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Missing things before they’re gone

            The Lilacs Have Already Faded

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We wait as children for Christmas, 

The bursting forth of buds, spread of

Poppies along bearding barley fields;

Delighting in drifting aspen down.

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But if we perchance glance away 

During spring’s apotheosis we find

The lilacs have already faded, and

Summer swiftly advances unto autumn.

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Just as a blink allows the bastards

Take flame and machine to the trees,

Scraping drains in absence of rain,

Leaving shoots shorn dead as winter.

I wrote this last week when I was in my garden, seeing that the patch I didn’t mow the week before now sported a lovely little orchid.

But the lilac I had planted just beyond had lost its one flowerhead, having faded to brown already in the space from one weekend to the next.

And I thought of how quickly the spring passes, as usually, even when we vow not to miss it. It’s too short, even when its only summer on its way, we all know where summer leads….

Then I saw while on a cycle what the local roads authority had done, in May, to the hedges and scrub alongside the roads around the village – gone along with who knows what machinery and razed everything down to the ground. Of course, if they discovered plastic rubbish under that bush, they left that there.

The brown should be brambles and other scrub. Even the poplars got shorn, as if we’re expecting double-decker buses to come along this road…

What kind of mindset allows this to happen? Where are the leaders?

Any pretence that this was done to aid vehicle passage is demonstrably false given the destruction of vegetation many metres on the far side of the safety barrier on the road.

The locals just shrugged it off. It seems they think all this can be infinitely replaced, not that it’s a last bastion of such beauty.

The trees upon the slope on the left help slow down erosion. There used to be more underneath them.

Is it not possible to see that we are losing things before they’re lost, or are we doomed to miss only what we have completely exterminated?

if you can see the black plastic, then whoever cut this down to the stumps should have seen it too, and should have done the right thing.

The village in the north of Spain is not the only place where such destruction takes place, of course. Just last week a huge swath of Killarney National Park was burned by negligence or intentional malice.

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On the other hand, I just finished reading Anne Frank’s diary for the second time, after about a 35 year gap… and I was struck by her passages about Nature.

Just like many during the lockdowns we went through, Anne realised that joy and peace can come from looking at the sky and the trees. Of course, even at thirteen and fourteen, Anne Frank was a very self-aware person compared to most around her, even then, never mind now.

I took snaps of the paragraphs. She wonders if her confinement indoors so long has made her so “mad about Nature” which is probably true to some extent, just as it was for many others. But she sees it as a medicine, “which can be shared by rich and poor alike,” and “the one thing for which there is no substitute.”

I’ve never tried valerian or bromide, but next time you feel shit, try looking at the sky. I recommend it, too.
This was a book I recommended to my students as soon as went into lockdown last year. Things changed for them, but how much did they change? I wonder.

Let that last like of the upper paragraph sink in. This was said 60 years ago, before the shit started to hit the fan ecologically. Have we absorbed that information yet?

My question is whether that last line has sunk into our collective consciousness, or it is just that we can’t fathom our existence without Nature – even it if is out there, waiting for when we want it, after we’re released from prison, or our confinement, or we fancy a walk away from our computers? Until it isn’t.

And can we act as if something is lost before it actually is, giving us the chance to save it at the last minute.

Because we’re down to the last minute.

Woolly Maggots

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.

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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.

 

upland grazing Snowdonia.jpg

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.