A Crap Tour Guide’s Intro to the London Wildlife Trust

For once, a post with no point to it (yes, yes, I know that describes pretty much everything I write).

I found a load of pictures I took a couple of years back when I was trying to complete a tour of all 40 or so London Wildlife Trust sites. Looks like I got about halfway before I got bored/left LWT/couldn’t find a decent excuse to visit the rest in work time. Anyway…enjoy…(is that the right word?)


Canada Geese – Scourge of your local park

Do you live in a town or village? Do you have a local pond? I bet it’s got Canada Geese on it, hasn’t it? Do you gather a great deal of pleasure from going down to the pond and throwing bread at their big, stupid honking faces? No, I thought not. Because, of course, you are a thoroughly ecologically literate person, yes? And if you are not, well, take my word for it – Canada Geese are just the worst.

canada goose

Look at my big, stupid, honking face

Take a trip down to that local pond of yours this afternoon and you might ask yourself, just why is the water that colour? Why is there so little plant life in the water? And how the hell did I find myself slipping over and falling face first into the pond only to find myself assailed by indignant swans? Blame the Geese. That’s what I usually do. Canada Geese, you see, have the rather remarkable ability to poo about once every six minutes, so much plant matter do they need to consume. Imagine that? Well, ok, don’t imagine it. Especially if it’s lunchtime. OK, consider the ramifications of that. Not only do they denude ponds of vegetation, but they then nutrient load the water so highly that algal blooms are about the only thing that can survive. Think of the knock-on effect this might have on other wildlife.

How do we deal with it? Well, if you’re a little out of the way, you can shoot them, but in more urban areas (where public opinion and understanding may not be entirely on your side) egg pricking, or smothering the eggs with paraffin helps to reduce their stunning fecundity. I did have an idea about running a ‘grab a goose’ day on my particular patch the other month, but given the glowing comments volunteers have given me about how much they enjoy seeing the Egyptian Geese and even the terrapins, (yes, the bloody terrapins!) I can’t imagine this would go down overly well.

I’m not the first to suggest eating invasives to tackle the problem (and recently, the Guardian argued against this, though using Lionfish as an example). But previous articles about eating Canada Geese have perhaps (DAILY MAIL LINK ALERT) not been couched in the most persuasive of terms – oh lordy, just read that and you might realise why both the Daily Mail and the hunting fraternity (or what people assume is the hunting fraternity) are so hated in some quarters…‘A Baronet acquaintance of mine’ indeed.

Eating Canada Geese, though? Maybe that could work. Of course I would not encourage you to nip down to the pond under the cover of dark and try and snatch one. Absolutely not. I absolutely wouldn’t suggest that, should you be struggling to make ends meet, or are just naturally curious, then Geese represent a readily available source of free protein that with just a little bit of effort could feed a family for days. Neither should the fact that I’m linking to sites giving tips and recipes for geese convince you that I would advise it. But just in case my effusive insistence that you do not go out and catch yourself a Canada Goose is not enough to deter you, I would direct you to the relevant legislation and license requirements for such an endeavour.

There Has Been a Bank Error in Our Favour

With a fiscal insertion that is, frankly, eye-watering and involves sums of money it is beyond my tiny, maths-spastic, brain to comprehend, the Premier League has recently been awarded £5.2Bn in TV rights for the next 3 seasons. Like me, you probably find it difficult to comprehend just how much money that is, but as I guideline I just did a quick land search – you can buy around 100 hectares of mixed woodland for £500,000. Now by my rough maths you could therefore buy an area of woodland around twice the size of Yorkshire. I think. Honestly though, I wouldn’t trust my maths.

I’m preaching to the converted here, I know, but if you were to somehow gauge the amount of time spent and enjoyment gained by people experiencing the natural environment, it would far outstrip that gained from a season ticket to your standard Premier League team, even if that team happened to be the 03/04 Arsenal, replete with Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira. Indeed, nowadays I’d much sooner shell out a few quid to watch a bunch of ecologists attempt to kick a ball around (or engage in any kind of competitive sport for that matter) than sell all my worldly possessions to watch the Gunners capitulate to their standard last minute defeat as they surrender a 2-0 lead at home to Leicester. Given the ecologists I know, I can guarantee it would be a much more entertaining game, though for quite different reasons.

communitychestIt’s that, well, green space is always just there, isn’t it? Unfortunately that’s the view far too many members of the public hold, as I’m sure we are all well aware. But just imagine for a second that there has been an almighty balls-up at the bank (yeah, just imagine that) and that £5.2Bn has accidentally been redistributed to a handful of environmental charities. Now we’ve got it, what the hell are we going to do with it? So here are my top 5 suggestions for spending our fortuitous winnings:

1. Rewild the uplands

Monbiot pushes this in Feral but it’s been a notion at the forefront of British conservation a lot longer than that. Wales and Scotland have many upland areas that have marginal viability farming. Many highland areas of Scotland are run purely for game (with detrimental human impacts on raptors and anything else that might possibly interfere with the production of more game) Compulsory purchase of Highland estates from some of the non-resident oligarchs that have scooped them up in recent years would allow a large scale rewilding effort with the reintroduction of charismatic megafauna and the possible re-establishment of the Caledonian forest.

2. Plant up more woodland

Following on from the above, imagine being able to re-establish the Great North Wood or extending the New Forest?

3. Re-meander rivers, allow to flood

If we could purchase large areas of riverine land, we could breakdown the restrictive man-made banks on our rivers where possible and allow flood plains, backwaters and meanders to re-establish. This would not only encourage wildlife but also have great benefits for the population of the Somerset Levels (much greater than knee-jerk dredging).


Thierry applauds your noble if misguided intentions

4. Start buying up golf courses. Just because. I flew in to Heathrow last month and was astonished by the amount of green-space given over to golfers.

5. Evacuate the Isle of Man and leave them as an experiment in rewilding (OK, I’m not entirely sure we could really afford to do this. I’m not sure what property currently runs to in the IoM. I’m pretty sure that, unlike everything else on the island, it is not a good 10 years behind the mainland). Maybe the Wallabies will take over.

What do you think – overly ambitious? Not ambitious enough? There were plenty I could have added (I wasn’t sure whether you can actually ‘buy’ areas of the ocean) but I’ve aimed for brevity for once. I know, I know, it’s all pie in the sky stuff, but I think it’s an important exercise to consider – if we don’t consider what our ultimate, dream outcomes are, then how can we move towards them?

This picks up from a thought I had recently while watching UKIP: The first 100 days – what would the first 100 days of the government of Spike look like? Thinking about it, there would probably be about the same level of rioting, I’m not sure people are ready to discuss population control quite yet. Maybe I’ll write that one up next month…

Time to Get Positive About the Hunt?

In order to court more readers, I thought I’d confront a contentious and volatile topic. Clickbait, I think they call it. Recently on the same day I came across two videos showing violent assaults taking place at hunts. One with the Master of the Tedworth hunt being beaten unconscious by hunt saboteurs, one with a member of the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale hunt knocking over a protestor with his horse. Both videos are edited for brevity, rather than to obscure and distort, obviously.

The League Against Cruel Sports has, as would be expected, made rather a gleeful point about incidents such as the latter while singularly failing to mention, let alone condemn, the former. This concerns me and I’m prepared to risk copping a whole load of flack (given my potential audience) by pointing out the hypocrisy displayed by The League here – condemning the attacks against sabs, while ignoring those a certain element commit. I am sure they could say that these people do not really represent them. I’m sure the hunting community would say the very same thing. But they do no such thing, and that is disappointing.

I remain unconvinced by many of the videos posted by LACS and other sabs. This is not an attempt at victim blaming, and I would obviously condemn any acts of violence visited upon the person of a sab, no matter how odiously they were behaving. But these videos are always out of context – we cannot know what preceded or followed. There is always quite obvious cutting, and we do not see (and even less often do we hear) anything from the other side. I’ve no doubt this media manipulation can occur on both sides – but logically those on the anti-hunt side are a) much more likely to be carrying cameras and b) much more likely to be skilled and media savvy. Hunts do not generally go in for Social Media, and they have no agenda to pursue through short Vines or posts on youtube (I can’t imagine anyone sitting through a 3 hour video of a lawful trail hunt).


Here, have a stock image of a fox chumming up to a cat to break up the text

I think it’s only fair that I preface much of this by spelling out my own views and positions. I grew up in a rural community and have close ties to people involved with various hunts, but this is not to say I am either pro or anti hunting. And yes, you can be neither. I disagree quite fundamentally with the confrontational, aggressive, activism often displayed by anti-hunt protestors. I disagree with attempting to alter, influence or inhibit someone else’s belief or culture (no mater how unpalatable I might find it) by conflict rather than communication and consensus. I believe this to be counter-productive to the environmental movement as a whole, and indeed, the LACS’s own aims.

My view is that these aggressive tactics do not endear sabs to others in the environmental sector – it’s not about giving other green protestors a bad name (though that is certainly an issue) as much as it is about making us look bloody childish by running around banging tins, shouting and wearing stupid Guy Fawkes masks. Not everything is a bloody ‘Occupy’ movement.

Perpetuating ridiculous stereotypes in the media isn’t helping the cause either. Again, and as an aside I similarly have issue with the current lazy portrayal of bankers. It casts them as simplified evil figures of hate, It dehumanises them. And when you can see your opponent as something less than human, anything seems permissible.

There is something I find worryingly fanatical and fundamentalist about some in the anti-hunt movement. It will have no truck or allow any other viewpoint than it’s own. The hunting community have at least demonstrated the ability to bend, but sabs will not contemplate anything less than a total victory.

But what is a ‘total victory’ for the sabs? Much of this comes from my discovery recently that LACS are now gunning for trail hunting. Trail hunting involves mimicking a fox hunt through use of a more twisting and changing trail laid with fox scent as opposed to the straight thrash of a drag hunt. It usually crosses the territory of a real fox (there’s not really anyway you could avoid this – it’s the countryside), resulting in occasional kills. LACS claim that this is deliberate.

If trail hunting goes, the hunts go. They will not survive on drag hunting. There is not the interest or will to continue. And if the hunts go, a whole lot more goes with them. This does make one question the ultimate vision for that ‘total victory’ the sabs seem to want. It would be wrong of me to speculate that the aims of many anti-hunt supporters are driven by perceived (and misplaced) cultural and class-ist agendas. Totally, totally wrong. I’d never suggest that. Obviously. There is the nagging feeling beneath it all that if they come after trail hunting now, will they come after drag hunting later? One accidental kill by a drag hunt and who knows?

I believe that the hunt saboteurs and by extension LACS’s approach is unviable in the long run unless their aim is to remove and destroy every last vestige of the fox hunting community – something they deny, but there is a definite sense they to object to the hunting community on much deeper grounds than animal cruelty. You can see why the hunting community get so angry; they must feel as if people from outside are coming after their way of life, in many ways literally, as the hunt constitutes a living, in one way or another, for a large percentage of those following it.

The trouble is that by disturbing and sabotaging law-abiding hunts, the gap between the two sides just continues to widen. Positive publicity and reinforcement, in my opinion and experience, often works a lot better. The League Against Cruel Sports has an opportunity to promote and to support law-abiding hunts, for applauding good practice and making real positive connections. To my knowledge, it has never attempted to do this.

The two sides of the argument appear intransigent, at opposing ends of the spectrum, too disparate in their ultimate aims. But it can’t continue, it can’t progress like this. If we’re to reach any kind of consensus on fox hunting, the two sides are just going to have to bite the bullet and start talking to each other. And as it is the LACS who are working for change, I believe the onus is on them to make the first move towards conciliation. The two sides are clearly diametrically opposed, but they must realise that neither is going anywhere anytime soon, (I’d make some half-arsed Israel/Palestine comparison, but that would be childish and offensive). If the relationship remains confrontational, and I address this to both sides, then they will forever remain locked in this stalemate, no progress will be made, they will continue to exist in an antagonistic state, riling each other, and we’ll keep having incidence like Tedworth or Blackmore and Sparkford Vale.

Environmentalists in Film and Channing Tatum’s Massive Block Head.

Look, it can’t all be frighteningly long discourses on management structures in environmental charities or hackneyed theorising about the future of volunteering on this blog you know. I know we’ve had some fun and games with those kind of posts over the last few months. My, how we’ve laughed. But enough of all this levity, sometimes I will feel the need to address serious issues here. This is one of those occasions. I’m sorry, please stick with it, it sags a bit in the middle, but there’s a quote from a highly respected authority on the subject at the end that I think is well worth the wait.

Blockhead Tatum, expressing his full actorly range

Blockhead Tatum, expressing his full actorly range

Last week my carer (wife) took me out to the cinema and told me if I behaved she’d let me have a fizzy pop and a bag of skittles (she late reneged – more on that later). Being the high-brow types that we are, we went to see Foxcatcher (which has no foxes in it). This came hot on the heels of seeing Birdman (which has no birds in it). You’d think we’d have learned. It’s clear these types of films are not for the likes of us – where’s the explosions? Where’s the gratuitous nudity? They were both films that, as a friend of mine once put it, need a glass stomach so they could see where they were going (I’ll leave you to figure that one out). It was during one of the prolonged shots of Channing Tatum’s massive block of a head staring into the distance, furrowed brow and all, that I started to drift.

Blockhead Tatum, expressing his full range of emotions

Blockhead Tatum, doing ‘sad’

The enigmatic, paranoid, peculiar John Du Pont is, apart from a fan of sweaty man-on-man action, a keen Ornithologist (Enigmatic, paranoid, peculiar – I’ll leave you to make your own Twitcher jokes). At one point he drops in on Blockhead Tatum in the middle of the night to point out (erroneously) the call of a distant Barn Owl. My wife (yes, once again, I really do have a wife) felt me bridle in my seat. She must have known there was a smartarse comment coming. It was the ensuing ‘for god’s sake, that’s not a Barn Owl’ that resulted in the revoking of my skittles privileges and general shushing for breaking the code of conduct. It was only later when I thought about it that I realised he’d said Barred Owl. I don’t know what they sound like. Or whether he was right. It probably would have been more in keeping with the character if he were just making it up as he went along.

From that point on, I’m afraid the film rather lost me and I drifted off into considering the portrayal of environmentalists and the like in film. I uncovered a worrying trend:

Quantum of Solace – The real hero is, of course, committed environmentalist Dominic Greene. But obviously Bond can’t have that so stitches him up -wouldn’t you know it, he’s only out to cause a drought in Bolivia so he can profiteer. The bastard. At least I think that’s what happens. It was very confusing

Hound of the Baskervilles – The real hero is, of course, committed entomologist and skilled trainer of large, wild dogs, Jack Stapleton. But obviously Holmes can’t have that so stitches him up – wouldn’t you know it, he’s the lost relative of the Baskervilles out to claim their manor. The bastard. Holmes chucks him in a bog for good measure.

Bird Man of Alcatraz – Pimp, murderer and Burt Lancaster.

Silence of the Lambs – The pursuit of sexually confused Lepidopterist Buffalo Bill by Clarice Starling.

Anyway, that’s as far as I got before Mark Ruffalo got shot (sorry, I’m supposed to preface that with ‘spoilers’ aren’t I? Tough.) It seems we’re doomed to be portrayed as either outsiders, loners and obsessives, or slightly wet tree huggers. I suspect even in the upcoming biopic of myself, Blockhead Tatum will feel the need to inject a sinister note of some dark, all-consuming mania, possibly aimed at careless dog-walkers and the scientifically illiterate. I’m open to suggestions in the comment box of better portrayals of environmentalists in film (not Erin Brockovich, she doesn’t count).

Blockhead Tatum, star of upcoming biopic 'Adventures in Conservation', getting into character

Blockhead Tatum, star of upcoming biopic ‘Adventures in Conservation’, getting into character

But we should be glad, shouldn’t we? At least we’re getting some screen time and exposure. Reflecting on the portrayal of the green movement in film recently, Schwarzenegger discussed how he has tried to make the issue of climate change one that would resonate with the public, without having to involve distracting and unphotogenic scientists: “I think the environmental movement only can be successful if we (film makers) tell the stories. The scientists would never get the kind of attention that someone in show business gets.”*

*Ok, that’s not exactly what he said, but you can tell it’s what he meant. Maybe.

Chinese Water Deer Hypotheticals

As is becoming a bit of a thing in this section of the blog, invasive and alien species can be used as examples of wider issues in conservation – ethical and moral issues, operational issues, logistical issues, political issues – This time it’s Chinese Water Deer.

Weird-looking - hence my empathy

Weird-looking – hence my empathy

The main reason I’ve chosen to discuss Chinese Water Deer here, apart from the fact they look like weird, tusked teddy bears, is to address a moral and ethical conundrum; Chinese Water Deer in the UK now account for an estimated 10% of the whole population. In it’s natural range, (in China, obviously) it is listed as near threatened. As seems to be a common theme with invasives in this country, its origin can be traced to those pesky Victorians and their insatiable curiosity and desire to pilfer things from other countries and cultures (see the British Museum). There’s more, better, discussion and information to be found out there than you will in this post, which is mainly just a jumping off point for some wild speculation. Namely, what happens if that ‘near threatened’ listing deteriorates – say to critically endangered? And imagine that, concurrently, here in the UK Chinese Water Deer become a real threat to, oh I don’t know, Water Voles. Or Hen Harriers (Admittedly, I have no concept of how they could possibly be a threat – even with the tusks.) Do we have a duty to remove them or conserve them? It’s enough to give one a headache, but there are situations where this has occurred with other species.

This is a long way from being the case with Chinese Water Deer, who, on an entirely subjective note I would love to see preserved in this country – I have a peculiar fondness for the truly out of place and odd-looking mammals that call the British countryside home, the more bumbling the better. They add character; at least that’s my argument. As ever – and because I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time behind a desk than in the field recently – I’m dealing in hypotheticals. Chinese Water Deer present no pressing danger to our native fauna and flora, there aren’t battalions of tusked, furry faced invaders out there hunting down every last Natterjack Toad. Although it’s an arresting image. But should they one day turn on a protected species in a fit of pique, we need to know whether to reach for the gun or to corral them all and ship them back to their homeland – I think that’s important. Probably. Don’t you?