(This article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)
In the 1970’s TV sitcom ‘I didn’t know you cared’ Uncle Mort says that women are made for the fripperies of life, like DIY and carrying in the coal, whereas men do important stuff like sitting in their shed thinking.
Women have long been socialised into caring, nurturing roles and, whether by nature or nurture many feel the same way about the planet’s wild places. Like children they must be protected with tigress-like ferocity.
Since the last Bird Fair I’ve been trying to give support to two such women and have corresponded with another for nearly two decades. There is something about their fearlessness that puts most men to shame. We stand back or leap in angrily; strong women grab hold and don’t let go until the wrongs are righted. No wonder so many work in conservation.
I’ve known Denise Goodfellow for longer than either of us care to remember. A woman who has literally wrestled crocodiles, she has spent half her life standing up for the rights of native Australians so tenaciously that she has made many political enemies. An artist, author and guide she loves to show people the birds of the ‘Top End’ and has battled away for years to get local tourist authorities to recognise just how important birding tourism is, even to the extent of writing her PhD on the issue. When others might be taking it easy she has set out to combat the invasive species on her property – a relentless two-year battle with Mission, Rats-tail and, in particular Gamba grass… and this means pulling out acres of the stuff by hand! She is single-handedly demonstrating that it can be done if you have the determination… not many people are thanking her, but there are a lot of endangered Partridge Pigeons quietly applauding.
Do you care enough about nature to spend your own money to lease a lake, saving it from destructive fisherman who shoot all the birds? Well Alex Appleby does. She fell in love with the lake and has ever since been trying to raise money to sustain its conservation, well what do you expect from someone who once lived alone (if you don’t count her dogs) on a small tropical island.
Talking of Islands there’s my third friend who currently lives on the popular holiday island of Lanzarote, famed for its volcanic national park and all year round sun. Carmen Portella runs a small tour company there and invited me to take a look at the birds (try migration times when anything from Europe or America might turn up). Less well-known is El Jable a unique desert formed in the ice-age when lower seas exposed the sea-bed and trade winds blew the sand against the towering cliffs of this Atlantic island. More than half the plants that live there are endemic as are a number of races of birds like Linnet, Lesser Short-toed Lark and Southern Grey shrike along with some other wonderful desert species like Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courser and Stone Curlew. Despite the fact that the entire island is designated as a World Biosphere Reserve, the desert is unprotected. The problem was bought home to me when Carmen told me how a local farmer had said that when he had shot and eaten Stone Curlew he always found that their crops were packed with desert snails. She is doing everything she can to ensure the desert is not ruined by grant-generating ‘agriculture’ and dune-buggy destruction.
Blokes have had our way for too long, sowing wild oats, fighting wars and organising religion. I think we are the ones who started to see the world as there for our exploitation, incapable, with exceptions of course, of seeing the need to sustain it all for future generations. Lucky that a lot of us men now ‘get it’ too. These strong women, and others like them need the support of both genders!
To learn more about these women and their causes see:
Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow or Alex Appleby aor Carmen Portella
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