I wandered lonely as a cloud…
(This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)
I blame Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Hardy, Brontë, Burns & Tolkein, Turner, Landseer & Constable. Between them they have led us to believe in a unique British countryside of bare rolling hills, blasted heaths, heather-clad glens and friendly farmers in a pastoral heaven. If only we had been brought up on the brothers Grimm we might be into vast forests tended by heroic woodsmen. Instead we favour barren hillsides and fields worked by Farmer Giles.
Our cultural memory is beset with ‘blue remembered hills’ where sheep can safely graze. Well folks, the sheep should be safely grazing in the valley not on those heavily government subsidised hillsides. They should be re-wilding from pasture, to scrub to hanging woodland.
Monarchs of the glen roaming in the gloaming are all very pretty, but the predator-free deer in artificially high numbers are stopping the Caledonian forest from re-generating. The upland heaths are only blasted because grouse shooting interests burn them off to encourage new shoots for the farm-bred grouse to multiply in front of their guns
Our picaresque past is peppered with the wholesale slaughter of predators and the decimation of forest for pasture, then shipbuilding, pit props and railway sleepers. Bears, Lynx and wolves were assigned to history until we only have the foxes left for sport and the badgers left to eliminate instead of inoculating cattle against TB.
What are we doing to restore the land to how it was before we decided that every thing the swims, flies, walks or wriggles is bad unless its fit for human use? Almost sweet FA… A handful of beavers are still making their case whereas the rest of Europe numbers have recovered into many thousands due to conservation efforts. The several hundred feral boar are seen as a threat to crops rather than welcome returnees.
Wild goats, chamois et al across much of Europe have gone from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands. The last remnants of Bison have been carefully nurtured back to flourishing herds expanding across international boundaries.
We loudly and rightly condemn European hunters and the mass slaughter of songbirds but we don’t even whisper about the re-introduction of lynx and bears and wolves across their former range.
A few brave souls try to overcome our romanticised concepts to suggest that the rest of Europe can live with lynx, withstand wolves and are not bothered by bears. Yet we hang on to our delusion that we are animal lovers and pioneers of conservation. We don’t love animals we pamper pets, we do not conserve so much as set up tiny sanctuaries for the rightful users of the land to hide in.
Back in the day a handful of the great and good ladies got together to denounce the feather trade. They were the suffragettes of conservation. What we have now is not conservation but conservatism. The National Trust preserves the monuments of past feudalism and lets the heirs chase foxes across their lands. Our government talks about the environment being safe in their hands, but will allow fracking beneath SSSIs. Where are the conservation charities that should be on the front lines? What is the point of re-introducing hairy bumblebees if the honeybees are being killed off wholesale with pesticides?
I don’t eat meat. Not because I am sentimental but because meat production is an inefficient way to grow protein and the cost is rainforest destruction and third world hunger.
I have never had sympathy for those animal rights campaigners stupid enough to release mink into the English countryside. Nor have I saluted rich old ladies who leave their fortunes to the cats home. Its time to stop putting pets on a pedestal and thinking that cows are more important than badgers. We need a radical movement dedicated to the rights of or wild animals over human self-interest. Making Nature’s Home People Proof!
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