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.


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