James Walsh, aka The Mancunian Birder, explores the question “Is there a North/South divide in birding?”

James Walsh - The Mancunian Birder - takes a look at the North - South divide.


As I write, the rather familiar refrain of Eric Spears “Lancashire Blues” can be heard in the background on the television introducing a repeat of “Classic Coronation Street”.

Probably not a lot of people know, but the “Corrie” theme tune was actually a Southern mans’ musical interpretation of Northern life.

It has become the soundtrack to the tea-time of millions of Britons as they sit down to watch a mainstream, stereotypical view of life in the Salford/Manchester area.

Now, what has this got to do with birding (apart from Hilda Ogden’s flying Mallards on the wall), I hear you ask?

Recently, a singing male Black Redstart took up territory on the new Coronation Street set on Salford Quays, one of my local patches, around the same time that I hosted the inaugural Salford Docklands Bird Cruise and took David Lindo, the Urban Birder, around the site onboard “The Irwell Pride” for a BBC Programme “Urban Jungle”. This imagery sets the scene for this article, Coronation Street is a cultural symbol of the Industrial North, smog, pollution and Lowry-esque figures traipsing to industrialised jobs, whereas the birds and birding activity in the same area is a prime example of “Grey To Green”, nature reclaiming former industrial areas such as docklands, and the potential of new, green industry such as Eco-Tourism.


To start to explore the question “Is there a North/South divide in birding?” I first looked at the location of the Headquarters of a number of UK birding/conservation organisations and magazines, and I wasn’t hugely surprised to see that all were based in the South of England.


Organisation connected to birding and where their headquarters and or bases are...

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Sandy, Bedfordshire British Trust for Ornithology Tring, Hertfordshire Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Slimbridge, Gloucestershire Rare Bird Alert Norwich, Norfolk Birdwatching Magazine Peterborough, Cambridgeshire British Birds Magazine St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex BBC Wildlife Magazine Bristol UK400 Club Buckinghamshire Birding World / Birdline Cley, Norfolk

At Birdnet (rare bird news service for keen birders) in the 1990’s we attempted to redress the North/South birding divide, our office was in Derbyshire - many Northern birders flocked to the organisation, but we were always the “underdogs” on the birding scene.

I took a look at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the UKs largest nature conservation charity, in detail.

In 1989 I joined Magnus Magnusson, Chairman of the RSPB at the time, for the 100 year anniversary celebrations, we placed a time capsule in the ground at Fletcher Moss, Didsbury in Manchester, the site where the Society began.

Personally, I feel that the RSPB has lost touch with its’ Mancunian roots, there is just the one RSPB reserve in Greater Manchester, Dove Stone, and the city centre Peregrines are promoted with a stall.

However, I wonder what founder Emily Williamson would make of the modern-day RSPB, perhaps proud of the size and scale, but perhaps disappointed with the Southern-centric culture? How much money is spent on conservation in the North compared with the South? I spoke to Mike Clarke, RSPB CEO, at the Conservative Party Conference in 2013 at the “State of Nature” event about the serious threat of fracking to the environment of the North, but I have not been impressed with the reaction, sometimes organisations such as this seem too entrenched in corporate culture!

I’m sure Emily Williamson would lament the species decline, habitat loss and pollution happening upon the watch of organisations such as the RSPB, do they need to give more power to the elbow of the North?


Iolo Williams big breakfast dog December 2016 Gro

Iolo Williams a great Welsh Wildlife Presenter and staring on Spring Watch currently.

Then I looked at the wildlife personalities and found that David Attenborough, Chris Packham, David Lindo, Kate Humble, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Gomes are from the South of England, and that there are just a few presenters representing other areas of the British Isles such as Lindsey Chapman (Yorkshire), Iolo Williams (Wales), Gordon Buchanan (Scotland) and Mike Dilger (Midlands).

Where are the North-West wildlife celebrities? Are there any opportunities being given? Do we have to tick a box on an Equal Opportunities form to get more Northern wildlife presenters?

Despite the BBC moving to my local patch of Salford Quays at the beginning of the decade (building MediaCity:UK upon prime habitat for Little Ringed Plover, Ringed Plover, Skylark and Northern Lapwing in the process), and David Attenborough launching a wildlife film-making course at the University of Salford, there do not seem to be increased wildlife presenting opportunities for local people or talented students from the local Universities.


Next, I looked at wider society, and the obvious recent example to write about is the “Northern Powerhouse”, a government project that was supposed to be the politicians redressing the North/South divide, but many saw it as an attempted power-grab to re-industrialize the North and send us back to the 1920’s in terms of pollution and workers’ rights.

It might go down as one of the worst government projects in history, two of the original architects David Cameron and George Osborne are no longer in power, and several “Northern Powerhouse” ministers have also walked out of the office - that recently, rather ironically, moved from Sheffield to London - whistling to themselves as they went?!

Lord Howell of Guildford infamously uttered a howler calling us “The Desolate North” and this phrase was then ironically emblazoned upon a thousand protest banners and placards.

Kittiwake on cliff 1

We all need to find ways to live with nature rather than push it away.

The KLF once penned a tune “It’s Grim Up North” and I cannot deny that there are conservation situations here that can be described as “grim”, the management of moorlands and the treatment of our Red Grouse and Hen Harriers, HS2, the Newcastle Kittiwakes that were abandoned and dying in netting this summer just yards from the “Great Exhibition Of The North” and where do I start on fracking? Michael Gove has just put a stop to fracking at a site in Surrey, while the people’s struggle for social and environmental justice in Lancashire continues, with the campaign now in its’ 8th year!

At the University of Central Lancashire there are highly rated Eco-Tourism courses, but where are the local jobs to retain the post-graduate students if the Westminster government turn The Fylde into one big fracking field? Heritage and the environment seem to be more uncherished in the North, often being seen as more expendable, with less money spent, often with austerity as the excuse! On the Salford docklands we have seen heritage trashed - the last docks cranes were recently demolished, and now Pomona, a site with huge heritage and potential as a nature reserve, is being concreted over in the interests of gentrification.

These are just some of the reasons that I participated on the “Peoples Walk for Wildlife” on 22nd September 2018.


Now I do not want to sound like a bitter Northerner supping a half empty pint of real ale with a big bag of chips on my shoulder, nor do I want to sound like the Monty Python sketch “The Four Yorkshiremen” (“A pair of binoculars!? You were lucky!! We had to tape a couple of milk bottles together!!... A hide?! Luxury!! We had to drag scrap metal from t’tip for 20 miles and build our own!! A twitch in a car!? You were lucky, we had to get up before we went to bed, do 12 hours on t’local patch seeing nowt but a Sparrow, and then walk to the twitch in our bare-feet… if we were lucky!! And you tell kids these days and they don’t believe you!”)

If you really take a close look at the North of England, there are many reasons to be positive, people power is on the rise, and you can see many victorious environmental campaigns – ((it would seem that the proposals for a new coal-mine in Druridge Bay in Northumberland and a Bio-Mass Incinerator in Trafford have been stopped)) several fracking sites have been closed down, including Barton Moss (Salford), Upton, near Chester Zoo (Cheshire) and Kirby Misperton (Yorkshire), even Gary Neville’s plans for a football pitch in Trafford have been defeated, with the new Council voting in favour of a people’s plan for Turn Moss that may now become part of a wider Mersey Valley Eco-Tourism strategy.

Crowd HH Day 2016 1

Big crowd turns out in Derbyshire to protest the illegal killing of Hen Harriers.

It is encouraging to see many birders getting involved in the Hen Harrier protests, especially in the North, and let’s hope that the Skydancer campaign is another win for the people!

NORTHERN GREENHOUSE – A NEW VISION OF THE NORTH After seeing the plans for the “Northern Powerhouse” I wrote a book painting an alternative, green vision entitled “The Northern Greenhouse” based on Eco-Tourism, Sustainable Agriculture and Renewable Energy.

I have witnessed nature reclaim so many former industrial sites, often with a helping hand from the conservation movement, and I felt that this needed highlighting, promoting and celebrating – Woolston Eyes SSSI in Cheshire, Brockholes Lancashire Wildlife Trust Reserve in Lancashire, Don Valley, Aire Valley, Thorne Moors and Dearne Valley in Yorkshire, and Saltholme RSPB Reserve on Tees-side.


Having spent around 30 magical years birding in the North of England, I can say for sure that there is Eco-Tourism potential in them thar hills.

Red Grouse Broomhead 2

Red Grouse are a high profile bird species up north and with good reason!

I often find the general attitude to the Red Grouse perplexing, it is our one endemic bird, other countries celebrate their unique species and have birds like this on their flag or on their money, but all the British seem to do is shoot them and celebrate shooting them at the same time!

So business people want to relax and team bond in the countryside, I can understand that, but why can’t we have corporations paying decent money to shoot Red Grouse with cameras and not guns?

Can we replace bloodlust with a gentler, more educational experience? Could this be a win-win situation for the environment?

I believe that there needs to be a change in attitude towards this species, and to this effect, I am proposing that there is a Red Grouse Day, one day in the year where we celebrate this unique bird, a culture change from the “Inglorious 12th”.

It isn’t just on the moors and hills where we need culture change, although there are some signs of the grass-shoots of recovery - in Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, there is a Local Nature Partnership that brings together conservation organisations and local accommodation providers to promote Eco-Tourism, including the wildlife spectacle that is the huge winter wader flocks, bringing “out-of-season” business to an area that generally relies on the summer holiday trade; there is also talk of a “Northern Eden Project”.

Pink footed Geese sky full 3

Pink-footed Geese in huge flocks are a spectacular sight always a thrill to see.

I recently hosted “Fylde Future”, a Conference in Blackpool, where a transition to a green economy, including utilising the “Pink-footed Pound” (The Fylde is known internationally for wintering Icelandic Pink-footed Geese), was among the subjects discussed at the Solaris Centre.

In Greater Manchester, in March 2018, the environmental movement made it onto the big stage with a Green Summit at Manchester Central - a venue usually known for big, corporate shindigs and pop concerts.

The Green Summit announced the ambition of Greater Manchester to become a “world-leading Green City Region”. Forget the “Northern Powerhouse”, “The Big Society”, volunteering and doing things on the cheap, we need huge investment in the conservation industry in the North, and unionised, fair days work for a fair days pay green jobs.

The North, yet to reach its’ heights, is potentially on the cusp of the next evolution, the great leap forward to a society that respects the environment… “The North Will Rise Again!”

Many thanks to James for sharing his views on the North v South divide in birding. If you have an idea for a guest blog please do get in touch.

To find out lots more please have a look at the links below.....


"Fruitful Futures: Imagining Pomona", James Walsh et al


"Ducks, Docks and Urban Greenspace" Stuart Marsden and James Walsh


“The Northern Greenhouse – A New Vision Of The North”


Promotional Film “The Northern Greenhouse”


North England Eco-Tourism (NEET)


Northern People Power


“Northern Greenhouse” The Journey To Zero Carbon


The Natural Beauty of the Manchester/Salford Mosses


Lindsey Chapman is the only wildlife celebrity representing the North of England


The Green Atlantic Gateway


The Pink-footed Pound


Pomona on Salford Docklands


The Salford Docklands Project


How Eco-Tourism Could Benefit The Blackpool North Economy


The Fylde Could Become A World Class Eco-Tourism Site


Birders Flock To Lancashire Giving Winter Tourism Boost


Saying NO to fracking shows that Lancashire is open for real business


Morecambe Bay Nature Tourism Business Network


“The Birds of Salford Docklands”


Swanning About On The Docks


The Salford Docklands Big Five

Contact us

* * *



Our Tweets

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. See our Cookie Policy for further details on how to block cookies.
I am happy with this


What is a Cookie

A cookie, also known as an HTTP cookie, web cookie, or browser cookie, is a piece of data stored by a website within a browser, and then subsequently sent back to the same website by the browser. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember things that a browser had done there in the past, which can include having clicked particular buttons, logging in, or having read pages on that site months or years ago.

NOTE : It does not know who you are or look at any of your personal files on your computer.

Why we use them

When we provide services, we want to make them easy, useful and reliable. Where services are delivered on the internet, this sometimes involves placing small amounts of information on your device, for example, your computer or mobile phone. These include small files known as cookies. They cannot be used to identify you personally.

These pieces of information are used to improve services for you through, for example:

  • recognising that you may already have given a username and password so you don’t need to do it for every web page requested
  • measuring how many people are using services, so they can be made easier to use and there’s enough capacity to ensure they are fast
  • analysing anonymised data to help us understand how people interact with our website so we can make them better

You can manage these small files and learn more about them from the article, Internet Browser cookies- what they are and how to manage them

Learn how to remove cookies set on your device

There are two types of cookie you may encounter when using our site :

First party cookies

These are our own cookies, controlled by us and used to provide information about usage of our site.

We use cookies in several places – we’ve listed each of them below with more details about why we use them and how long they will last.

Third party cookies

These are cookies found in other companies’ internet tools which we are using to enhance our site, for example Facebook or Twitter have their own cookies, which are controlled by them.

We do not control the dissemination of these cookies. You should check the third party websites for more information about these.

Log files

Log files allow us to record visitors’ use of the site. The CMS puts together log file information from all our visitors, which we use to make improvements to the layout of the site and to the information in it, based on the way that visitors move around it. Log files do not contain any personal information about you. If you receive the HTML-formatted version of a newsletter, your opening of the newsletter email is notified to us and saved. Your clicks on links in the newsletter are also saved. These and the open statistics are used in aggregate form to give us an indication of the popularity of the content and to help us make decisions about future content and formatting.