The drive home tonight filled me with frustration. The local farmers have been battling with the lack of rain out here in the East and so the irrigation pipes have been laid out and water hungry seedlings are getting a well needed boost from the sprinklers. I stopped near one of my permission fields to watch the huge sprinkler turn, the lowering sun layering the shower with a rainbow effect as it drenched the barley seedlings. Between the regimented lines of shoots, the puddles attracted small birds to bathe. Yellowhammers, chaffinches, linnets. I couldn’t help but look up and scour the treeline of the neighbouring wood. The flashes of black and white signalled a conspiracy of magpies. Carrion crows perched high in the ashes would be watching every abandoned yammer nest. There might be a price to pay for such wanton splashing. Leaning against the motor, I felt a sense of inadequacy as a flock of woodpigeon, forty or fifty birds strong, wheeled above the emerging barley and descended at the far end of the field, away from the spray. Close to the gas gun, which stood out like a garish orange and blue sore thumb amid the crop. A desperate, useless attempt by the farmer to keep the birds moving for that is all a gas gun does. It pushes the problem somewhere else, temporarily. Those that don’t understand farming and crop or nest predation still imagine a naïve, non-lethal solution. Sorry folks. The only way you reduce such plunder is to reduce the population causing it. Rabbits, deer, pigeons, rats, squirrels, corvids. They all need control and control means culling. Hence the frustration; for this weekend we who offer that level of control are expected to run around flapping our arms or watching the decimation of new crops as I did tonight. We will never know how many small bird or red-list nests have been stripped bare in the past week which could have been protected.
We shooters are pragmatic. We know we can’t offer protection to everything, all the time … but, by Christ, we try. If pointing a gun at every passing corvid is considered to be ‘casual’ by Mark Avery, then I am disappointed at his apparent disdain for those bird species (particularly red-listed) who suffer at the beak of the crow family. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate corvids. I admire their intelligence and guile. That’s what makes it important that folk like me, who know them intimately and have controlled them for a lifetime, have access to a General License. So, too, the sheep farmer. God knows we have seen enough graphic pictures on social media of live, blinded lambs this week. Which leads me neatly into another reason for my frustration. The reaction of the extreme end of the rural community to what we all perceive as an injustice (excuse the pun) over past week. If it was indeed members of our own fraternity who hung crows from Chris Packham’s gate and sent (alleged) death threats to the man, all you did was pander to the mans egocentricity and divert any flack from him as the catalyst for a rural prejudice. Packham’s hypocrisy is notorious and that has been exposed massively on social media this week. Yet he has a huge following of urban keyboard eco-warriors who hang on his every word and see him as a hero. After my blog last week, I received a comment saying that we should collect all songbird eggs and incubate them, not shoot crows! That is your typical Packham follower. Probably never been further than the local park.
If frustration breeds anger, then the consequent reactions by Natural England have made me (and my peers) apoplexic. Who are these faceless bureaucrats and what do they know about rural affairs, birds, crops and predation? What should have been a phoenix from the fire, GL26 – for the control of crows, last week was a convoluted diatribe on how to completely avoid shooting a crow. I really feel for the poor bastard who was sat in a corner of the office and told to come up with a ‘workable’ solution to the NE cock-up. First job, Google the word ‘crow’. Then came the multiple promises of a woodpigeon license within days. As we enter a long Bank Holiday weekend, what would have been a boon time for pigeon control, Britain’s most populous avian pest has free reign over countryside and crop. Well done guys. Good work. Not.
During the week, Packham went on a morning TV show to weep to the nation about ‘death threats’. There was meant to be a BASC representative on this interview but they were ‘cancelled’ by the producers at short notice. So once again a one-sided Packham appearance. Later, pleas were made to Michael Gove to intervene. Intervene he did. He held a meeting with Packham, results unknown. Perhaps Michael gave him a recipe for crow pie?
Rumours are rife tonight, as I write this, that Gove and Defra are about to claw back responsibility for the General Licenses. I do hope so. Pest control and crop protection should have always remained in the remit of the agricultural Ministry, not Natural England. NE are all about National Cycle Trails and SSSI’s. They’re about soft, feely, touchy stuff. Not pragmatic control of nuisance or invasive species. Hopefully, now, things will move along but a hell of a lot of damage has been done. Not least in terms of relationships between rural communities, bureaucracy and Government.
As for Wild Justice and its intentions? If you throw a huge pebble into a big pond, you need to expect serious ripples. I don’t think even they expected the faux pas delivered by Natural England and the effect it has had on them personally. It was sickening today to see Avery finally crawling from under the stone beneath he has been hiding to say that WJ have won a legal victory. It never went to court, bud, You won nothing. You sacrificed thousands of eggs and chicks this week for your own political ends. Yet you call yourself a conservationist? Shame on you … and yours.
Finally, I just want to thanks all our representative organisations … I don’t need to name them all … have been working around the clock to try to restore some order amidst this debacle. They deserve our membership fees.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2019