Attack of the Armchair Conservationists

Just who are the Armchair Conservationists?

It’s a fair question. But whoever they are, the British Association for Shooting and (ahem) Conservation have taken a particularly asinine swipe at them this week.

First and foremost, lets get this straight: I have no clear convictions either way on grouse shoots (as usual, I try and sit on the fence and see both sides. The end result of which is usually a backside full of barbed wire). I feel that setting yourself in such antagonistic opposition to the people who own and manage large areas of the countryside is always going to achieve the sum total of diddly squat of your aims. But Christ almighty the hunting community, and in particular BASC make it damn hard for the neutral to take very much of what they say seriously.

‘Armchair Conservationist’ is such a warblingly dismissive phrase and so vague. What is it and where can I find one? Time to get a Samuel Johnson on it. Time to combine my entymological and etymological skills and define it before I dissect and dismember it.

A MA from Cambridge, a PhD in Bats from Aberdeen, and a research fellowship at Oxford (but these is book learnin’, obviously. And that doesn’t count). Then there’s also 25 years with the RSPB, 13 as head of Conservation as well as many, many hours in the field. As armchairs go, that’s a pretty lofty one. But for some people, all the transferable skills, experience and knowledge in the world won’t count. There’s an argument that seems to run ‘unless you manage a 2,000 acre grouse shoot, you have no place commenting or having an opinion on grouse shooting.’

I mean, it’s a shite argument, but it’s a hill that some people seem particularly keen to die on.

Now I may have mentioned before that I’m a keen cricketer. And it occurred to me that exactly the type of person who might chuck out this lazy phrase would be that doyen of ecology, Ian Botham. Now good old beefy has already proven that when it comes to things like conservation, birds and the environment that he doesn’t really have the foggiest what he’s talking about. He’s just happy to repeat some mindless guff his chums in the shooting community have been feeding him. Whatever helps to justify the continued running of his expensive shoot and peculiar ambition to return the countryside to some sort of feudal state. But I don’t really expect him to know much about the environment.

Cricket however…well, you’d expect Beefy to know a thing or two, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, outside of the Channel 9 commentary team, you would struggle to find a more myopic and ill-considered commentator. However, Botham has one great fall back, and it’s a stunner. You question Beefy on anything cricket and he trots out the unarguable ‘but how many test wickets do you have?‘ This is what the phrase ‘Armchair Conservationist’, with all its inherent condescension, amounts to.

But what does it actually mean, and realistically, just how much conservation can you do from an armchair? Actually, quite a lot it turns out. I mean, I do about 50-60% of my actual day job from a desk, there’s no armchair but I’m sure if I cooked up some chronic back-pain I could convince HR that it was necessary.

Perhaps this all comes down to some kind of mental division that has manifested over at BASC between ‘thinkers’ and ‘do-ers’. Now, you aren’t an idiot. You know that no such division exists. People are fully capable of thinking and doing. Although it may appear that some are not quite capable of doing and thinking.

By bandying around the phrase ‘armchair conservationists’ to dismiss everyone they disagree with, BASC have effectively sided with the imaginary ‘do-ers’. Their members get out and get stuff done and don’t sit around all day reading. We’ve had enough of experts after all, and over here at BASC, we don’t need to sit around and think about things, we just do them. If I was a BASC member and I was of a particularly introspective nature, I might find this pigeon-holing a little insulting.


What Fresh Trickery is This?

Nothing that interesting has been happening at work this fortnight, which means I’m forced to mine the ‘current political climate’ for material. And no one wants that.

But needs must, and if I have to stick my head back down the rabbit hole in order to provide content, then don’t be surprised if I come out a little bit grubby and depressed.

We got a first look at the Great Repeal Bill in the last week and of course it is an absolute boon for the environmental sector and all of our job prospects, just as we knew this whole Brexit shebang would be…

A joke. I know. But I had to try something to lighten the tone before things take a turn.

Actually, I haven’t read it (shocker, I know). And what I have read about it, I don’t understand. I mean, I know the individual words, but when they are put together in sentences, it all looks Greek to me (which, obviously, is probably the EU’s fault).

PobIt does seem, for now, as though many of the EU environmental regs and policies are coming over, as is, but without a great deal of protection. In fact, it seems that there are a few medieval legal loopholes that can be used to render pretty much any part redundant (and they complain about EU bureaucracy!). Something to do with Henry VIII. Again, I don’t really understand. One of the big blind spots appears to be the lack of any public body to actually enforce/govern/monitor.

Anyway, so far, so bland. Nothing much to get worked up about. But it’s still very early days.

The suspicion (mine at least) is that farmers (traditionally a strong Tory base), who voted on mass for Brexit despite the NFU’s position, will basically be handed a blank slate post-Brexit. All those lovely EU subsidies that supply above 50% of some farm incomes will be shorn of the those tricksy environmental provisos, Higher Level Stewardship and the like will be neutered, watered down or replaced, etc. etc. etc.

Basically, I’ve been pretty certain for a year now that Brexit was going to jigger my career prospects (particularly any aspirations to eventually move out of London). Coupled with falling revenue for the charity sector in response to lower real-terms income and a local council budget cut of nearly 30% (and Parks, as ‘non-urgent’, suffering), it ain’t looking great for me and other fellow environmentalists in most of our ‘traditional’ areas of employment.

And then…and then Gove goes and spoils my whole theory by being nice about the environment in a speech to the WWF.

What fresh trickery is this?

Among other things Gove mentioned was the need for farmers to earn their subsidies


Gove, slashing red tape, maybe. Look, I’m struggling for suitable images, OK.

through responsible practises and lamenting Trump’s imbecilic withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Now, colour me sceptical, but this is the same chap who has been making clarion calls to the Brexiteers about slashing red tape to free up production and who also tried to remove the teaching of climate change from the curriculum.

Gove also spoke out against the potential conditions brought in as part of any UK/US trade deal (and as we know, according to Donald, this will be ‘very big, very powerful’ and happen ‘very, very quickly’. And when has that guy ever failed to keep his word?). If you want to know more about the hellish food production standards we may be forced to accept, pg 121 onwards here is a sneak preview. Again, all well and good, but as Trump’s main cheerleader in the UK (sorry Nige, I’m talking about ones with actual power, you know, the kind who don’t lose seven consecutive elections for a seat) I’m not sure I believe a word he says.

Could it perhaps be that Gove just says what he thinks will make his current audience happy? Do we suspect that he may be saying something completely different (along the lines of ‘what do you want to keep you onside?’) to the NFU? Could it be that Gove doesn’t think he will be in post long enough to have to act on his words (keep dreaming big, Mikey).

I would say Gove appears slippery than a bucket of greased eels, but that suggests some kind of innate Machiavellian cunning that I just don’t believe he possesses. From his ham-fisted attempts at moving against May in the last month (Theresa, a clue, if you want to stop the leaks, stick a plug in Gove), it’s obvious the man has all the subtlety of half-a-brick in a sock.

Still, as long as he keeps his mind on lining up various knives with the centre of colleagues backs, he isn’t actually getting involved in trying to do anything to the environment.

We can hope, I suppose. Maybe Gove really has turned over a sparklingly green new leaf, but personally, I think the guy just says and does whatever is expedient for his own furtherment.

Dog Bite!

‘It’s OK, he’s friendly.’

If ever there were words more likely to drive a reserve manager to distraction, I’ve yet to hear them.

This week I was mildly chewed by an arthritic looking Rottweiler as its owner stood about blithly unaware that his charge had developed a taste for man-flesh in its dotage.

Dog bites – like falling in streams, being impaled by blackthorn, having the public inform you that ‘they pay their taxes’, and discovering dead bodies, are something of an occupational hazard.

As I bravely shunned medical attention for my moderately painful graze, I pondered, not for the first time, ‘what’s to be done about the clear incompatibility of irresponsible dog owners and nature reserves?’

It’s not just the bleeding puncture wound with potential long-term nerve damage that I could do without. It’s the poop-bag trees, the eutrophication from unbagged poop, the dogs loose on ground nesting bird sites, the dogs frolicking in ponds, the bark stripping, the tree-branch hanging. The squirrel chasing I can live with however.

I recently surveyed one of my sites and found that, despite clear signage about the bylaws, 75% of dog walkers had their dogs off leads. Not surprising, and in reality it is a completely unenforceable bylaw and everyone knows it. I tend to restrict myself to raising the issue only if the dog is ‘out of control’ (Professional dog walkers, I’m looking at you guys).


Not that this would have stopped the brutal ravaging of my forearm, which though I am yet to see a Doctor, I am pretty sure may need to be amputated.

My geriatric canine assailant was on a lead and did look, to all intents and purposes, to be completely harmless, nosing forward and snuffling at me, lulling me into a false sense of amiability before virtually dismembering me and attempting to drag my bloodied bones back to the gates of Hades to gnaw on for all eternity.

Basically, I’ve typed this whole missive with my one remaining finger-stub.

I don’t actually have any answers for you. From experience, telling people to put their dog on a lead generally makes them argumentative – because their dog is different. Their dog is special and is part of the family and so what if some people actually have a pathological fear of dogs? That’s their problem. And if they don’t like a dog snuffling at their crotch or barking furiously at them, well, they need to just grow a pair and get over it. Everyone loves dogs, right?

They really don’t. I could digress into my theory about the low diversity of visitors to urban greenspace here, but that seems like an entirely different topic.

All I can really do is put up clear signage (or, given the fact my arm is sure to drop off any day now, direct someone else to put up signs) and flag people up when their dogs are out of control (which, with the hook-hand and all, should at least be a bit more effective from now on). Other than that, I’m open to suggestions.