Too nice?

You have one week to go before you can see the final results of the Nature of Harming ‘award’.  Cast your vote now and ask your friends (you do have friends?) to cast their’s too, please.  Nearly 1000 people have voted.

Here, at this late stage – is some rationale to go behind it:

We nature conservationists are too nice.  We treat the world as though everyone is on our side but it’s quite clear that they aren’t.

We should let our nasty sides show a bit more and do more naming and shaming. Where should we start?

The easy place to start is with those who break wildlife laws – no-one will defend them publicly and so we can have a real go at that minority of gamekeepers who kill wildlife illegally.  There are only 5000 gamekeepers in the UK but they are responsible for c70% of convictions for crimes against birds of prey.

Most wildlife losses in our countryside aren’t caused by people breaking the law, or even by people wanting to harm wildlife.  No-one went out and shot half the country’s skylarks and yet they disappeared in the 1970s-1990s and haven’t come back, because our farming system excludes so much farmland wildlife.

Farmers as a whole are usually keen on wildlife, some are very keen and very knowledgeable, but that isn’t the impression you’d get from the utterings of the National Farmers Union whose President, Peter Kendall, made a speech last year denying that there is a biodiversity crisis and calling on government to switch public subsidies from the environment to food production – it’s almost as though he thought that the £2bn of taxpayers’ money that he and his members receive was his money rather than our money!  Nothing could be surer further to reduce the flowers and animals in our countryside than more industrial food production.

And then there is the ‘greenest government ever’ – where do we start? Massive cuts to Defra’s budget handed on to the agencies that try to protect nature, a review of the habitats regulations that protect endangered species and wildlife sites, a badger cull, precious little progress on protecting marine wildlife sites, abolition of environmental watchdogs and proposals to weaken the planning regime in favour of development. When the Chancellor, George Osborne talked of the ‘burden’ of ‘endless social and environmental goals’ he moved the Government position to an anti-environment one.  We nature conservationists are used to dealing with governments that are often uninterested in wildlife but never before with one whose leading figures are hostile to it.

So, make your choice – who is worst? Those who harm wildlife by breaking the law, such as a few criminal gamekeepers? Those who harm wildlife by denying the problem and seeking to remove the safety net of wildlife-friendly grants, like the NFU? Or maybe those who paint wildlife as a brake on economic development like the Chancellor George Osborne? You can choose in this online poll – the Nature of Harming ‘award’ which follows in the more distinguished wake of the Golden Raspberry and Turnip prizes.

Or maybe you think that there are other baddies out there – the supermarkets? economists? wildlife charities? or maybe we are all to blame?

The fact remains that nature conservationists rarely treat anyone as the enemy – it’s almost as if we believe that all can be talked round by reason and a smile.  And yet we don’t believe that we can reduce the murder rate by praising people who don’t kill, and we don’t win wars by being even nicer to our allies.  We should keep handing out carrots but remember to carry a stick too.  And the stick can represent the courts, public opinion or the threat of losing votes in the next general election.

Those who are fighting for nature conservation are losing the battle – wildlife keeps declining around us – and some haven’t even realised that it’s a war out there.

I wrote a similar but much shorter and birdier version of this for my column in the April edition of Birdwatch.  April  Birdwatch also has tips on how to identify various gulls with white or off-white wings and a photograph which makes me very much want to see a Siberian jay.

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2 Replies to “Too nice?”

  1. I don't have anything to add, but I wanted to say that I don't understand why we do this this reasoned discussion about something that is as cut and dry as a legal requirement, a law. (I am think of the persecution area in particular)

    Maybe it is because the law is so ineffective both in its enforcement, it is close to impossible to prove in many cases of raptor persectuction (if they are discovered at all) and the ineffective penalties being received by those few that are ever proved responsible.

    Maybe it is because we fear these people could do even more damage if we upset them?

    Maybe we understand the pressures they are under to acheive the requirements of those that pay their wages and feel a little sympathy towards them?

    Maybe is all or none of this but I too wonder why instead of being reactive to these sort of crimes there is not a more proactive stance taken by those people involved in protection and the law.

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