Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ragwatch: March of the Expertatoes

The Spring silly season would appear to be upon us.  That time of year when full vent is given to all manner of mistaken beliefs in the letters pages of the rags; from tweeded twerps ("If every corvid was shot there'd be peace on earth."), and couch expertatoes ("I heard me first cuckoo yesterday."  Really, in the middle of March?  Commendable).   Leading the way has been The misTimes with some right pearlers. 
First up was a Mr Forrester, a farmer from Mull who opined that they now have no larks or lapwings, and only a few curlews.  He argued that his land management 'has not changed for 50 years'.  (Really?  Not one little chemical spray in the toolshed?  Are you totally organic and harvest by scythe and shire horse?).  The reason he unilaterally declares is...(you guessed it)... raptors!  Yes they have white-tailed eagles (those well-known predators of skylarks!), buzzards and ravens, and so it is 'The RSPB's that is to blame, not the farmers.  Raptors should be killed as in the past' he declares.  Well Mr Forrester I note on Mullbirds Safaris' website that amongst the things they see are 'skylarks, golden plovers, lapwings, hen harriers, curlews, merlins, among many other species'.  So everything seems to be getting on fine in other parts of Mull, are you sure its not just you?  Maybe its time to check in that toolshed!
He was followed the next day by another couch expertato, a Mr Stewart-Smith of Essex.  He whined that they used to have geese, ducks, chickens, and carp in large numbers - free range (the mind boggles at the image of free-range carp!).  These are now ALL gone says Mr Stewart-Smith, and it is down to (wait for it)... "...overpopulous sparrowhawks, buzzards, kestrels, and otters.  Surely time for some more enlightened fact-based policies?" he asks.  Oh indeed it is Mr Stewart-Smith, but more of that later. 
Not to be outdone The Daily Telelaugh had two couch expertatoes whining about bat inspections in lofts.  A Mr Hobhouse of Worcestershire moaned about an inspection of his 1950 3-bedroom semi-detached house costing £500.  (If I were him I would keep quiet because thats cheap, did the ecologist live next door?)  Then apparently another ecologist, there to observe as the tiles were removed, announced "No bats will be living in that roof", as she 'got out of her car'!  "As we knew all along" added Mr Hobhouse.  Wow, an ecologist who can see through every angle of a roof from one spot (what does she have for breakfast, Kryptonite?  And would she like to come and work for us?).  Wow again, superhero homeowners with senses so highly tuned they know whether a 1 ounce pipistrelle alights on the roof and slips under a tile from downstairs with the telly on, amazing.
Bat-bashing was clearly the order of the day though as a Mr White of London also bemoaned the 'needs of bats taking priority over those of humans and historic buildings'.  He urged the Government to 'reign in the activities of the bat-fanciers'.  Rather than wail to the Telelaugh he might have considered why such laws about bats exist.  It is because they have suffered such dramatic declines (pipistrelles by 70% in the 1980s), exacerbated by new design techniques and renovations of old buildings.  In other words because the 'needs' of developers took priority over those of bats.  Without protective legislation the extinction of the only mammals ever to evolve powered flight is a distinct possibility. 
Thankfully in The misTimes there was also a letter from five scientific societies, arguing that 'Science Investment Is The Key'.   I heartily agree and hereby propose a compulsory course in ecology, and that Messrs Forrester, Stewart-Smith, Hobhouse, and White be enrolled in the first cohort.  Perhaps they may then indeed develop some 'more enlightened fact-based policies'!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ragwatch Roundup

The Rags have been quiet on environmental issues for a while, but have had a little flurry of late.  Some of this has been commendably positive.  The Daily Telelaugh has had pieces on Buglife threatening to sue the Government for not implementing a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides which are decimating our bees; and one on Pond Conservation’s project to create 30,000 new ponds in the next seven years to address a century of decline.

In a more familiar negative mode The Garbageian had clearly become irked by the persistent interest in Richard III’s body being found and exhumed after 500 years.  They dredged up an anti-royalist history professor to comment: “So what, the bones of a monarch change nothing we know about history.  If the bones of a couple of peasants were found that tests made us rethink our entire concept of medieval serf’s nutrition that would be revelatory, but I don’t suppose it would have been all over the papers”. 

No, and the reason might just be that there are tens of thousands of members of the Richard III Society worldwide, all entranced by the romance of a King riding to his doom in battle and the subsequent mystery and intrigue surrounding his life and death.  I do not know of an “Unknown Random Peasants With Interesting Dietary Habits Society” but suspect if there is one its members would not fill a phone box.  Obviously the good professor thinks the Soviet Union is alive and well, and won the Cold War in style. 

First Prize this month though has to go to a Mr Michael Tod, writer of the following letter to the Daily Telelaugh this week:  Sir, as a boy I caught a great-crested newt in a bomb crater.  Cheshire Council is spending £200,000 to relocate 18 such newts, holding up a £30 million bypass.  Surely someone must be able to catch those newts and move them to a pond?  A worm on a length of knitting wool is effective.”

Well I would have thought that with bombs whistling down there would have been more to concern the writer than catching newts.  Then there is the question of ID.  Did he really know it was a great-crested newt, or was it just a smooth newt?  It is tremendous dedication to stand studiously consulting your field guide while the Luftwaffe rain 500-pounders down around you!

The closing remarks require addressing the most though.  A five minute Google search shows the £200,000 is of course for the entire environmental process, not just the newts.  Without such a process the entire country would soon disappear under concrete and Tarmac like the bypass.  Indeed I suspect Mr Tod might object to it himself if the bypass was anywhere near his home, but I note he lives in Abergavenny!

Perhaps he could use his newt-catching skills to nab a few and deposit in its path.  Anyhow I will pass on the tip about a worm and some wool to our amphibians department, I am sure they will be delighted.
A more familiar form of newt-catching, a bottle on a stick!