A Bird’s Eye View of Dearth
A kestrel watches from its perch aloft
Through the wheat stalks, sunset yellow,
A cat to the corner, treading soft,
Seeking game in shadowed hedgerow.
It’s fur gleams golden in the sun,
Sleek lines lie wide by several ounces:
Fast as the raptor flies, it couldn’t run,
But furred predator prefers pounces.
A lizard flickers in crinkling grass.
The hawk would swiftly clutch the prey
To feed last nestling, but alas:
The cat clenches its quarry today.
Blinking as the fed feline bites,
The bird scans the straw for insects
Sooner left for lesser hawks and shrikes;
Still, scant life of any size it detects.
Turning attention to the trees,
Tinged brown by fire fuelled by snow
Fall felling boughs, then heavy heat,
Finds as few pickings as down below.
Frogs diminished by the dryness
Since even before spring arrived:
Only two eggs laid, to cry less
As sibling ensures one survived.
Now, itself barely clinging to perch,
The raptor would wonder, as declines,
How only scorched earth left to search
Seems still to fill so litters of felines.
I write a lot of poems, and a lot of my poems are inspired from what I see outside in Nature.
However, I rarely take a photograph of what inspires me – if I am thinking of the poem, it usually never occurs to me to take a snap. I don’t think of posting the poem at that stage, and then I realise I’ve no photos to illustrate it. Of course, going back to get a photo of a kestrel along the wire where I saw it is next to impossible, though I do see them when I’m driving in and out of the village.
So the two photos in this post are clearly not of a kestrel. One is a bird of prey, yes, but the other is a bee-eater, a species which I’ve been trying to get a decent snap of for years, because they really don’t hang around when human’s are near, despite the fact that they are to be heard over head delighting with voices as colourful as their plumage, which is to me, the best in any bird in Europe.
Both were taken while cycling near the village, where there’s still a huge abundance of birds of prey, such as hen harriers, booted eagles, red kites and golden eagles, to name just the ones I can identify!!
And there is an overabundance of feral cats, too…
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.
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.