Monthly Archives: February 2015

Rewilding calls from the British Isles

The term rewilding has become part of our language. Just a couple of years after it was coined, rewilding is happening across Europe. Rewilding Europe (http://www.rewildingeurope.com/) have made great strides in returning emblematic animals like the bison and brown bear to former haunts on the mainland.
Without constant persecution, numbers of large mammals, including predators are up across Europe (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/brown-bears-wolves-and-lynx-numbers-rising-in-europe).

But what about the European islands?

Are they a lost cause?

Well, the word is being used, and calls are being made (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1498773.ece).
A slew of articles have backed up George Monbiot‘s constant mantra for lynx at least to return to the rewilded birch forests of Scotland: Wildlife trust calls for return of lynx to curb deer numbers (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1498780.ece), Simon Barnes: bring back the cat (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/others/article1842743.ece).

But it will be harder to have bears returned to Britain like they are returning to Italy and other mainland nations because citizens of that island are unused to living with them (http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/if-you-go-down-woods-today-you-re-big-surprise-europe-s-bears-are-back)

In Ireland, the lynx wasn’t around as recently as the bear and wolf, and it’s the wolf that most rewilding thoughts are focused on, including my own: https://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/further-information-about-wolves-and-deer-management-in-ireland/
And yet, it seems we’re farther back even than Britain. A recent article on Irelandswildlife.com (http://www.irelandswildlife.com/grey-wolf-re-introduction-ireland/) discussed the matter, and concluded that the time is not right, and probably won’t be for a long while yet.

It’s hard to disagree. I recently discussed the matter with an ecologist colleague. He laughed out loud at the suggestion of bringing back the lynx to a country whose farmers can’t stop themselves killing white tailed eagles they think are killing their lambs.

But we can’t stop pushing the word, the work that lies ahead. As long as people are talking about it, as long as people who would not think about it are beginning to understand it, to see what it’s all about, we’re making progress.

I had a lot of these ideas in my head when I was writing my new novel, The Ecology of Lonesomeness, last summer. It’s set in Scotland, where a lot of rewilding the island of Britain is focused, and rewilding is discussed often and in depth by the characters.

800px-Loch_Ness2

“Loch Ness Rocks” by Ben Buxton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Loch_Ness_Rocks.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Loch_Ness_Rocks.jpg

I will tell you all about the story in another post.

However, I will say now that it turns the rewilding problem on its head, and asks what if there were an endangered species discovered to have hung on there, despite our cleansing of the countryside? Would it be protected?

The Snow Must Melt

I understand that this might be a bit soon for some people – mostly those living in the Eastern US – but here in Pamplona, as the last lumps of former snowmen vanish from the parks, I was reminded of this poem I wrote some years ago, and actually sent with some others to the Atlantic Monthly. It didn’t make it in, but my rejection letter said I did get to the last round. I’d like to see it in a magazine some day – as I would all my poems, of course – but it might reach a few people right here.20150201_171312

Meanwhile, back to editing my new YA paranormal novel, The Soul of Adam Short….

 

The Snow Must Melt

 

She picked the boy up and sat him on her lap

His long legs gently tapping her shins

As she smoothed his unruly hair and

He tried to brush away her hand,

Leaning back against her breasts.

“Why won’t it stay forever?” he asked.

“I like it like it is.”

She smiled unseen and told him

She was sorry, but the snow must melt.

“But why? Why can’t it stay?”

“Because everything must go away:

It’s like leaves falling off the trees.

You like kicking them around, but

They don’t always stay there on the ground.”

“Where do they go?”

“They disappear,” she told him, “But don’t worry

Because next year there are always more.

They have to fall and go so that more can grow.”

“Will there be more snow?”

“Maybe, my dear. We’ll see. But tomorrow

It will probably be all gone.”

“And I can go back out on my bike?”

“Yes. You see – if it was always snowy

You wouldn’t be able to ride your bike.”

All gone!” he shrugged greatly against her.

“All gone, love,” she replied and hugged him.

Human evolution: looking back, looking forward

I have said this before, but we really are a strange species.

On the one hand, the Aboriginal Australians have stories that go back ten to fifteen thousand years, describing how their formal lands were flooded when the sea level rose after the last ice age. This made me remember an article about disposal of nuclear waste and the super intelligent nuclear physicists thinking about how to label the area so that future generations will know it’s there. The local Native American tribe told these scientists not to worry – they’d tell the future generations. It made me laugh.

But then, on the other, Yuval Noah Harari writes a book:Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind about how our species of humans becoming so powerful because we can believe stories (including complete bullshit), and thinks that the first really big impact of humans in the world was the arrival of humans in Australia, after which the megafauna of that continent disappeared from the record (a little further back than the sea-level rise in the story). The second big impact he says was when humans arrived in America and destroyed even more species of giant mammals.

In case it’s not clear, the book does not say the rise of humankind was in fact a great thing: for individual humans or for other species. He does speculate about the future, and reckons that humans will quickly evolve into some kind of new human-computer hybrid… But first, there will probably be a speciation event between the poor and the ultra -rich, the latter going on to becoming superhuman and somehow avoiding the coming problems.

One thing he seems to have missed (from the radio show I listened to), is that there are still people who live like our ancestors did, hunting and gathering, and they are, I hope, still as happy as Harari believes (and I agree) our ancestors were. I can only say that the this book is a huge reason to support NGOs like Survival International (to which 10% of the royalties of my second book in the Silver Nights Trilogy will be donated) so these people can be left alone in their happiness, and not made sad just because we are so blind to our own sadness that we think we are helping them. I can only hope that in the future, when the rest of us have evolved into whatever strange stuff will befall us, there will yet be uncontacted tribes living in the forests the way they have since they destroyed the megafauna.

BRAZ-UNC-GM-10_screen

 

Is it possible to bring back species where men are still farming?

 

Nature is, so far, waiting to return, as soon as we, humans get out of its way. In a damaged form in still exists even in Europe in between the farms and across their mosaic of monocultures. Recently, I read the good news that many species of large mammal have returned to the abandoned areas around Chernobyl that I’ve talked about before: https://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/chernobyl-and-rewilding-islands-2/

Meanwhile in Ireland, the hen harrier, a protected raptor has hardly been out of the news recently – and it’s nearly all bad news.

 

The first article I read suggested that farmers be given money to compensate them for protecting hen harriers in Special Protection Areas. This seemed ridiculous, if not abhorrent to me. After all, am I compensated for protecting schoolchildren from bullies? No, it’s part of me obeying the law like the rest of us have to obey the laws. This smacked of a blackmailing protection racket – pay us to protect the birds, or you might find the birds are dying out there.

When I read that a Scottish game keeper was found guilty of killing goshawks and other predators of gamebirds he was raising, I wonder why we, too, can’t simply protect our endangered and vulnerable species by enforcing the laws that are there to protect them, rather than paying protection money to those who would view them with a caustic eye.

However, it seems apparent that unfortunately, our little island, while too small, too built up and densely populated for wolves or other large animal to be released into, is indeed wild and deserted enough that wildlife crime is virtually impossible to prevent or prosecute.

The negative view of the hen harrier in Ireland just seemed to increase. Farmers and other unscrupulous landowners who see such birds as a barrier to them planting forestry or installing wind turbines simply make such barriers disappear. That’s if they are unlucky enough to have their land selected for protection because the species was still there when the sites were designated: just good habitat didn’t qualify, so those who’d killed off the birds in the first place were in a better position. And kill off the birds some did. Just a week later the headlines proclaimed that a much-studied and named hen harrier was shot.

 Heather_dead_Barry_ODonoghue_NPWS Heather the hen harrier: picture copyright Barry O’Donoghue NPSW

 

It seems that there is an impasse here. Ignorance and fear and lack of resources make it almost inevitable that our wild birds and mammals lose out on this island. From a Trinity College professor going on national radio and making a show of himself with inaccurate information about all sorts animals, including raptors, to the fact that the huge deer poaching problem is beyond the capability of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to handle, to the illogical farm supplement system, everything conspires against our wildlife.

Some farmers cling on to a way of life that perhaps has changed from an occupation to a pastime, in that there’s little money to be made from upland sheep farming, and they are only kept alive by subsidies. If these subsidies were used to make farmers wildlife guardians and protectors of habitats (though allowing scrub forest in my view is better than keeping prime hen harrier habitat, since it will eventually allow even more emblematic species to thrive) then we wouldn’t have these clashes. Turning from sheep to forests and wind turbines is a way to stay on the land, but if there were good sturdy populations of hen harriers, there would be less need to ban turbines on their habitat and we should be encouraging forests for wildlife as well as for timber.

Believing that you have to remove the wildlife to stay on the land because every little penny counts is sad, but could be alleviated by compensation where that wildlife does indeed financially impact the farm. Unfortunately, often such conflict is only in the human’s mind: foxes, though widespread, really inflict tiny amounts of damage on lamb numbers, white tailed eagles just aren’t a threat to them, and yet they get shot and poisoned because of this perception.

Finally, doing away with the local wildlife because it causes inconvenience and you don’t believe you should have to bother about preserving it (exemplified by the current movement to allow hedge cutting in summer) has to be something that people will reject because they are afraid of being caught and punished. Wildlife crime has to be considered just that. That will mean enforcing the law. At the moment, too many people think they can carry on doing what they want regardless of how the world around them has changed. I wrote about this before. Catching the culprits and making examples of them will not only give pause, but will eventually change mindsets. And if a farmer disagrees with the new kind of farming, then he should perhaps get out of the game. Most teachers who started working when you could smack a child kept teaching when corporal punishment was banned. Some kept hitting the kids now and then (I’m sure many had similar experiences to me), but eventually even they stopped or they left the profession. Now, the very idea of hitting a kid is equally abhorrent as that of poisoning a white-tailed-eagle that the government spent thousands of euros and man-hours reintroducing for the good of the country and its citizens. Or should be.

There’s always another step to take…

 

 

I recently wrote an article about sticking with writing over years of unsuccessfully trying to get published, and how, twenty years after writing my first novel, I got it published and had it followed up by the second, and now I have contracts for five books, including one published under a pseudonym.

It’s hard to maintain confidence in your ability: I often thought I’d never sell a book, but along the way there were confidence boosts now and then when a poem was published, and a few quid here and there, even, for a poem or an article. When I finally got a contract, after all the effort, it was gratifying and affirming of my small amount of talent, and I felt vindicated in keeping at it.

I’d made that giant leap into Authorship.

earth-from-moon

But getting a book on the market – professionally edited and with a great cover that I was able to have some input in the design of  – was just one more step forward, it turned out. I thought it was a giant leap because of my previous perspective – or lack of it.

It’s like an animation video describing the scale of the universe. You make it to the moon and before you have time to appreciate the view, the camera pans back to show just how far away Mars is, and then Jupiter, and how small our solar system is.

The journey has only really begun. It’s just you’ve learned to walk and been given a decent pair of boots, is all.

The pressure is not off now; it just got more intense.

Apart from building a platform, blogging and posting and advertising, there’s the requests for reviews and the feeling you have to get big sales, to justify the confidence in your work – and to a certain extent you do. Instead of feeling you’re no good if you can’t get an editor interested, now there’s the feeling that you’re not good enough if you don’t see lots of sales. Friends ask if you’re making millions yet – often despite not having read it themselves: and who ever sold a million copies of a book that wasn’t good enough for friends to bother with?

The reviews are another source of stress. You want everyone to love the book of course, but it becomes a bit over the top: what once might have been worthy only of a place in a desk drawer or the farthest reaches of a hard drive, suddenly needs to deserve only five star reviews.

God forbid someone should give it less than three!

But they do – they did mine already.

You can’t please everyone, and even fans of the genre might be your biggest stumbling block – especially if you did something with they didn’t expect, that quirk, that novelty, which pleases 9/10 readers, just doesn’t float the last one’s boat. They might even feel hard done by when the book doesn’t match their expectations – however misconceived they might be.

But the long term is what we have to look to again – just as before publication. Over the long haul, more will like it than not, and hopefully they’ll tell their friends. There will be reviewers who say they’re delighted to read a new slant, who believe your characters are great.

Nevertheless, in my short and scant experience, these great readers and reviews don’t do as much to put things in perspective as the old friends or colleagues who congratulate you and say they’re jealous of you. When you humbly tell them that you’re not making those millions, they shake their head and insist that they’re not jealous of you publishing, but of the fact that you actually wrote a novel: that you finished your shit, and polished it well enough that anyone would read it.

And that’s one of the things we need to keep in mind as we go to the next project, and keep blogging and advertising, and seeking more reviews. It’s a struggle uphill (hope Bjork doesn’t have that phrase copyrighted), but the fact we’re plodding ahead is something we need to be proud of.

a few poems

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on a sequel to Leaving the Pack, but I have a couple of posts that I’ve been meaning to write and post about the recent problems that have beset the few birds of prey we have in Ireland… meanwhile, here are a few poems I had been thinking of at the same time. Sorry they’re not very fluffy like the snow we’re having this winter…

 

The Popular Farmer’s Front Stand (at the Environmental Secretary’s Address)

 

The farmers stood around, shoulders huddled and

Muttering as the man took the podium, turning

Away, they heard one of their number say, and

Nodded in concert. “What has the environment

Ever done for any of us?”

 

New Year’s Resolution

 

This year I don’t purport to be a better person,

To improve on my impatience: but only to pretend

By letting other people’s shit slide by, instead

Of reacting to it the way it sure as shit deserves.

 

Dining with the Wealthy

 

I aspire to share their table;

Taste the same delicacies

But despise their company.