Climate Change, Hen Harriers and Bees in the Post Fact World

I had pondering time on my hands today at hospital in Bath, recovering from a minor operation. It went swimmingly, all well thank you – let’s just say it was an old bloke issue. I was very grateful to be in the hands of Mr. Courtney and not Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mystic Meg or Michael Gove. Perhaps we do need experts, after all.

Climate Change

Certainly Breitbart don’t. Scribbler James Delingpole has written regularly on climate change in this news organ. Like many things in the post truth era, he seems to see climate change as some kind of political opinion – which he doesn’t like in this instance. He is in hot water with that subversive left wing political news outlet, the Weather Channel, for misrepresenting them in his most recent article. Weather.com are furious. Looking at the video of an exasperated weather forecaster and reading their response, you’ve got to admit they have a point.

Driven Grouse Shooting

Hen Harrier on moor
Hen Harrier (Image: RSPB)

On a much smaller scale there is a similar conflation of entrenched political views and “scientific facts” going on in the conservation world about driven grouse shooting. Unsurprisingly the Left hate it and the Right love it. I’m no expert (!), but there is good evidence that raptors are puzzlingly absent from grouse moors, including rare species like Hen Harriers. In some quarters this has just been denied point blank. Keepers are shooting a lot of Mountain Hares, and there’s little doubt that grouse moors contribute to flooding.

There was an article on this by Matt Ridley in The Spectator which included some apparently spurious statistics to support his view. He claims that these moorlands are better at retaining water than forests. Better than spruce plantations possibly, but generally no, this is complete nonsense. The government itself has recently acknowledged this by announcing a £15 million tree planting programme as part of its flood prevention strategy.

The whole issue has fallen victim to shouty Delingpole style politics. If Matt Ridley sees an insidious left wing plot, then George Monbiot sees it as an example of the establishment elite trampling the people. It turns out Paul Dacre (Daily Mail editor) owns a grouse moor. Chris Packham is unhappy with the shooters and the shooters are certainly unhappy with Chris Packham, who they think is a metro luvvie who doesn’t understand country pursuits. And so it goes on.

It is more important than ever for experts and proper journalists to be precise and informative about conservation and environmental issues. They must also avoid confirmation bias. The rest of us to have to amplify good information via social media.

Different Bees Please

To take a small but nonetheless annoying example, I would say the MAJORITY of articles I read about bees on Facebook confuse honeybees with solitary bees and bumblebees. They’re often also illustrated with a photo of a hoverfly. People are interested in bees and want to do the right thing for them, but end up confused. They sign petitions purporting to be about all bees which are actually about honeybees. They share helpful Facebook posts about feeding dying bumblebee workers in autumn and funny cartoons about how good bees are and how bad wasps are. People spend hours making bumblebee nesters – which don’t work – rather than solitary bee nesters – which do. We should be following the Bee experts.

RSPB: If You Build It, They Will Come

“If you build it, they will come” is the strapline for the new RSPB adverts. Initially I thought it was just ripped off from “Field Of Dreams“, (another) odd but entertaining Kevin Costner movie from the eighties, “If you build it, he will come”. My second thought was how brilliant it was. I’m constantly trying to get across the attraction of playing God and creating your own little patch of biodiversity by bringing animals into your garden.

If you build it, they will come
We built it, they came
Then I had a chance to think about it again. I was at Hampton Court helping promote the bumblebee app in the bee tent next to the RSPB, so I could ponder on what was bothering me. Their display had all sorts of stuff you could buy (from the RSPB’s online store) or build – bird boxes and feeders, a shed, hedgehog house, bee boxes, hibernaculums (hibernacula?). What it didn’t have – and nor does the TV ad – is much by way of plants. In fact the garden in the ad and at Hampton Court look ghastly – drab and uninteresting – presumably in case attractive plants detract from the cute signs and the cute animals.

Isn’t this a bit odd? Fantastic wildlife gardens aren’t generally filled with paraphenalia. They are designed and managed sensitively and planted well. If we do feel compelled to “build it” can’t we build it to look good too, using landscaping features like dry stone walls, rather than a range of reasonably priced wildlife shelters or mini Eeyore homes?

Dry stone wall, Hookgate
I built it, they will come
I’m building a dry stone wall at home as a retaining wall, which won’t win gold medals but will look great, as well as providing a home for all sorts of wildlife.

More fundamentally, as a final thought, shouldn’t we “plant it” rather than “build it”? I thought plants were where gardens and ecosystems started. And can’t we “plant it” to look nice too?

Frogs And Snails And Puppy Dogs’ Tails

I’ve always been puzzled by where the lovely donkeys come from that end up at looking at us reproachfully from adverts for sanctuaries in the UK. Why are there apparently so many – do we import them? I’m also pleasantly surprised by how big birds are here; all power to the RSPB for raising their “million voices for nature” (I’m not sure how big the brilliant BTO is – much smaller but still relatively big – and when I googled it to find out I found a sponsored link to…the RSPB). We don’t eat our donkeys and we don’t shoot our thrushes. We are indeed a nation of nature lovers.
Our interests are formed by culturally based preconceptions, however; there are no pig sanctuaries for distressed sows, I haven’t heard of any significant funding for efforts to neuter feral cats, and as for little boys… one of the charities we work with is the excellent and innovative Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, the sole specialist charity working for amphibia and reptiles across the UK. Membership 600.