Gove? Urgh. How Bad Can it Get?

Pob.jpg

Pob

So we get Gove. I don’t quite know what to make of this just yet. The man is clearly a venal little weasel, but then that doesn’t necessarily put him top (or bottom if you prefer) in my arbitrary list of awful choices for Secretary for (the environment), Food, and Rural Affairs. But then he has some pretty stiff competition.

The last seven years have seen some absolute corkers thrown up to plug the role of NFU yes-man (or woman). Although more recently the position appears to have become some form of purgatory for those who dare challenge the Maybot.

So here, in descending order, is my own personal league table of those who for the course of the now slowly dying Tory government have sullied the position by wilfully ignoring the whole ‘environment’ part of their job description.

Leadsom:

Ah, bless her. She didn’t really have a chance to demonstrate her skills. For the past year she has been about as visible as Hen Harriers on a grouse moor, probably discerning that it might be for the best to keep her head down and her face out of May’s eyeline. As a mother, and therefore with a vested interest in the future, you could have been mistaken for thinking that she would actually care about things like climate change and biodiversity. Instead her only contribution appears to have been washing up at the NFU conference and telling them they could have the moon on a stick after Brexit.

Spelman:

I must confess that Spelman is a bit of a blank spot in my mind, from which I deduce that she was a bit of a non-entity. However, from reading her wiki-bio it appears that in a rare example of someone actually being appointed to a government post they have real-life experience for, she worked for the NFU for 3 years. Admittedly that might have made her ever-so-slightly biased in her outlook. Apparently she also owns a lobbying firm for the food industry, so…swings and roundabouts, eh? Although, it’s clearly mainly swings, isn’t it?

Truss:

Comedy gold, if nothing else. And honestly, she wasn’t a lot else. Appears to be going from strength to strength post-post, which I can only assume is another example of May attempting to surround herself with people who can in no way show her up with their competence. During her tenure, Defra attempted to close the wildlife crime unit, funding was withdrawn from local environmental records centres and Pre-Referendum, Natural England tried to row back on some of the EPS license outlines. Used to work for Shell. But does at least acknowledge climate change.

Which brings us nicely on to…

Patterson:

The absolute nadir. A nincompoop of the highest order. A self-serving, self-aggrandising, smug, narrow-minded, punchable little shit. He of the badger relocated goalposts.

A Climate Change denier. Let me just repeat that…a climate change denier. As Secretary for the Environment. Refuses to listen to reason and science because he’s just got a gut feeling, y’know?

If you’re house has flooded in the last five years – blame Patterson.

If you’re a badger with a murdered family member – blame Patterson.

If parts of Essex are underwater in fifty years – blame Patterson

Famously referred to the environmental movement as ‘The Green Blob’. Again, let me repeat that, the Secretary for the Environment openly disparaged the environmental movement.

He’s since gone on to talk nonsense about Ecomodernism (how the environment can be saved be even more intensive farming) and, perhaps not surprisingly, to support the Leave campaign.

A jackass.

So go ahead, Gove. Do your worst. I suspect you’re not going to have very long to do it in anyway.

Nefarious and Secretive Goings On

Not for the first time, I found some weird old shit going on in the darker depths of my reserve this week. At least this time I didn’t have to step in and remind people that there were kids about.

I was minding my own business (OK, I was minding some else’s business, but that’s alright, they asked me to) when I practically fell in the below hole:

Hole

It’s about 5 foot cubed and yes, that is a rugby tacklebag in the bottom. At the bottom, there was a platform constructed out of wooden boards nailed together which had been broken through and someone had dug down about another foot beneath. It was all a bit Oak Island.

So what was it? My educated guess is that this is exactly as dodgy as it looks and someone has recently recovered buried treasure (yeah, actual buried treasure!) using the tacklebag as a kneeler. I like to imagine it’s where they stashed the Brink’s-Mat loot because…well, why not?

Just goes to show, it’s a sinister world full of criminal types all out to get you or take you for a ride some how – hang on, no, sorry. I’ve just been reading the Tory Manifesto. Sometimes I get confused.

But how many times do you hear about some particularly nasty goings on and the words ‘a secluded patch of woodland’ come up? Yeah, well, have a little sympathy for us guys who manage those secluded patches of woodland! It’s not all sunshine and bluebells, y’know!

 

A Loss

It’s under sad circumstances that the blog returns from its 6-month baby-induced hiatus. I found out this week that one of my old collegues at the London Wildlife Trust died in a cycling accident in Oxford. Claudia was 31.

We met as volunteers at Camley Street around 2008, a time that anyone who worked there will remember with a great deal of fondness. There was a tight-knit group of graduates all in their early-to-mid twenties and we probably spent just as much time in the pub as we did working on reserves.

I was usually the older, grumpy one but even I couldn’t stay grumpy around Claudia. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Everyone loved Claudia and everyone was inspired by her. I envied her energy for activism, her ‘fuck it’ attitude to just getting out and throwing herself into things.

She was a smart cookie, warm, caring, progressive and generous. In short, she’s exactly what the world needs more of right now. She’s exactly the kind of role model I would have chosen for my daughter.

Claudia was about to complete her PhD when she died. She was working with indigenous tribes in Bolivia (yes, I was stupendously jealous!). I hadn’t seen her for about 5 years. That seems an impossible length of time. Almost as impossible as the idea that I won’t see her ever again.

 

The Green Glossary – ‘E’

This week, the letter ‘E’ is brought to you by a certain half-arsedness and a lack of inspiration. If anyone has any to add, please do:

Early Bumblebee, n. – I’ve seen earlier.

Ecology, n. – Newt counting, in the main.

Eider, n. – The campest of the ducks

eider

OOooooOOOooo

Elder, n. – A lightweight tree, useful mainly for making various types of alcohol with:

Elderflower wine

Elderberry Gin

Or; your betters.

Elm

Elm, n. – Want to confuse a young environmentalist? Stick an elm leaf under their nose an ask them what it is.

Environment Agency – ah, those guys. You know, the ones who aren’t the other lot, or the other lot? They do the flooding don’t they? I can’t keep up.

Environmental Education – Generally speaking, herding pre-schoolers and keeping them from falling into ponds. Once they hit an age where they can be thoroughly tested and hit over the head with largely pointless exams, environmental education mysteriously disappears from the curriculum. Because who needs to know about nature, really?

Ermine, n. – Worn by a stoat when life is at its hardest and the elements at their fiercest, or a politician as he is gently shuffled towards a cushy job in the other place.

The EU – let’s not, shall we?

Evergreen, n – See also Craven, John

Extinction, n. – The inevitable fate of most public sector Ecologists

The State of Nature Report: PANIC!

The State of Nature report is out! Hurrah it is a time for rejoicing and celebration and…wait, no, that’s not right. If I could borrow from H2G2 for a moment, it would perhaps have been best if they’d just plastered PANIC! across the title page to save everyone the trouble of reading it.

And they’d have been right to do so, because if not now then when? When do we actually start to panic?

Well, not yet apparently. Because everything is fine. Everything is absolutely fine. It’ll all be OK. Climate change? Pah! Habitat loss? Nothing to it. Sixth extinction phase? What are you talking about? At least this is what some would have us believe.

The State of Nature report predictably, accurately (although perhaps not very diplomatically and without much of an eye towards future collaboration) laid the blame primarily at the farming sector. So it’s not surprising that a few predictables came out swinging with what amounts to barefaced lies backed up by irrelevant stats.

DEFRA – the Department for Farming – reassured everyone that “our natural environment is cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution – woodland cover in England is at its highest level since the 14th century, we have improved water quality in 9,000 miles of rivers since 2010 and in the last five years almost 19,000 miles of hedgerow have been planted.” Let me repeat that: our natural environment is cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution. Clearly poppycock but also the kind of wide ranging claim that it’s virtually impossible to actually disprove (or prove, but who needs to prove anything?).

The NFU, those paragons of restraint who absolutely do not have squatters rights at Westminster, came out with a peculiar statement claiming that it can’t be their fault because they stopped that whole intensive farming stuff back in the 90’s (Yes, seriously. Although the exact wording left just enough wiggle room to question the exact meaning).

patterson

‘Owen, with your face like a bankrupt pug.’

They were happy, like that goon Owen Patterson, to shovel as much blame as possible onto uncontrolled predator numbers (Patterson actually tweeted this statement with a picture of him in front of a GWCT stand. Yes, seriously). There are a lot of my fellow conservationists who will turn a blind eye to the problems caused by increased predators numbers and I am not one of them, but seriously, give over. It’s peanuts in the scale of things. It’s not even peanuts. And it’s a problem the industrialisation of farming caused in the bloody first place.

Then there’s the Daily Mail approach which seems to amount to saying ‘yes, I know I don’t know the first thing about the subject, but I saw some birds outside my house, so everything must be fine. Expert opinion? Who needs experts? I’m a journalist and the farmers told me it’s all lies‘. I know it’s the Mail and we don’t exactly expect high standards of journalism, but this is pushing the envelope for half-arsing it.

It’s a whole new field of denial. I think everyone has just about got the message now that Climate Change denial is not OK and is quite likely to have you pigeon-holed with the flat-earthers, but there’s still plenty of seemingly obvious things you can deny. This is the post-expert age after all (sorry, “expert”). At the moment it is still absolutely OK to argue that the natural world is not in a state of decay or that the intensive management of 75% of the land could possibly have any detrimental impact on it. This will not get you ridiculed. It might even get you appointed Secretary of State for Rural Affairs. In the wake of the referendum, you should probably get used to it. Because house on fire or rising sea, some people are going to keep telling us that everything is just fine.

Hey! That’s Not Knotweed (and other games I’ve been playing this week)

For some confluence of reasons I’ve yet to adequately clarify, the role of inspecting reports of Japanese Knotweed around the whole Borough has now fallen in my lap like an ugly and unwanted child (OK, yes, I need to work on my similes). I’ve spent hours I don’t have to spare over the last few months chasing up reports from the public and on at least 50% of occasions, this has turned out to be a wild goose chase*. So before you do pick up the phone or write a missive to your local greenspace manager, it might be worth playing a little game I’ve devised: Hey! That’s not knotweed!

sunflower“I’ve just spotted some Japanese Knotweed in one of the lovely formal gardens on the Park. You must come and get rid of it immediately before it overtakes the bedding!”

  • Hey! That’s not Knotweed! – It’s a Sunflower! Give it a while and it’ll have a nice flower on the top.bindweed

“There’s Knotweed creeping all up the fence on the edge of your reserve and if it gets into my property, I’m going to sue you!”

  • Hey! That’s not Knotweed! – It’s a Bindweed! The creeping part being the clue.

dogwood“There’s a band of Knotweed in the hedge along the boundary of the Pavilion. Can you please make sure it is removed immediately.”

  • Hey! That’s not Knotweed! – It’s Dogwood! It is the boundary hedge, you berk.dock

“There’s a whole heap of Knotweed growing in with the nettles on the edge of the woodland. It would be a shame if this colonised the rest of the site because of your neglect.”

  • Hey! That’s not Knotweed! – That’s a dock. Leave it alone.

sycamore“We’ve got little stems of Knotweed coming up all through the woodland. It’s everywhere!”

  • Hey! That’s not Knotweed! – Come on, you’re not even trying now. That’s Sycamore. Which, yes, actually I will still remove that though.knotweed

“I’ve got Japanese Knotweed in my garden, can you please come and remove it or I wont be able to sell my house.”

  • Hey! That’s…actually, that is Knotweed, but it’s your bloody house, why are you calling me?

But yes, Japanese Knotweed is a massive pain and can be a right arse to eradicate. The level of hysteria it causes is beginning to become vastly disproportionate to the amount of damage it can cause though. This is particularly evident in householders (which I am aware is not always the householders fault). Before reporting though, please do take a minute to check that you know what you are looking at and for the love of God, please do not think that threatening me with legal action is actually going to make the stuff disappear any quicker.

*A point of interest – why Wild Geese? Are they particularly hard to chase? Judging by the fat greylags on some of my sites, I can’t imagine they are.

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.