Category Archives: rewilding

Oasis

20180511_090738.jpg

Oasis

 

I rested upon some leaves of grass this morning;

Dabbling as the park drakes dipped in the rippling

Pond shimmering sunlight reflections against green:

The distant traffic as irrelevant as desert sand dunes

Beyond the screen, for all the notice the ducks took,

And us, aware of such, see what they mean

By oasis.

 

Advertisements

Deer “Management” in Ireland: wolves would do it better…

I just wanted to comment on a couple of recent articles in the Irish press.

The first is a call for a large harvest in Kerry, because local farmers and golf course owners are “at their wits end” due to deer damaging their property.

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/forestry-enviro/environment/call-for-major-cull-as-deer-causing-havoc-farmers-and-property-owners-say-killarney-deer-are-ruining-lands-36773544.html

 

Groupofstags

Hey, you! Get off of my lawn!

 

On social media where this article is discussed, I’ve seen a few calls for the wolf to be reintroduced to help in such situations. Although I am firmly (see other posts I’ve written here) in favour of a wolf reintroduction to Ireland, I think the area around Killarney is not necessarily the best place to start. As I said before, Achill or Donegal would be better to start with. On the other hand, where there are no wolves, humans have to do their job. They can’t just leave things be. But that’s precisely what happens most of the time.

The other article clearly demonstrates this…

https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/rural-life/starving-deer-shot-after-others-were-found-starved-to-death-36763613.html

Two thirds of a small herd of around 45 deer have had to be culled as they are starving, on an island in the Kerry lakes, where four deer already died. They’d been there for a decade without any control on their increasing numbers and now there’s hardly anything to eat for them.

This is a microcosm of the problems we have on the island of Ireland. We let the situation get out of hand. Anyone with an eye in their head and a few neurons stitched together can see that the problems coming down the road, but nothing is done. Until the situation becomes untenable and something just has to be done. And the reaction is usually drastic.

The same can be said about deer management in general.

We have been hearing for years and years, since before I finished my PhD in this field 18 years ago, that we need a central countrywide, if not island-wide, management team – or just a manager – with statutory responsibilities and powers to do the job properly.

I put my name forward for it in discussions with COFORD, which had funded my project on studying the deer herd in Wicklow, and which was keen to support some logical steps towards avoiding the problems the forestry sectors were having. When a Inter-agency Deer Policy Group was formed and put out a request for proposals for a “Deer Management Policy Vision” in 2011 I put pen to paper and described what I believed needed to happen. Lots of other stakeholders did the same. We repeated the process in 2012.

What came of it?

Nothing.

Just the same old story.

And now the most important herd in the country, of genetically pure native red deer, is under threat of a large harvest because the local farmers and golf course owners are up in arms. While they might be exaggerating – a farmer suggested harvesting 300 deer, though where this figure came from is a mystery – and complaining about droppings on the greens seems a little pedantic (and could be fixed by a deer fence around the course if they were willing to completely eliminate deer from their fairways, which considering they spend €20,000 a year at the moment would probably be a good investment), it is symptomatic of what happens when there is a lack of clear management goals and action towards achieving them.

Stags and donkeys on lawn copy.jpg

well, the deer keep the lawn trimmed, and they do less damage than the donkeys… perhaps they’re a boon for golf fairways?

In the article about the starving deer, The National Parks and Wildlife Service is quoted as saying that balancing the needs of deer and ecology is “challenging.” That sentence, right there, is a stark example of what we are up against in Ireland.

Using wolves to reduce a deer population should be far from necessary in these situations – a relatively small number of deer in close proximity to/easy access from busy public amenities and livestock farms – but from what one farmer states it is costing him currently (€10,000 a year) it would actually be cheaper to have wolves in the area, even factoring in the probable damages to sheep herds it might entail.

Of course, they’d have to redesign Killarney to cope with all the extra ecotourism traffic…

 

 

Supporting WWF

Belated happy new year, everyone.

Another year rolls around, another calendar goes up on the wall. If you don’t have yours up yet, why not get this one?

20180115_173608.jpg

I got it for my office wall, where I am writing now.  And I also got this nice card with a note from Monika Kull, thanking me for renewing my WWF membership.

20180115_075833.jpg

 

20180115_075825.jpg

As you know, I have pledged to donate 10% of the royalties from my novels to this NGO which works to reduce and even stop species extinctions around the globe.

You should donate whatever you can, too. If you think your pet is important, imagine how much more important it is to save entire species which will otherwise vanish from our lands – from our television screens, even.

And how much less beautiful would our calendars be then, too?

 

 

Five things I learned writing the Silver Nights Trilogy

So, I know it’s been a while, but things have been as hectic as a 2-year-old in a new playground. Literally.

My final chapter of the Silver Nights Trilogy is out now, and so I thought it a good time to recap what I learned in the process of writing it.

 

1) Things take longer than you think…

Especially when you think you can squeeze side projects in there between…

I always knew I’d finish my trilogy (I advocate the finish your shit mantra) but I thought I’d have it done a couple of years ago – around six months after the first novel came out and I realised just before publication that it was going to be a trilogy. The nuclei of the second two parts came to me very clear and I reckoned that I’d have them both done by Christmas – I had a part time job and summer in between, after all.

But then I got the idea for a novel about Loch Ness, and that just grabbed my attention like a talon clutching my balls, insisting I go along with it. So I thought it best to comply. The first draft spun out easily, but then there were drafts to go over before I submitted, and another project popped up. This was going to be easy – my publisher put out a call for erotic romance novellas set in one night in any city, for a series called City Nights. Well, I had a long short story set in Madrid that could be refitted in a jiffy. Or not. The challenge of writing erotica wasn’t half as hard (fnarr!) as shaping it into a longer story that was still under 25k words. Anyway, despite it taking me several rewrites I got the bug and did 2 more cities since, Pamplona and Boston (for these the story was simple, starting from scratch always is simpler) published under the name JD Martins – yes, I am a school teacher. Then there were edits for a YA paranormal and a children’s fantasy novel to go over for publication (yes, I’d a drawerful of old novels that I finally found willing publishers for). And of course, real life did it’s usual trick of getting in the way. Our daughter was diagnosed diabetic at two and a half, so I spent a lot of time cycling across town to inject her at lunchtime, we had another sprog six? months ago… all that great stuff. But the sequels kept simmering away in the meantime, slowly taking shape… of course, people kept asking when they’d be ready and I kept telling them a date not too distant in the future – three months or so, by this Christmas, as soon as submissions reopen, I’m sending both books straight away…

 

2) Think before you decide to write a trilogy.

At least, think before you tell everyone, and have the second and third pretty much ready to go before you tell everyone. Sure, the idea for the second and third novel might come to you real quick and seem pretty safe and secure, but they need to tie together like a trilogy, and, more importantly, people are going to be waiting on them – some won’t even read the first part till they know the second and third are written and out there for them to read straight after – hands up who’s waiting on Game of Thrones to finish it’s run before even starting? Only me? Oh… anyhow, though the ideas might seem pretty solid, they have to lead directly from the first to the second and into the third and though there might be three books, hence trilogy, a series can have three books, too – you just don’t write the fourth book, and nobody’s going to feel cheated. Are you? It’s not that the second and third novel aren’t solid, but the challenges facing the characters can’t be the same, and things that happen in the sequels need to have a coherency with the first, so perhaps write them all at the same time, rather than have one done and decide to add two more

But definitely write part two and three together. It might piss off those waiting impatiently for the second to come out, but it’s better in the end. Also helps keep all those characters in your head at the same time – werewolves have big families, dammit, especially when they’re trying to build up their numbers after centuries of persecution.

 

3) Stick to your original vision

I wrote the first novel in this trilogy, Leaving the Pack, twenty-five years ago. The time in between turned out to be very useful. I was inspired by Whitley Strieber’s novel Wulfen, and to honest, I never really read much about them since then. I liked my werewolves (almost as much as Strieber’s) and I didn’t much like the movies I occasionally saw or the few books I read. Having a book out before you write the next leads to the temptation to take reader’s opinions into account as write. But making everyone happy isn’t a possibility and if the reader didn’t like the first book, it’s pointless to try please them in the second, or the third. Besides, when I looked around at some of the other werewolf novels out there, I realised their tastes were more aligned with the books I wanted my story to stand out from – the real tribe who engendered the original myth.

 

4) Don’t bother reading in-genre – it’s probably not your genre, and there’s some weird shit out there.

I did read a few other books over the years, but reading other werewolf novels was a bad idea. They filled my head with stuff that I didn’t like, making me second-guess the world I’d created – a real world where shifting is just as physically impossible as it is in ours.

In tandem with their physiological lunar rhythms, these people worshipped the wolf, had an affinity with their four-legged brethren that had led their enemies to assume they turned into beasts.

As a zoologist, I knew that wolf mating is similar to dogs, where they are unable to separate afterwards for a while. I went to double-check the term (knotting) in the final edit and discovered a sub genre of werewolf novels that was eye opening, let’s say.

 

5) The real world has changed, and so must your characters.

Even though my werewolves are first found roaming the city during the late Eighties, when homosexuality wasn’t nearly so visible in our cities, and I have no interest in writing gay sex scenes – and I doubt I could make them hot enough for the readers of werewolf knotting – I totally agree that we need more diversity characters in our novels. The werewolves are an ancient tribe, and the poster boys for patriarchy, but even they have to evolve to deal with the way things are nowadays, including equality for their daughters. But such changes are a joy to write, to put your characters in awkward situations. One thing that has not changed for the pack, however, is they still hate vampires, and real vampires are not so nice as they’re made out to be.

You can get all three books here….

 

 

If you want me…

It’s been a while. It’s been busy.

But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.

I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.

Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….

20170618_180746.jpg

The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid

 

If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,

Cut logs and split them all afternoon.

Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,

A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.

Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,

The garden path cemented, a fence erected,

Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug

Or a border weeded, you can count on me;

I’m always happy to go to work.

 

But the house is built, the garden laid,

There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing

So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.

 

(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)

Why do hunters have to be such arseholes?

Okay, modify that: why do so many hunters have to be arseholes? After all, I’m one myself; a hunter, not an arsehole.

Seriously, I see so many gobshites who should never be allowed to take up a weapon, it’s embarrassing.

The good news this week that Danish wolves exist again was tempered by the sad fact that the authorities are not going to tell anyone where the wolves are – and what a boon for eco tourism it would be, if we could all go and see the wolves! – because they are afraid of hunters going there to try kill them.

Why would hunters want to kill wolves?

(If that seems like a stupid question, I have another – are you sure you’re not an arsehole?)

Do they really feel that the wolves (five of them, for Christ’s sake) are going to reduce the numbers of animals they can hunt?

The government has that all regulated, and mostly it’s because of the other hunters that you can’t kill more. In Ireland, where there are relatively few hunters, we can hunt lots of deer each (depending on the area, of course) but here in Spain, where I am currently applying for a hunting licence – after several years of living here – it’s hard to get a spot in a red deer hunting area, and it’s a lot more expensive.

What’s the solution to too many hunters?

Perhaps act like an arsehole so that people don’t want to be associated with you.

In fact, that’s one of the reason I never bothered applying for a hunting licence here before. It’s a much more dangerous activity here than in Ireland.

The type of hunting can, perhaps, be more hazardous – larger groups of people in an area, hunting animals that are on the run.

But that’s no excuse for the number of hunters killed by their companions every year.

That’s just recklessness.

orange jacket

If you have to wear an orange jacket, there’s something wrong with the people around you (photo from Washington Dept. of Fish and wildlife).

In the course I had to do for the hunting exam, I encountered a few of the kind of shitehawks I’d never want to share a cup of tea with up on the hill, never mind hunt with. Dangerously dismissive of the rules, they argued that since they had the guns, they should win the arguments with the walkers and the mushroom pickers that can fuck up a hunt. And they seemed inclined to think that anyone who moved off his post during a beaten hunt deserved to get shot, rather than consider it their duty to identify the target before shooting at something moving past them.

I won’t be hunting with those guys – if indeed they’ll be hunting with anyone, for I’ve serious doubts they’ll study for the exam. Nor will I be running to join a boar hunt, to be honest. I’d rather hunt alone here. I can go home to Ireland for companionable hunting. At least I’ll know I’m not going to get killed by my companions, and the only animals getting shot will be ones permitted.

Yet, separate and apart from my personal problems, the more important point is the issue of our good name. Hunting is getting a bad name, despite its importance in our and other societies. I consider it a necessary activity as well as an interesting one, and believe it will continue, but it will do some in a much more regulated and restricted fashion in most places.

Hunters should not have this bad name. As a collective, disregarding my own intense love of nature, we should be the most vocal, the most powerful guardians of the environment out there. Our integrity and conviction should be unquestionable. It’s a matter not of our personal preferences, but of the survival of our sport.

Hunters should have better long term planning than some are currently displaying.

But, then again, given our human history thus far, perhaps that’s just beyond us.

Rewilding my garden, as long as the rabbits eat the right plants….

So I have this garden in the country. It’s not quite mine, in that I don’t own the house, but it has befallen to me, more and more, to look after it.

It’s big. There are a dozen young trees, a long hedge, grape vines, shrubs, and there’s a lot of grassy area to mow.

I say grassy area because it’s far from being able to be called a lawn. More like a playground for moles.

But I don’t mind the moles. I prefer daisies and other wild flowers to grass in any case. It’s great to have moles, and it would be even better to see them once in a while.

Even better than moles, are rabbits. And we have them, too.

Unfortunately, in the case of the rabbits, I do have a problem at the moment.

I’ve planted a new hedge. It’s to hopefully block the wind that sweeps down from the pyrennes – the call it the Cierzo. When a wind has it’s own name, you know you’re up against it. Anyway, the new hedge, once established, will help, I hope. And it will cover the chain link fence that goes along the low back wall (put up to stop the cows coming in to graze the garden – picturesque till one of them breaks your windscreen while trying to swipe a horn at the herding dogs, and the farmer never owns up.)

20170402_112456.jpg

20170402_112437.jpg

But to get established, the hedge has to not get eaten by rabbits.

And for some reason, the rabbits have decided it’s tastier than all the grass and dandelions and everything else growing right beside it.

20170413_174514.jpg

the bottom half of the plant is nibbled to nothing…

 

So I had to take action.

Now, I didn’t stand watch with a shotgun at twilight. Even if I had time for that lark, I’d rather a rabbit in the garden than ten up the hill where I can’t see them from my bedroom window.

I haven’t seen the rabbit yet, but given the circumstances (plants nibbled at the bottom, a stone wall with a hole under one of the stones where a rabbit could get through the fence, and grass grazed on the other side) there’s no other culprit.

 

20170413_174612

This photo is sideways, but you can see the easily accessed holes and the nibbled tuft of grass.

 

So I covered the damaged plants to let them recuperate, blocked the hole and hoped the little gits can’t get in any other way.

 

20170413_174459

Eat your way through that, rabbit!

I feel bad, in a way, but there’s lots of other stuff to eat, and once the hedge is big enough, after this first summer, I’ll unblock the hole and let them nibble to their hearts content. After all, rewilding should always apply to our own gardens, and a few rabbits will mean I don’t get asked to strim the bank so often, making it win-win for everyone.

Nature documentaries are good for your health

This most important piece of news out today, I found on the second last page of the newspaper – an anecdote, a curiosity, an aside amid the Spanish corruption scandals, the French elections, the continuing shite that blights the lives of billions (there was one nice bit about a certain wall not getting funded by a certain congress, but besides that it was all boring same old depressing mess till reading the above) – right back beside the information that some local actress is going to star in some new film being made sometime soon.

Two points to make:

One, if watching animals and trees on TV can reduce stress (and there are reams of positive benefits the study, done by UC Berkely, no less, details) imagine what actually going out into the parks, the countryside, the seaside does for us!

20170420_131316

Throwing stones in the sea: what better stress disperser exists?

And why don’t we do it more?  We all return from our beach holidays relaxed: yes, we have no work, but just sitting on the beach relaxes, and we should do it every day if we can, or at least get to the park and watch the ducks.

 

20170418_142734.jpg

Can you feel the tension lift just looking at these bluebells?

Two, why is this way back at the bottom of the news?

We are in the middle of a stress crises. We have a tsunami of suicides, self-harming and addiction. People are going to medical health professionals of all sorts and taking many medications to help them get through life. And yet, this simple source of relief, if not potentially a complete solution, a cheap if not actually free aid, which can help us with this crisis, is practically ignored by the media.

If it were a study claiming eating butter could cut stress (or chocolate, or even lettuce) or help some other serious health problem, it would be much further up the order of importance.

Your doctor would tell you to avoid alcohol, eat fibre, cut out saturated fats, eat less sugar, lower salt intake, stop smoking etc. if he/she thought it would help keep you alive and well and happy for a few more years. There are campaigns for all these going on all the time. Laws are changed to help us quit smoking, have healthier diets, drink less.

And yet, will we see any move to get people out into parks, to have wildlife documentaries subsidised by the department of health? Will we have laws to protect ecosystems so they can be used to make further films, or see famous people encouraging us to climb mountains? Probably not.

But I hope so. Because we should. I personally won’t be happy until I see David Attenborough get a Nobel Prize for Medicine. He’s certainly saved my sanity…

 

20170419_154722.jpg

A child in the countryside is a happy child!

 

 

 

Leave off the Light

A little poem as we note the start of spring here.

The bats indeed did come out that night and now, a week later, there are lizards and frogs about, as well as cranes coming back north and storks reclaiming their nests.

 

Leave Off the Light

Leave off the lights

At least until the light leaves;

Let us feel it while it lasts,

Catch sight of birds flying to roosts, crying

As it dies, and perhaps bats will wheel past.

Let night descend inside, too, before

Filling our night with brightness,

Let the life outside touch our lives a little,

For at last there is light as twilight arrives.

Introducing Species: A Mouflon Quandary

 

maquiriain-mountains

There are sheep in them there hills. But finding them isn’t easy.

Last weekend I went for a walk from our village in Navarra to try to see the mouflon which had been illegally introduced to the area last year. The numbers had increased to the point where the local police were brought in to try to remove them by baiting them with salt licks to a field where they could shoot them. I’d heard that several of them had been shot already, and I went to see if I could spot some of them. I’d never seen this species outside of a zoo enclosure and I was lucky to catch a quick glimpse of two.

Yesterday in the local newspaper an article said that the local hunters have been authorised to shoot as many mouflon as they can while they are engaged in their normal boar hunting activities. I had seen this coming. This was probably what the local hunters were waiting for, and whoever released the animals had had just this idea in mind. Whether all of the animals in the area will be shot is up for a debate, and in my opinion it is hard to see how all of them will be killed, given the manpower needed to eliminate them. Yesterday three groups of boar hunters came, and shots were fired, but we’ve heard nothing about any mouflon having been hunted. More likely they dispersed the animals more. There are many who think that only males will be shot, anyway, because what hunter wants to shoot a pregnant female of a novel species right at the end of the season when you could shoot two next autumn?

Mouflon field.jpg

The field where I saw the mouflon – beside the bank of pale grass at the end.

My question is, however, whether shooting them out is, or is not, a good idea. I’m not sure where I should come down on either side of the argument. As an ecologist, I am aware that introduced species can wreak havoc upon ecosystem, and she sheep can be particularly destructive. On the other hand, there is the fact that rewilding landscapes doesn’t necessarily mean that only animals which were there before in historical times have to be reintroduced and no other species can be.

If these were muntjack, then I’d say get in and get them out. ASAP, using all the manpower you can muster. Muntjack can wreak havoc on the plants. Introducing them to Ireland, which some it seems have tried and been somewhat successful at in recent years, is a stupid idea.

But these aren’t muntjack.

The article does not mention that of these animals might be detrimental to the local flora of the region. Instead, it says they might compete with native animals, such as the wild boar and the roe deer.

The article says that these sheep are very adaptable to various ecosystems in Spain where they have been released. I haven’t heard any horror stories from these other places yet.

Though officially from the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus, Corsica and Sardinia it seems that the mouflon, or a very similar species, must have been native to the mainland of Europe at some stage. They didn’t just pop up and three islands from nowhere. Given their adaptability it seems like to me that they were probably fairly widespread until humans decided they were competition for their own descendants the sheep, in the same way the aurochs were competition for their descendants, cattle.

If wild sheep were here before and they are returned in a small population I’m not sure what difficulties if any, ecologically speaking, may arise. After all, these mountains I’m looking on right now used to be grazed by thousands of sheep and goats., and the landscape suffered much from it from what I’m told by the old timers, with the understory of the forests bare from intense grazing of the sheep and goats of the local farmers.

Shepherding is not so widespread here anymore, but still hundreds are brought around some of the area. The forests have thickened up, though, and I have heard that the local government want to pay shepherds to bring their goats into their forests to help “clean them up” and tidy them because there forests are quite dense with shrubs and thorn bushes. Seems to me that these mouflon might do such a job for free.

On the other hand, I’m not sure if the population of roe deer and boar will be badly affected by these other ruminants sharing the mountains. After all, the population of both the roe deer and wild boar have been increasing in recent years to the extent that they are causing problems with road traffic accidents and farmers are complaining of destruction of their crops. I see tracks and animals all the time. In fact, blind eye is being turned to the poaching of these animals so their numbers can be reduced. Therefore, if the plan were to compete against the roe and boar, it would be a plus in that respect. I can’t see what objection the farmers could have, unless the mouflon are doing more damage to their crops than the roe deer, and boar. That I don’t know, and from my point of view as an ecologist, I don’t have very strong opinion either way.

I heard that the local government is mostly worried that they’ll have to foot the bill for any diseases the farmed sheep might contract from their wild cousins.

However, in terms of the wildlife, the flora and the other large animals, even the rabbits, I don’t see how a small population would have so great an effect.

It’s not as if mouflon don’t coexist with other ungulates in their “natural” environment. There are wild boar and red deer on both Corsica, and Sardinia, and Fallow deer and wild horses on Sardinia too. Cyrpus is a bit smaller, but wild goats share the island with the mouflon. How can the mouflon be so detrimental if they’d not ousted these other from their islands?  Roe are slightly different, but both roe and red deer share the Scottish Highlands with plenty of sheep.

From my walk in the area, there are boar and mouflon sharing the same field.

Boar tracks, on the left, with some soil pushed about with the nose, and mouflon tracks on the right, in the same field of young wheat.

Perhaps they can even help diversify the fauna of Navarra and other parts of mainland Spain, the way the bovines and equines do (a big part of the rewildling movement) Here in Navarra, and in this valley, cattle are led into the woods daily and some are left there for months on end, as are horses, without any concern for the other fauna. That’s because they’d not detrimental; quite the opposite. There are even moves to reintroduce bison into Navarra to help improve ecosystems.

I know the animals were not introduced with the intention of making the land better, but if they can be kept at small numbers, in low population densities it might be for the better.

But I’m open to a more knowledgeable opinion.

Let me know what you think in the comments.