I’ve favoured a return of our wild megafauna to our mountains for some time, now as a general wish to see wildlife flourish on our island. This includes letting the red deer extend their range beyond the small confines of Killarney NP, where it seems only those with friends in the right places and a pile of cash in their back pocket can get to hunt stags. It includes getting wild boar back, as far as our scant natural habitat is still suitable for them. And of course in includes letting the wolf roam the uplands, as those uplands regain their balance in terms of flora as well as fauna.
There are clear barriers to such steps. One of them is the lack of that suitable habitat, and another, connected to that, is the extent of sheep farming.
Sheep in a field. See any trees? Only habitat for tellytubbies. Photo by Paul Mutton.
I have long marvelled at the fact that sheep are still farmed in Ireland. I’ve spent decades hearing about and seeing how destructive they are to the uplands – anyone whose seen the golf green fields where farmers have them on the lowlands can imagine their effect on a wild landscape. When I was still in college in the early 90s we learned about overgrazing at important conservation and recreation areas of Ireland (like the slopes of Errigal Mountain in Donegal, Connemara NP). Some call them woolly maggots, for obvious reasons.
Sheep in the mountains. Hard to spot a tree here, either. Photo from http://snowdonia-active.com/news.
Simultaneously, I’ve spent decades pushing these animals ahead of me, both in cars on the roads and while trying to hunt or just hill walk without them scattering every shred of wildlife I might have otherwise had the chance to see. I even spent an hour saving one, which had got its leg caught in the wooden slats of a footbridge. It gave me scant thanks, and I was sure the farmer wouldn’t have been too pushed either way, given the huge numbers of dead animals you see while walking in our mountains. But I didn’t think letting it die of thirst was a valid option for anyone with a conscience. If my car jack wasn’t able to push up the slat, I was going to smash its skull in with a wrench, or a rock. A better end, despite the visual image you’re probably conjuring up right now…
Anyway, I remember a farmer telling me more than a decade ago that the wool was barely worth the effort to shear the sheep, and that the merchant only took it from him under no obligation to actually return money to the farmer. If it sold, he gave a portion of the sale, if not, then he… I’m not sure what he’d have done with the wool – throw it out, donate it, or what.
I’ve only eaten lamb a few times in Ireland, and I never liked it much. How much lamb is eaten round here and how much a lamb is worth, I’ve no idea, but I never imagined it was much (again, seeing how little attention is paid to them on the hill).
George Monbiot has the numbers. He reckons it’s less than 1% of the British diet, and the wool has almost no value. And it’s probable that the flooding caused by overgrazed hillsides means less food is grown downhill than otherwise would be, meaning sheep grazing actually reduces agricultural production.
He’s submitted a whole list of problems with the current Common Agricultural Policy and its effects on the environment.
One of these is that without subsidies sheep farming on uplands would be so clearly a waste of time that the sheep would disappear from the mountains by themselves.
And if that happened, well, two obvious effects would be that there would be no problem with sheep kills by reintroduced wolves up there (down the slopes any remaining sheep are easily protected in electrified pens at night), and the deer and other fauna would have something to eat and habitat to hide in as they spread over a landscape currently almost devoid of plant cover.
And real money could flow into these areas from people who want to see the wildlife, just like the reintroduced red kite (hopefully right now spreading across and out from Wicklow) brought £8 million in tourism revenue to parts of Scotland.
Seems simple maths to me.
I talked earlier this week about being an ex-pat rather than the emigrant/immigrant I’d always assumed myself to be.
The last day or so in Spain there has been a big news story about an eight year old boy, Abou, who was found in a suitcase crossing the border between Morocco and Spain.
He’d come all the way from the Ivory Coast. His father, legally residing in Spain had tried to get his family visas to join him. He was refused. Why? Because to do that he’d have to be making 1350 Euros a month. Now I know plenty of people here who don’t make that. The average wage is way lower. The father made 1300 euros a month. So for fifty quid a month, he was not allowed to have his family with him. I say made, because he’s in prison now: he could go down for human trafficking. The kid is in care, and the mother and his sister are alone waiting to see what the authorities will do.
Just one story of desperation. And the regulations seem stupid in their ability to take human needs into account.
But of course, that’s exactly how they are designed. Keep out the migrants, whatever their reason for trying to come.
I also learned a couple of weeks that reason people don’t take a plane to Europe to seek asylum, is because Europe doesn’t allow them. Not really. It makes the airlines refuse them because if they don’t, the company will have to pay for the flight back. It’s called EU directive 2001/51/EC. It’s there to stop illegal immigration of economic migrants. That’s “people looking to stay alive on more than a dollar a day in a drought-ridden country” to you and me.
It would actually be cheaper for an immigrant to buy a return ticket than pay the people smugglers, but I guess the airlines aren’t allowed do that.
So they have to sneak in, no matter where they are coming from or what they’re fleeing.
And we all know that’s some pretty bad shit there.
But they’re black, or mostly so. So they don’t matter. Their lives don’t matter, just like in the USA, but less, since they’re not even citizens. So the government of Spain can tell their police to shoot into the water to make some men drown rather than get shot instead of reaching dry land and have to be taken care of and processed, knowing few people will protest. They can take men down off the razor wire fence they’d been sitting on for hours and shove them through a gate back into Morocco without even bothering to tend their cuts, or see if they’ve stopped bleeding.
And they can wring their hands in worry at the plight of thousands drown after falling from boats designed to carry twenty weighted down with hundreds, but do nothing to make such voyages unnecessary.
The British government says they will help fish for survivors, but won’t let those they pick from the sea go anywhere near Britain.
And so we sail on.
We are currently debating marriage equality in Ireland, and in the USA. Meanwhile, inequality of application of Universal Human Rights is blatant in all our societies.
If there were true equality between people, the urge to migrate, or expatriate would vanish in 90% of the people who find themselves outside their own countries. Only those who want to live elsewhere for reasons such as my own (love!) would be bothered to move, to learn a new language, find friends and put down roots in a strange place.
But we don’t have anything near that.
Spaniards flock to Germany and England, or South America. The Irish hit the planes to America (illegally staying on past their tourist visa limits in some cases) or Australia.
And those destination countries do their best to discourage them. The only reason some can’t stop them is because of the “freedom of movement we supposedly have in Europe. If they don’t get a job, they want to send them back.
There are some countries, like Germany and England, who didn’t even allow the citizens of other European countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, to even try get a job until seven years after they’d joined our wonderful union.
All of the European Union is equal? Bollox.
The idea of a European Union is farcical until we have equality of citizens, and that means equality of employment rights and salaries. If the wages in Spain (or Bulgaria, where the minimum wage is six times lower) were the same as those in Germany – the minimum wage, if not the median – Germany would not need to worry about people going on the dole there – what they call benefits tourism and poverty migration (and when I came to Spain I had the right to the dole here). But people in rich countries like to have cheap holidays in Spain, or cheap products from counties where people have low wages. And the governments of poorer countries seem to think it’s good to have their citizens working for low wages to attract companies and tourists.
However, until we have a situation of true equality in this globalised world, there will be an unstoppable flow of lives across borders. Some to sink on the way, or die in the desert, or suffocate in the bottom of a truck or container.
But again, they’re only migrants.