The State of Nature Report: PANIC!

The State of Nature report is out! Hurrah it is a time for rejoicing and celebration and…wait, no, that’s not right. If I could borrow from H2G2 for a moment, it would perhaps have been best if they’d just plastered PANIC! across the title page to save everyone the trouble of reading it.

And they’d have been right to do so, because if not now then when? When do we actually start to panic?

Well, not yet apparently. Because everything is fine. Everything is absolutely fine. It’ll all be OK. Climate change? Pah! Habitat loss? Nothing to it. Sixth extinction phase? What are you talking about? At least this is what some would have us believe.

The State of Nature report predictably, accurately (although perhaps not very diplomatically and without much of an eye towards future collaboration) laid the blame primarily at the farming sector. So it’s not surprising that a few predictables came out swinging with what amounts to barefaced lies backed up by irrelevant stats.

DEFRA – the Department for Farming – reassured everyone that “our natural environment is cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution – woodland cover in England is at its highest level since the 14th century, we have improved water quality in 9,000 miles of rivers since 2010 and in the last five years almost 19,000 miles of hedgerow have been planted.” Let me repeat that: our natural environment is cleaner and healthier than at any time since the industrial revolution. Clearly poppycock but also the kind of wide ranging claim that it’s virtually impossible to actually disprove (or prove, but who needs to prove anything?).

The NFU, those paragons of restraint who absolutely do not have squatters rights at Westminster, came out with a peculiar statement claiming that it can’t be their fault because they stopped that whole intensive farming stuff back in the 90’s (Yes, seriously. Although the exact wording left just enough wiggle room to question the exact meaning).

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‘Owen, with your face like a bankrupt pug.’

They were happy, like that goon Owen Patterson, to shovel as much blame as possible onto uncontrolled predator numbers (Patterson actually tweeted this statement with a picture of him in front of a GWCT stand. Yes, seriously). There are a lot of my fellow conservationists who will turn a blind eye to the problems caused by increased predators numbers and I am not one of them, but seriously, give over. It’s peanuts in the scale of things. It’s not even peanuts. And it’s a problem the industrialisation of farming caused in the bloody first place.

Then there’s the Daily Mail approach which seems to amount to saying ‘yes, I know I don’t know the first thing about the subject, but I saw some birds outside my house, so everything must be fine. Expert opinion? Who needs experts? I’m a journalist and the farmers told me it’s all lies‘. I know it’s the Mail and we don’t exactly expect high standards of journalism, but this is pushing the envelope for half-arsing it.

It’s a whole new field of denial. I think everyone has just about got the message now that Climate Change denial is not OK and is quite likely to have you pigeon-holed with the flat-earthers, but there’s still plenty of seemingly obvious things you can deny. This is the post-expert age after all (sorry, “expert”). At the moment it is still absolutely OK to argue that the natural world is not in a state of decay or that the intensive management of 75% of the land could possibly have any detrimental impact on it. This will not get you ridiculed. It might even get you appointed Secretary of State for Rural Affairs. In the wake of the referendum, you should probably get used to it. Because house on fire or rising sea, some people are going to keep telling us that everything is just fine.

Something something something ‘Inside a Dead Horse’ something

I’ve heard quite a few people getting snippy with poor old Mr DiCaprio recently for having the temerity to express an opinion beyond his own particular sphere of expertise. Can people who fly around in private jets really lecture the rest of us on climate change? Yes. Yes, of course they can. They can do what they want, and the sooner we all understand our place in the scheme of things, the better it’ll go for us.

Image result for dicaprio looking smug

‘Know your place, plebs.’

It’s entirely possible you’ve twigged by now that I’m sliding dangerously into Oh, can I really be bothered to write about this twoddle-territory, and you’d be correct. So allow me to up my word count by repeating the pertinent parts of that speech here in full:

Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much.”

I could say stuff like that. In fact, I frequently do say stuff like that. The difference is that I yell it into the yawning abyss of the internet (Which, incidentally, almost certainly does stare back at me), whereas Leo speaks to millions. I mean, those millions probably all just want to ask him about that bit at the end of Inception* but that’s not the point. He had a platform, he said something worth saying. Good for him. So what if his carbon footprint is verging on the Argentinosaur side of things?

It was a very pretty speech and I did like Mr DiCaprio in Critters 3, so I’m prepared to be magnanimous and give him a pass on this one. But then just like my interest in sitting through all 2 hours and 36 minutes of The Revenant, my heart’s not really in this piece, truth be told.

*For the record, my ‘totem’ is Leicester City winning the Premier League. If that happens, then I am surely still somewhere deep in a dream within a dream within a dream, or something.

Is David Attenborough Harming Conservation?

I stumbled across an article recently quoting the hirsute James May-a-like one from Springwatch contending that wildlife TV programmes are doing more harm than good (although of course he didn’t really say that at all). There’s some marvellous work in this piece by the journalist, stitching together different parts of what Hughes-Games says to form completely new and and interesting sentences. But that’s by the by*. I’m not here to comment on the Daily Mail’s editing process and journalistic standards, we could be here all day.

Hughes-Games does appear to rather stick the boot in to good old Attenborough:

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Attenborough vs Hughes-Games: If it comes to fisticuffs, my money is still on Big Dave

What we have done is like a drug – it’s like cocaine. People love these wonderful, utopian, escapist programmes where you can just disappear into a world untouched by humanity, ignoring the reality.

There may be some merit to that, but it’s interesting (though not really surprising) that he goes out of his way to excuse fluffy-Blue-Peter-magazine Springwatch and point the finger at Attenborough epics. He might not have said quite what he is purported to have said but there’s definitely a point, although actually I think it is the one counter to that Hughes-Games is (possibly) trying to make. It isn’t the big, epic, utopian programmes like Attenborough’s that are presenting a sanitised version of the natural world, it’s the smaller ones, closer to home.

I would be absolutely amazed if anyone watching Life on Earth is not acutely aware of the fragility of what they are watching. It’s hard-wired into the show and I don’t think they shirk it. It’s more a question of distance than anything – there’s not a huge amount the casual viewer can do about many of these issues thousands of miles away if we’re honest. But Springwatch and the like deal with issues right on our doorstep and if anyone can be accused of ignoring the reality when they could really make a difference, it’s them and their ilk.

Springwatch people can do things and that is part of its appeal. You can do something and see the results of what you do.’

Hmm, not so sure about that Martin. As a BBC flagship program their are certain issues we in the sector know that you can’t really touch with a bargepole.

Take Countryfile. Countryfile…oh countryfile. Never before have I known a program split everyone so directly down the middle and yet still manage to hold both sets of viewers. It’s been dubbed ‘Towniefile’ by some of the more social-media active farmers, whereas there’s a whole other section who see it as ‘Adam and his right-wing, Tory farming chums.’

Last night (16 August) they visited the CLA Game Fair and gave a rather positive spin on huntin’ and shootin’. There was quite a show of the positive social, economic and conservation benefits it brings (and yes, there are positives. Quite a few. Despite some ravings to the contrary, the shooting community are not out to destroy all our native fauna while simultaneously reinstalling a medieval feudal system). There was no mention of raptor persecution or the loss of habitat and species that managing for game can cause. And that’s just small beer, in the scheme of things – there’s little talk of CAP or Cross-compliance (beyond what it means for Adam’s rare breeds), planning pressures and the weakness of protected area designations, marine conservation areas, eutrophication, pesticides, etc etc in these programs. But then that wouldn’t be particularly engaging for the layman, I suppose.

It isn’t that they don’t attempt to broach these subjects with unbiased equanimity. They just don’t broach them. They steer well clear for fear of upsetting a section of viewers, or being accused of verging into lobbying territory. You can see why. From one rather gentle question about the possibly contrary nature of ‘shooting’ and ‘conservation’ lobbed harmlessly for the spokesperson from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to bat out of the park, you would have thought from the reaction on twitter that the lovely Anita Raini had impugned the very integrity of a whole swathe of the countryside. Of course, the counter reaction was that she dodged asking the big questions because of a vast BBC conspiracy by the rural elite. I suppose they can’t win.

But then this is the BBC. These things are not (and, in truth, can not be) done. Maybe Hughes-Games should follow his automotively fixated Clarkson lackey doppleganger to commercial broadcasting where he might be given a greater degree of latitude.

*incidentally, does anyone know where ‘by the by’ comes from?