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Small surges forth from huge setbacks

2017 didn’t start with very much good news. There were more attacks on innocent people just like last year. The rich and powerful are continuing to play their chess game with the planet, and have moved their rook into position to fuck things up in a big way. We, the pawns, stand ready to do what we can to oppose, but expect the worst they can impose upon us.

And 2016 slips right into its place in the graph as the hottest year ever recorded, right in front of 2015 and 2014.

Just like we see with all species, the numbers of predators, especially large ones like lions and wolves, have collapsed in the last number of decades.

A large part of the problem are the conflicts these large predators come into in areas where livestock are farmed. There are many different ways to prevent kills (such as guard dogs and electric fences) but in many cases farmers whose livestock are preyed upon take action and kill the predators (one supposes it is the same animal(s)). Thus, one dead cow or goat means one dead tiger or leopard. The former can be replaced a lot faster than the latter, unfortunately.

Just yesterday, a bear was poisoned in Italy.

But there are signs of some steps back from the brink. In Spain, where the population of wolves is actually increasing, the government of the Community of Madrid have increased the compensation fund to help farmers whose livestock are attacked (though it seems at 500 Euro per sheep, there’s a large temptation to fudge the death of an animal to look like a wolf-kill – which was widespread in some areas of Spain and caused a scandal last year).

This will help reduce such retaliatory killings, since farmers don’t see their livelihoods under threat from the predators. There are also movements to protect livestock using mastiff dogs and restoring pens – this helping much more in the long term as farmers readjust to the new reality of a rewilded landscape.

The world needs more of this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Will We Ever Rewild Ireland?

While every week practically, there is some good news from somewhere around Europe or further regarding the rewilding of our environment, it seems Ireland is sadly lagging behind. The golden eagles we restored to our landscape are struggling, and might go extinct again.

Golden_eagle_before_fledging_laurie_campbell.jpg

Irish golden eagle chick; photo taken from Golden Eagle Trust, credit Laurie Campbell

In the Italian Apennines, bears are making a comeback. A recent article said that bears, and other predators need some understanding, and the goodwill of the locals. If not, they’re doomed. The bears have this goodwill, though, and prevention is better than compensation. Electric fences keep bears out of bee hives and chicken coops, and sheep folds. The sheep have to be brought in closer to the farmhouses and protected. This makes it more expensive, but considering how much money could be earned by small towns and villages providing wildlife viewing opportunities and tourism as farmers get older, and their children leave because they don’t want to farm, that’s not considered an unwise investment. And the bears have always been around, if a little higher up the mountains.

As the reintroduction of lynx to Great Britain rolls forward, people ask if this predator will target sheep. The answer, from other countries, is that it’s very unlikely, as long as the rest of the ecosystem is functioning and the sheep aren’t in the forests – where really they’re not supposed to be.

These forests are, in fact, the reason lynx are needed in the environment – to help rejuvenate them. Over-population of deer is preventing regeneration, and lynx are designed to hunt deer. This article on CNN indicates that lynx reintroduction has support of 90% of Brits, and the effects on the environment are expected to be significant, if it follows the pattern of cascading impacts wolf reintroduction had in Yellowstone National Park.

The article also states that returning predators is “not a quick fix for long-term decline” because “the removal of predators for decades causes changes in a system that make it resistant to the effects of reintroduction.”

One of these changes is the attitude of humans, especially those who work the land. While the Apennine farmers have always lived with bears, and European farmers with lynx, and farmers in northern Spain with both bear and wolves, farmers in Ireland and Britain have had it relatively easy. The idea of changing their practices on a livestock that already loses money and only subsists because of EU payouts is rather daunting. “When projects do not have public support it can prove fatal for returning species.” As it is, we know how much goodwill predators have in Ireland.

It can be done, though. In China, where the tiger was extirpated 65 years ago, a few breeding females have recently been spotted. And rehabilitated Amur tigers have been released back into former haunts, one of which has given birth to two cubs.

Apart from ensuring that the predators are not overtly killed by those opposed, the habitat has to be suitable. Rewilding Europe helped rewild Dutch rivers penned in by dykes and canals, and only then could forest return enough to allow beaver recolonisation. The Amur tigers have thousands of square kilometres of birch forest still intact despite logging, and the lynx in Britain will only be released in forested areas.

Irish forest cover is still very low compared to the rest of Europe, with sheep still grazing in woodland, on top of whatever deer population is there. The land has been so changed that there is a debate as to whether the Scot’s Pine survived and can considered native. Some think it is an invasive on peat bogs and should be removed. It’s hard to be angry at Scot’s Pines at the best of times, though. A recent Economist article says it’s a waste of time and energy trying to eradicate even the bad ones, but considering that the bogs are not necessarily the best environment in terms of providing habitat for as wide a variety of species and a robust environment, I think we should give the Scot’s pine a free pass and let it get on with growing. It will help rewild the landscape, providing habitat for more species than the bogs do. As I said before, and George Moniot said yesterday in an interview, rewilding is not an attempt to turn any clocks back.

Having any trees grow might be hard, though, unless the sheep are reduced. Making our environment suitable for reintroduced predators will involve keeping such targets out of their way, and reducing the destruction they and their husbandry is responsible for.

The predators we’ve already reintroduced might die out again if we don’t.

In Donegal, a place as wild as we can claim to have in Ireland, the constantly overgrazed and burned bogs are not producing enough food for the golden eagles to breed. Instead of getting fat on hares and grouse, like they do in Scotland, the poor eagles have to hunt badgers and magpies.

News like that makes even the most gung-ho Irish rewilder pause and wonder, if the golden eagle can’t clasp a foothold on our island, what hope will the wolf have?

It will only have a hope if it finds the goodwill of the rural community.  And  George Monbiot said yesterday, the countryside is not inhabited only by farmers. If 90% of Britons favour having lynx in their forests, there, then we can hope a majority of Irish will also approve. And  when sheep inevitably disappear from out hillsides as the payments propping them up are removed from EU legislation, and in some places to help the much-loved golden eagles, the forests can return to provide a home for them and many other species.

 

The Catalan Question; The Answer is Yes

Almost exactly a year ago I suggested the Scots take their chance at independence like a wide receiver clutches an American football to his chest and legs it.

I stand by that.

At the moment, the Catalans – the people of the region of Cataluña or Catalonia in the North east of what we call Spain – are pondering a similar question.

mapa-cataluna
Here’s a map for those who’ve never heard of the place – I should add that Barcelona is the capital of the region; might jog the memory..

It’s not quite the same because there will be no referendum.

The right wing government in Madrid are insisting such a referendum would be illegal, clinging to a constitution made when everyone was not quite sure some follower of Franco wouldn’t take over and return the country to Fascism for another forty years, so it was best not to ask for too much. They tried, actually, not many years later, on February 23rd 1981 (I know that because my daughter was born on the 23rd of February and everybody makes a comment; not far from the mind of people even now).

So the pro-independence parties of Catalonia have decided that if they get a broad support from the populace in their regional elections this month, they’ll go ahead and announce independence anyway, to come in after eighteen months of negotiations and preparations.

The answer is the same. Yes.

I fully expect them to get the support they want. If there had been a referendum, I reckon the Catalans would have voted to stay inside a federal Spain, albeit with more autonomy. But they weren’t given that option, and when some powerful fucker from somewhere else says you can’t have something, then it’s not too uncommon for the common folk to say, fuck you, I’m going to take it.

The question you might perhaps be asking is if I just last week said it was time to get past this silly notion of nationality, how can I suddenly support the separation of a part of a state from the rest based on that same idea?

I implied patriotism for a place that is just as good as any other place, with people who are just as good, and bad as (equal to, in fact) you and me is a load of wank, there to empower only a few dodgy politicians.

And I stand by that.

And the Catalan question involves a fair few politician of the distinctly dodgy persuasion, who have thus far got fairly rich (actually very fucking rich) off their positions, and a decent handful of whom are being investigated for fraud and corruption and all that good stuff, while they all touted how bad they and their fellow Catalans were being treated by the big bad government in Madrid.

Because the shittiness of their politicians does not negate the Catalan’s right to self-determination. They deserve to decide if they will be a separate country, and they deserve to determine how that country will be run; if it will involve the same kind of structures used up to now or if they’ll try out a whole different thing – or even return to the way things were done during the heady days of 1936 when George Orwell was marvelling at the anarchists of Barcelona, before the war was taken out of their hands by the Nazis and Stalinists.

The patriotism of the Catalans is not better or worse on its face than that of Americans or Afghans. But in the greater scheme of things it will be more positive if we end up with a situation where people are able to run their own small patch of land. I don’t want to say that they’re governed by people closer to them, because I don’t think they should be governed necessarily – I prefer to see politicians as citizen representatives than leaders; which they jolly well should be, to put it nicely.

If the world, or in this case, Europe, was broken up into smaller and smaller pieces then people would have more control over their politicians, would be able to keep closer tabs on them, and make them do what they are supposed to (forward the good of their fellow citizens and the area as a whole) rather than get rich helping out big corporations. Iceland got itself out of debt because the politicians could not hide from the population, and had to do what the citizens said – which in this case was don’t pay those fucking leech banks. Ireland didn’t do the same because our politicians are separated, just a little bit too much, from their constituents, and because they know we’ll vote them back in in four or eight years because we’ve short memories and we’re a little stupid at times, and since we had our independence and a civil war we’re reluctant to go on the rampage again (by we I mean those still keeping their heads above water by keeping their heads down, to mix a metaphor).

Even though Ireland is run by a bunch of arseholes, they haven’t fleeced us as much as the corrupt pigs in Spain have, simply because they couldn’t get away with such opulence if they took all they could. We’d notice if they suddenly had their own helicopters and yachts and private islands. The Spanish have been used to rich nobility for ages, what with that old woman who’d more titles than the queen of England. There is a social circle to which the politicians can aspire, which is kind of lacking in Ireland. Saying that, we did have Charlie Haughey in Ireland, who had his own private island and boat and all that gear, and it took us a long time to ask the question, “how the fuck is he able to afford race horses and the like, and just why is our prime minister called Champagne fucking Charlie anyway?”

But that’s the Irish for ye.

Back to the point.
If Europe is a band of tiny nations, it’s less likely that one arsehole can just do that the hell he wants. Putin rules one huge country, and as such, has power. If we could knock Russia back into a plethora of small principalities (not calling them that, though, since we’d rather not have any princes running them) then he’d only be in charge of one.

It’s hard to do with Russia, but the nationalistic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that unified Germany and Italy, and Spain and France, too, can be turned back now. It was all well and good (actually, it was shit, cos it caused two fucking world wars) for a while, but we’ve gone beyond that now – we have a unification of Germany WITH Italy and Spain and France into mother Europe, and so it’s fine to go back to having Bavaria and Prussia and Lombardy and Galicia, etc. If Mrs Merkel was the leader of just one Germanic region (not sure where she’s from), then she’d not be able to frog march us all into eternal debt. She’d have to find consensus. And that would be harder to find (a consensus that we all pay back huge banks money they don’t deserve and we didn’t lose) when every other leader had to answer to a population he or she was forced to live closely among.

The smaller the country, the more accountable are the representatives.

And the more necessary for such small nations to band together to pursue common goals.

And those common goals are less likely to be sucking the bell ends of banks and corporations.

So go for it, Cataluña. What have you got to lose? EU membership? Nah. They need you more than they need the Greeks, or the Irish for that matter. Just come back in under better terms.

Migrants and Why They’re Dying.

Photo taken by the Guardia Civil of the boy, Abou, in the suitcase / ATLAS (The eyes are blurred because it's illegal to identify a child's face in the news in Spain)

Photo taken by the Guardia Civil of the boy, Abou, in the suitcase / ATLAS (The eyes are blurred because it’s illegal to identify a child’s face in the news in Spain)

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.

Let’s all try to get along..

We’re going to have to learn to all get along, eventually…

I had originally thought of using that title for a blogpost/rant about cycling in the city – but everyday I get on my bike new things occur to me about that, so it’s not quite finished!

Marsican / Abruzzo brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus) adult in spring mountain meadow. Critically endangered subspecies. Central Apennines, Abruzzo, Italy. May 2012

Anyway, I decided to write this after reading that a farmer had killed a bear central Italy (http://www.rewildingeurope.com/news/the-sad-story-of-a-killed-young-bear-brings-24-mobile-electric-fences-to-the-central-apennines/ The photo above is from the cited article, copyright Bruno D’Amicis/Rewilding Europe, of Marsican / Abruzzo brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus) adult in spring mountain meadow. Critically endangered subspecies. Central Apennines, Abruzzo, Italy. May 2012
).

I asked myself the question: How much effort is wildlife worth?

I mean, really, how much effort is too much to bother with? Will people (the great mass of us in general) keep on saying, “That’s asking too much of us. We’re all for wildlife and nature and that, but really, we have priorities…”

There are always priorities.

And we have to place human life above other life (for the moment: let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet!). So if there is a conflict between an aggressive bear and a human, well, yes, shoot the bear. Even in cases where a bear has become a nuisance because people have not made the effort to keep their food safe or their garbage cans closed, it’s probably necessary to kill the bear.

This can go to extremes, of course: just today a deer in my local park (a mini-zoo in the old walls closed off to the public – I’ve videos on my youtube channel…) that gored a worker who didn’t make the effort to take precautions during the rut, and went in to feed the animal with no protection (a stick!) and no other person to help (or even know about it) if there was a problem has been removed – most probably via lead injection.

Was that necessary? Hardly. The deer hasn’t become a man-killer, like a man-eating tiger…

But that wasn’t even the case in Italy. The bear was raiding chickens. Instead of going to the bother of putting in an electric fence, however, the farmer decided it was handier to shoot the bear, so he did just that. End of problem.

But not exactly. The bear is protected. The farmer will pay a fine – one hopes. The move to rewild Italy has meant the expansion of the bear population into areas from which they’d been eradicated, and where people had got used to, got lazy about, not having to take elementary precautions for their livestock from these predators.

Of course, farmers still put a fence around their chickens, to protect them from predators that haven’t been eradicated – foxes, stoats and weasels, etc. Is it that much more effort to put in an electric fence? Obviously was for this guy. Will his fine exceed the price of an electric fence? Well, that’s hard to know.

And farmers still shoot foxes – they’re just hard to exterminate across a whole landscape.

To give an example of just how reluctant some (even wildlife-advocates) can be to do anything different, or inconvenience themselves in the least, an English angling spokesman Mark Owen, head of freshwater at the Angling Trust, was quoted in a recent Guardian article about rewilding (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/19/-sp-rewilding-large-species-britain-wolves-bears) as saying that reintroducing beaver would produce “a list of concerns, including half-gnawed trees posing a threat to fishermen.” I mean, come on! Give me a fucking break, as they say.

Can we ask the anglers to avoid sharp sticks? Or should we start to put fences along the rivers to stop the poor lads potentially falling in?

Of course, it’s mostly a wish to keep things the way they are: keep the sheep on the hills, the rivers running straight and fast. “Don’t inconvenience us with new situations we have to change our habits for.”

But inconvenience is something we all have to look forward to, people. It’s a coming!

Hopefully, if we do things right, it will be relatively minor instead of very fucking major. But it’s coming.

After the shooting of the bear, the rewilding team decided to pay for farmers to install electric fences, so lower their inconvenience. Perhaps, if we, as a society want wildlife, we have to pay for the farmer’s fences? Perhaps.

But the sway of the farmer is waning – their insistence that we keep everything the way they prefer is not going to last forever. Sheep farming might be what people think has been going on forever on our hillsides, but not in the way it’s currently practiced, where sheep could be left untended for weeks on end. The word shepherd meant something – still does in many parts of the world. But sheep farmers have labelled their way of life a tradition that must be supported by subsidies. There was a time before we left our hillsides to be grazed to the nub and there will be a time afterwards.

Farming doesn’t have a premium on the past as future. Nobody thought of implementing subsidies to keep cinemas afloat when video took their business away. I saw a video shop in Barcelona on the television just last week – looking for some government help to stay open, because they were the first, and would probably be the last ever video store in the country, and were an example of an industry that has gone by the wayside.

So sheep farming, as currently practiced might have some value as a show piece, but we can keep flock or two around Bunratty Castle and preserve them that way, if we really have to, like we have people spinning yarn and making wooden barrels – all those traditional skills and jobs that are no longer economically viable.

Farming, of course, is vital in a way that coopering is not. We need to have a source of food – and I’m willing to pay top dollar for meat, as I think we should be for all our food, especially milk and eggs.

But we all need to learn to get along, and move forward. Because I was thinking that while paying farmers for livestock that are killed by bears and wolves is the sensible thing to do to get acceptance for large predators, it might not always be considered the best idea.

No. If the farmer’s keep losing expensive animals, perhaps we (the people) should eventually prohibit livestock that are going to be expensive for us to pay for, or, if there is a farmer who is too lazy to put up fences and bring in stock and keep them protected, well, let him pay for his own animals.

If he reacts like the farmer in Italy, and kills the predator let him go to prison for a proper time, and confiscate his farm to pay for further conservation to remediate his actions…

It could all escalate pretty quickly.

Yet the balance of power between farmers – who traditionally had political clout – and non-rural folk, is going towards the city dwellers – who, ironically, want to see bears and wolves, as well as beavers and lynx, return to places they themselves perhaps rarely visit…

The countryside is changing. It’s inevitable.

So let’s all try to get along right now.