The Mammoths in the Room
(This article first appeared in the October 2012 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
We Brits pride ourselves on being at the forefront of conservation with organisations like the RSPB not only preserving habitats and challenging government policy at home, but helping out overseas as well.
We applaud the international stance of the British Trust for Ornithology as it monitors the arrival of cuckoos having tracked them from Cameroon across the deserts of North Africa into southern Europe and finally back to our shores.
I even looked down my own nose recently when I heard about the attempts in the USA to ban lead from fishing weights and gunshot to protect water birds from the lead poisoning caused by its accidental ingestion – we did that here twenty or thirty years ago I inwardly smirked.
Then as I was reading a press release from the American Bird Conservancy I realized that we are not just miles behind on the issue I was reading about, but on half a dozen others as well. On some we haven’t even got started and seem frightened to bring some issues out into the open for fear of upsetting many of the staunchest of conservation supporters.
Its not so much a case of the elephant in the room as a bloody great herd of colossal hairy pachyderms threatening to rend the room asunder!
The article was about an action being brought against a building owner in Canada for doing nothing to prevent migrating songbirds from crashing into the gleaming glass that reflects the sky so perfectly that birds do not even realise that the building is there! An estimated 100 million birds die this way in the US and Canada yet there are some simple deterrents that will mitigate the problem and even specialised glass or glass treatments that can eliminate the problem by slightly altering its reflective properties. So, over the pond the problem has been recognised, solutions determined and now test cases prepared to ensure compliance simply be collecting the corpses of the unfortunate migrants and citing the victims that are protected species to force action from property owners. Builders and owners know that it’s cheaper to comply than to have to pay damages and then pay out to comply anyway.
So where is this campaign in the UK? We may not have the number of tall buildings in London or Birmingham as does Toronto or New York but we certainly have our share of shiny skyscrapers. I have heard of just one effort in London where David Lindo and friends have had permission to monitor in Canary Wharf.
What about wind farms, are we doing our bit there? Certainly not compared to the US. Over there the true extent of the impact on large raptors is well documented and cannot be denied. If one installation in California is known to have despatched fifty Golden Eagles, where is the protest over here? It comes from a few who are, largely, dismissed as cranks. We are so complacently going ‘green’ that we choose to ignore the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of wind turbines will take a toll. The RSPB and others fight a ‘selective’ campaign to try and prevent wind farms from being erected in our most sensitive areas. The truth is that, in this small island, chock full of Nimbies, its is only the distant wild places where people do not picnic that wind farms can go without getting lots of protest. Where the eagles currently do best are the very places most likely to get covered in turbines because so few people have to look at them. Of course we can always stick them in the sea, how can that harm anything? It can be proven to have little or no impact because there are not lots of seabird carcasses at the foot of each tower… doh! How on earth do you monitor this when the sea will carry the corpses away?
The jumbo of all ignored elephants is, of course, the problem of outdoor cats. A few weirdos like me raise this whenever we can as cats do huge amounts of harm and most organisations dare not say a thing as the majority of their members are cat owners and many chose to turn a blind eye to what their moggie drags onto their living room carpet. Even I dare not suggest wholesale culling of cats, but we do not even have a decent campaign to KEEP CATS INDOORS!
In the US there are calls for every city to trap and ‘euthanise’ feral cats and a rigourous campaign to persuade people to keep their felines at home. In some areas of Australia allowing your cat to roam, even in your own garden, is illegal… you have to erect a cat run if you want them to get fresh air. There is nothing more likely to upset the average Brit than suggesting a ban on allowing their pet the right to roam. People have the right to exclude other people from their property, but do not have the right to trap their neighbour’s cat if it craps on their lawn and systematically decimates the birds at their feeders! In certain circumstances I have the right to use reasonable force to eject a human intruder, but no rights at all to chuck a clod at a cat.
I’m not even going to mention our timorous first steps to try and get darker skies for the sake of amateur astronomers. The conservation nightmare of light pollution is not even on the agenda in a country where we all seem to want to have a security light on our gable ends that can be seen from distant galaxies!
So there we have it, in Cameron’s Big Society we wallow in our collective complacency and choose to ignore millions of avian casualties safe in the knowledge that Britain is Best; we invented conservation and that we are world leaders in ‘doing the right thing’.
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