Occupational Hazards – A Morbid Look at Reserve Management

As we slide into the post-referendum, post-EU, post-species protection, agri-centric subsidy future, here’s something to cheer you up: today, the police asked me to search one of my sites for someone at high risk of suicide. Fantastic. But not unexpected. There’s things they don’t tell you about when you settle on (or have settled upon you) a career in conservation. It’s not all larking about counting newts and frolicking in meadows, y’know. There is always the possibility that you might find something deeply unpleasant lurking in the nether regions of your woodlands.

Suicides in woodland, reserves or parks are relatively common. Somewhere I previously worked warned me that if I stayed longer than three years, the odds on me finding a dead body became favourable (I left at two years three months and the only thing I saw die in that time was enthusiasm for community outreach).

I have zero insight into the mind of the suicidal, but I suspect the search for some solace and some calm is what leads people to these places, and as much as it is unpleasant for those of us who do the discovering, it’s hard for me to begrudge them that.

Hemingway

‘Oh Ernest, look at the ruddy mess you’ve made of the walls’ (yes I was struggling to find something suitable in my image library)

It’s not just suicides though. I’ve had colleagues who have told me stories…things I can’t in all good conscience repeat here. Gory things, horrid things. Accidents and incidents with the public. Everyday activities that have gone south at the drop of a hat. And then there’s the other things you might come across – a multitude of dead dogs, cats, badgers and foxes; more couples having sex than you can shake a stick at (and shaking a stick at them is usually a good way to scare them off, for future reference); weapons stashes (I once found a handgun while working with a group of young offenders. That was an interesting day. I do not miss Dagenham); angry dogs; angry dog walkers; people angry with angry dogs and angry dog walkers. The list goes on.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I suppose this post is aimed at two very small subsets of my already small readership. For those thinking of moving into the environmental sector to become a warden, ranger or site manager, this is a forewarning. Because it’s something people rarely tell you about. Predominantly suicides take place at home, but many that take place outdoors are often in quite, secluded, beautiful spots (and no, I am not just trying to scare off future competition). And for any of you out there who were thinking of doing yourselves in at a particularly scenic location, don’t. For one, the admin is a right sod.

The Menace of Pokemon Go

As someone who works in the sunny, frabjous world of urban greenspace, there is something that causes me even more consternation than swans or geese. People. They’re always there, with their stupid faces and their stupid big feet encroaching, eroding, trampling. People ruin everything. This seems to have increased recently, particularly in the ‘youth’ demographic*, and I think I know whose fault it is.

Nintendo. I blame Nintendo. I do not fully understand Pokemon Go, but from what I have gathered so far it is a menace and a danger to the very fabric of our society and should be banned forthwith. It’s possible I exaggerate. I know, I know, I’ve been promoting youth engagement for as long as this blog has been rumbling along unnoticed, but anyone who lives long enough, has an opinions and is foolish enough to express them will inevitably get called out for a hypocrite sooner or later. The thing is to brazen it out.

On the surface, there’s a lot to be positive about Pokemon Go. It’s getting kids out and about, exercising, walking, discovering new areas and new greenspace. Trouble is, when they are there they spend most of their time staring at their phones. But more seriously, as far as I can work out, the location of your ‘Pokemons’ has been pretty randomly generated – result being that I’ve had kids wandering around sensitive areas of reserves, trampling and eroding as they go, ignorant or unconcerned about any signs there might be. I now need to check all of my reserves for traces of Pokemon (no, I’m not just looking for an excuse to play games in work hours). I particularly need to check some protected and ‘off-limits’ areas, as there does not seem to be any filter to stop these things from appearing in these places. I’m not even sure if there is any bar to them appearing on private property. Although here I feel I should clarify that I have no idea how Pokemon Go works.

squirtle

Ecologists are still trying to work out what affect Squirtle will have on our delicate waterway ecosystems

I remember Geocache – harmless, responsible Geocache. Bless ’em. Most I could ever accuse that lot of was furtively rustling in the bushes with a lunch-box and scaring off the squirrels. But at least they had solid rules written in about where Geocaches could be placed and specified that the land owner’s permission was sought. I suppose Geocache may now be dead in the water.

Maybe I’m just annoyed because it is exactly the kind of ‘app’ I’ve been crying out for (except, y’know, with ‘real’ animals and stuff in it). In short, I wish I’d thought of it. But then perhaps a Pomarine Skua is just not as interesting to the Kids as a Pikachu. Once again, I think it’s worth clarifying that I do not understand what Pokemon Go is all about.

I’m sorry, it’s been a difficult week and it’s possible my brain has melted a little.

*yes, that’s right, ‘youth’

It’s Started……..We’re Doooooomed

Well, probably. Certainly feels like that today. There seems to be a growing realisation amongst Brexiters about the magnitude of what they’ve just done. Bit late in the day, mind. But let’s not get into all that, there are plenty of other people writing more informed things about what happens next. It all feels alarmingly regressive, though. Down is down.

It’s already started to bite at work. 3 hours, that’s all it took. 3 hours to find out that a funder (a big funder, the big funder, you know the one) suggested – confidentially of course – that we might want to shelve any applications we were considering for the next 12 months at least. Until things have sorted themselves out. If they sort themselves out. That was day one, so I look forward to finding out what awaits me at my EU-nation-owned organisation next week. I’m sure it’ll all be fine. Probably.

The EU is responsible for huge swathes of environmental and species legislation. It’s also the source for a whole phalanx of funding (not just Stewardship etc).A lot of my future career choices and options would be influenced by these. It’s fair to say I’m not relaxed about the whole thing.

But it’s OK, I’ve been told. Because we can create our own species protection legislation can’t we? And the funding will get sorted out, it absolutely wont be entirely agriculturally focused as a sop to all those Brexit-voting farmers. Anyone who says this might not have been paying attention to exactly what this Tory government have been trying to sneak past us in the last six months.

So am I confident that I’m working in a sector that will thrive under an insular, regressive government? Am I confident that people like BoJo and Farage (dubious views on climate change, little interest in biodiversity beyond an idyllic ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ free of Poles) have the best interests of the environmental sector at heart? No. No, I am not. Am I keeping an eye on conservation jobs abroad? You bet.

 

The Green Glossary – D

I finally got around to compiling entry ‘D’ for the Green Glossary. It was a bit of a slog. If you’ve got a suggestion, do let me know:

Dabchick, n. – It’s a Little Grebe, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Damson, n. – Fruit. Come winter, someone somewhere will insist on ruining a perfectly serviceable gin by saturating these uninspiring little fruit in it.

Darwin

Darwin: Watches over all good environmentalists from on high. Sees all you do. Darwin does not approve.

Darwin, Charles. – That chap, you know, the old guy with the long flowing beard. All-knowing, creator of all that we now see and believe…

Dawn Chorus, n. – A small piece of advise to anyone new to the sector: Should your boss say to you ‘would you run our dawn chorus event? It’ll be great experience for you,’ politely but firmly decline. If personal experience is any guide, you and your fellow volunteers will drink through the night in a misguided attempt to avoid sleep and subsequently be unable to distinguish any bird song through the sound of an angry badger trying to escape from the inside of your head.

Deer, n. – AKA Killer of woodlands. There are rather a lot of them about these days, apparently.

deer arse

Know your deer: Often seen running in the opposite direction from you, you flat-footed oaf. So it’d be an idea to get familiar with their rumps. Unfortunately I can’t remember what order I put these in.

DEFRA – The DEpartment of FARming. Or something like that.

Denier. – A curious bird divided into two camps; the Ostrich (head in the sand) and the parrot (will speak for corn). The latter of these is often found with oil in his pocket. Or visa versa; I can never quite remember. Both are equally deplorable.

Dog, n. – ‘He’s only playing, he’s dead friendly.’ Work on any nature reserve anywhere and you will undoubtedly hear these words at least twice a week as another feral dachshund attempts to savage the livestock.

Drizzle, n. – Default atmospheric conditions under which all practical conservation work must be undertaken.

Drone, n. (or v.) – Either an innovative new technology with interesting applications in conservation or how those in the sector sound to the general public when we get up on a favoured hobby horse.

Dunnock, n. – Little Brown Job. Sexual deviant of the hedgerow.

Dutch Elm Disease, n. – They gave us Bergkamp, so I guess it evens out.

The Power of a Strongly Worded Sign

Glory be. Miracle of miracles (and I’m not talking about plucky Arsenal finishing 2nd in the Premier League against all odds yesterday). My goldfish problem seems to have miraculously resolved itslef overnight. To recap, last week I discovered that someone had illegally dumped about 150 goldfish of varying size into one of the ponds on one of the reserves – a pond that had a good recorded Great Crested Newt population.

So last week I pinned a robustly worded poster up by the pond. No swears, but still, very precisely and thoughtfully worded to strike terror into the hearts of any passing fly-tipper. And what do you know? This week they’re gone. All gone. Just vanished. Had the goldfish dumper had a change of heart? It is entirely possible that they did not know what they were doing was wrong and were stung with remorse by my chastising letter. It is also entirely possible the pond was visited by a passing flock of a hundred hungry heron over the weekend.

taken.jpg

My original poster may have been a little too intense

People Are Just the Worst. And So Are Goldfish

Work in conservation for any length of time and you’ll gradually find yourself becoming a glum misanthropist. It might even have happened to me already. I just don’t know. Maybe it seeps out occasionally in this blog. Do flag it up if you spot it.

This week someone has decided in their infinite wisdom that what the ponds on the reserve really need is 150 goldfish of varying sizes dumped in them. Great. Fantastic. Thank you once again ‘the public’. You really are a bunch of unmitigated arseholes. If I find the person responsible, I’m going to make him eat every single one hundred and fifty of them.

goldfish

They’re clearly orange

Why is this so bad? Well, firstly because the ponds on site are rather good for Great Crested Newts. With goldfish in this pond, we can pretty much wave them goodbye. They’ve also dumped them at just the point when they are about to spawn; you can see them getting frisky already*. The combination of this and the presence of Great Crested Newts makes me tentative about electro-fishing them out. That’s if we even had the money to. And the time.

But the worst part is that I just know if we don’t get them out sharpish, then the public – bless ’em – are going to get attached to them. They’re going to become a ‘feature’. People are going to start feeding them. Which is going to make it even worse for me when I come along and brutally euthanase the lot of them. Apparently a little calculated pescicide will make me the bad guy. Ludicrous.

So I’m open to suggestions. What’s the best way to get rid of these aquatic interlopers?

* I should also point out that it is completely illegal. But you knew that already.

The Green Glossary – C

Another week in the on-going green glossary series. You get the idea by now:

Canada Goose, n. – A great big, stupid-faced, honking idiot we are forced to remain on good terms with for appearances sake.

canada goose

Honk, bloomin’ honk.

Chantrelle, n. – A mushroom and absolutely not an appropriate name for your first-born, apparently.

Charity, n. – The environmental sector is broadly concerned with the preservation of a robust natural environment in the face of ever multiplying threats and conflicting interests. That the human race is reliant on a robust natural environment seems to have passed a great many people by. It is therefore absolutely reasonable that it predominantly exists on charitable hand-outs.

Cherry Laurel, n. – Another bastard. See recent posts.

Chiffchaff, n. – LBJ. Provokes birders all over the country to show off their vocabulary by casually throwing out the word onomatopoeic.

Climate Change – Not so much the elephant in the room as the blue whale in the bath-tub. An issue at which the world’s great and good occasionally offer sideways glances as they sit on the toilet reading the FT.

Cockchafer, n – Low-flying, Lancaster bomber of the insect world. Yet another example of a perfectly reasonable name that makes uninitiated simpletons giggle uncontrollably. See Also: Blue Tit, Shag

Coffee, n. – A poor substitute for tea when it cones to fuelling volunteers.

Corridor, n. – A popular notion amongst conservationists is the idea of wildlife corridors. The theory goes that if I manage Nature Reserve A, which is hemmed in on all sides by shooting galleries and industrial wastelands, and you manage Nature Reserve B, which is surrounded by toxic waste and concrete, everything will be OK as long as they are linked by C, a thin strip of amenity grassland.

Comma, n. – For conservationists this is a type of butterfly and not a form of punctuation which we are notoriously slipshod at using sometimes to the detriment of our readers who have to ask themselves if it is entirely possible for a normal human being to hold their breath for the amount of time needed to successfully finish reading long and laborious sentences that don’t really go anywhere.

Commons, n. – Some misguided folk in the dim and distant past decided that green spaces would be so much better if every Tom, Dick and Harry could have the run of the place. For this reason, any mention of Commons is now automatically prefixed with ‘tragedy of the’. The folly of this policy is most visible on places like Clapham Common, where the high density of local residents grazing their sheep on the grass and collecting firewood from the copses has created a bland monoculture littered with artisanal coffee houses. In a perfect world, these places should all be fenced off with very large ‘Keep Out’ signs and rows of razor wire really ramming the point home. Only the likes of us will be allowed free access. The likes of you will be granted day passes after successfully passing a gruelling 4 hour test on grass identification.

Coot, n. – A Napoleon of the urban pond

Coppicing, v. – A method of farming wood. Exists in the hazy zone between heritage and conservation.

Cotswolds, the, n. – A magical place where nature roams free and all conservationists dream of living a life of gay abandon, with no thought of grant funding, targets or ‘engagement’.

countryfile

Countryfile:…oh bugger, I forgot about Craven

Countryfile, n. – The Great Divider. The Church of the Green Movement is generally thought to schism into two main camps. Countryfile is a television program specifically designed with the aim to determine which camp any new convert falls into. Upon watching an episode of Countryfile, standard reactions are either ‘this is Tory/Farming propaganda designed to maintain and reinforce the detrimental countryside status quo‘ or ‘this is a dumbed-down and fluffed up representation of the countryside produced entirely for liberal left city dwellers’. Either way, Adam Henson largely takes the blame for it.

Cow Parsley, n. – If you look out of the window at this time of year, you can probably see this stuff growing before your very eyes.

Culling, v. – If the general populace realised quite how many conservation issues were expediently resolved with a bullet, then we might not be quite as popular.

I’m stuck about there…I was working on Curlew, Countryside, Copse, Caledonian Forest, Cowslip etc etc, but I’ve run out of time. Do give me a definition if you think of one.

This Week I’ve Mainly Been Fighting Cherry Laurel

I’ve been having some issues with Cherry Laurel on one of my woodland sites since I took over in the New Year. For those of you unfamiliar with this git of an invasive, it’s quite similar to Rhododendron. It’s very tolerant, quick growing and evergreen and can shade out huge areas of woodland understory, impeding native flora. It’s also pretty ecologically useless; I’ve been inspecting large stands of it on the site and I’ve yet to find any birds nesting in it (or even any around it). There are often midges and something’s been having a go at the leaves, but the invert. habitation seems to be pretty low.

cherry laurel

That stuff back there

There’s a very definite advance line of the stuff – you can see it originating as thick barriers used by some of the hideous mock-Tudor mansions that border the ‘rich side’ of the site to stop the plebs from the estates round the ‘other side’ getting any ideas (I imagine). They’ve undoubtedly caused more damage than the occasional burnt out moped and bit of graffiti I get from the ‘other side’. The centre, semi-ancient woodland, is mercilessly free of the stuff, but it’s thick around the edges and I’ve decided that what’s needed is my own Maginot line and my own Schlieffen Plan of attack (yes, I realise this makes me both allies and axis in this scenario, and that I’m mixing my World Wars).

Normally I’d have the stuff cut by big, burly men (and women) with chainsaws and treated with potentially carcinogenic herbicides, but no money, you see. So it is once again all down to that hardy mainstay of the conservation movement – the volunteer fueled by industrial levels of tea and biscuits.

leatherface

The contractors are in and keen to get to work

One of the annoying things about laurel is that if lopped laurel branches are left to lie on the ground, they can take root and sprout new growth. In a perfect world, I’d burn the stuff (fire, the great purifier, solves so many problems), but the woodland is quite closed canopy and I don’t really like burning past March (however, one of the few saving graces is that because of the aforementioned avian aversion to the stuff, as long as it’s had a thorough check beforehand you can pretty much fell it year-round).

So my current method to avoid regrowth is to make a raft of any dead wood and then stack the laurel on top (mattocking out the roots where possible, or just bludgeoning them with a hand axe to let water and disease in). At first, this does produce a large and slightly unsightly brash pile, but after a couple of weeks, it’s already noticeably squashed down.

Where possible, we also built the rafts on top of newly cut laurel stools to prohibit regrowth. In September, I will probably come back and put a match to the whole lot…this has caused some panic; cherry laurel contains cyanide (or something similar) and some people have been a little concerned I might poison local residents. I’ve been assured it’s safe. I guess we’ll find out. If I disappear come the autumn, you’ll know why.

The area already looks hugely different, with a drastically increased light level hitting the woodland floor. I’ll be tracking the laurel regrowth and ground flora for the next few years. Anyway, a bit of a ‘this is what I did at work this week’ post there. But what did you expect? I’ve been busy. Stop complaining.

The Green Glossary – B

Another missive from the front line of the green movement. For all you non-adherents out there, the Green Glossary is a guide to bluffing your way through any conversation with an over-zealous, greeny-type. This week is brought to you by the letter ‘B’:

Badger, (n) – Pied mustelid with a tendency to evoke very black and white opinions. The truth is somewhere in the grey.

Bagshall, Steve – Musclebound pin-up that even the most misanthropic and cynical of Greenies (i.e. me) can’t help but like. Created with the soul purpose of seducing the more superficially-minded to the cause. Like a sexy apostle.

Baker, Nick – Bug bothering Baker badgers beetles, beleaguers bees and besieges butterflies.

Ban, (v) – The primary aim of the majority of Green endeavours is to ban or restrict any activity taking place in the countryside before they started to take an interest in it. If the activity is largely the preserve of individuals with more money and opposing political convictions, then all the better.

Bats, (n) – A bulwark against frivolous developments which unfortunately often offers all the protection of a wet meringue.

Beardy hipster

Beard, (n) – Essential facewear for 50% of followers. Optional for the other 50%

Beaver, (n) – The magic bullet that will cure all the ills and problems of conservation north of the border. Possibly by flooding out The Enemy. Causes some outsiders to giggle uncontrollably – See also; Blue Tit, Shag.

Bee, (n) – A fuzzy little black canary in the mine and insect du jour.

Bicycle, (n) – Essential mode of transport for all followers. Those in the movement who do not own a bicycle are looked on as degenerates, heretics and outcasts.

Bierce, Ambrose – Time-travelling, plagiarizing bastard

Birch, (n, v) – A tree even you can identify. The branches are apparently useful for hitting people with. Rumour has it that some followers of the movement gather under a full moon and self-flagellate with birch branches in an act of penance for every act of consumerism or litre of petrol purchased.

Birds, (n) – The C of E of the Green religion.

Biodiversity, (n) – A word to be sprinkled liberally throughout any communique, official document or propaganda piece. Preferably in at least every third sentence. No one really knows what it means.

Bittern, (n) – A bird that can’t be mentioned without someone, somewhere saying ‘Booooooooom’.

Blackthorn, (n) – A spiky bastard.

Blog, (n, v) – An obligatory extra curricular activity for all serious practitioners of the faith. A platform to yell into the void all that distresses and enraptures. A form of therapy that fills much the same role as the confessional booth.

Blue Tit, (n) – A perfectly sensible name for a bird that for some reason provides an endless source of amusement to the likes of you.

Buddleia, (n) – An admirably hardy invasive. Laughingly promoted as ‘butterfly bush’ by shameless garden centre salesmen everywhere. The butterflies remain oblivious to the fact the buddleia has been supplied specifically for their enjoyment and studiously ignore it.

Budget, (n) – A mythical concept which serves the same purpose as Manna or Ambrosia in other religions. Some acquaintances swear they heard tales of a colleague of a friend of an associate in the sector who once had a budget, but no one has ever seen any concrete evidence of this.

Burning, (v) – Either an essential part of conservation land management or a dangerous and deleterious practice. To discern which camp a particular incident falls in, consult the size of the land manager’s bank balance.

buzzard

Buzzard, (n) – Pe-yoooo. Simply put one of the most pleasant sounds of the countryside

 

Bracken, (n) – Annoyingly prevalent. There are some that believe a cross-section of the earth’s crust will show a thick bracken layer.

Bramble, (n) – A prickly bastard and bane of many a conservationist’s existence. Has often led to confused accusations of self-harm.

By-laws, (n) – Put in place for the likes of you, not for the likes of us.

Feel free to tweet any additions to next week’s #greenglossary, which will, in strict adherence to logic, cover the letter ‘C’.

Graffiti: I Draw the Line at a 6ft High Penis

For the last couple of weeks, kids have been everywhere. The woodland I work on has been practically lousy with them. Easter holidays, you see. They have been released on mass from the penitentiary-esque confines of the educational system to clutter up the place and generally get under the feet of their elders and betters. Not that I’m against this kind of thing, me being a keen advocate of getting the youth of today out in the countryside and inflicting nature on them.

This has been coupled with a noticeable rise in the levels of graffiti on the reserves and greenspaces in my area. Now, I’d normally baulk at drawing such a direct line between correlation and causation, but in this case, given some of the dubious spelling involved and generally poor penmanship, I’ll make an exception. It was interesting then, to come across a well-argued if slightly lofty piece on the general harmlessness of graffiti in urban greenspace. Coming fresh off the back of a week spent splattered with brown paint from covering up large purple phalluses scrawled across veteran trees, I thought it necessary to offer a response from the coal-face.

There are many, many, many…many things I could better employ my time doing than removing graffiti from trees. So as I try to scrub the ‘Scorched Earth Brown’ from beneath my fingernails, it’s not surprising that I might muse ‘why not just leave it?’ I can see the point, too. Sometimes graffiti can be colourful, interesting and beautiful. Just ask Banksy:

Imagine a city where graffiti wasn’t illegal, a city where everybody could draw whatever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big business. Imagine a city like that and stop leaning against the wall – it’s wet.”

Neil is a PedoExcept it wouldn’t be a utopia, Banksy. It wouldn’t be a colourful place full of imaginative works of art to captivate the eye. What it would be is a landscape full of six-foot high penises, tags, exhortations to ‘Fuck da Police’, or warnings that ‘Neil is a Pedo’. When we talk about graffiti, just because we append the suffix ‘artist’ in the description, doesn’t necessarily follow that you’re going to get works of art. To use a completely one-sided statistic, 100% of the graffiti I’ve dealt with this week has fallen into one of the above categories. And it’s been on trees.

Ah…but I’m being subjective, aren’t I? What’s offensive and ugly to me, might be attractive to others. Who am I to argue with penises?* Surely they are art, are they not? Certainly, the Greeks were very fond of them. If an ugly, gravelly wall is a suitable canvas to be brightened by a colourful and perhaps socially aware mural, then why can’t an old, gnarly tree be improved with a giant, purple penis? It’s all subjective, of course. And that’s the problem when you start making arguments about subjectivity. No one can say ‘no’.

The original argument in Tales of the City was about a colourful picture on an old concrete wall. But where colourful, unasked for artwork begins, giant purple phalluses often follow. If the interesting but unexpected artwork on the concrete wall is allowed, then how can we draw the line at the obscenity on the veteran Oak? some people don’t find old, gnarly trees that aesthetically pleasing, and the graffiti doesn’t particularly do any harm to the tree – so why not? I could bring out the old ‘broken window’ theory here, but I think you get the gist.

*Another one to add to the collection; ‘sentences I never thought I’d write.’