Attack of the Green Blob – How Greens are Being Pitted Against the Left

Environmentalism has grown in public consciousness exponentially in the last two decades. We are not a fringe group any longer, and we can’t be dismissed as hirsute tree-huggers with poor hygiene. So those whose interests run counter to ours need a new tactic. If you’ve been reading or keeping an eye on key battlegrounds over the last few years, you might have noticed a subtle and insidious shift in the language used to describe us, from the dismissive to the cautionary. We’re now, in no uncertain terms, the enemy. We’re a roadblock to progress, we’re a danger and, to quote an imbecile, we’re the ‘Green Blob’.

So far so predictable. But such language is hardly likely to be very persuasive when the progress we are so recklessly opposing are the interests of big business and ‘money’. That’s hardly going to sway Occupy and Russell Brand and the generation (in the eyes of some at least) that they represent. The nuance that has recently emerged has sought to pit environmentalists against the very people it would normally draw support from. It relies on the (not entirely misplaced) supposition that environmentalists are all lefty, liberal peaceniks and then systematically attempts to pit environmental interests against other issues that might tug at bleeding-heart-strings.

Environmentalists versus The Poor

Everyone cares about the poor, of course. Everyone except Environmentalists, that is. As you may or may not be aware, environmentalists hate the poor. You just have to look at all the things we keep trying to do to realise how much we truly despise them. Opposing fracking? It’s the poor who will suffer. We don’t want houses built all over an important wildlife site? Then we’re pretty much putting people out on the street. All that climate change nonsense? Well, implementing any of the measures to reduce it will affect the poor most of all. Basically if we want to cut carbon emissions, it means we’re happy to see old people freeze to death in the winter as it will jeopardise our energy supply.

“We have to remember too that the people who suffer most from a lack of decent energy are the poor,” – Owen Paterson in a speech on climate change mitigation (apparently channelling the spirit of Gladstone).

And this is one of the reasons why climate change deniers keep getting airspace. They repeat arguments about how meeting climate change targets etc will have the biggest detrimental effect on the poor (while ignoring that it is those in the poorest countries, who coincidentally are not registered to vote in the UK, who will suffer the most from our inaction).

Our general distaste for the poor can, of course, by extension, mean that we hate that most mythical of figures ‘the common man’ too (see most recently the ‘You Forgot the Birds’ campaign that talked about hard working farmers before losing the run of itself and reverting to referring to landowners instead). We’re forever preventing him from ‘getting on’ in life with our half-baked theories and crack-pot ideas. We have basically been cast as the bourgeois middle-class, and we’re out to inflict our value system on you, whether you like it or not.

Environmentalists versus Immigrants

As I’ve already written about, whenever the issue of invasive species (the second biggest cause of species loss, lets not forget) is raised there is a worrying conflation with the social issue and bete noir (I don’t know how to do those little hat things above the ‘e’ on this keyboard) of the day, immigration. Is this just another subtle means of turning our traditional ‘fan-base’ against us? Summing up (In a tired and can’t really be bothered way), the argument now seems to run that by being against invasive species, you are saying you hate immigrants. Us conservationists are pretty much just UKIP in disguise.

Environmentalists versus our brave boys

This, perhaps, is where it all started. ‘Eco-terrorism’ has for sometime been used as a brush to tar us all with. And, yes, maybe it was once, and potentially still is, a legitimate concern. But if you can somehow inveigle the notion that a few represent the whole into the minds of voters then where’s the distinction between hard-line environmentalists and ISIS? Ok, that’s certainly a stretch; no one is attempting to make that connection (no one sane at least) and the range of eco-terrorism over the last decade has been pretty negligible. But you only have to look at how the police reacted to the Ratcliffe-on-Soar protest for one to see that the measures being used to address environmental protests are being talked of in similar terms to those used for dealing with terrorists.

Finally, if you want to give yourself a little chuckle (seriously, it should make me angry, but it doesn’t) then watch this marvellous video that opens with images of Stalin and Hitler before going on to talk about us pesky environmentalists:

The Conspiracy of the Green Blob

One of the general gist’s of anti-environmental propaganda is that our very core beliefs are anti-people. Anti-society, in fact, and therefore anti-socialist. If some are to be believed, Malthus is our founding father. It’s a lazy attack though and the basic motive relies on the notion that the Environmental movement and all those it contains can be summed up and pigeonholed as having similar political thought. Next time you hear an imbecile like Owen Patterson* talking about the ‘Green Blob’ or how we are blocking progress or stamping on the poor, just consider the motives at play.

*(seriously, when can we have a government where positions like the Secretary for the Environment is filled by someone with a background (or at least an understanding of) environmental science? Likewise education, health etc. Why the constant stream of Oxbridge PPE-ers? Still, that’s another article for someone with a bigger brain than me.)


Noisy Bloomin’ Parakeets

There are some alien species that my opinions are straight down the line about. Japanese Knotweed? Himalayan Balsam? Pain in the arse. American Mink? Genuine threat to native wildlife and a small enough population to remove. Little Owls? Awesome featherballs. I have a great sympathy with a bird that manages to look so permanently affronted. I really like Little Owls. Maybe I sense a kinship with something that looks angry the whole time.

Spike's Subjective Scale for Invasive Species - to which I have ludicrously ascribed values of 'good' and 'bad' to different species.

Spike’s Subjective Scale for Invasive Species – to which I have ludicrously ascribed values of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to different species.

Ah, but Parakeets. There I find myself flip-flopping. Ambivalence is the wrong word. It’s too garish (or colourful, if you prefer) and screechy (or vibrant) a bird for such an absence of emotion. Maybe I haven’t fallen into either camp because they toe the line between novel alien and damaging invasive. Maybe it’s because I’d never seen (or heard) them before moving to London 8 years ago (and I’m pretty slow to make my mind up about anything). Maybe I’m just being contrary by not picking a side when everyone I know in the sector already appears to have done. I end up defending it to my anti-parakeet friends and pillaring it to the pro-parakeet-ers. Both sides think I’m an idiot.

I’m not going to go into the well-versed myths about the origin of the population; I blame neither Bogart nor Hendrix. But the reason for their population boom since the late 90’s is definitely a point worth considering. Have they surpassed some seemingly arbitrary population density that allows them to thrive, like an inverse of the Passenger Pigeon? Maybe they’re some kind of backwards climate change canary?

I can’t quite find it in myself to get fully behind the London Wildlife Trust’s stance that they are as ‘British as curry’; it’s a clever but skewed comparison open to misinterpretation. And the lazy chucking about of ‘racism’ by the sub-editors in these pieces (though it is not used anywhere by ‘wildlife experts’ from what I can see) instantly gets my back up, puts me on the defensive and back in the anti-parakeet camp. There is some evidence that parakeets are causing damage to native species, with over-competition with bats for nest-holes and even direct attacks recorded. There is also a suggestion that they out-compete and ‘bully’ native species, but this has as yet not been fully explored. But should we act here on a precautionary principal regarding an alien species? By the time adequate evidence has been accumulated, it may already be too late.

But in reality, it probably already is too late. The ‘as British as curry’ argument suggests an ingrained and embedded species that would be difficult (and expensive) to eradicate, but I’ve never seen this as a reason not to try. They are colourful though, and add a welcome dash of brightness to the mundane décor of…nah, balls to that. Decisions of ecology should not be reduced to aesthetical grounds, that’s a whole stew of nonsense decision making right there. This piece has been a very subjective and personal one; there’s a lot more ‘me’ and ‘I’ in it than I could say I’m comfortable with. But maybe that’s the point? When the issue is one of such currently negligible scientific evidence and based on anecdote and speculation, should the ultimate fate of the Ring-Necked Parakeet come down to the opinion of your standard ecologically-illiterate Londoner?*



Botham Takes on the RSPB (and I Can’t Even Think of a Good Cricket Pun)

It’s not often my twin interests of cricket and conservation combine. So, given Ian Botham’s criticism of the RSPB this week, I couldn’t give up the chance to comment.

Given that I have recently criticised the RSPB (well, the Vote Bob campaign, behind which it lurks and skulks like a group of foxes (learn your collective nouns, people)), this is a tricky issue and it’s going to take a bit of unpicking.

Botham is commenting on behalf of the ‘You Forgot the Birds’ (YFTB) campaign, and they raise some concerns that I have previously expressed. It raises the issue, and it is one I do keep harping on about, regarding the adoption of a business focus by many of our environmental charities. This has seen them diversify and become more centred on generating money through fundraising than actual conservation work. The figures touted (if to be believed) are a spend of £32M on fundraising against £29M on conservation operations by the RSPB. This is, genuinely, a reason for concern. Not just the disparity between public perception and actual activities, but the huge sums involved. Can charities come under the scrutiny of the Monopolies Commission? But these issues are lost beneath the sheer fug of bone-headed, imbecilic points made by the YFTB, thus losing any semblance of relevance.

YFTB Logo - I am still at a loss to explain the tagline

YFTB Logo – I am still at a loss to explain the tagline

Martin Harper has already responded, pretty well, although he has missed some of the key points and relied too heavily on RSPB’s vaunted past as a defence rather than addressing current issues. I could also do without the horrendous crowbarring of god-awful cricket clichés and metaphors into every paragraph. But I think the campaign could do with a much more comprehensive dissection. So lets pick out a few phrases from the website and highlight some of the cretinous asininity behind the campaign:

Firstly, lets look at the three big heads behind the ‘YFTB’ campaign. They are listed as:

Sir Ian Botham
Martyn Howat, former Director of Natural England
Sir Johnny Scott, BBC TV presenter

Where to start with that trio? As a contrarion, I think I’ll start in the middle. Martyn Howat, former Director of Natural England. Yes, indeed he was. But more relevantly, he is also the current (I have been trying to confirm this, but it is not clear on the website, I only know he was as of July 2014) Chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Why is he not described as such? Why is he described by his former role? Anyone with half a brain can probably work out why they are keeping this association quiet.

Sir Johhny Scott. Well, just look at that CV. A man more steeped in the noble pursuits of hunting or blowing the face off game birds bred for the purpose of having their faces blown off you would struggle to find. He is described here as a ‘TV presenter’, and not the centenary patron of the BASC or any of the other patronages he has to hunting organisations. I flagged up the Vote Bob campaign for being an RSPB money-spinner by stealth, but this deliberate subterfuge much greater in its venality. As for Botham, a man who runs his own shoot, he is an irrelevance in this instance, a big, lumbering figurehead for a plodding, old-fashioned movement (insert your own joke about his later England career here). It’s sad to see a man who railed against the tie and blazers of the MCC become such an ingrained part of the same set. He’s an embarrassment.

Now for some of the loaded language used on the website. In reference to the RSPB using certain ‘box-office’ species for advertising, they say:

‘The wrong type of bird includes chickens (too frumpy)…’ – Chickens? Why the hell would the RSPB be using chickens, the most common bird on the planet, to advertise its work in protecting our dwindling bird species? Unless it was with regards to the horrendous condition battery hens endure, but that would involve lobbying, and, well…

‘How much “conservation money” is being spent on political lobbying on climate change?’ “Conservation money”? I’m pretty certain climate change is the main conservation issue at the moment. Unless you are denying it. You’re not denying climate change, are you YFTB? The YFTB campaign takes aim at the RSPB spending money on lobbying, education and research. These are core areas we need to be spending money on if we are to protect our natural environment.

Lobbying seems to be the key target for their displeasure and the message this sends out is clear; The YFTB campaign wants the RSPB and the like to stop sticking their nose into the business of landowners and farmers. It comes across as a call for the RSPB to ‘get back in their box’ and behave.

‘Take the hen harrier. It doesn’t just have bankable movie star looks but also a back story of victimisation. So it is the ultimate nice little earner for the RSPB’ – now, when you note that this is preceded by the sentence ‘Ideally there’s a nasty villain to protect it from’, I think anyone with half a brain can put two and two together and see what’s going on here. The plight of Hen Harriers are exactly the kind of thing the RSPB should be promoting and raising awareness about. How could anyone with an interest in bird conservation complain about this? Unless…hang on, do the people behind this campaign have a vested interest in (or think, through some misguided notion, they have a vested interest in) raptor persecution?

The ‘They Shot Bambi’ section added to the website today is equally hypocritical and idiotic (although I can not work out if they are being deliberately obtuse or genuinely are not aware in the contradictions between their aims and their backers). It gives us plenty more statements to pick apart:

‘Last year the RSPB shot dead 1,129 deer along with 273 “Freddy” foxes.’ The BASC (sorry, YFTB) are complaining about this? Well I admire their balls and sheer hypocritical brass-neckery if nothing else. They also ON THE SAME PAGE end the piece with the quote “Rare birds like Golden Plovers thrive when they have rich habitat and are protected from foxes. The RSPB is doing a lousy job at that” from the esteemed conservationist Botham (a man whose last foray in to the public consciousness was this disturbing image).

Botham - a gratuitous cheap shot

Botham – a gratuitous cheap shot

‘It also deliberately suffocated hundreds of unborn chicks by smearing oil around their shells’ – If you are going to throw this kind of emotionally loaded language around, you have to at least give a hint of the reasoning behind it. Control of some species is a vital, important part of nature conservation, which takes on many forms, and for the BASC to get shitty about this…seriously, this is staggeringly ridiculous.

They also ask ‘why its (RSPB’s) executive team is housed in a mansion. Homes for office workers? Or homes for birds?’ This is really childish, and a second’s research elucidates the background of The Lodge at Sandy. It was purchased in 1961, with generous financial help by Tony Norris. I’m not sure how this is relevant to current spending. I’ve been trying to find any evidence of the RSPB supplying homes for office workers (as opposed to, y’know, a place to work), but can’t. Happy to be corrected though if this is the case.

Despite my issues with the RSPB, and the genuine issues the YFTB campaign raises, I can’t help but think that if the RSPB are annoying the people clearly behind YFTB, then they must be doing something right.

YFTB go on to state ‘we are going to examine the accounts of the RSPB and all the 47 Wildlife Trusts and get you the facts’ and ‘It’s time it (the RSPB) was honest about its own approach…’ Well, in the spirit of honesty, I would like the BASC, a-hem, sorry, sorry, I meant the You Forgot the Birds campaign, to be honest about the ‘conservationists or self-confessed birders…farmers and landowners…’ and ‘volunteers from the cities’ behind this ill-thought out campaign. Just who is behind it? It doesn’t take a genius to work it out.



Destroy Urban Wildlife Sites to ‘Save Our Countryside’?

This post started life as a post about the value of Brownfield sites for urban wildlife. That was until I stumbled across the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s ‘Save Our Countryside’ charter. I wholeheartedly agree with the charter. Almost every word of it. Almost. Our countryside should be protected from development, of course it should. It’s only right that people start to get a bit jumpy when word gets out that someone is trying to punch a hole through the green belt.

I promise, that after this post I will have a long run of posts that do not lay into, lambast or otherwise pick holes in another environmental organisation’s latest campaign. No, I will heed my own advice and talk about the positives to be found in the environmental movement and how the latest conservation measures or outreach activity offers real hope for a brave new world where all things are possible for all people and our wildlife thrives unmolested by Yahoos with guns or well-meaning lefties with petitions. I promise. But for now, for today, I wanted to address the narrow-minded, ‘make it someone else’s problem’ agenda pushed by one particular line of this charter.

You could easily dismiss the CPRE as NIMBYism writ large and given a voice, albeit a voice that, like some Hitchcokian blackmailer, has tried to distort itself by holding the handkerchief of environmental protection and public interest over the mouthpiece. A handkerchief made up of bits of twig, fur, and carping indignation (Yes, I may have been reading about Simile and Metaphor this week). Well, you could. I’m not saying I would, though. I’m happy go lucky and like everyone. Especially potential future employers. But the ‘Save Our Countryside’ charter is surely a good thing, protecting our environment and wildlife from the rampant developers and profiteering…you know what, I can’t even be bothered to finish that sentence. You can construct your own one using the words ‘Capitalism’ ‘economy’ ‘ecocide’ and ‘libertarianism’ if it makes you feel better. I’m not Naomi Klein. That stuff just bores me (and more to the point I don’t understand it).

Anyway, dragging myself back on topic, I thought this was an issue I was, for once, totally in line with. Then I looked at the CPRE website again, and thought, hang on, just what are they trying to protect here? Is it wildlife? Is it the environment? Or is it farmland and a non-existent rural idyll? Are they really saying that they want to protect farms, those famous hotbeds of biodiversity, from development? Look at the CPRE website and you will see that their interpretation of the countryside is one of rolling farmland and picturesque villages. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It is when you scout down the charter a little further that you find my particular bone of contention:

Don’t sacrifice our countryside
‘Our open spaces are being destroyed unnecessarily. Previously developed brownfield sites should be re-used first.’

Cornfield or derelict mill and stream. Hands up which one you think is more biodiverse?

Cornfield or derelict mill and stream. Hands up which one you think is more biodiverse?

I think this the nub of the argument right here. CPRE would rather see new housing crammed in to every space of our cities, to the detriment of some of our most diverse sites for wildlife, than see the urban sprawl encompass surrounding farmland and, possibly, swallow up a few of those picture postcard little villages of an England that once was. Fair enough, but I think targeting Brownfield is a huge mis-step. Why target Brownfield sites? It’s as if they have been asked the not unreasonable question ‘if not here, then where?’ and have plucked an answer out of a hat without really thinking about it. These sites are crucial in our cities as reservoirs of wildlife and as connections between different areas of greenspace. They (and green and open space in general) are also vital for the health and well being of our urban populations. Is the answer to our burgeoning housing crisis to fill-up every remaining square foot in our cities with more housing? That can’t be the only answer. Of course, this all comes under the banner of a larger argument about population control, but I’m not about to touch that one with a barge pole. Not yet. But there must be places of low biodiversity in both rural and urban settings that would be more suitable for sensitively considered development.Brownfield or Greenfield

Now, I must declare my own allegiances and interests here. I grew up in the countryside, and despite my line above about farmland generally being barren wastelands for biodiversity; I generally support farmers against the many slings and arrows many in my sector would throw at them. Farmers, individually, work harder and care more about the environment than many conservationists I know. But collectively, as part of a Union, say, they can be mighty destructive. Add to that external pressures and it is only right they get a bit uppity when anything endangers their livelihood. But market forces and Union machinations in the agricultural sector is yet another post for another day. For the last eight years I have lived in London. I have often felt caged, hemmed in, and greenspace and frequently, Brownfield, has been my outlet. These are the sites I have improved my species ID on or searched for reptiles, not the open spaces of our parks or the farmland I grew up around. Unfortunately, through my education and experience in the sector, I can’t see the rolling fields of farmland as something to be treasured as I once did. Unlike the CPRE, I do not see these as a positive for wildlife and am using this as an excuse to crowbar one of my favourite quotes into this article:

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

This is not a call to concrete over the rural heartland of England. It is a call to not underestimate the environmental value of something just because it is in the city and has been labelled as ‘neglected’. That’s why I would like the CPRE to reconsider the wording of their latest campaign to ‘previously developed sites of little or no biodiversity potential (as judged by a specialist in the field) should be re-used first.’ (OK, so they might need to come up with something a little snappier, but marketing was never my strong point.)

Project Wild Thing or ‘How Shoreditch invented Environmental Education’

I finally made the Herculean effort to sit through Project Wild Thing or ‘How Shoreditch invented Environmental Education’ for the second time recently. And though with repetition I was perhaps not quite as hostile towards it, there still remained a niggling antipathy and feeling that all was perhaps not to be taken at face value. Why is this? The documentary addresses key issues that I agree with and have worked towards in the past 5 years, yet for some reason I still found something cold and off-putting about it.Project Wild Thing

Perhaps it is because the focus is most undoubtedly one of a salesman. Talk of ‘marketing’ and ‘product’ is not likely to go down well with many in the sector. These sections of environmental charities and organisations are growing significantly, with improved wages, in comparison with reductions in actual conservation and environmental education staffing. But then consider who is the target audience for this? The Guardian and The National Trust have heavily promoted it, and there will certainly be an element of preaching to the converted here. The real target audience should be those in urban centres on low income, those in areas of deprivation (yes, it focuses on high end products such as I-pads, but these are becoming ubiquitous in all households, and even greater barriers to environmental engagement exist in low income areas, particularly those with high levels of immigrants), but I saw little effort to promote to these groups or engage them. That woolly phrase ‘nature deficit disorder’, presented as a dead-eyed hydra, set on zombifying the next generation, is trotted out repeatedly, but it is ill defined and little energy is expended in actually explaining the scientific or social issues behind the phenomenon.

There is certainly the air of back-slappery about the whole thing. Virtually no recognition is given to the vast amount of environmental education work done by the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB etc, which I am sure will not have gone unnoticed, considering their stated involvement in the project. About the only organisation given any screen time is some monkey-tree-net-climbing nonsense, which I am sure is very beneficial for young people, though is still an artificial construct in a natural space. There would have been innumerable better examples at almost any Wildlife Trust or RSPB nature reserve, but maybe this would not have fit in with the narrative. It is almost as if David Bond believes he has stumbled upon this problem himself, and only he and his East London hipsters can save our kids, educate them about the environment and save our environmental spaces.

I will try and ignore my own perceived sleights however, and look at some of the many positives I found in the film. From the perspective of anyone in the sector, almost without exception the most interesting and engaging parts are when somebody other than David Bond is talking, such as Monbiot, excellent as ever expanding on the themes of Feral, and most notably Chris Rose, late of Greenpeace.

Another plus point of the film was the interactions with children and young people and the explanations they gave about the barriers they face in using and being encouraged to use their local green spaces, although the phrasing of some questions by Bond was almost certainly leading and garnered him the response he was hoping for. Even given these opinions and observations, the approach was still to ‘market’ his natural ‘product’, rather than attempt to find a way to breakdown these barriers. Given the background of Bond and the initially stated predisposition to marketing and promotion, I should probably have come to terms with this by now.

I am almost certainly viewing the project through the jaded eyes of an environmental educator, and maybe I am feeling a little under appreciated for the efforts the sector has gone to in broaching the gap between screen and stream almost since TV’s invention, but I’m sure I am not alone. Project Wild Thing comes across as a marketing exercise, a vanity project which focuses on the creative – little mention is given to the science and theory behind these benefits, what nature is, how it is struggling, where you can go and how you can make the most of it. These are the areas where I believe real headway would

Tigers, to my knowledge, still can not be found in Epping Forest. Although there was that business about a Lion on the loose in Essex a few years back, so who know? I digress...

Tigers, to my knowledge, still can not be found in Epping Forest. Although there was that business about a Lion on the loose in Essex a few years back, so who knows? I digress…

be made in inspiring the next generation to get their feet dirty, an overly didactic approach towards screens risks being confrontational and the contrary nature of children is likely to see it fail. Like it or not, screens are here to stay and setting them up as ‘the enemy’ is doomed to fail. Incorporation of screens to some extent may assist, through ID apps etc, but addressing the barriers to green space and why the security, familiarity and insularising effect of screens are preferable to

the wild, rough and tumble of our woodlands might be a better bet. The much pushed ‘wild time’ slogan may work for some, middle-class, cosseted children, but I have spent numerous occasions reassuring children from vastly different backgrounds, that green spaces are in fact safe, and not dangerously infested with poisonous insects and even tigers. No seriously, I have been asked before if there are tigers ‘in there’. And not by a child.

Most of all, my issue (which in fairness, was picked up at one stage) was that the lead should be coming from parents, teachers etc. I am sure I was not the only person thinking that if you don’t want your children to spend so much time in front of screens, then don’t given them ipads; if you want your children to show an interest in the environment, then show some yourself.