(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.
So, the calls for reintroducing lynx to Britain have transformed into action. The Wild Lynx Trust is actively seeking licences bring to test populations to three different areas of that island Aberdeenshire, Cumbria and Norfolk.
Of course, there are concerns for human safety – unfounded and ridiculous ones which don’t warrant discussion, though one article did state that they are not considered a risk to people.
And this week, both the British Deer Society and the Wild Deer Association of Ireland have issued statements expressing grave reservations about the reintroductions. The latter’s just in case anyone gets the wild idea of restoring the lynx to Ireland, where it’s been absent for longer, admittedly.
Now, I’m an advocate of deer societies. I used to be a member of the BDS, and I was very active in the Irish Deer Society when I lived at home. If I was still there, I would be still. They’re usually the only advocates for the deer.
But they also advocate for deerstalkers. Most of their members are deerstalkers – which is not as strange some might assume, but that’s another day’s discussion.
And in this case they are putting the stalkers before the deer – the lazy ones at that.
Deer hunting is hard. But we all know that going in, and if we go home with no venison, well, that’s hunting too.
As long as the deer and the habitat are healthy, we’ve done our job.
Venison is great and a healthy meat, but we’re not going to starve when we have veggies and rabbits.
Anyway, the BDS says “Lynx will clearly not address growing populations of fallow deer in England and Wales nor areas of local overpopulation of red deer in Scotland,” and that “Lynx are efficient killers of roe deer – the species which presents the least threat to woodland.” They basically suggest that the lynx will feed on the roe and ignore the fallow and probably muntjac.
The latter is an unknown quantity as yet – they’re smaller than roe, are very secretive and I think present the perfect prey for lynx, but they’re from outside the lynx’s natural range., and so won’t know for a while.
So if the lynx keep the roe under control and hunters were already doing that okay, well, the hunters just need to leave the roe to nature and concentrate on the fallow – and the muntjac if need be.
We can’t expect the lynx to do all our job for us, but it can help out and spread the work, as it were.
But that’s not the point either.
The WDAI actually, and inadvertently, get it right when, in trying to claim that Ireland is completely different from Britain with regard the deer. They says lynx will have an impact only on the natural balance of the ecosystem, in terms of other native or indigenous species, such as the Irish hare or ground nesting birds, partridge for example and of course the migratory species.
That is the point.
We seem to need to give reasons for reintroductions in terms of it being necessary, to solve some problem (usually of our making).
Did people say the salmon and trout were going fucking mental before the reintroduction of the white tailed sea eagle? Did they say there Scots were being attacked by birch trees before bringing back the beaver? Was Wicklow’s Avoca vale run amok with small mammals before the red kite began to soar over it once more?
Conversely, did they say the fox should be eradicated because it does a shit job of controlling rabbits, while it snacks on the odd lamb or two? Actually some would love that, so perhaps bad example.
No. And if they did, they were frowned at and told to go stand in the corner until they copped themselves on.
These animals need to be reintroduced because they belong, they make our islands richer, our hearts glad. Not because we’re putting them to work.
Perhaps the lynx won’t miraculously solve our deer problem. But in Ireland, it will certainly help with the rabbits (and foxes would do a better job if they weren’t snared and poisoned and shot so much).
And most importantly, it will be another cog in the machinery of our environment. It will help the natural balance, it will give some more stability, so populations of deer, among others, are not so subject to the vagaries of our human nonsense, and resultant wide variation in numbers. For example, we have increases in the overall number of hunters – more or less inexperienced and ineffective – during economic booms and lots of unscrupulous poachers during recessions.
Lastly, the BDS calls for “a clear exit strategy.”
What exit strategy? The stated aim is to have hundreds of lynx in the country. After the five years, does anyone really believe that there will be a call to remove them? Based on what? Human safety? If they really need to be eradicated, it won’t be that hard. We made them extinct on the island before. With medieval technology. We won’t be overrun with cats we can’t eradicate, for heaven’s sake.
The opposite scenario will probably be the problem – also referred to by the WDAI, who say “the lynx may even fall foul to gamekeeper traps, snared as does the fox and will become persecuted.”
Given our recent experience of poisoning raptors in Ireland that hits the heart. Of course, when Ireland has grown up a bit, when those old ways of thinking have died out because those who thought like that have died, there will be a life for all wildlife in Ireland.
The term rewilding has become part of our language. Just a couple of years after it was coined, rewilding is happening across Europe. Rewilding Europe (http://www.rewildingeurope.com/) have made great strides in returning emblematic animals like the bison and brown bear to former haunts on the mainland.
Without constant persecution, numbers of large mammals, including predators are up across Europe (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/brown-bears-wolves-and-lynx-numbers-rising-in-europe).
But what about the European islands?
Are they a lost cause?
Well, the word is being used, and calls are being made (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1498773.ece).
A slew of articles have backed up George Monbiot‘s constant mantra for lynx at least to return to the rewilded birch forests of Scotland: Wildlife trust calls for return of lynx to curb deer numbers (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1498780.ece), Simon Barnes: bring back the cat (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/others/article1842743.ece).
But it will be harder to have bears returned to Britain like they are returning to Italy and other mainland nations because citizens of that island are unused to living with them (http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/if-you-go-down-woods-today-you-re-big-surprise-europe-s-bears-are-back)
In Ireland, the lynx wasn’t around as recently as the bear and wolf, and it’s the wolf that most rewilding thoughts are focused on, including my own: https://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/further-information-about-wolves-and-deer-management-in-ireland/
And yet, it seems we’re farther back even than Britain. A recent article on Irelandswildlife.com (http://www.irelandswildlife.com/grey-wolf-re-introduction-ireland/) discussed the matter, and concluded that the time is not right, and probably won’t be for a long while yet.
It’s hard to disagree. I recently discussed the matter with an ecologist colleague. He laughed out loud at the suggestion of bringing back the lynx to a country whose farmers can’t stop themselves killing white tailed eagles they think are killing their lambs.
But we can’t stop pushing the word, the work that lies ahead. As long as people are talking about it, as long as people who would not think about it are beginning to understand it, to see what it’s all about, we’re making progress.
I had a lot of these ideas in my head when I was writing my new novel, The Ecology of Lonesomeness, last summer. It’s set in Scotland, where a lot of rewilding the island of Britain is focused, and rewilding is discussed often and in depth by the characters.
“Loch Ness Rocks” by Ben Buxton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Loch_Ness_Rocks.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Loch_Ness_Rocks.jpg
I will tell you all about the story in another post.
However, I will say now that it turns the rewilding problem on its head, and asks what if there were an endangered species discovered to have hung on there, despite our cleansing of the countryside? Would it be protected?
Nature is, so far, waiting to return, as soon as we, humans get out of its way. In a damaged form in still exists even in Europe in between the farms and across their mosaic of monocultures. Recently, I read the good news that many species of large mammal have returned to the abandoned areas around Chernobyl that I’ve talked about before: https://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/chernobyl-and-rewilding-islands-2/
Meanwhile in Ireland, the hen harrier, a protected raptor has hardly been out of the news recently – and it’s nearly all bad news.
The first article I read suggested that farmers be given money to compensate them for protecting hen harriers in Special Protection Areas. This seemed ridiculous, if not abhorrent to me. After all, am I compensated for protecting schoolchildren from bullies? No, it’s part of me obeying the law like the rest of us have to obey the laws. This smacked of a blackmailing protection racket – pay us to protect the birds, or you might find the birds are dying out there.
When I read that a Scottish game keeper was found guilty of killing goshawks and other predators of gamebirds he was raising, I wonder why we, too, can’t simply protect our endangered and vulnerable species by enforcing the laws that are there to protect them, rather than paying protection money to those who would view them with a caustic eye.
However, it seems apparent that unfortunately, our little island, while too small, too built up and densely populated for wolves or other large animal to be released into, is indeed wild and deserted enough that wildlife crime is virtually impossible to prevent or prosecute.
The negative view of the hen harrier in Ireland just seemed to increase. Farmers and other unscrupulous landowners who see such birds as a barrier to them planting forestry or installing wind turbines simply make such barriers disappear. That’s if they are unlucky enough to have their land selected for protection because the species was still there when the sites were designated: just good habitat didn’t qualify, so those who’d killed off the birds in the first place were in a better position. And kill off the birds some did. Just a week later the headlines proclaimed that a much-studied and named hen harrier was shot.
It seems that there is an impasse here. Ignorance and fear and lack of resources make it almost inevitable that our wild birds and mammals lose out on this island. From a Trinity College professor going on national radio and making a show of himself with inaccurate information about all sorts animals, including raptors, to the fact that the huge deer poaching problem is beyond the capability of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to handle, to the illogical farm supplement system, everything conspires against our wildlife.
Some farmers cling on to a way of life that perhaps has changed from an occupation to a pastime, in that there’s little money to be made from upland sheep farming, and they are only kept alive by subsidies. If these subsidies were used to make farmers wildlife guardians and protectors of habitats (though allowing scrub forest in my view is better than keeping prime hen harrier habitat, since it will eventually allow even more emblematic species to thrive) then we wouldn’t have these clashes. Turning from sheep to forests and wind turbines is a way to stay on the land, but if there were good sturdy populations of hen harriers, there would be less need to ban turbines on their habitat and we should be encouraging forests for wildlife as well as for timber.
Believing that you have to remove the wildlife to stay on the land because every little penny counts is sad, but could be alleviated by compensation where that wildlife does indeed financially impact the farm. Unfortunately, often such conflict is only in the human’s mind: foxes, though widespread, really inflict tiny amounts of damage on lamb numbers, white tailed eagles just aren’t a threat to them, and yet they get shot and poisoned because of this perception.
Finally, doing away with the local wildlife because it causes inconvenience and you don’t believe you should have to bother about preserving it (exemplified by the current movement to allow hedge cutting in summer) has to be something that people will reject because they are afraid of being caught and punished. Wildlife crime has to be considered just that. That will mean enforcing the law. At the moment, too many people think they can carry on doing what they want regardless of how the world around them has changed. I wrote about this before. Catching the culprits and making examples of them will not only give pause, but will eventually change mindsets. And if a farmer disagrees with the new kind of farming, then he should perhaps get out of the game. Most teachers who started working when you could smack a child kept teaching when corporal punishment was banned. Some kept hitting the kids now and then (I’m sure many had similar experiences to me), but eventually even they stopped or they left the profession. Now, the very idea of hitting a kid is equally abhorrent as that of poisoning a white-tailed-eagle that the government spent thousands of euros and man-hours reintroducing for the good of the country and its citizens. Or should be.
I just watched a very good documentary about wolves and the other wildlife around Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which as most people know, discharged enough radiation in 1986 to make the area around it uninhabitable for humans (in any safe way). I recommend everyone watches it but to reveal a big spoiler: there are absolutely no mutations of any kind in the wolves , much less dangerous. In fact, though there is a still certainly a lot of radiation in the soil and indeed the animals, the populations and vast majority fo individuals are extremely healthy. The area now is a wildlife haven, with all types of native fauna represented after the reintroduction of European bison from other parts of Belarus (the area is split between that country and Ukraine) and primitive horses – though the horses are being poached by locals.
There are the same density of wolves and other wildlife as in any other radiation-free national park or other refuge. What matters most is that there are no humans – except soldiers patrolling the border, researchers and forest rangers, and no intensive farming any more.
And it made me wonder, what if there were more such accidents? It would actually be a boon for wildlife, not the disaster we all assumed Chernobyl would be. And then I further pondered: what if we could create such places without the need for a nuclear reactor meltdown?
What if we decided that some areas should be strategically retreated from – just everyone relocated, so that all that was left were a few rangers? That would mean some upheaval for some people – but the residents of Chernobyl and its surrounds were accommodated in other communities outside the danger-zone.
Of course, we would pick places to retreat from which were already sparsely populated.
Achill Island in the west of Ireland. (Photo from flickr commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/chb1848/1919551432/)
Since there would be no radiation, people could actually come and go fairly freely. In fact, many could stay. If the area was sparsely populated enough to begin with, they would probably not even have to leave. All that they would have to do is not farm intensely, not improve the land, drain the wetlands etc. Let the trees return, leave meadows to go through their natural transitions, remove livestock and let populations of wildlife resurge – and reintroduce a few species that are missing.
That doesn’t mean that they have to live on nothing. Such an area would be a haven not only for wildlife, but for all the people who love to watch wildlife, but haven’t the opportunity to travel to Alaska or don a radiation suit and mask to enter the fallout zone. The residents that decide to stay could open up a hotel or have visitors stay in their houses for bed and breakfast. Locals would probably be invaluable guides to visitors, as they’d know the best hangouts, the places where white-tailed eagles nest, where wolves like to hang out, where the deer graze.
This is, basically, rewilding.
And I wondered what kinds of places might be considered disposed/amenable/suitable.
Already, one has been identified on the border between Portugal and Spain where the locals are actively embracing a change in land use – to actually hold on to their dwindling populations by creating more economically beneficial endeavours, than farming.
There are a few parts of western Scotland, of Ireland – already the one of the least densely-inhabited areas of Europe – where farming is at best marginal and mostly restricted to grazing sheep, at a low economic return. Certainly there are many regions where intensive farming of the scale of the state collective farms of the former USSR is infeasible,
In the long term, some of these areas could be connected with densely inhabited but wildlife-amenable corridors to let wide-ranging animals like wolves travel between them.
But in the meantime, they could be pockets of landscape like the rewilded Pripet marshes: islands of wilderness in seas of farmland.
What’s to stop the Scottish islands and peninsulas of Mull, or Kintyre, or Islay becoming rewilded? They’ve already considered adding wolves to Rhum. Why stop there? Why not bring them, and boar, to Islay and Mull, let them roam the woods of Kintyre? Forestry, fishing, hunting and other tourist activities could be continued unchanged. Just a perhaps slower rotation on trees, using native species and a cessation of sheep grazing and large-scale farming – garden plots and such would be fine: tourists love to eat local… as for local lamb etc. well, local venison is a whole lot better….
Imagine a tour of western Ireland, where after visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara, you could drive out onto Achill Island (disclosure: I have only been there once), and instead of seeing sheep out on the bog, see red deer (and the feral goats), and wolves alongside the foxes and pine martens, with perhaps a few boar amid birch woods and copses. Imagine the Inishowen peninsula of Donegal (disclosure: I haven’t gone there yet, but I have seen the video), or Belmullet in Mayo? Now that is a Wild Atlantic Way! These are areas of comparable size to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, and could, in theory, hold several packs of up to 100 wolves. Bantry or the ends of any of the West Cork or Kerry peninsulas would probably be able to hold a lot of wildlife while still being the tourist hotspots they are today; just with added attractions… And without the irrational worry about golden and white-tailed eagles etc. killing lambs – aside from the benefits to these from wolf kills – our birds of prey, which attract many tourists to the west, would have a much greater guarantee of success in the future into the bargain.
I was just wondering….
And ironically, I am far from the first to wonder this: Sir Harry Johnston (yea, never heard of him either) had the idea of “a British Yellowstone Park” back in 1903…..
So yesterday I logged into facebook to find the post below on the WDAI page…
Needless to say, the picture – of what seems to be a roe fawn (not even present in Ireland) in the jaws of a fox – and the very negative caption generated some debate: most of it thankfully in support of the fox.
I chimed in myself and found myself having to second-guess a world-renowned deer biologist, but some of the figures just seem incorrect to me. I might have to retract, but I doubt it. You can read the comments on the WDAI page..
It just goes to show how far we have to go in Ireland to get acceptance of predators – even ones doing their proper and correct ecological role! – and even small ones. Recent reports of the tragic death of one of just two White Tailed Eagles born in Ireland in a century drives this home (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/action-needed-to-save-white-tailed-eagles-in-ireland-1.1715580) . We have our work cut out for us as ecologists….