Welcome to my blog. If you live in Surrey and birding is your obsession (to get out of bed at some ridiculously early time of the morning, no matter what the weather, to go and look at birds isn't normal behaviour, believe me) and you're still a bit of a novice (like me) then, hopefully, this blog is for you.

Monday, 4 July 2011


More than ten days have past and I haven't so much as picked up the bins - by that I mean both binoculars or bin bags. Truth be known, I haven't lifted so much as a finger. It was about ten days ago I was clambering over a metal gate when I lost my footing - both feet slipped off the bottom rung of the gate and I managed to do a full 360 over it. Annie was with me at the time - her first thought was that I was showing off an athletitism that had hitherto escaped me for the past 19 years.

It apparently looked like I was trying to emulate a gymnast executing a dismount after a performance on the parallel bars. It was only when I fell in a heap at the end of it, rather than proudly standing upright with arms outstretched, that Annie twigged that maybe I hadn't meant it. Embarrassed, I brushed myself down and put it to the back of my mind, as you do. A couple of days later we had a good laugh about it (at my expense, obviously) over a glass of wine or two. Then a couple of days later, on Sunday morning, I couldn't get out of bed.

To cut this particular story short, the doctor diagnosed I'd pulled some muscles in my lower back - and sometimes the symptoms can take a few days to manifest themselves. It's now a week later and I'm becoming mightily cheesed off with it. I can get in and out of the car - eventually - and I can shuffle about in Sainsbury's for a bit - but that's my lot.

It also means no birding. Nothing for the past 11 days.

As a result, I've spent more time in front of the computer, looking at birding websites and forums to see if I'm missing anything. My Holmethorpe birding mate Graham gave me info on a pair of Spotted Flycatchers not too far away that I'd like to go and see, but frustratingly, they'll have to wait until I can carry a scope. And I'm not sure when that will be.

No matter. I've been able to find things to take my mind off it. I've enjoyed watching the tennis, but that pales into insignificance compared with a thread I've been following on Bird Forum that has kept me entertained these past few days. Unquestionably, the thread 'Uk400club 'list Of Lists' Etc Etc' will go down in birding history as one of the most extraordinary discussions ever to grace a birding forum - or any forum for that matter. It is the most surreal discussion I've have ever read. Salvador Dali, eat your heart out...

It started on June 23, and it's only just winding down as I write this...

Its roots began on an innocent thread about the mega White-winged Scoter seen off the coast of Aberdeenshire ('WHITE-WINGED SCOTER in Aberdeens - Breaking news from RBA (1.20pm 12 Jun)'.

Enter Lee Evans, the most well-known and - he would openly admit himself - controversial birder on these shores during the past three decades, who runs the British Birding Association and UK 400 Club, a club for birders interested in rare birds and twitching. His club publishes its own all-time lists for the leading 900 UK, 500 Western Palearctic and 1,000 World listing birders, based on its own taxonomy. Twitching and lists go hand-in-hand and official lists of the top twitchers have a certain kudos attached to them... apparently.

The problem here is, not all of the leading birders in Britain acknowledge the UKClub400 listings. The reasons are wide and varied, and include personal as well as technical motives.

Responding to a post about his lists from Phil Woollen, Evans confirmed that his UK400 Club website is subscription only. After a request from Woollen, Evans posts a link to his top UK and Ireland list so it is available for everyone to read. It is then that all hell lets loose...

Enter Johnny Allan. Top Surrey Beddington-based birder. He enters the forum to catch up with news on the Scoter when he discovers he can now can view the UK400Club list - and finds that he's on it, without his consent.

He asks to have his list removed, having never given permission and also comments that it is inaccurate. Within minutes, a number of other leading birders join the discussion and also request to have their lists removed from the UK400Club 'list of lists'.

The thread was then closed because it had gone way far off topic (the White-winged Scoter, remember?). Johnny Allan then opens up another thread, and repeats his original request to have his list removed from the UK400Club listings. This is the thread that was still going at it hammer and tongs with no end in sight.

The argument is very simple. A number of birders don't want their lists on the UKClub400 website because they never sent them to the UK400Club website in the first place. These birders lists have been worked out by Evans himself on what he believes the listers in question have seen, based on twitches he's been on or had reported back about. The objectors say Evans has contravened the Data Protection Act 1998 (and having looked at it, it does appear he may well have done) but if the lists are deleted they'll leave it at that. End of. The impression is, however, that Evans has no intention of doing that.

It's a very strange situation. On one side, a group of birders requesting, as is their right, to have their data removed from this list, while on the other, no offer to comply but instead a request to these birders to send their latest lists so they can be corrected and updated for the website!

From my perspective it is clear why Evans is ignoring the requests of these birders. Listing is an important part of his life and a key facet of the UK400Club. If he removes the names requested he will have a list that is irrelevant, and it is likely he cannot abide that thought. Also, after all the pages of discussion, it would make him appear to lose face. Far better to carry on, ask for updates, add compromises like asterisks and red type to depict an inaccurate list, than to remove it from his website.

At some points, I really couldn't believe what I was reading. There were suggestions that Evans could end up in court - and a few people got sucked in by this statement - but after careful reading, it was only Evans himself who surmised that was where this saga would end up. Add to which, in amongst all the real debate, a number of personal insults and probable defammatory comments made on both sides, and you end up with a spiralling, hysterical (in the true sense of the word) row that develops as quickly as a forest fire.

To continue the court theme, later on in the thread, Evans claims that if he is taken to court, he expects to lose and therefore has a potential threat of bankruptcy looming over him. A dramatic statement - but that is all it is. In the first instance, he can avoid any proceedings with a few clicks of a computer mouse. And in the second, the chance of something as utterly trivial as a birding list would ever see its day in court is, frankly, laughable.

At worst, the Information Commissioner may enforce Evans to comply with the Act because he has contravened sections of it, but even if, in the unlikely event he was imposed a monetary penalty, there's no way on this Earth he would be put in a position of undue financial hardship.

It has become a battle of wills, and Evans has proved in the past he has a guile and determination to deflect huge amounts of flak. Far better, from his point of view - despite the vitriol and unpleasantness the whole row has created - to carry on regardless. And, really, that is the most likely outcome.



  1. The whole thing is crazy, Neil.
    If someone doesn't want their list published then that is their right and Lee should comply, especially as it would appear that the lists are inaccurate and just amount to what Lee thinks the birder should have seen or what he believes they didn't see. That is for county recorders to decide, not Lee Evans.
    Who does Lee think he is in not complying with the wishes of those who are not even members of his club?

    I used to consider Lee and the UK400 Club to be a dis-service to birding. I changed my mind over that and thought that maybe it did provide some sort of service for those hungering after rarities. Now I've gone back to my original way of thinking. The UK400 Club has little to do with mainstream birding.

    In my opinion, looking at and listing rarities might be fun but its value to birding is minimal. Lee and his followers have tried to portray themselves as the elite amongst birders which has now become a joke as far as I am concerned.

    If the UK400 Club closed tomorrow, will the thousands of twitchers be running around like headless chickens in the dark? I don't think so. Maybe some sort of sanity would be restored.

  2. Neil, the whole Birdforum debate made the local news in Southern Alberta. The newsreader was laughing! This follows hot on the heels of the Hartlepool WT Robin (photos appeared on the front page of Canadian newspapers). Makes the 'is there a Willow Tit in Surrey' Bordforum debate look mediocre.

  3. Ha ha, bet they liked the Twitching prog as well. A simple 'ok guys, I'll take your names off, no probs' would have sufficed, thank god I didn't mention that I hated George Michael.

    Don't think that it's anything to do with birding. That's what we do when we're on our patch or out in the field.

    Looking forward to the year listing film with Steve Martin and Jack Black :-)

  4. Johnny, followed the thread intently since. You make a cracking and undeniably sound argument! Haven't found any 'Careless Whispers' in your arguement.