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).

Savaged

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.

A Loss

It’s under sad circumstances that the blog returns from its 6-month baby-induced hiatus. I found out this week that one of my old collegues at the London Wildlife Trust died in a cycling accident in Oxford. Claudia was 31.

We met as volunteers at Camley Street around 2008, a time that anyone who worked there will remember with a great deal of fondness. There was a tight-knit group of graduates all in their early-to-mid twenties and we probably spent just as much time in the pub as we did working on reserves.

I was usually the older, grumpy one but even I couldn’t stay grumpy around Claudia. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Everyone loved Claudia and everyone was inspired by her. I envied her energy for activism, her ‘fuck it’ attitude to just getting out and throwing herself into things.

She was a smart cookie, warm, caring, progressive and generous. In short, she’s exactly what the world needs more of right now. She’s exactly the kind of role model I would have chosen for my daughter.

Claudia was about to complete her PhD when she died. She was working with indigenous tribes in Bolivia (yes, I was stupendously jealous!). I hadn’t seen her for about 5 years. That seems an impossible length of time. Almost as impossible as the idea that I won’t see her ever again.

 

The Green Glossary – ‘E’

This week, the letter ‘E’ is brought to you by a certain half-arsedness and a lack of inspiration. If anyone has any to add, please do:

Early Bumblebee, n. – I’ve seen earlier.

Ecology, n. – Newt counting, in the main.

Eider, n. – The campest of the ducks

eider

OOooooOOOooo

Elder, n. – A lightweight tree, useful mainly for making various types of alcohol with:

Elderflower wine

Elderberry Gin

Or; your betters.

Elm

Elm, n. – Want to confuse a young environmentalist? Stick an elm leaf under their nose an ask them what it is.

Environment Agency – ah, those guys. You know, the ones who aren’t the other lot, or the other lot? They do the flooding don’t they? I can’t keep up.

Environmental Education – Generally speaking, herding pre-schoolers and keeping them from falling into ponds. Once they hit an age where they can be thoroughly tested and hit over the head with largely pointless exams, environmental education mysteriously disappears from the curriculum. Because who needs to know about nature, really?

Ermine, n. – Worn by a stoat when life is at its hardest and the elements at their fiercest, or a politician as he is gently shuffled towards a cushy job in the other place.

The EU – let’s not, shall we?

Evergreen, n – See also Craven, John

Extinction, n. – The inevitable fate of most public sector Ecologists

It’s Started……..We’re Doooooomed

Well, probably. Certainly feels like that today. There seems to be a growing realisation amongst Brexiters about the magnitude of what they’ve just done. Bit late in the day, mind. But let’s not get into all that, there are plenty of other people writing more informed things about what happens next. It all feels alarmingly regressive, though. Down is down.

It’s already started to bite at work. 3 hours, that’s all it took. 3 hours to find out that a funder (a big funder, the big funder, you know the one) suggested – confidentially of course – that we might want to shelve any applications we were considering for the next 12 months at least. Until things have sorted themselves out. If they sort themselves out. That was day one, so I look forward to finding out what awaits me at my EU-nation-owned organisation next week. I’m sure it’ll all be fine. Probably.

The EU is responsible for huge swathes of environmental and species legislation. It’s also the source for a whole phalanx of funding (not just Stewardship etc).A lot of my future career choices and options would be influenced by these. It’s fair to say I’m not relaxed about the whole thing.

But it’s OK, I’ve been told. Because we can create our own species protection legislation can’t we? And the funding will get sorted out, it absolutely wont be entirely agriculturally focused as a sop to all those Brexit-voting farmers. Anyone who says this might not have been paying attention to exactly what this Tory government have been trying to sneak past us in the last six months.

So am I confident that I’m working in a sector that will thrive under an insular, regressive government? Am I confident that people like BoJo and Farage (dubious views on climate change, little interest in biodiversity beyond an idyllic ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ free of Poles) have the best interests of the environmental sector at heart? No. No, I am not. Am I keeping an eye on conservation jobs abroad? You bet.

 

This Week I’ve Mainly Been Fighting Cherry Laurel

I’ve been having some issues with Cherry Laurel on one of my woodland sites since I took over in the New Year. For those of you unfamiliar with this git of an invasive, it’s quite similar to Rhododendron. It’s very tolerant, quick growing and evergreen and can shade out huge areas of woodland understory, impeding native flora. It’s also pretty ecologically useless; I’ve been inspecting large stands of it on the site and I’ve yet to find any birds nesting in it (or even any around it). There are often midges and something’s been having a go at the leaves, but the invert. habitation seems to be pretty low.

cherry laurel

That stuff back there

There’s a very definite advance line of the stuff – you can see it originating as thick barriers used by some of the hideous mock-Tudor mansions that border the ‘rich side’ of the site to stop the plebs from the estates round the ‘other side’ getting any ideas (I imagine). They’ve undoubtedly caused more damage than the occasional burnt out moped and bit of graffiti I get from the ‘other side’. The centre, semi-ancient woodland, is mercilessly free of the stuff, but it’s thick around the edges and I’ve decided that what’s needed is my own Maginot line and my own Schlieffen Plan of attack (yes, I realise this makes me both allies and axis in this scenario, and that I’m mixing my World Wars).

Normally I’d have the stuff cut by big, burly men (and women) with chainsaws and treated with potentially carcinogenic herbicides, but no money, you see. So it is once again all down to that hardy mainstay of the conservation movement – the volunteer fueled by industrial levels of tea and biscuits.

leatherface

The contractors are in and keen to get to work

One of the annoying things about laurel is that if lopped laurel branches are left to lie on the ground, they can take root and sprout new growth. In a perfect world, I’d burn the stuff (fire, the great purifier, solves so many problems), but the woodland is quite closed canopy and I don’t really like burning past March (however, one of the few saving graces is that because of the aforementioned avian aversion to the stuff, as long as it’s had a thorough check beforehand you can pretty much fell it year-round).

So my current method to avoid regrowth is to make a raft of any dead wood and then stack the laurel on top (mattocking out the roots where possible, or just bludgeoning them with a hand axe to let water and disease in). At first, this does produce a large and slightly unsightly brash pile, but after a couple of weeks, it’s already noticeably squashed down.

Where possible, we also built the rafts on top of newly cut laurel stools to prohibit regrowth. In September, I will probably come back and put a match to the whole lot…this has caused some panic; cherry laurel contains cyanide (or something similar) and some people have been a little concerned I might poison local residents. I’ve been assured it’s safe. I guess we’ll find out. If I disappear come the autumn, you’ll know why.

The area already looks hugely different, with a drastically increased light level hitting the woodland floor. I’ll be tracking the laurel regrowth and ground flora for the next few years. Anyway, a bit of a ‘this is what I did at work this week’ post there. But what did you expect? I’ve been busy. Stop complaining.

Watered-Down Species Protection: A Conspiracy Theory

It can’t all be fun and games over here at Adventures in Conservation, you know. After all the irreverence and flippancy of recent posts, I thought it worth dropping a short reminder that yes, actually, I do occasionally get around to addressing serious issues. Don’t let that be a reason to stop reading, mind. I’ll try to keep it brief.

It’s entirely possible that there is a direct correlation between the first new series of the X-Files in 14 years and my current predilection for conjuring conspiracy theories out of thin air. This week I have managed to convince myself that there is something nebulous and sinister connecting three stories I have read:

Defra rows back on it’s attempt to close the UK’s wildlife crime unit

Natural England withdraws funding for Local Environment Records Centres

Defra and Natural England open consultation on new policies for European Protected Species licences

All this in the space of a couple of months. Is anyone out there having the same dark and disturbed paranoid thoughts? Or have I drifted far into the realms of the tin-foil hat-wearers of the world? Just skimming through the proposed new policies for European Protected Species licensing gave me a slightly uneasy feeling.

tinfoil hat

The authors new head-gear: Rubbish at keeping the rain out

I may get into this further at a later date, but there are a few things here that set the alarm bells ringing. Firstly, the word ‘benefit’ is used 36 times. Only once is that in relation to developers, the other 35 in relation to protected species. It surely must be clear to anyone reading the proposed policy that it is absolutely, positively for the benefit of all those Great Crested Newts out there. These policy changes are a boon for newts. And guess what? It’s a total win-win! All these proposals, by-the-by, just happen to also have great benefits for developers. Entirely a side-product, you understand. A happy coincidence…Is it conceivable that they are perhaps protesting just a teeny bit too much?

Take for example the proposal to reduce investment in excluding and relocating protected species from development sites and increase investment in the provision of compensatory habitat. Seems sensible. Though the example used here is one where a convenient, more suitable habitat just happens to exist nearby on Council Land. There’s far too much wriggle room and wooliness here for me, but then there is this very honest statement at the foot of the page:

The terms of the licence make lawful specified operations which would be expected to cause mortality of some GCN on the development site.

Jumping ahead, policy 4 concerns surveys. Natural England tell us:

We encounter some cases where the range of foreseeable impacts can be predicted with some certainty, in the absence of the normal level of survey information. In some of these cases the cost of collecting the additional information can sometimes be disproportionate to the additional certainty that it would offer.

And of course the example of where this can make a real positive for protected species (while also, of course, having a few tiny benefits for developers), is in bypassing the need for further surveys to confirm a protected species is present where the existing evidence suggests it does. Thus speeding up the whole process for the developer. There is no mention whether this could also be adopted where there is an absence of evidence for protected species for example, but is it too much of a stretch to think that this is where it is leading?

I may be joining the wrong dots here, but it all seems to add up to something a little sinister.

Do We Need to Sell Nature?

It’s the 21st century and it’s high time that environmental organisations (and those out there scrabbling around in the muck like myself) stopped behaving like Luddites and get media savvy. The PR war is one of the areas in which we can truly make inroads into the public conscious. With the amount of time we all spend in front of screens now, we have so many avenues (twitter, ‘viral’ campaigns, targeted advertising etc.) to inveigle ourselves into the nether regions of our audience’s minds. But just because we can, does it mean that we should? Do we risk losing sight of what our ultimate objectives are?

Marketing is playing an ever-increasing part in conservation. Not only for disseminating environmental arguments to layman audiences and gaining support for them, but also for the all important role of bringing in funds. With a shrinking pot of potential resources to draw from and an increasingly competitive green charity market, it is not surprising an obsession with ‘selling’ nature has developed recently.

Gone are the quiet, polite request for funds and the discrete membership links on websites. Pick an environmental charity and you can probably see the subtle hand of PR and marketing departments behind many of their activities.

#VoteBob#VoteBob

Some are savvier, or more cynical if you would prefer. The ‘Vote Bob’ campaign has appeared recently, dressing itself up as an independent red squirrel intent on saving our natural world by gaining twitter followers, facebook ‘likes’ and selling fluffy toys. Cute. There’s no big message behind it beyond ‘nature is great, vote for nature’ and no particular issue or project it is supporting. Harmless and well intentioned you might say, but it only takes a little digging to find out that Bob is not such an independent little underdog, he has the whole might of the RSPB behind him. Though they are described as ‘Bob’s biggest supporter’, if you want to buy that fluffy ‘Bob’ toy, then it’s the RSPB shop you link through to.

But yet Bob and the RSPB have kept each other at one remove, though not quite arms length, and it is this dishonesty that one might find unbecoming and perhaps unnecessary. It’s a sign of subtle and stealthy High Street sales tactics seeping into our charities. And the question has to be, do we really want this? Is it beneficial for what we are trying to achieve? Yes, we cannot possibly achieve anything without a solid financial strategy, but we also cannot achieve anything without the support and goodwill of the public and our local communities. Some of the tactics that environmental charities have used risk alienating our traditional supporters. These are likely to provoke questions over just where membership fees and donations are going.

You Forgot the Birds

YFTB Logo - I am still at a loss to explain the tagline

Take the recent You Forgot the Birds’ furore. If you have not been keeping track, this has been a hatchet job on the RSPB perpetrated by a cabal of hunting and shooting types fronted, bizarrely, by Ian Botham. The campaign is inaccurate, snide and misguided and you could therefore easily dismiss it, as just about everyone connected with the RSPB has. However, it attempts, in a hamfisted fashion, to raise some relevant points about the exactly how donations are spent. It would be wrong to dismiss these concerns just because of the wrapping they are presented in, and one only has to look at a number of the responses from RSPB members on Twitter and in comments sections to see that this has struck a chord.

This speaks of the concern that many within the industry have about the future direction of our environmental charities (and the very use of the word ‘industry’ here rather highlights my point about how we are coming to view ourselves). Is a more business-like model always desirable and what we should be aiming for?

My opinions come mainly from the perspective of one working within environmental charities. There can be real concerns that marketing and PR departments are outgrowing (and usually out earning) the coalface staff that undertake the important activities charities are actually known for. The primacy of fundraising and marketing departments within some environmental charities above the job of actually conserving wildlife, is a pet peeve of mine. There is something about campaigns like #VoteBob that smacks of a creative team given free reign, unhindered by the need to actually do something. Like the otherwise admirable Project Wild Thing, there is the distasteful notion that we need to set about commodifying our wildlife.

It’s about time we started to push our agenda forward using all the technology available to us, but when we allow people to believe that habitats and species can be saved at the click of a button, we have failed in our objectives to engage and inspire. Some of the marketing techniques we use now are focused around the sole purpose of getting people to part with their cash, rather than educating and informing. We are involved in campaigns that have revenue generation at their heart and not much in the way of an environmental message. We risk monetising the process of enjoying and discovering wildlife, and for me that can only be a bad thing.