West Sussex Gazette

Britain’s tiniest bird weighs about10pan­dcanloseup­to 20% of its weight overnight


The West Sussex Gazette has teamed up with the Sussex Wildlife Trust to bring you questions and answers about all things nature.

Charlotte Owen, WildCall officer at Sussex Wildlife Trust, is on hand to answer your wildlife and conservati­on queries. As well as answering a variety of wildlife queries, Charlotte is always eager to receive your wildlife sightings in Sussex.

WildCall provides fact sheets ranging from how to make bird cake to beachcombi­ng and can offer advice on environmen­tal and planning issues as well as the best ways to help wildlife such as frogs, birds, bats and bees flourish in your garden.

To talk to Charlotte, call 01273 494777 between 9.30am and 1pm on weekdays, email wildcall@sussexwt.org.uk, write to her at WildCall, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Woods Mill, Henfield, BN5 9SD, or visit sussexwild­lifetrust.org.uk/wildcall

You might immediatel­y think of the wren but Britain’s smallest bird is actually the goldcrest. This tiny bundle of feathers weighs just six grams, which is about the same as a ten pence coin.

It is only a fraction heavier than its rarer cousin the firecrest, and these two species, which both belong to the kinglet family, could easily share the crown.

One advantage of being so small is reaching the places that bigger birds can’t, and delicate goldcrests will often perch right at the tips of the flimsiest branches in their constant quest for food.

Deep furrows on the soles of their feet help them grip onto individual pine needles as they flit through the treetops, seeking out springtail­s and spiders. Such miniature morsels are often overlooked by their competitor­s but make a perfect meal for a miniscule bird.

But being small brings challenges, too. In frosty weather, a goldcrest can lose up to 20 per cent of its bodyweight overnight just keeping warm, even huddled together in a communal roost. It’s remarkable that these diminutive creatures can survive the cold at all but even more impressive to think that

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ is a phrase I don’t hear anywhere near as much as I used to. Maybe it’s because I no longer spend much time in the company of little old ladies with a fondness for handing out boiled sweets as well as passing down such pearls of wisdom. It could also be that there is now little point in saying something that so many people so blatantly ignore.

Throughout history, people have been capable of expressing their opinions but many either chose not to share them or felt that nobody was listening. Today, there is a considerab­le proportion of humankind who think that their take on life is not only unique but should be regarded as a gift to the world. They deliver their unwanted gift to us via social media – a medium which, over the past decade and a half, has changed society for ever.

A regular user of all the major platforms, I appreciate that there are our resident birds are joined each winter by distant relatives from as far afield as Russia, making an epic flight of thousands of miles and crossing the inhospitab­le North Sea.

This was a feat so unbelievab­le that early observers believed goldcrests must hitch a ride among the feathers of migrating woodcock, which arrived here at about the same time.

many merits in connecting with friends, acquaintan­ces, businesses, and complete strangers but there is no doubting that the Wild West that is social media is becoming increasing­ly hostile, largely because people are saying what they want. Much of the nastinesse­s that now plagues the online world originates from ‘anonymous’ accounts – when posters use a pseudonym as a shield, allowing them to write whatever they want.

There are now calls from some MPs to introduce David’s Law, which would essentiall­y be a beefing up of the Online Safety Bill, which is currently going through the parliament­ary process and would outlaw anonymous social media accounts. Colleagues of Conservati­ve MP Sir David Amess, who died of his injuries following a horrific incident in his constituen­cy earlier this month, believe such a law would be a fitting tribute to a man who was appalled by the amount of abuse directed towards fellow politician­s, particular­ly women.

Inevitably, there has already been opposition to this from the ‘let people do whatever they want’ brigade, claiming that such a move would be ‘dangerous’ and would inadverten­tly penalise people who ‘legitimate­ly’ require anonymity.

There is also some confusion over what a change in the law would mean – would nobody be allowed to use a pseudonym or would every social media user be required to set up their account by including their real name – verified with a passport or driving licence – when they set up, yet still use whatever name they desire?

I value freedom of speech so much that I would make everybody use their real name online because to allow anonymity diminishes this hard-fought freedom. I am lucky enough to have this weekly platform from which I can unleash the contents of my cluttered mind on the readership of this newspaper but I own every word. Believe it or not, I think carefully before I bash out this rubbish, because I know I am accountabl­e for everything that I write, meaning that I accept that I am going to receive criticism from those who disagree with me.

With accountabi­lity should come a degree of self-regulation, something that those who want to say whatever is on their mind, without having to own what they say, don’t need to have.During my previous career in newsrooms, I was very much in agreement that every correspond­ent to the letters page had their name and location published alongside their views, even if they requested anonymity. Of course, the policealre­adyhavethe­powertotak­eaction againstpos­ters–Idon’tlikecalli­ngthemtrol­ls becauseite­levatesthe­irstatusfr­omlowlife– who act illegally online. Twitter points out that 99 per cent of the accounts it suspended following the high-profile abuse of England footballer­s last summer were traceable.

But this is missing the point that, currently, it is far too easy to be unkind as you like online, without breaking the law, and not be held publicly accountabl­e.

Things need to change.

 ?? MILES DAVIES ?? Sussex Wildlife Trust conservati­on officer Charlotte Owen
MILES DAVIES Sussex Wildlife Trust conservati­on officer Charlotte Owen
 ?? BOB EADE ?? The firecrest is a similarly tiny bird
BOB EADE The firecrest is a similarly tiny bird

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