People Are Just the Worst. And So Are Goldfish

Work in conservation for any length of time and you’ll gradually find yourself becoming a glum misanthropist. It might even have happened to me already. I just don’t know. Maybe it seeps out occasionally in this blog. Do flag it up if you spot it.

This week someone has decided in their infinite wisdom that what the ponds on the reserve really need is 150 goldfish of varying sizes dumped in them. Great. Fantastic. Thank you once again ‘the public’. You really are a bunch of unmitigated arseholes. If I find the person responsible, I’m going to make him eat every single one hundred and fifty of them.

goldfish

They’re clearly orange

Why is this so bad? Well, firstly because the ponds on site are rather good for Great Crested Newts. With goldfish in this pond, we can pretty much wave them goodbye. They’ve also dumped them at just the point when they are about to spawn; you can see them getting frisky already*. The combination of this and the presence of Great Crested Newts makes me tentative about electro-fishing them out. That’s if we even had the money to. And the time.

But the worst part is that I just know if we don’t get them out sharpish, then the public – bless ’em – are going to get attached to them. They’re going to become a ‘feature’. People are going to start feeding them. Which is going to make it even worse for me when I come along and brutally euthanase the lot of them. Apparently a little calculated pescicide will make me the bad guy. Ludicrous.

So I’m open to suggestions. What’s the best way to get rid of these aquatic interlopers?

* I should also point out that it is completely illegal. But you knew that already.

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.

Nature’s Got It In For You: What you should be scared of this month

I’ve taken the unwise step of reading the tabloids over the past few weeks and now I’m scared. Everything out there is out to get you in one way or another, didn’t you know? I didn’t know. I’ve managed to stay alive for 30-ermm-something years now and I’m not entirely sure how. It would appear it was more by luck than judgement, especially as I spend so much of my time out and about in the wild. Well, the wilder parts of South London, at least. There’s just so much out there that wants me dead! So here’s a round up of everything I’ve read throughout July that falls into that old staple, the Summer Scare Story:

The two biggest species that have been threatening life and limb around the country this month have definitely been the broad definition ‘gulls’ and of course Giant Hogweed (that’s what kicked this all off, really):

  • Hogweed! There were a full full ten (TEN! Count them, Ten!) articles on Giant Hogweed in the Mail alone since the start of July. It’s nasty stuff, undoubtedly, but people seem to be jumping up and down like this is a new phenomenon.
  • Gulls! Virtually over the last two weeks, gulls seem to have become public enemy number one. I’ll leave it for you to decide just how much danger you are in should you venture down to the seaside, but as always I’d advise reading a little further than the screeching, alarmist headlines to see what the various ‘experts’ actually said:

Seagulls could kill babies!

Yorkshire Terrier killed by Herring Gulls- ‘it could have been a child!’

Aggressive gulls must be culled!

There’s lots more out there, but here’s something a little more sensible on the subject. Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to go and scrub myself with borax.

More Pointless Fox Hyperbole

Foxes = hyperbole. If I’ve learned anything from my ‘career’ in the sector, it is that there is very little as divisive. So when a story appears in the papers about a marauding fox’ penning some ‘terrified’ punters in a pub, I pretty much know what reactions to expect. Calls for culling, the counter ‘ode to the joys of the urban fox’; it’s all a little predictable.

chumsWhat I think has always baffled me though is the sheer number of people who just point blank seemed to have refused that this has happened. Why the self-deception? Why can they not countenance the idea that a fox, a wild predator, could possibly act aggressively towards humans? There is any number of reasons why it might – cubs, food, perceived threat or familiarity – but there is a steadfast refusal to accept. And so stories like this are treated with incredulity and ridicule. I have even heard people claiming today that all previous incidences of fox attacks on humans have later been proven to be dogs. I have also seen that damn statistic about dog attacks vs fox attacks trotted out everywhere despite its total irrelevance. One thing I do know from experience is that when it comes to foxes, you have to pick a side.

I can understand it to an extent – people see foxes as the victim, as persecuted, and are therefore more prone to emphasise their innocence and fluffiness. But why do they think it is necessary to overplay it? The peculiar thing is that today in the Guardian a piece also appeared by lovable hunk Steve Backshall (even I swoon) about the nefarious media practice of creating seasonal bio-panic, be it jellyfish, spiders, hornets or, yes, foxes. And I completely agree with every single word of it. So what am I even trying to say?

I think we need to admit to ourselves that there’s the odd thing out there that might, just occasionally, cause you a scratch, a

They'll be the death of me

They’ll be the death of me

sting, and abrasion, heavens even a cut. I think we have to embrace that. Grasp on to the last tiny semblance of danger in our rather mild-mannered ecosystems (this is all very well me saying this until I am mauled to death by badgers, of course). The truth is that kids, for one, are much more fascinated by teeth and stings and danger than they are by soft fur and a placid demeanour.

So the next time there is a story about a fox biting a bin man, an exotic spider secreted in a bunch of bananas causing mild swelling or reports of a super-deadly Asian Hornet (clue – it’s probably just a regular hornet! Seriously, those things are terrifyingly large) I hope our reaction is neither to run for the hills and stock up on canned goods or to put on our green armour and say ‘oh don’t be silly, it could never happen’. I hope our reaction is to shrug our shoulders and say ‘so what?’ Or even better, ‘cool’. Animals do what animals do and they’re pretty cool as they are, why feel the need to exaggerate or deny?

The (Anti) Raptor Alliance

It’s happening again. After the nonsense of ‘You Forgot the Birds’ last year, there’s a new joker on the scene – The Raptor Alliance. Don’t let the name fool you – this is neither a collaboration of sparrowhawks angry at social injustice, a scene from Jurassic World or even a group attempting to save the decimated Hen Harrier. Quite the opposite, this is an alliance of pigeon fanciers intent on clearing the skies of any potential threat to the enjoyment of their little hobby.raptor alliance

I’m not going to make any snarky remarks about how anyone could possibly enjoy pigeon racing, but surely the removal of raptors only sanitizes it. Like modern F11 (again, baffled), where’s the excitement in knowing that they’re all going to make it back safely? Surely the addition of a potential sparrowhawk-wildcard adds to the thrill and anticipation. Surely a little thinning by raptors leads to the evolution of quicker, smarter pigeons2.

The recent petition put forward to members of Pigeon Racing unions (who knew, right?) is asking racing pigeons to be designated as livestock. With this designation it will then be legal (the Royal Pigeon Racing Association states) for pigeon racers to shoot birds of prey ‘around their loft’. Now, I’m not entirely comfortable about the idea of any group blasting away into the sky, presumably in a residential area, particularly when I think about the rather woolly concept of ‘around their loft’. How many pigeon lofts are not in the vicinity of another property? Are they sure they can discharge a weapon without firing beyond their premises (as per Firearms Act)? So straight off the bat, I am not convinced by the legality of this unless said loft is in the middle of a field (yes, some of them will be). Might there be the potential for a little stretching of that ‘around the loft’ phrase?

But that’s mere nuts and bolts, protocol, procedure. From the ‘You Forgot the Birds’ debacle, we all know the real fun starts when you dive into the PR and reasoning behind it all. So lets head straight into the world of twitter, where we can rest assured that these types of movement will invariably make a boob and receive the mauling they deserve:

Another brilliant business enterprise scuppered by my time-travelling nemesis

Another brilliant business enterprise scuppered by my time-travelling nemesis

Ah, here we go. Protection of ‘assets’. A Racing Pigeon owned by someone inherently has more value than a wild falcon. Because someone has paid good, hard cash for it. I’d rather not stroll too far down this path of monetising wildlife, and I’d also rather not turn this into some form of Bird Top Trumps (now there’s an idea), but if we must….

‘60,000 pigeon fanciers in the UK have no legal protection against increasing attacks from soaring sparrowhawk and peregrine falcon populations’

Just picking the RSPB as they’re the most relevant environmental charity here: 1 million+ members, a great deal of them probably spending a large amount of money to view and protect birds. Some of the most popular birds to spot are likely to be raptors (and probably not pigeons, if we’re honest)…if we’re going to play ‘my bird’s worth more than your bird’, I know whom my, a-hem, money is on.

Such nice chaps, and therefore we should totally support them. People who give money to charity should always get their way.

I already said I wasn’t going to play ‘which bird is better’, but…oh go on then, if we must judge wildlife by their interaction with man: Falconry wins by a good 1780 years.

I’m never entirely convinced about bravery awards for animals, but this doesn’t make pigeons particularly special: Falcons were also used to bring down these messages.

I know, I know, all rather childish of me to pick out these random tweets, but there is an inherent undercurrent in everything the Raptor Alliance says that racing pigeons in so many ways have more ‘worth’ than raptors. This is even more dispiriting when in previous releases RPRA gave relatively reasonable advice on how to discourage birds of prey around ones pigeon loft.

This leap towards blasting them out of the sky all harks back to the rather perfidious notion I encountered growing up in the countryside that raptors need to be ‘controlled’. This was sold to me as essential for protecting songbird populations, but even then I could not understand the logic. Apex predator control doesn’t work ‘backwards’ like this. The only natural control on their numbers was prey numbers, and I couldn’t see the need for the introduction of a third agency. With this petition, attempting to directly pit raptors against ‘livestock’, it shows exactly where the real conflict lies.

1I am not disparaging recent changes to F1 or the lack of high-speed, potentially fatal crashes. I am completely ambivalent towards F1. Although the crashes were the best part.

2Smart, self-aware pigeons is one of my nightmare scenarios. That and squirrels intent on world domination.

For Duck’s Sake, Save Your Dough*

Today, ahead of the official start of spring and duckling hatching season, the Canal & River Trust is calling on the public to feed ducks and geese responsibly.

This is an issue that certainly makes it onto my (admittedly rather long) list of pet peeves. If you work in the arena of urban green space, chances are it’s one of yours too, and there’s quite a large reason for that – The Canal & River Trust estimate that every year 6 million loaves of bread are being thrown into waterways in England and Wales, that’s 20 Double Decker Buses full of bread thrown into canals every month. Last year more than 15 million people fed the ducks with their family or friends.

The Canal & River Trust are asking the public to exercise a crouton of common sense and consider the ramifications of their actions – ducks, of course, do not naturally eat bread. Just as too much bread is bad for humans, it’s also, obviously, bad for ducks.

I mean, personally I’d be all for banning people feeding ducks and geese altogether – well, maybe just in municipal parks – but the Canal and River Trust are nicer than I am and so they’ve suggested some alternatives for those who are hell-bent on cobbing their unwanted groceries at our waterfowl:

  • Wheat, barley or similar grains
  • Oats
  • Rice, cooked or uncooked (doesn’t make them explode)
  • Milo (I don’t even know who or what that is)
  • Birdseed
  • Frozen peas or corn
  • Chopped lettuce or other greens or salad mixes
  • Vegetable trimmings or peels

I don’t want to get into the psychology of all those duck-feeders out there too much; Maybe I’m a miserabilist, but I’ve always been a little confused by the notion of gaining enjoyment from feeding the birds. What’s the great appeal of being surrounded by ducks? Is it the honking? The quacking? The waddling? (It’s the waddling, isn’t it?). Or are they just profligate in the bakery department?

There are many reasons why loafing around like a loon, chucking bread at ducks is bad news for nature:

canada goose

Canada Geese – after your buns

Pollution: Canada Geese when well fed are capable of defecating every 6 minutes. Imagine that. This, coupled with rotting bread, can cause a build up of nutrients in the water. Eutrophication is probably the major type of pollution in our lakes and ponds; it leads to monoculture water vegetation, impacting on invertebrate populations, which in turn reverberates up the food chain. By feeding rich bread to them, and at common points, we exacerbate the problem.

Pest attraction: All that bread will attract other unwelcome pests such as rats. These pests can also harbour additional diseases that can be dangerous to humans.

Loss of natural behaviour: See Canada Geese (again), which now over-winter in the UK in large numbers, in no small part thanks to our crusty handouts. Accustomed to these handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans and may become aggressive in order to get more food.

Overcrowding: With their populations artificially propped up, waterfowl raise larger broods leading to overcrowding. This increases the incidence of avian aggression and leads to controversial conversations for conservationists (try saying that quickly 10 times) when they’re asked questions like ‘why are you rubbing that goose egg in paraffin?’

To many of you all this wont be news, but I for one toast the Canal and River Trust for once again highlighting this most nefarious of past times. I blame Mary Poppins.

*I’m sorry, for a moment there I thought I was writing for The Sun

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.

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).

Chums

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.

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?

Catch It, Kill It, Eat It – Is It So Wrong to Enjoy Hunting?

The man who does not like to see, hunt, photograph or otherwise outwit birds or animals is hardly normal. He is supercivilized, and I for one do not know how to deal with him.’ Aldo Leopold

The disconnect between plate and animal for the average consumer in the modern industrialised nations is huge. How can we appreciate where our food is coming from when for the most part we only see it in its final form, sterile and packaged? Is the art of hunting, killing and eating your own food an essential part of what makes us human, or have we civilized beyond this point? It is undeniable that the majority of people around me have never had the visceral experience of killing ones own food; many would undoubtedly be repulsed by the act. Is this civilization, or is it shirking of responsibility? By ignoring the source of our food, do we seek to abnegate ourselves from any moral guilt or squeamishness around the intensive farming and iffy welfare, which comes as part of the cost for our cheap and readily available meat? Do we owe our food the moral responsibility of at least having some knowledge and first hand experience of their conversion from living beast to dead meat?

That’s a lot of questions and there is always the possibility that I’m getting on my high-horse after reading too much Leopold and Walden, Maybe I’m feeling a regression towards my rural upbringing, but I can’t help but feel I am missing out on something, some kind of hereditary hunting fever.

I'll say anything just to be on the opposite side of an argument to Morissey

I’ll say anything just to be on the opposite side of an argument to Morissey

My own feelings on hunting are varied dependent on form, target and other, perhaps less definable qualities. For reasons not worth expanding on here, I am pro-deer, anti-grouse, fox-largely-pro-with-caveats, and badger-largely-anti-with-caveats. I have an understandable vocational tolerance of hunting for conservation measures but have developed an abhorrence of farmed hunting, again largely on conservation grounds. Hunting as a tourist pursuit I dislike, hunting for subsistence (in a first world country) I can tolerate, but I have no first-hand experience of either, so speak from a position of ignorance (something you must be familiar with, I hear you cry). One issue riles up my peers more than most, and one that has particularly been applied to fox hunting but would be relevant to all forms – the enjoyment of hunting for hunting’s sake. It is seen as immoral and uncivilized, an outdated and redundant primal instinct. I’d argue that this innate response is not a regressive one, but an intrinsic part of our future. Why shouldn’t we enjoy hunting and killing things? We’re hardwired to divine a sense of achievement, satisfaction and maybe even enjoyment from a hunt well concluded. We are at a point in our development where our level of civilisation has (for the most part) advanced beyond our innate primitive drivers and desires. Like trying to incorporate digital software into analog hardware, conciliating the atavistic part of our psyche with our enlightened social structure is prone to breaking down and may require occasional release of our internal ‘monkey brain’.

As such might it not be good for everyone to kill (and eat) something at least once in their life? I remember visiting an abattoir as a child, it was not traumatic in the slightest, as I was always aware of the journey taken by the food on my plate having grown up in a farming community, but this experience certainly drove it home. If every child of 10 were taken on a similar visit, well, there’d probably be a few more vegetarians, but if every teenager was offered the opportunity to learn how to catch, kill and eat their own food, the sense of entitlement many feel towards their protein may dissipate. I know from the inner-city groups I have worked with that many would jump at the chance (a fair few more would run a mile, mind). Radical (and likely to draw the wrath of many a parent), but the act of killing their own food could be an important lesson for our children. I will stop well short of claiming it as a release valve for pent-up barbaric inner desires and a cure for social ills such as gang violence, but engagement with the environment at such a crude level would promote conscientious shopping at the very least.

A requirement to understand the origin of the bacon in your sandwich may have absolutely no relevance to your enjoyment of it, and you may view it as an unnecessary burden to subject yourself and your children to. And in the 21st century, you may be right, but I would consider the renunciation of this knowledge, and further than this, the denial of the instinct to hunt, to be a denial of what has made us the human race we are today. But enjoying it? Maybe this is a taboo too far in a supposedly civilised society.