As anyone who’s ever met or seen a talk by my boss Derek Gow will know, he is as much a force of nature as his subject animal, the industrious beaver. I always enjoy waiting to see what the reaction is when I mention who I work for to those who have clearly witnessed or had dealings with him. It’s either jubilant enthusiasm for his rousing persona and cavalier can-do attitude that is bizarrely rare in a lot of wildlife conservation, or a sharp intake of breath and a wry smile to the point you can almost hear the traumatic flashback like a veteran in a Vietnam war film.
But in a world where our natural heritage is avalanching rather than trickling down the drain, Derek’s technique is increasingly vital, given it gives results. And importantly, he’s also capable of kicking your arse back to the task when it’s very easy to give up hope. This was something mentioned to me by National Trust rangers while working on two separate harvest mouse projects on Derek’s behalf (who, at time of writing, are undergoing calamitous times with over 1,200 jobs being cut as a result of the pandemic – it’s an absolutely awful scenario which no one deserved). After witnessing a Derek-speech, it reinvigorated their passion to keep doing what they can and doing better for wildlife, even when the odds seemed stacked against them.
This effort to inspire above the doom and uncertainty is very much apparent in written form in Derek’s new book, Bringing back the Beaver. After being supplied a pre-print copy and being asked to review it, I decided against the traditional format. After all, given I work for him that kinda skews the objectivity, and there might be severe consequences involving a bear trap and an angry wild boar if I went too critical. So instead, I’ve gone for a slightly different angle, looking at how the themes of the book need to drive our philosophy in protecting nature going forward. Continue reading
Memories are fickle old things. They are the sum of who we are as people. Our best days and worst days, while long gone physically, can stay with us for life and define who we are. They can even be shared between generations, and shape our reality. Yet as those generations pass, those memories become stories. And if they are not documented scientifically, they can blur the lines between fiction and reality.
Here in the UK, our own generational memories of the countryside often determine what we prioritise in wildlife conservation. The trouble with this is that with each successive generation leaving less nature behind than the one before it, our perception of what is healthy becomes skewed over time. It can pre-determine what we value; much attention is currently being given to curlew recovery, with older folk still remembering a time when they were common on farmland. But the once equally numerous corncrake receives nowhere near the same attention, perhaps because the witnesses to its former abundance have effectively died off.
This is the shifting baseline syndrome. The presumption that what we grew up with is the norm. Needless to say this has been written about numerous times but, in short, it is a barrier that can restrict us from realising the fullest possible ecosystem. And one doesn’t have to go far to find written sources that make us realise what we have lost. Continue reading
Common Darter (Pete Cooper)
Just over six years ago, I wrote the first entry on this blog at the tender age of 17, entitled ‘Loving the Bug’. Looking back on it is like reading your old pieces of school coursework, one part charmed at the unabashed enthusiasm one part dismayed at my novice blogger’s style!
The key theme of the article holds true though: the need to place greater value on invertebrates within mainstream conservation. All this time later, what was essentially innocent testing-the-waters of the blogging world has a refreshed relevance to recent research that received wide reception in the mainstream press. The 75% decline of insect biomass from German nature reserves in 25 years is, if representative of much of rural Europe, quite simply horrific.
The full scale of massive insect decline is something that is very unpleasant to realise. Once you consider the loss of pollination for vast numbers of plant species, both within the ecological and agricultural context, it all builds up from small beginnings into chaos on par with the butterfly effect (or rather, the lack of butterfly effect). This blog won’t go too heavy into the details of this, as it’s something George Monbiot covered succinctly last month.
Needless to say, it’s bad for us. And just as bad for wildlife. Continue reading
The rush of air over my head is just about audible as the scythe-like shape of a hobby snatches its dragonfly target some six feet above ground before arcing, swift as an arrow, upwards and effortlessly transferring the prey from talon to beak mid-flight.
In the distance, wedding bells meld into the high-pitched chorus of gulls and lapwings down on the lagoons, and the sight of the Norman church tower is just visible over the tangle of willows and rustling reeds.
This is Fishlake Meadows, a roughly 270-acre expanse of wetland just north of my hometown of Romsey in Hampshire. Continue reading
European lynx, this one a captive animal at the New Forest Wildlife Park.
It’s become a regular occurrence: a press release from the UK Lynx Trust (UKLT) about how reintroduction of this animal is imminent in Britain, and they’ll be getting a licence through very soon. The ironic reality is that with each successive news story, their progress behind-the-scenes in Kielder becomes increasingly battered in terms of local reception, while those on the outside duly share and retweet – keeping them going, almost entirely, on PR alone.
I wrote about the impractical route they have gone through of media first community consultation later, two years ago, but things definitely haven’t got better since.
From a meeting at the village hall turning into a scene that would make a House of Commons debate look mature in comparison, to last week’s news that most of the people behind UKLT have jumped ship because of their somewhat cold reception, it’s not been a model of sound conservation management.
With their chief Paul O’Donoghue still closing his ears and saying they’ll be applying for a license in two months, this leaves a team you could probably all fit in my Peugeot 107. So what went wrong? Continue reading
Photo: Nick Upton
Well the beavers are out now, and so comes the conclusion of my short blog series for Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Blogs are likely to be a bit quiet for a few weeks while my Masters project takes priority, so why not while away the time with the complete ‘box-set’:
An introduction to the Cornwall Beaver Project’s aims.
How partnerships between farming and wildlife conservation pave the way for this animal’s return.
How CBP are monitoring the potential impact of beavers on fish.
A look into how beavers in Cornwall could reduce the impact of local flooding.
A whimsical piece of nature writing.
An even more whimsical piece of nature writing.
Recently I’ve been proud to be involved in the online presence of the Cornwall Beaver Project – a fenced beaver trial managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Woodland Valley Farm, that will not only build on existing work in demonstrating the animals’ effect on ecology and hydrology, but showcase them to rural communities and exemplify the benefit they can bring to our landscapes.
You can read my first two blogs for the project here:
“Why should I join twitter?” Ask a decreasing number of vaguely internet-literate wildlife conservationists. Well, for one you can get involved in rather lively twitter discussions, and nothing’s surer to hit off a reaction like a magnesium-burning demonstration in a school teaching lab then a rewilding debate.
One such event happened this weekend gone, and it was a cracker. It was cracked off with this tweet from Miles King, itself in response to a statement from the Countryside Alliance: Continue reading
Black Rhino at Paignton Zoo. Just one endangered species managed in captivity.
It’s a horrific story. 486 animals had died at South Lakes zoo in the space of over four years, frequently as a result of poor husbandry practices, and sometimes found still decaying in the enclosure. The owner, David Gill (whose attitude has been of concern for the zoo community for a while now), has been refused the licence and it all seems likely the place will, rightly, be closed.
South Lakes is a bad zoo; it is not, however some press opinions have already starting hinting, an example typical of zoos. These articles range from suggesting that live animals on public display is a bygone that should be replaced by virtual reality, to saying that all zoos should be outright banned. Continue reading
View of Ben Macdui in 2015 – won’t get trees here.
Tree planting ‘threatening’ Scotland’s grand vistas
After hearing some good news for once this morning (the fact that Philip Pullman’s writing a follow-up to ‘His Dark Materials’, should you want to know), I was brought back down into a huff by this piece. Take a look, and absorb its content.
Read it? Right, where to begin. How about some key points?
Mountaineering Scotland and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association have jointly written to Scotland’s environment secretary – Doesn’t take a genius to see the vested interests here. Mountaineers want mountains to climb, fair enough. But the highest and best peaks in Scotland, such as Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui and Ben Nevis, are in the alpine zone where any tree attempting to grow is on a suicide mission. It’s practically a tundra habitat, where the occasional scots pine is no longer high and mighty but resembles a tumbleweed, so the laws of ecology will ensure there will still be plenty of bare peaks. And anyway, surely not all their membership are adverse to trees? It’s not like you can’t hike through them. And of course, the gamekeepers require plenty of heavily managed heather for their bounties of beyond carrying-capacity grouse populations – trees are as welcome as dog faeces (although I bet there are gamekeepers who’d like to see more trees too). But it’s a bit strange to protest because… Continue reading