The Green Glossary – B

Another missive from the front line of the green movement. For all you non-adherents out there, the Green Glossary is a guide to bluffing your way through any conversation with an over-zealous, greeny-type. This week is brought to you by the letter ‘B’:

Badger, (n) – Pied mustelid with a tendency to evoke very black and white opinions. The truth is somewhere in the grey.

Bagshall, Steve – Musclebound pin-up that even the most misanthropic and cynical of Greenies (i.e. me) can’t help but like. Created with the soul purpose of seducing the more superficially-minded to the cause. Like a sexy apostle.

Baker, Nick – Bug bothering Baker badgers beetles, beleaguers bees and besieges butterflies.

Ban, (v) – The primary aim of the majority of Green endeavours is to ban or restrict any activity taking place in the countryside before they started to take an interest in it. If the activity is largely the preserve of individuals with more money and opposing political convictions, then all the better.

Bats, (n) – A bulwark against frivolous developments which unfortunately often offers all the protection of a wet meringue.

Beardy hipster

Beard, (n) – Essential facewear for 50% of followers. Optional for the other 50%

Beaver, (n) – The magic bullet that will cure all the ills and problems of conservation north of the border. Possibly by flooding out The Enemy. Causes some outsiders to giggle uncontrollably – See also; Blue Tit, Shag.

Bee, (n) – A fuzzy little black canary in the mine and insect du jour.

Bicycle, (n) – Essential mode of transport for all followers. Those in the movement who do not own a bicycle are looked on as degenerates, heretics and outcasts.

Bierce, Ambrose – Time-travelling, plagiarizing bastard

Birch, (n, v) – A tree even you can identify. The branches are apparently useful for hitting people with. Rumour has it that some followers of the movement gather under a full moon and self-flagellate with birch branches in an act of penance for every act of consumerism or litre of petrol purchased.

Birds, (n) – The C of E of the Green religion.

Biodiversity, (n) – A word to be sprinkled liberally throughout any communique, official document or propaganda piece. Preferably in at least every third sentence. No one really knows what it means.

Bittern, (n) – A bird that can’t be mentioned without someone, somewhere saying ‘Booooooooom’.

Blackthorn, (n) – A spiky bastard.

Blog, (n, v) – An obligatory extra curricular activity for all serious practitioners of the faith. A platform to yell into the void all that distresses and enraptures. A form of therapy that fills much the same role as the confessional booth.

Blue Tit, (n) – A perfectly sensible name for a bird that for some reason provides an endless source of amusement to the likes of you.

Buddleia, (n) – An admirably hardy invasive. Laughingly promoted as ‘butterfly bush’ by shameless garden centre salesmen everywhere. The butterflies remain oblivious to the fact the buddleia has been supplied specifically for their enjoyment and studiously ignore it.

Budget, (n) – A mythical concept which serves the same purpose as Manna or Ambrosia in other religions. Some acquaintances swear they heard tales of a colleague of a friend of an associate in the sector who once had a budget, but no one has ever seen any concrete evidence of this.

Burning, (v) – Either an essential part of conservation land management or a dangerous and deleterious practice. To discern which camp a particular incident falls in, consult the size of the land manager’s bank balance.

buzzard

Buzzard, (n) – Pe-yoooo. Simply put one of the most pleasant sounds of the countryside

 

Bracken, (n) – Annoyingly prevalent. There are some that believe a cross-section of the earth’s crust will show a thick bracken layer.

Bramble, (n) – A prickly bastard and bane of many a conservationist’s existence. Has often led to confused accusations of self-harm.

By-laws, (n) – Put in place for the likes of you, not for the likes of us.

Feel free to tweet any additions to next week’s #greenglossary, which will, in strict adherence to logic, cover the letter ‘C’.

Ecomodernism – Widening the Great Divide

He may have his occasional porcine peccadilloes, but our spam-faced overlord might have been onto something. Looming down on us proles from those giant posters, declaring ‘We can’t go on like this’, he may as well have been talking about the gaping void between agriculture and environmentalists.

Owen Patterson is back and he’s brought a new trick with him – Ecomodernism. It’s the latest shot fired in an escalating war that guarantees only a pyrrhic victory. Oh Owen. There’s something about his face. He has the look of a cat that not only got the cream but has also, against all logic and reason, found himself running the dairy. Smug doesn’t come close to describing him.

Cameron v Patterson: Let the 'smug-off' begin

Cameron v Patterson: Let the ‘smug-off’ begin

But my new resolution is to take a more measured view of an idea or statement, regardless of its provenance. Yes, we all know Owen is a stooge, but even stopped clocks, and all that. The general notion of Ecomodernism isthat the more technology human beings adopt, the more they can decouple from dependence on the natural environment and live lives that are prosperous but green’, that only through economic growth can the environment be saved. It is basically…erm…rampant capitalism. This will result in a ‘decoupling’ of production and the environment which will have huge benefits for wildlife. Indeed, it is, apparently, improvements in business and industry that has led to the recent boom we have seen in many species…wait, what?

I’m not going to pick apart the errors in Patterson’s assumptions in his latest barely-disguised rant against the sector (we could be here a while, and people keep shouting the word ‘brevity’ at me in the street). There’s a bit of everything in his Telegraph sulkathon – thinly veiled climate change denial, confusion over the term ‘non-renewable’, ludicrous statements like ‘Europe and North America, are now teeming with far richer wildlife populations than for many centuries’ – but what there is mostly is a sense of injustice for poor old Owen.

By trumpeting ecomodernism, Owen is once again putting himself forward as defender of the natural environment. This is clearly codswallop, and I should know, I’ve walloped a lot of cod in my time. If he was serious about the environment, he wouldn’t continue to blame the ‘Green Blob’ for his demise, he’d try and build some ruddy bridges. Instead he continues to wear his persecution complex like a badge of honour. He has the bearing of someone who obviously believes that if it weren’t for a malevolent conspiracy against him, conducted by his own supervillains – a hyper intelligent cotterie of badgers with a 70’s Scottish Football fans penchant for mucking about with football furniture and their sidekick, an amorphous Green Blob – he’d be King of the Countryside by now. But don’t cry for Owen, he seems to be doing alright for himself.

They'll be the death of me

They’re coming for you, Owen…(I’m getting a lot of use out of this stock image)

Now, I think there’s actually something to be said for the underlying message here – I’m not a complete luddite. Improved technology will reduce so many of the outputs that can be detrimental to the environment, there’s even a case for ‘letting go’ some areas to more intense agricultural practises – let’s be realistic here, peoples gotta eat. But as an argument, I find this ‘the future will save us’ line as weak as my Gran’s tea. It’s the same kind of argument that has delayed any serious action on climate change, this idea that ‘technology will develop’ so we don’t need to act now.

The problem with ecomodernism (the Patterson redux) – well, one of them – is that the onus is entirely on the environmental sector to adapt and fit themselves in somewhere (as it has always been). Even worse is Patterson’s apparent assertion that environmental benefits will just happen somehow, irrespective of the ‘Green Blob’.

Ecomodernism takes the agriculture/environment antipathetic relationship to it’s logical conclusion – a ‘decoupling’ of the two. You just can’t decouple nature from agriculture (and visa-versa), and that’s something that both sectors just need to grow up and accept. It benefits the ‘ecomodernists’ and the agricultural sector as little to claim they can carry on with no consideration for their environmental impact as it does for the environmental sector to continually exist in a head-butting relationship with farmers and landowners. A common feeling in the environmental sector was expressed to me recently:

‘This whole ethos of having to work with the landowners to be effective, has really been a millstone around the neck for British conservation NGOs.’

For me, this argument that we can produce positive outcomes for the environment without working with the people who actually own the land is as pointless as a midday firework, all sound, no show. It just can’t happen.

As ever, the answer to a healthy environment and a fed and healthy populace is a complicated one that will involve cooperation and a certain degree of coercion for our landowners. However, Owen has declared that the ‘cure’ for all our environmental ills was there all along, and funnily enough it lay precisely in what we were doing in the first place, only more so. It would be reassuring to think the answers were so simple, but ecomodernism is a comfort blanket, a ‘greenwash’, a smoke and mirrors magic trick conducted with smart words and irrelevant stats. It takes some gumption to argue for the exact opposite of what your opponents are recommending and then telling them it’s actually the magic bullet they’ve been searching for all along. Now that Dr Patterson has proscribed his medicine, we need to take care he doesn’t poison us with it.

Not bored? Want to learn more about just what the heck on ecomodernism is? Interested in productivity, yields per sq metre, and ‘decoupling’? Here’s some links:

Patterson sulking in the Telegraph

Ecomodernism is bad – George Monbiot

George Monbiot doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Ecomodernism is great – The guys behind Ecomodernism

Ecomodernism – home website

Dark thoughts on Ecomodernism – The Dark Mountain Project

Badger Backpeddling

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice, but the badger cull is back. This prompted me into one of my infrequent forays into the murky world of social media ‘engagement’, resulting in a degree of soul-searching on my part. Perhaps soul-searching is over-egging things a tad. I don’t generally go in for much in the way of self-evaluation. I don’t spend countless hours noodling about feeling glum and listening to Exit Music (for a film) on a loop (not for years now, anyway). But sometimes I have to accept some pretty unpalatable truths, the hardest of which is that occasionally, just very occasionally, I might be wrong.

Naughty badgers

Having set this article up in such a way that you are now expecting me to figuratively prostrate myself before you and admit my error, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint. This is not so much about me admitting that I was wrong, as admitting to myself that the possibility of me being wrong might actually exist.

Back to the point – There’s a lot of science out there on the Badger cull. Perhaps too much science1. But what there is a shortage of is consensus. What I think we all know and can agree on is that the case for the cull is dicey. There’s little evidence that targeted removal will effectively reduce cases of bTB in cattle. It’s also unarguable that considering the potentially devastating effects of bTB on herds and, scaling up, the farming economy, we should be considering all means at our disposal to reduce cases. If this involves the reduction in numbers of a charismatic, yet abundant, mammal, then so be it. I don’t think conservation does itself any favours by refusing to be realistic and perpetuating an anti-farming rhetoric.

Now if I can be brutally honest, I’m not radically opposed to the badger cull. I do think it is rather a ‘shoot now ask questions later’ approach (which, in my opinion always leaves you without anyone to answer your bloody questions), I think it’s knee-jerk, I think there are other factors involved (does the resurgence of bTB in the last two decades correlate to an increase in badger population or a decrease in regulation?), but if it is proven to be the best method of reducing incidence of bTB in cattle then it should not be dismissed.

Where I’ve recently had my own moment of self-doubt regards the rather more one-sided argument for badger-cattle bTB transmission. I managed to get my knickers in a twist when I saw a statement from a vet that a 50-60% reduction in bTB where badgers were proactively culled was all the proof that was needed of badger to cattle transmission. I objected to the assertion – and despite what follows, I still do. It’s bad science. Correlation not equalling causation and all that. Predictably, I was asked ‘what more proof do you need?’2 Well, science, for one. So they gave me science. Science I had – perhaps due to the media circles I frequent – not seen before.

If you only read the Daily Mail, you can start to see the world in a very Daily Mail-esque way. It’s worth remembering that this works with papers like the Guardian, too. So it was with the environmentalism – because of my own interests, I do tend to only be exposed to papers and studies that make the case for transmission less than conclusive. When it comes to science, I should certainly know better. There’s some pretty strong evidence out there that transmission is not only possible, but likely.

That’s not to say I’ve completely come around to the notion that badger-cattle bTB transmission in the wild has been irrefutably proven – transmission has not been recreated to a decent standard in non-artificial settings. My issue, and it’s an issue with myself as much as anything, is that though I still don’t find this utterly conclusive I suspect there would probably be enough evidence to convince me if the species were reversed. There would probably be an ‘acceptable’ level of probability, given the stakes, had it been a question of saving badgers.

So what’s my point? Read wider, don’t be afraid to discuss what you don’t understand, give as much scrupulous attention to the arguments that match your ethical standpoint as those that don’t – all good advice. Or perhaps it’s that I’m suffering from sun damage this week and have become even more incoherent than is usual.

1Sorry, that’s just a ridiculous statement, I’m not sure what I was thinking. There’s no such thing as too much science

2I was also asked if I had any experience of farming (I do, as it happens) as ‘living with the outcome of your decisions looking after a large herd of animals gives you an insight others don’t have.’ I can’t say that I think much to this ‘unless you’ve farmed cattle, you can’t understand’ argument. It’s the kind of logic that builds closed-shop industries that wither and die through lack of innovative thought, but that’s by the by.

Culling – The Dark Side of Conservation

The Badger - Serial mover of goalposts. Is the FA the real driving force behind the current cull?

The Badger – Serial mover of goalposts. Is the FA the real driving force behind the current cull?

Culling is in the news again and it is, as ever, proving a thorny issue. It often seems anathema and contrary to the whole hippy-feel of much of our work to even be contemplating the systematic removal of a portion of a species. But our ecosystem is now, perhaps irrevocably, out of kilter. Many of the natural checks to species populations are absent or severely reduced through human actions. From an ecological perspective, culling is often an unavoidably necessary step. But how can we reconcile this part of our work with the softer, public face of the environmental movement? Maybe it is time for conservations dark secret to be brought out into the light.

Culling comes in many forms. From the removal of invasive species having a deleterious effect on native species (e.g. mink), to the trimming of deer herds or the issue of potential disease vectors. In all instances, no matter how sound the science and theory behind it, emotion plays a strong role. The importance of sentiment and basic compassion for wildlife should not be underestimated; it is after all the reason that many of us have chosen to devote ourselves to this sector. Making the difficult decisions should not be an entirely cold, analytical process; we need to take into account the reaction of the public and even staff and volunteers within our own organisations. It does not need me to elucidate further the dangers, particularly for a wildlife charity for example, of losing the trust and good will of the public who financially support it, and the staff that drive it forward.

Let us work through the different types of culling we may encounter in conservation, starting with what I would hope would be the most straight forward and obvious:

Removal of invasive species is a huge part of conservation work, be they flora or fauna. Perhaps the species most referenced with regards to culling is the American Mink. A destructive mustelid, since its introduction/escape into the wild it has decimated the native Water Vole population, amongst other species, because it size allows it to access bank side holes that would otherwise be off limits to other species. Its removal, therefore, is of direct advantage to a native and charismatic species under severe threat. Spelling out these basic issues, few in the conservation sector would have any issue with culling. Some among the broader public however, may take issue at killing one species for the preservation of another on the grounds of longer-term residency.

An interesting side note here is the provenance of mink in the UK. There is a theory that that a large number established themselves after being released by activists from a mink farm, breeding them for their pelts. This is unsubstantiated, and there are a number of different ways one could read this situation from misplaced good intentions to fabrication of the story, to discredit. Either way, it further highlights the role that emotion can play and how they need to be managed and addressed accordingly and not dismissed as bleeding-heart sentimentality.

Deer culling however, is much more likely to send members of the public into paroxysms of rage. This I have experienced having worked in woodland where herd trimming was essential. Deer kill woodland. It takes a long while, but their presence in the absence of a natural predator will eventually lead to a lack of natural regeneration of woodland species due to overgrazing of saplings and seedlings. This obviously has a huge knock on effect to other species. Keeping herds at an acceptable level, mimicking the effects of a natural predator if you like, is therefore a vital part of woodland management, allowing different areas to develop thick, natural regeneration where elsewhere areas are opened out by grazing.

Deer Culling - I couldn't get the rights for a image from Bambi

Deer Culling – I couldn’t get the rights for an image from Bambi

And yes, I would love to see Lynx reintroduction as a measure to alleviate the need for such culling, but that is another argument. Deer though, are herbivores, are relatively inoffensive (whereas mink, for example, are seen as aggressors) and people generally like to see them on a woodland stroll. How then, to promote the idea and get the public on-board with the notion that you are going to be shooting a fair few of them in the head? Some organisations opt for the clandestine approach, keeping it a slightly dirty little secret, and you can understand why. But this shirks one of the main responsibilities of the environmental sector: to inform and educate. Through discussing, educating, and yes, even promoting the darker parts of our jobs we can pre-empt any potentially negative reactions. It’s a risky move, but keeping the activity hidden breeds distrust and suspicion.

On to yet more controversial culling activities: Badgers and foxes. They represent an extremely familiar face of wildlife in the UK – if we can be said to have any remaining charismatic megafauna, these are they. The recent badger cull was a complete farce, of that you hardly need me to tell you. But the reason it fell so entirely flat was not just that badgers are cute and fluffy, it was that the science was so flawed. As soon as this became apparent, the whole undertaking was a failure. Add to this that the move was taken to appease the farming lobby and you can understand just why it got everyone in the sectors back up so much. But, for example, imagine that the badger cull was scientifically backed up as being a necessary measure to protect a habitat or unique biodiversity feature, what then? This is not too far fetched, and indeed can stretch to that other target of the most vehemently and vitriolically divisive of culls, foxes. Either could theoretically reach a stage, like deer, where their population increase, unchecked by natural predators or competition, begins to cause real issues for conservation measures. Some might say that is already beginning to happen now. What then? Would we be prepared to meddle? Just how would we square that with both our own ethical stance and the public’s emotional attachment to these animals?

In such a situation it would be negligent in the extreme to ignore the issue. Many would say that the land should be allowed to adapt naturally, a rewilding ethic coming into play, and therefore these animals should be spared the rifle. But would this same feeling be extended to deer? Unlikely. How about to mink? Unthinkable. Why then should these two be spared? It is an interesting poser, but should this situation arise only clear and honest setting out of either side of the argument before the public will allow progress to be made in the right direction. Any other approach risks alienation of the one real weapon we have in the environmental sector: public support.