As I get back into the swing of things after summer, first thing I have to do is congratulate David Devins of Co. Leitrim and Damian O’Sullivan of Co. Cork, who both won copies of my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People in the summer IWT Irish Wildlife Magazine’s book competition.
As you might know, I have pledged to give 10% of my royalties on Peter and the Little People to this NGO (if you’ve read the book you’ll know why) to help the great work they do.
At the moment a new battle has emerged for them, and us all, to tackle – the possible introduction of more destructive insecticides in Ireland, which threaten bees and other useful and important insects.
It seems that the fight to protect bees, like the fight to stop much environmental destruction will be continual, as companies try to introduce more chemicals.
It’s similar to George Monbiot’s post this week, that though the TTIP agreement seems to have been abandoned in the face of so much negative public opinion against it’s implementation, there are other similar treaties in the works, all designed to take power to legislate international companies from government – and thus public – hands. At the end he suggests we can never let our guard down, for the corporations and their cronies are always working against us and our environment, and they only need to succeed once, while we have to beat them every time.
Similarly, the bees and other insects only have to be erased from the planet once, and we have to save them every year, every week, every day.
Do your bit – join the IWT or whatever similar organisation operates in your country. And be vocal, even through the internet. It’s not quite the direct action that seems necessary to protect the Dakota water supply, but it’s effective when there are enough of us.
As you know, 10% of my royalties from Peter and the Little People, my children’s novel about wildlife and leprechauns, will be donated to the IWT, the Irish Wildlife Trust – in addition to the 10% going to WWF.
For anyone who’s a member of the Irish Wildlife Trust, have a look in the summer edition of their Irish Wildlife Magazine and you’ll see that there are two copies of the novel up for grabs on their competition page!
Check it out – the answer is dead easy!
Out now on pre-order, with a discount, my new book, aimed at readers from 8 to 80 and parents who’d like to read to their kids a book they will enjoy themselves…
This is my fifth book under my own name.
Out on May 24th. Your kids’ll love it.
Here’s the blurb:
You’ve heard stories about Little People: leprechauns and their like. Ireland is full of people who’ve had strange experiences out in the fields in the early morning. All just tall tales and myths, of course.
At least, we assume so…
But Peter knows better.
A boy with a love of wildlife and talent for spotting animals, Peter often sees what he calls elves in the fields as he travels Ireland with his dad. Sometimes it’s just a flash as they drive by, but he catches sight of something too swift for most people to keep their eye on. And Peter is young enough to trust his own eyes more than the adults who tell him these creatures are not real.
When his family go to spend the summer with his granny on her farm, Gemma from the farm next door offers to show him the badger sett under an old Ring Fort. Peter accepts gladly. To his surprise and delight he finally gets a chance to do more than catch a glimpse of the Little People. Will the Little People be just as happy? Perhaps, when Peter learns about some plans for the farm, they might be.
10% of the Author’s Royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, and to IWT, the Irish Wildlife Trust.
I have decided to donate to IWT because they are the people who look after our Irish wildlife and ensure that the species Peter loves are protected from going the way of the animals the Little People used to see, and will remain in good health in the future.
Here’s an excerpt
When they travel in cars, most adults look at the road, to make sure that whoever is driving is doing it as well as they would if they sat at the steering wheel. Or else they watch for the signposts that tell you how far you are from the next town or where to turn off for Galway or Tullamore, if there is a junction coming up. Most children only look at the other cars—to see if they can spot a red one, or count how many white cars there are. Both adults and children look at the houses and people by the roadside. Few of them look at the trees and fields and hardly any look for animals.
Peter was an observant passenger, though. For this reason, he was more likely than most children to see the Little People. To Peter, seeing the Little People became very much like spotting a stoat or red squirrel. You had to be watching hard to know what you were looking for and to be able to pick it out from the leaves and twigs and grass around it. And you have to be satisfied with just a very quick glimpse.
So I’m working on edits to my novel, Peter and the Little People. This will be my seventh published book, none of them seem to be in the same genre – this one way different to the rest; my first children’s novel. I think it might be my last children’s novel. At least, I assumed it would be when I wrote it. The idea seemed perfect for a children’s book, but whether I am a children’s novel writer, I am not at all sure. I wish I could put my books in a handy category, but I can’t yet. Only the characters’ awareness, and love, of the natural world around them unites these very different stories. In that, they are all my children.
I also assumed I’d never write another young adult book when I finished The Soul of Adam Short, but I’m in the middle of writing another one now. I got the idea for a new one when I watched the profusion of gorse fires across Ireland last April, and it seemed an issue that teenagers might be likely to tackle rather than shake their heads and get on with their day.
Readers will know I’ve pledged to donate 10% of my royalties to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund. For Peter and the Little People, I also plan to give a further 10% to IWT, the Irish Wildlife Trust, which advocates for wildlife on the island of Ireland, and whose work Peter, and the Little People, would most certainly support. The Little People remember the animals with which we once shared our island, and are dismayed when Peter tells them they’re gone from every corner of it.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but it is for kids and as long as you promise not to tell them before they get a chance to read it, I can tell you that there is a happy ending which is open to a sequel – which I never envisioned until my editor mentioned she’d like to see how Peter grew up.
Instead of the work to rewild Ireland, and return those missing species to it, for the benefit of the ecosystem, the delight of the Little People, Peter, Gemma and all the rest of us, which I might have the pleasure of writing about, it seems that some humans are not quite finished exterminating as much wildlife as they can.
Our native red deer of Killarney National Park, one of the very few symbols we have of wild Ireland, of the wildlife people come to Ireland to see, the image of which was put on our Punt coins when we had our own currency, are under attack from a group of Kerry politicians.
They are calling for a cull of an already tiny population for dubious reasons, and just yesterday, the IWT released a press-release describing how this is an indication of a move to treat wildlife as vermin, to depreciate their value and blame them for any perceived problems we may encounter with them. (http://www.iwt.ie/press-release-deer-culls-symptomatic-of-increased-verminisation-of-our-wildlife)
Photo: By Ken Billington (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
One Kerry senator has since declared that just the sika (an introduced species that is found in more parts of Ireland now than the native – and park escaped – red deer) should be culled, despite the fact that no evidence exists that the deer have caused any problems, and the fact that these deer are harvested every year both inside and outside the Killarney National Park. He also wants to fence in a section of the national park to restrict deer movement across a road that traverses the park, rather than ask motorists to cease speeding along that section.
How can we hope to rewild our island when this level of hatred of wildlife exists among our elected officials, when our representatives are so ignorant of the realities of wild animals, and are absolutely unwilling to give an inch in any real or perceived conflict, but instead prefer to bulldoze the wildlife out of the way. How can any children’s book have a happy ending when they are so willing to make vanish from our land the very things that children love – the wild animals and plants that we all know make life so much more worth living than any book we can read them or give them for Christmas, or any video game or toy they could get either.
If Peter does grow up under the tutelage of the Little People, I can see him becoming a very angry young man…
(Copyright: http://www.crossexaminer.co.uk/archives/8257 the examiner)
There was a guy I used to know. He used to say he’d rather ask for forgiveness than for permission. I didn’t like him much.
There is a similar train of thought in the Irish landscape.
Burn first, then they can’t do shit. There’s nothing to save, no special interest, scientific, or scenic.
If you burn the habitat, then there are no special species to protect, and you can put up all the wind turbines you like.
(Full disclosure: I love wind turbines. If there were decent populations of birds, I think the wind turbines wouldn’t be a problem. In Spain I see hen harriers every weekend in the wheat fields on my way to my family’s village, and the place is surrounded by windmills.)
Since the start of the season (take your pick – burning season or prohibition on hedge cutting and burning season, depending on your inclination), we have had what seem like dozens of out-of-control fires burning across the country.
The idea is that if you burn the fuck out of it, nobody will bother you about saving it. How can we rewild a charred landscape? If it is dust and a few blades of grass, nobody will tell me to take care of the toads, or the curlews, or the corncrake. If there’s no gorse, never mind birch, how can those boyos contemplate bringing back the lynx, or anything else.
People (the ones with a brain) are appalled, of course, and are waiting for the relevant authorities to take action, to prosecute the culprits and make an example of them.
Needless to say, fuck all has been done about it.
It’s Ireland, after all.
Some politicians have called for wasting time by creating task forces to regulate something already explicitly illegal.
The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has claimed it’s not her bag, baby, despite all logical and legal arrows pointing to the fact that it is her fucking bag, baby and burden to shoulder and she better get her fucking finger out. http://www.thejournal.ie/gorse-fires-heather-humphreys-2065294-Apr2015/
The Irish Wildlife Trust (great people, and I’ll be donating 10% of my royalties from Peter and the Little People to them) have produced a great video to clarify this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHry6wIMYcw
And as we watch the country go backwards instead of forwards, the great shame is that farmers don’t see they are kicking themselves in the arse along with every one else. It is their own communities which are dying, their kids leaving the country to go to the cities, because there is nothing stay at home for.
Yet burning only loses revenue. A recent letter to the West Cork Times shown on the IWT facebook page showed that tourism is not compatible with burnt ground, that people won’t go to Ireland to see a charred landscape.
And yet, rewilding could bring back so much money and prosperity. Just two white-tailed eagles were worth a million in tourist revenue over the last two years, because people go there to see a beautiful creature restored to its former habitat and living wild in Ireland.
If the fucker who kills them could only see that he is only losing a few quid for a lamb mostly only in his imagination – because they probably won’t attack his animals anyway, and definitely won’t if he just locks them up well during lambing season or keeps a proper eye on them. On the other hand, his kids can get some of that money, and the much more to come as word spreads like wildfire, if he stops the stupid practices of a regressive worldview, and embraces regrowth, regeneration, and rewilding.
I must preface this by saying it is not a scientific article: it’s a scientist’s opinion article. That’s why it’s posted on my private website and not elsewhere.
I don’t normally bother watching Spanish films, but I watched one yesterday a documentary I saw it at the Environmental Educational Museum in Pamplona: a facility I hadn’t visited before, though only a stones throw from my house, but one I intend to return to soon. The documentary was called Las Guerras del Lobo (Wolf Wars) directed by Antonio Rodríguez Llano, and it was well worth attending. There was even a discussion afterwards. It’s not widely available yet, and since it’s in Spanish, most of you won’t be able to watch it. But I took notes. In English.
I had considered staying at home to write a couple of thousand words of my next novel. But since I’d just written an article for IWT that talked about the wolf in northern Spain, I decided I’d go along. One of the advantages of flexible working hours is being able to take an hour off (though my timetable is not yet quite as flexible as I’d like!). Also, one of the characters in the novel – who would have been delighted to hear the recent news that a wolf had returned to Oregon’s Mt. Hood across a desert of unsuitable habitat from near the border with Idaho – was himself pondering the return of the wolf to Scotland, so it was timely all round.
It’s a pity I hadn’t been able to see the film before, because it was full of interesting information I could have added to the article. Things like the fact that the cost of reimbursing Spanish farmers for lost stock is 1.5 million euros each year: equivalent, as the fella said, to the price of a kilometre or two of roads – thousands of which have been built over the last decade in Spain. In Ireland It’s a drop in the bucket against the 70 Billion we’re in dept and we could probably save that much on unnecessary consultancy fees. That figure is also currently offset by money spent on wolf-centred tourism – 4-600,000 euros in one area of Castilla y Leon, the Sierra de Culebra alone – a figure predicted to increase to 6 million annually over the coming years as wolves spread.
I hadn’t originally written much about wolves in my first draft of the IWT article, which I saw as something designed to motivate hunters to improve their control in areas where deer are overpopulated. But I was asked to include some information about natural predators, especially from the view point in Spain, a country where wolves were already present and spreading. So I sought out some information, but none of my sources were as extensive and complete as the documentary: it summarised the history of the wolf in Europe (including Ireland) and it’s resurgence in Spain, amongst other countries.
I didn’t originally think there was much point in including wolves in the article, because it is such an anathema to both hunters and farmers Ireland. I had heard other suggestions of reintroductions of the wolf scorned outright, by hunters I know well, and I didn’t want to be tarred with the same brush. It was a pipe dream, to see wolves returned to Ireland – or Great Britain, for that matter. So why even bring it up? I’d just be labelled a crackpot and the rest of my thesis would be ignored.
And then I watched the documentary. And took part in the discussion afterwards. And I’ve changed my mind.
So what else did I learn that I didn’t know before?
Well, 70% of the 2000 wolves in Spain live in one northern autonomous community, Castilla y Leon, north of the River Duero, which reaches the sea at Portugal’s Oporto. They bring balance to an area of great biodiversity and they help improve the health of rabbit populations by concentrating their predation on individuals infected with myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. They are also hunted themselves, though the number that is poached is probably greater than the legal take.
The farmers who have lived with wolves their whole lives are used to them, and they have mastiffs, provided by the local wildlife service, to help protect their herds. They pen livestock over night and they suffer few attacks.
Those on the southern band of the River Duero don’t. So they suffer more attacks. Though wolves prefer wild ungulates, they can be tempted by easy pickings, especially in areas with few natural prey animals. The 15% of the wolves in this part of the country cause 50% of the damage to livestock. One farmer lost 41 head of cattle in 3 months. Though problematic packs are targeted and the alphas sacrificed, most farmers are quite bitterly opposed to the expansion of wolves into their lands. In the face of such losses, farmers are beginning to take measures such as bringing in their stock to well-fenced pastures at night.
I like farmers. I know lots and am related by marriage to a few of them. Some farmers are always changing the way they do things: they seek the best seeds, the best bulls, the newest machinery. Others… don’t. But they all like to complain. Even the ones making money. Just in case. Now, I believe that anyone who has to get up that early every day of the year and work so hard (some do it even though they don’t have to) are entitled to do their share of complaining. But farmers don’t complain about getting up early, or having to milk cows, or having to sit in a combine harvester for 16 hours a day during the height of summer. Ok, so technology has made milking easier – some farmers have robots to do it and there is air conditioning in most combines now, instead, they usually complain about the weather and prices of their produce (but this is not really the place to discuss the price of food and what we should be paying for it…).
So back to the topic.
Nobody likes to have to do things differently. Nobody wants to have to change methods or routines, or give up on something they’ve been doing for a long time. If it is good enough for now, why do I have to change? Why do I have to do something extra? Because everyone else is, and if you don’t you’ll be left behind.
I didn’t want to have to do my Masters in Education just to tick a stupid box in the Spanish education system because my teaching experience took place outside their kingdom. But shit happens. I spent time and brainpower and money on it, and now I can teach here in Spain.
But you do what you have to do. If you spent your life making cars but the jobs get exported to somewhere they make cars more cheaply, you look for something else. The manufacturing base falls out of a country (many countries) and what do the workers do? They change their skill sets, or they go on the dole.
European and Irish farmers don’t want to stop breeding sheep, despite the fact that the money has gone out of them. They clamour for the government to increase subsidies so they can keep breeding an animal that can be more cheaply bred elsewhere. And the government(s) listens. But I’m sorry: as one of the unemployed audience members at the documentary showing said (I’m paraphrasing here), “the farmers have to put up and shut up with the changes in the world. If they have problems with the wolves, then they need to change the way they do things. Their world has changed. It now includes wolves. So put up decent fences, bring the stock in at night, and buy some dogs. Or get rid of the stock and do something else. But eliminating the wolves again is not an option, crying to government is not going to make the wolf go away.”
I spoke, myself, during the post-viewing discussion. I explained that in Ireland the farmers have a war against foxes and badgers instead of wolves, and even mentioning the idea of reintroduction was considered ludicrous. One of the other participants said that it probably didn’t make sense to reintroduce the animals where they would not be able to repopulate themselves naturally.
And I thought about that. And I disagreed. “What about,” I asked, “the farmer in Normandy, who has wolves returning eventually to his sheep farm. And he says, but ‘I don’t want the wolf. The guy just across the water, there, doesn’t have to worry about it. Why should I?'” (And bear in mind that the wolves only just crossed the river Duero – a barrier that the farmers on the south bank had been able to rely on for years.)
The wolf was eliminated from both areas, by man. Now, it can (relatively) easily return to one place, but have to swim across the English Channel to return to the other. It originally colonised the British Isles with the help of a land bridge. The land bridge is not there any more, but the areas were the wolf inhabited are. It was perfectly able to survive and thrive on those islands until it was exterminated. Now, if it can return to mainland Europe by itself, we should (and do) allow it. But if and when it gets to the shores of Normandy and Brittany, won’t we have an obligation to help it across the sea? That is, if we haven’t already reintroduced it there. The lack of a Europe-wide consensus and focused conservation plan is a hindrance. Even in federal states of the EU, like Spain and Germany, different provinces can have different management plans concerning returning endangered species. Surely the consensus should be to allow wolves to return naturally wherever they find their way to, and to actively return wolves to areas where appropriate habitat exists, especially if the wolf will find difficulty in getting there without assistance. After all, the managers of Yellowstone could have waited for wolves to naturally repopulate the park from Canada, but then we would have had to wait an extra twenty years to see the positive effects on that damaged ecosystem that needed the wolves there to be rebalanced.
So why not bring back the wolf to Ireland?
Because the sheep farmers will have to do things differently. That’s the simple answer. It’s pure laziness and reluctance to change. Time was they, could kill the wolf. They did. But time was, landlords could pay tenants slave wages, factory owners could employ children, farmers could spray DDT. Times change. What will change with the reintroduction of the wolf? No more leaving the stock out on the hill without any observation for weeks on end. Perhaps some farmers will decide it’s just not worth it, and get out of sheep farming. What will the downside of that be? Nothing. We still get our wool from New Zealand. Lamb will cost the same. On the upside, taxpayers will pay fewer subsidies for sheep farming and our hillsides might be a bit less denuded from over grazing. More habitat will be available for deer – which, incidentally, are more of a problem to farmers in Spain than the wolves. Even in Idaho, a state in the US where farmers campaigned for a wolf cull, farmers are calling on hunters to increase the harvest of wapiti (elk) because these are damaging fences, grazing pastures and destroying crops. Some deer hunters might object that the quarry they pay good money to shoot will become less common, but the wolves would only be viable in areas with enough wild food to sustain them. In Spain, the areas were wolves currently reside are some of the best for hunting, with healthy populations of red, fallow and roe deer, not to mention wild boar.
So I ask myself: why not clamour for wolf reintroduction? It might take twenty years, but if we start pushing for it now, perhaps in twenty-years time we’ll be ready for it. Many Spanish farmers, the documentary revealled, are convinced that EU policy will change so they are compensated for protecting biodiversity rather than in essence, destroying it.
To hark back to my original article, I’m still of the opinion that we hunters can control the burgeoning Irish deer population, at the moment. But if the reintroduction of the wolf to our island means having to hang up the deer rifle there, well, it’s a sacrifice, I, for one, as a hunter and ecologist, am willing to make.
We all have to make sacrifices…. isn’t that what our government has been telling us these last few years?
Nobody is asking the farmers to sacrifice their livelihoods. I am saying they need to adapt to the changing natural habitat (after all, they’ll have to do some things differently as climate change becomes an ever-increasing factor in our lives). I am saying that if that means they have to sacrifice their ignoring of the sheep on the hill for weeks on end, then that’s what they’ll have to do. If they can’t make sheep farming work with the wolf in the forests, then sheep farming was already a livelihood in danger.
There are some things we disagree about. The increases in harvest numbers since the 1990s was associated with the spread through the country as reported by Carden et al., so it’s unlikely they were due primarily to the increase in hunters – though of course, if there are deer in new areas there are new areas to hunt and more hunters. The hunters are (were) not cleaning out deer populations and deer were still spreading. As many have reported when describing the poaching problem, there were deer in their areas a couple of years ago. The number of deer hunters in areas with deer over decades can’t have increased that much – there are only so many hunters in a syndicate that can be accommodated on a piece of land, regardless of how many deer there are. The numbers increased over the last decade and more, simple as that. Now… the last two or so years does seem to have shown a decrease, or at least a leveling off. I’ve said that. The reduction in section 42s is a good thing, as it shows that there are fewer problems now with a stopping of the population increases and that the requests for them were not just spurious attempts to extend the hunting season. How we got that halt to the previous increases is also discussed. The fact that the national cull is reducing is not, in my opinion, a problem. It is a good thing for deer and all deer enthusiasts in the long run. I don’t want it to happen because of poaching, though. Nor does anyone else. Andrew Doyle TD was quoted to show someone in the Dail seeing deer numbers as a concern. He doesn’t know the deer numbers, nobody does. But in some areas they are too high. I recall a forester saying on this webpage that he knew the deer numbers had been reduced by poaching recently because he used to see lots of damage. 1% nationally does not mean no problem hotspots, which give deer (and their managers) a bad name. That’s my point here. We can agree to disagree but when someone who doesn’t care about deer comes in and starts telling us that deer need to be sorted out because there hasn’t been sufficient control, then we have let deer and ourselves down