising too well! So bear with me!
Sat in the Travelodge at Birmingham international airport I couldn’t resist a bit of nostalgia! Over ten years ago I visited this area of Senegal and the Gambia and now I was going back, but as part of a crack team of troops to try and develop a plan for peanut growers to help migratory birds and resident wildlife. I knew it was going to be hard work and I knew it wasn’t going to be free of adventure as well as interesting findings and opportunities.
Let me introduce Team Peanut (#teampeanut):
George Jadama – George is a resident of the Gambia and an expert in his field. He is an extremely experienced ecologist and ornithologist, in both Senegal and the Gambia, a rare find in this part of Africa and knows the issues of continued agricultural intensity and it’s impacts particularly on migratory bird species all too well. If that wasn’t enough he also fills his time by taking bird tours throughout the area making sure that visitors enjoy the very best of the regions wildlife and culture. One thing in the Gambia I heard a lot was… “Oh your working with George! He’s brilliant! A really nice guy”. Everybody is George’s friend, myself included. When not in the field George spends his time either with his family or working out at the gym.
Niki Williamson – Whichever introduction I give Niki it will not do her justice, I have worked with her for the last decade and she has been one of the consummate experts in her field. She has this uncanny ability to imagine what a place could and would like for a bird, insect or mammal if you put certain habitats in place in the right places. In addition using years of finely developed knowledge she can understand complex ecological constraints for species and rectify them through practical management options. She is also a bit of a swot and will reference papers in your face! Niki also has this fabulous ability to understand people and complex social issues as well as make friends with whoever she meets. She is also one of my closest friends which makes travelling in extreme conditions (more on that in another blog) a whole lot more enjoyable. She is a really good all round naturalist, simply put one of the absolute best and a great and seasoned traveller . Niki is also equally passionate about the Manea Brass Band, which she is part of.
Simon Tonkin – that’s me! (on the left) well I won’t say too much about myself, but I have travelled to this region before, in fact five times before and birded the area extensively including peanut farms. I also do a lot of conservation and ornithological work globally throughout Europe and Central America which is perhaps valuable experience for this mission. I was once described as having no discernible childhood talents apart from hanging out at sewage outfalls looking at Gulls!
We were also joined for the first few days by Sam Marriage of Marriages (on the right in the above picture) who supply the RSPB’s bird food, another old friend and brilliant football player and the main man when it comes to understanding the bird food industry. Eddie Rudd also from Marriages and their chief buyer, has extensive knowledge gathered over many years in the industry on the market pressures, issues and pricing. Eddie was once an amazing rugby player.
Our trip would take us from Birmingham international airport to the capital Banjul in the Gambia, after meeting some peanut processors in Gambia we embarked on a rather perilous journey into Senegal driving from the Gambian border to the far north of Senegal. Hear about this in our next Team Peanut edition, coming Monday…..or Tuesday ….or whenever I’ve answered all my backlog of emails!