Digital Ischemia

26/12/2019

Missing Hen Harriers: time for zero tolerance

This updates my post on grouse shooting from July 2016 on my Lifelogy blog, particularly in the light of the publication of the Grouse Moor Management Group (Werritty) report for the Scottish government. Also, as climate change receives welcome focus, we should not overlook the extinction crisis. Climatic upheaval is not to blame for the biodiversity crisis, but ‘the enemies of old’ – agriculture and killing.

Today those of us within ear-‘shot’ of a game estate will be subjected to the usual ‘cracking’ soundtrack…

The campaign to ban driven grouse shooting began because the pastime is incompatible with the salvation of hen harriers in particular and the protection of raptors in general. Golden Eagles, whilst recovering well at the national scale, are under-represented in those parts of their range containing grouse moors. Driven grouse shooting requires intensive land use to maximise the grouse available for shooting. The grouse are ‘driven’ at the guns – beaters flush them toward the shooters, a form of ‘canned hunting’. Despite legal protection, these birds of prey keep disappearing from our skies and often turn up poisoned or shot. There is sufficient suitable habitat for over 300 pairs of hen harriers in England and Wales; the actual number of nesting attempts is in single figures – “a tiny handful“; the number of successful breeding attempts is usually zero.

hen harrier

Hen harrier, via Scottish Natural Heritage media library – copyright-free images of English hen harriers are as rare as…the birds themselves

The justification for seeking this ban has widened to include grouse shooting’s other serious negative consequences – the collateral damage:

– Environmental damage: burning and draining moorland to produce optimum heather for the grouse damages its carbon- and water-retaining ability, thereby contributing to climate change and increasing flood risk downstream, i.e. where more people are. Yet we pay these estates to ‘manage’ the land this way through our taxes which subsidise them.
– Animal cruelty: particularly for those unfortunate wild mammals and birds caught in snares or pole traps and left to suffer a slow, painful death.
– Food safety: the lead shot disperses throughout the grouse meat so its consumption is well above recommended levels. When used correctly, the medication flubendazole is effective in reducing endemic strongyle worm levels in grouse guts with residues in food for human consumption presenting a very low risk. Hiwever, there is some evidence that prescription levels are too high, that gritting holidays are not always observed, and that grit may not always be withdrawn from grouse at least 28 days before Red Grouse enter the food chain.

Why the absolutism? Surely conservationists and animal rights activists should be having dialogue with the proponents of grouse shooting?
They have been, for decades – “decade after decade, initiative after initiative has stumbled and fallen.” Land owners and managers have had opportunity after opportunity to change their ways through negotiation. They seem to be unmotivated while they can have their cake and shoot it. What is considered as environmentally sustainable can depend on the values attached to ‘nature’ and biological science. But it’s deeper than that: they dispute scientific premises and conclusions at the most fundamental level. They maintain a tension between the ‘expert’ knowledge of scientists reported in peer-reviewed sources and ‘local’ knowledge held by practitioners based in the field. Meanwhile raptors continue to be poisoned, shot, or just disappear in the vicinity of grouse moors.

“The [Hawk & Owl] Trust has watched with dismay as an increasingly adversarial and acrimonious argument has raged for almost twenty years between environmental campaigners and grouse moor interests.”

And yet this dismay has fostered a rather tolerant approach.

“The knowledge that [hen harriers] were tagged (and the fear that other HHs might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.”

Unfortunately not. Satellite-tagging hen harriers only confirms that they ‘drop off the radar‘ in the vicinity of grouse moors.

“Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Trust, or National Gamekeepers Organisation member be proved to have illegally interfered with a Hen Harrier nest or to have persecuted a Hen Harrier on their grouse moors, the Hawk & Owl Trust would pull out its expertise from the brood management scheme trial.”

Ah, proof: therein lies the problem; the protection of this species has been a legal imperative since 1954. Since then the number of hen harriers has decreased and the ratio of convictions to persecution incidents is miniscule. Obtaining the necessary evidence to support a prosecution is very difficult.

“It would be rank stupidity, if not political suicide, for any moorland manager to continue to persecute problem birds when a way out is being provided.”

No, it wouldn’t be, because they are already practically impervious to the law. The risk from continuing the status quo is very small. I appreciate the forgiving, pluralist attitude – “behavioural change is seldom achieved by outright adversarial opposition” – but there is currently no incentive for moorland managers to change their behaviour at all; neither carrot nor stick. There is nothing more that they want. There is no real threat of their lifestyle being at all curtailed. They simply don’t acknowledge that their actions are in any way related to the problem. They wring their hands about the loss of these lives and continue business as usual. They produce superficial marketing exercises that seem to presume an inalienable right to continue their activities. We need to raise the stakes.

grouse moor empty sky

Empty sky above grouse moor, via Wikipedia

In sufficient numbers, hen harriers can reduce the densities of grouse to such low levels that driven grouse shooting is impracticable. There are clearly two ways to view this statement: a viable business ‘producing’ grouse must eradicate hen harriers; or driven grouse shooting demands ecocide.

This is not about all shooting, it’s not even about all grouse shooting; this is about a specific activity undertaken by a minority who are entrenched in their worldview. Our ethical sense has evolved into the 21st century and we recognise animal cruelty, environmental damage and food safety as issues.

Why are we paying via our taxes to subsidise this activity? Why are we paying again to our water companies for the additional treatment required by water running off those moors? Why are we paying again for increased insurance premiums due to increased flooding risk? Why are we paying again for police investigations of wildlife crimes which are very difficult to resolve? Why are we paying again for government supported study after research study after collaboration after working group after action plan which do nothing to change any of the stakeholders’ perspectives and leave the problem entirely unaffected?

Grouse shooting contributes to the economy? How much? And how much would be contributed by a more sympathetic activity, such as rewilding or ecotourism? Or just by the absence of all the aforementioned costly impacts? Beside the financial cost, what about the moral cost? How quickly trade-offs between economics and criminality arise: “the task of balancing the issue of tackling wildlife crime with the contribution that grouse moor management makes to the rural economy has proved very difficult.” Why do we allow this minority to indulge mercenary militaristic superiority fantasies through inflicting tremendous cruelty on other creatures? What about nature’s intrinsic value? Driven grouse shooting is not sport and it’s not acceptable.

Ban driven grouse shooting. If that’s not attractive enough a prospect, it’s an anagram of ‘overburdening hooting ass’.

Plenty more detail from Mark Avery.
Plenty of facts and figures from Raptor Persecution UK.
More ammunition from Chris Packham.

The original version of this article is also published at Wildlife Articles.

24/12/2019

Magic Circles

A short fairy-tale about fellow creatures and freedom

Once upon a sill, a crone placed a crock containing a thin layer of compost and a sprinkling of cress seeds. She passed her fingers under her metal waterfall and flicked drops over the terra nova. The gesture seemed more used to issuing fingertip icicle hexes.

An internal program unfurled and ascertained the presence of substrate, nutrients and water. Then darkness sneaked upon the tiny world and was greeted with a quiet curse. The seeds indignantly passed the night by drawing in water and swelling into frogspawn.

My pursed eyes welcomed darkness, as the daylight was far too bright. Plus it seemed to trigger the crone to croon horribly and torture a wooden box in the other room, making ghastly tinkling noises.

During the night it was safe to explore. The hag also kept a jar of alfalfa sprouts. These required nothing more than twice-daily rinsing under her waterfall. However, to keep the sprouts in as the rinse-water poured out, she had fixed a piece of some ancient, revolting undergarment across the top. I could reach this by rolling off the windowsill. I tried to penetrate – I’m sure I was the first to attempt to penetrate that fabric – but it was a sturdy barrier and the effect was like a trampoline. Nevertheless, the fresh, sprouting smell that emanated was intoxicating, even as I bounced up, away and down to the sill again.

After five nights of this tantalising exercise, I was thrilled to see a shimmer of green at the rim of the crock. I imagined wading in that beautiful field of cress. Perhaps I could use my trampoline practice. A couple of clacks and a light whump; bounces building higher and higher; a carefully calculated turn at the point of touching the fabric. I arced like the best of bridges and landed perfect centre.

cress sprouts close-up of tightly packed stalks

Being in among cress stalks was far better than smelling distant alfalfa through hag’s hosiery. I rolled and rolled with sheer delight. I burrowed into the soil. That didn’t take long. But to feel even just a few grains was bliss. When I finally sat up I had a shock. What a mess I had made. Each cress sprout had been barely clinging on to that thin film of earth. My antics had entirely uprooted many of them. The shame! After all that waiting, when I finally reached my heart’s desire, I trashed it.

As best I could I made reparations: I righted each stalk, dusted off any soil, and re-arranged its roots. Still, some could no longer support themselves, so I ingeniously oriented each one to rest on the next in a circle of support. Cunningly I had left a thin gap to the edge of the crock which allowed me to depart without further destruction.

The next morning I was rudely awoken by the hag. Not the staccato bleatings of dismay I had feared, nor the usual piercing clangs from the other room, but a sharp intake of breath into those lungs of hers that made the air pressure drop. She kept drifting her quivering hand toward the crock, but not touching it, as if afraid of something, or trying to sense something without disturbing it. She kept murmuring, “a crop circle!” Daft biddy.

However, the fact that she noticed the results of my leisure gave me an idea. The next night I found the cress had recovered well and was very obliging. By a careful pattern of rolling, I arranged the fronds into an arrow pointing at where I lay on the windowsill. Simple.

Unfortunately, the next item along the windowsill beyond me was hinged scythes. The hag’s quivering hands moved reverently right past me to snip a great sheaf of cress. She sprinkled it over some revolting layered morsel, popped the thing in her mouth, and beamed as she chewed her supernatural snack.

That night I wept to see the severed swathe. I had no appetite for frolics among those amputated stumps. Lying supine on the sill, a movement caught my attention. I found it soothing to watch a large spider roaming at great pace along the cornice, then settling in a corner and lacing round and round: coppe circles. That gave me another idea.

The spider was most obliging and co-opted several other inhabitants to help. They knew the source of the unpleasant daytime plonking and saw an opportunity. A team of woodlice dug in and prised a book’s pages, making it creak like rhubarb growing. A weevil held a page in place with the antennae on his nose – curious but surprisingly powerful. The spider then wove a hem stitch along the page edges, binding them together and keeping the score open at the right place at the piano.

The next day the hag sat down and scrabbled but she could not shift those pages. She cursed the “coppe-infested old box” and viciously stabbed a lever at the left end. It produced a lovely vibration I felt all through me. The spider was poised ready on her shock-absorbing legs but the woodlice went blurry and two fell out. Thankfully, eventually the hag got the message: she played the tune, badly, but the pebble dropped. It was Edvard Grieg’s Småtroll, if you like that sort of thing.

I got a free ride on those pudgy appendages of hers. She muttered much regret. She had mistaken me for a beautiful nobbly pebble. An ornament! Myopic old mammal. She repatriated me to my beloved banking. I swished between abundant verdure; I burrowed in depths of soil; I lay, free, on a pillow of moss. The joy of that long-awaited dip in the burn!

So now I need a new name – the only troll ever to go inside brickhill, vanquish the hag, and come out again – because small guys are canny.

Merry Cressmas… to crone and troll.

____________

If you fancy a Scandinavian accompaniment: Ture Rangström’s Symphony 1 mv 3 ‘Trollruna’ or Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Piece Op.71.3 Småtroll. Reclaim the troll!

Inspired by Alan Coren’s comic essay ‘And Did Those Feet?’

21/12/2019

The Missed Visitor

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 11:00

A maudlin metaphor for an unexpected, unknown arrival

Outside, our familiar environment is obscured in shades of dark blue and dark grey. Snow has been falling heavily since dusk and is expected to continue through the night. The power will likely go off but we are prepared; we’ve done this before. We are all together, warm and safe. After tea we play a candlelit board game then head to bed early as the cosiest place.

In the morning we each go straight to our nearest window to see the white world: huge pillows of snow draped over everything, again disguising our familiar world. Some of us rush to wrap up and run out to feel it viscerally. Some of us watch from other windows revelling in the dazzling pristine purity. We gather for breakfast and share sights and crystals. We are interrupted by hammering at the door. A neighbour has come for our help. There seems to be someone lying in the snow along the road.

The shock mutes us. We tramp along what seems to be the footpath, all the joy of white discovery now frozen. There is indeed somebody lying in the snow, dead. A small figure, thin and pale. We can’t tell if it’s male or female, child or adult.

If only we’d known. If we’d known someone was out there we would have left a light on. A torch. Something. We would have welcomed them into our home, given them warmth and food, dry clothes. We all think of the people we do know who we can offer warmth and food.

________

Oddly, this came about as a analogy for the miscarriage of an unknown pregnancy: someone who would have been welcomed had their potential arrival been known.

08/12/2019

Just Gasking

Filed under: Essays, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:00

On Thursday I missed a call. I was elongated on my chaise and not for moving. And I had someone with me. Not on the sofa. For once I was not in the toilet. And for once curiosity overcame lassitude and propelled me to investigate the number, since it was not mostly comprised of zeros.

Curiouser still, the internet gave me an interesting answer: “When WE ring YOU, it shows as 01738 476693.YOU ring US on 01577 867250.” Compelled by capital letters and red text, I was agog to learn the name of this communicative establishment: “Arngask Primary School, Main Street, Glenfarg.” A mere stone’s throw from here!

Such curiosity! I wonder what Arngask Primary School could want from me. My legendary ‘adult’ ‘humour’ combined with my antipathy toward the festive season? Could they have over-interpreted my recent prehensile clawing at my rightful title of ‘Queen Nerd’*? They are after all seeking a solution for their mysteriously vague ‘mind craft technical issues’. If their neurology needs ratcheting, I’m ready to wield the instrument. Further reviewing their exciting (amended) programme for the week commencing 18th November, I find myself entirely enticed and exhorted.
[*more anon]

I shall bring my PE kit. As a self-confessed Maths Bag, I shall go out. I shall harken to Mr Bulley’s Bolero. I shall taste a rugby tot. Not to mention the irresistible blank bullets. Most of all, I would love to learn more about mandarins. And the very next entry resolves my tiny transport misgivings: I need only secrete myself aboard the trusty mobile library with a few provisions, and after several days touring the beautiful scenery of Perth and Kinross, I shall be issued, raring to go, at Arngask, and stamped due for return by 15 January 2020. Farewell!

Monday 18th Nov
No Mindcraft Club 3.15 – 4.15pm technical issues
Bring your P.E. kit
Maths Bags P1-4 go out
P6/7 Show Racism the Red Card

Tuesday 19th Nov
Bring your P.E. kit
Mr Bulley Music lessons on Guitar Class – places available, find out more at http://www.pkcmusic.com
 
Wednesday 20th Nov
Bring your P.E. kit
Chanter Class music lessons 3.15pm – 4.00pm (enquiries to Mr Kennedy 07736 383755)
Return Maths Bags please
Nursery – P2 Rugbytots Rugby Tasters
 
Thursday 21st Nov
Bring your P.E. Kit
Parent Council Meeting 6.00pm. All welcome
 
Friday 22nd Nov
P6/7 Mandarin Lesson
Mobile Library Visit
Bring your P.E. Kit 

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