Only a wasp

I went racing at Cheltenham on Friday, on what is called ‘Countryside  Day’.  My drive across the Cotswolds, often very beautiful at this time of year, was so misty that the autumn colours weren’t showing well at all.

As I passed over the railway at Adlestrop I remembered Edward Thomas’s poem but this was no day for blackbird song.

Apart from one small speculative losing bet I kept my money in my pocket until the last race where I thought that Cue Card had a very good chance but he jumped badly, and unseated early on, so I knew my fate and could head to the car park for an early get away as Grands Crus stormed impressively up the hill to the winning post.

There is a lot of Countryside Alliance activity at Cheltenham on Countryside Day, and it is mildly irritating to someone like me, who is not their greatest supporter.  I had a look at the assembled huntsmen and admired the hounds but the public address system seems to assume that everyone at the races to use their wits in the betting ring is fully committed to fox-hunting, and I am not.  Although, to be fair, I’ve never lifted a finger to oppose fox hunting either – privately or professionally.

As I made my getaway from the races I was wondering whether, on another day, Cue Card would be a good bet but as I drove up Cleeve Hill a small scene that occurred as I was viewing horses in the Parade Ring kept replaying in my mind.

I was standing next to a rather grim-looking man who was also looking at the circling horses.  A wasp flew past us and landed on the bark mulch in a flower bed next to us.  I looked at the wasp and, remembering the date, wondered whether that would be my last wasp of the year when the man next to me lashed out with his racecard and smacked the wasp before turning back to carry on looking at the runners for the next race.

I was quite impressed by his aim and his speed, but quite shocked, and a little troubled, at the instinctive nature of his action – see wasp, kill wasp.  This insect was not bothering us or anyone else, and would be dead soon in the natural scheme of things.  It wasn’t buzzing around his face or near a small child, it was a little behind us and would probably have headed off further if it had been left alone.  I was closer to this wasp than the man in question and there were many others nearby, although none was as interested as I in either the wasp or its attacker, and the man had to step across me to get at his intended victim.  This man, out to enjoy himself on Countryside Day, saw himself not as an interested and sympathetic observer of nature but rather, put himself in a position of self-appointed executioner.  I wanted to ask him why he felt entitled to behave in the way he had.

Would he have talked about ‘vermin’, ‘restoring natural balance’, the need for ‘management of natural populations’ or would he have told me that he just hated wasps,  that he just loved killing things or maybe that it was ‘only’ a wasp?  Obviously I do not know,  but his action seemed terribly callous to me.

This all happened on 11 November and there were poppies proudly worn everywhere.  Somewhere, we all have to draw a line on cruelty and death.  After all a wasp is ‘only’ a wasp, a blackbird is ‘only’ a blackbird, a fox is ‘only’ a fox, a racehorse is ‘only’ a racehorse, a soldier is ‘only’ a soldier, and a baby is ‘only’ a baby.



A valued colleague and friend at the RSPB, Gwyn Williams,  is raising money by looking foolish.

Please give him some dosh for charity.

It’s so good to see Gwyn looking fit and well after his treatment for prostate cancer last year.


Who is all at sea?

The Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009 was one of the major environmental achievements of the last Labour government but, to be fair, the Shadow Defra team, including Richard Benyon who is now a junior Defra minister, were very supportive of the thrust of the legislation too.  At times, the progress of the Act became as much of a team effort as you are ever likely to get in an adversarial political system.

But now the Wildlife Trusts are warning that the promised coherent network of Marine Conservation Zones promised by the coalition (although there is no Liberal Democrat in Defra) government is under threat.  They fear that fewer than 30 (maybe low 20s) of the 127 marine sites around the coast of England which have been identified by regional stakeholder groups will actually go forward to Defra.

Is this because the criteria for choosing sites were changed very late in the process by the JNCC?  If so, did Defra nudge any changes that happened?  Is it not a monumental waste of people’s time to ask them to contribute according to one set of rules, in a Big Society kind of way, and then make their deliberations academic by changing criteria?

This sounds very odd and extremely worrying.

More should become evident early next week when this blog will, no doubt, return to this subject.  If anyone has a good idea of what is happening then I’d be interested to hear from them.


Peregrines – moor is fewer.

I see peregrines quite often these days, but it’s usually in the middle of London (like this image is of one in the middle of Manchester) rather than in the uplands where I would only have expected to see them in my youth.  This is good – I’m glad they have become commoner and more widespread during my lifetime.

But the shocking level of persecution on birds of prey associated with grouse moors is again revealed in a paper published today by the RSPB and the Northern England Raptor Forum.

Using data on peregrine nesting success collected over almost the last three decades, and satellite images from Google earth to identify where the moorland had been burned for grouse shooting, the researchers showed that breeding success of peregrines attempting to nest on grouse moors was only half that of those nesting on other habitats.

Golden eagles do badly on grouse moors, hen harriers do badly on grouse moors and peregrines do badly on grouse moors.  Is it not time that wildlife laws were fully enforced on grouse moors?

Nicholas Le Quesne Herbert MP is the Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice and was a former public relations director of the British Field Sports Society.  The British Field Sports Society formed the main stock of the Countryside Alliance.

Dr Arjun Amar, of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute for Ornithology – formerly an RSPB scientist and also formerly a scientist at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust – is the paper’s lead author. He said: “I was shocked at just how low the bird’s breeding output was on grouse moors; they were significantly less likely to lay eggs or fledge young.” He added: “The few birds that did lay eggs or fledge young on grouse moors did just as well as those breeding off grouse moors, which suggests that a shortage of food supplies can be ruled out of the equation. The only logical explanation for these differences is that persecution is rife on many driven grouse moors.”.

Paul Irving, chair of the Northern England Raptor Forum, said: “To people who visit and live in the uplands of northern England, the peregrine should be a familiar bird in an iconic landscape. However, the guilty few deny the pleasure of many.” He added: “Now it’s up to the Government and the Police to turn fine words into action. So far, there has been little real progress in tackling bird of prey crime and this needs to change urgently to help species like the peregrine.”.

Birdwatch magazine is asking its readers to tell it what they think about the conflict between grouse shooting and hen harriers, this news on peregrines is just grist to the mill.

Membership of the Northern England Raptor Forum is Calderdale Raptor Group, Cumbria Raptor Study Group, Durham Upland Bird Study Group, Manchester Raptor Group, Northumbria Ringing Group, North York Moors Upland Bird (Merlin) Study Group, Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, South Peak Raptor Study Group, South Ryedale and East Yorkshire Raptor Group and Yorkshire Dales Upland Bird Study Group.


Church leaders

Have you read the report of the St Pauls’s Institute on Value and values?  I bet you haven’t, even though it has been in the news quite a lot.

Archbisop Rowan Williams’s foreword contains the following words;

An ethical approach to economics requires us to move away from the illusion that
economics can be considered separately from questions of the health and wellbeing
of the society we inhabit. It also involves recognising that we exist in a world
of materially limited resources, so that environmental degradation has to be taken
into account in any assessment of the cost of projects or transactions.

I suspect that getting this right would in itself introduce into the language of
economics a sense that it couldn’t be only about the mechanics of generating
money and might help keep issues of ethics, justice and trust in perspective.
So I welcome the continuing focus that St Paul’s Institute brings to these issues
by providing a challenging and well-resourced space for conversation and I wish
the Institute every success in this new phase of its work.

The report is worth a read.

Will the St Paul’s Institute prepare a report on the Assisi legacy?

Where is the voice of the Church on the damage that we are doing to the world around us?

Searching the Church of England’s website for anything on the natural environment I find the following, also from Archbishop Williams:

“For the Church of the 21st century, good ecology is not an optional extra but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to what it means to be a Christian”

…which sounds jolly good, very good indeed,  but I can’t find much else.  It’s odd, isn’t it, that many of us regard the protection of other living things on Earth as a moral imperative but we rarely see the Church of England saying anything similar in the same places or any other places.  I can’t find the Church of England responding to government consultations on biodiversity anywhere on Defra’s website.  Where is the Church’s moral position on the reduction of life on Earth?