Friday, August 4, 2017

Book review. "Where the wild thyme blew " by Peter Marren.

This is a book which I've had tucked away for quite some time. . Dipping into it, immediately after I'd first purchased it, I came to a conclusion that this was a book that warranted an "undisturbed read", a book that shouldn't be read in five page instalments, but one that should be savoured, absorbed and enjoyed to the full. I'm pleased to say I've just had a couple of days of unmitigated pleasure !!

Now I'll not take up space writing about the man himself,  Peter Marren,  as the essential "building blocks" of the person , his love of nature, his scholarship, his acute powers of observation and insight, not just associated with natural history, but of us humans as well, are a major part of what makes this book so unique. I'm a little older than Peter Marren, by about eight years or so, therefore this book pitches up against so many of my own recollections and, indeed now, has so enjoyably reinforced and elevated them.  Whilst the major part of this book is autobiographical, his love of wildlife and how that developed, his insatiable curiosity for virtually everything in the "outside world" is woven through the other events of his early life, but with such good effect.

As things move on,  the personal exposure of opinions, emotions and attendant facts of every day life were a particular pleasure for me. Memories were unlocked in me that I suspect had never seen the light of day in recent times. Tastes of food (mainly sweets ! ), TV programmes,  books, advert jingles, pop songs, Christmas presents....they're all there with , eventually, even sex and rock an' roll resting alongside the angst and self doubt of teenage years. Even my memory of my first French book at grammar school ( "Toto" and his blessed aunt ) was unearthed and fondly served up !  So, so much, and all interlaced with mischievous humour, honest analysis and motivations of the time.

If I said that the natural history parts of the book are less prominent than the autobiographical parts , then I'd be telling the truth. But don't let that put anyone off.  The enthusiasm for exploring "wild places" ( some not very far from home ), and the life they play host to, never diminishes and I have no doubt is replicated among many of us who were also ensnared within this obsession with the natural world.

I'm conscious this is not a terribly  bona fide book review, but more a letter of thanks to Peter Marren for providing us with a first class book, but so be it and I hope it's interpreted as an outright recommendation . The honest admissions, the intimate revelations , but also the very graphic descriptions of what being caught up with a passion for birds, or butterflies, or botany, really felt like and how different it was experiencing that within the 50's and 60's compared to the opportunities today and what that must mean for anyone starting out.. But for anyone , yes anyone, between the ages of 60 and 80+, this is a damned good read whether you're interested in natural history or not. There'll be moments when you laugh out loud, when emotions rise and your eyes fill at some long lost memory now prised loose and there'll be a feeling of camaraderie and liberation too  ( "I'm glad someone else felt like that" you'll say to yourself and feel better for it !! ).

Peter Marren ,  thank you! ( but you forgot the "Wagon Wheels" ).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Future licencing of grouse moors must receive greater focus!

Over four years ago I raised an E-petition calling for the licencing of grouse moors ( and gamekeepers ) which gained sufficient signatures  to warrant a response from central Government, although this, in itself, was vacuous and unhelpful. Following that a further petition was raised by Mark Avery calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned.  Through a lot of hard work this enjoyed even greater success, gaining well in excess of 100,000 signatures and and an eventual hearing before the Committee dealing with such matters at Westminster. There the whole business came to an abrupt halt with the  "Establishment  opposition"  pouring scorn on the whole issue and paltry support being forthcoming from elsewhere in Westminster to assist the petitioned case.

In the meantime the persecution of raptors still goes on and the previously decimated population of Hen Harriers in England is not being allowed any opportunity to recover.  In the absence of action, the same tired cliches are still being poured out within the continuing rhetoric issued by both sides and no progress is in sight!  The whole debate has become unpleasant, personal in some cases and increasingly a tit for tat situation that is leading nowhere.

In the Official Programme for the 2017 BirdFair Chris Packham writes ( in connection with the continuing slaughter of songbirds on Cyprus )  " I, too, am sick and tired of talking and failing, lobbying and losing or sitting around for someone else to solve the problems. For us it's time for action......simply caring is not enough". Well, after around forty years grappling with raptor persecution problems I, too, am sick and would like to feel I could yet look forward to a day when I might venture out on my local moors and see harriers. Instead, arising from the concerted efforts of the shooting industry that possibility is unlikely. I and many others will have to endure the current situation, accompanied by their attitude of smug  contentment at success arrived at, and maintained, by placing themselves above the law and receiving no meaningful official condemnation. Such is not just a conservation disaster, but a national disgrace !

More and more I am beginning to feel  we need a national debate about shooting. At the same time I also feel the likelihood of any rapid change is a distant dream and I repeatedly come back to that conclusion as far as a ban on driven grouse shooting is concerned. However, and make no mistake, things will change as the practice of placing their actions beyond the law will, eventually, be the undoing of the shooting fraternity's current strategy. In the meantime we need something that at least acts as a curtailment against these self serving antics !  A system whereby the abilty to operate a shoot is contained for a period and economic penalties apply against any grouse moor enterprise following a proven persecution incident on the land concerned will put pressure on the industry and isolate them from public sympathy making way, in the fullness of time, for an outright ban unless things improve. Such regulation could be included within a licensing system.There are many other aspects where upland management and accompanying practices need to be placed under the spotlight, with accompanying penalties where standards of operation are not met and I'll Blog about this separately later. Whilst this is provided for already in some senses the monitoring and penalty elements need beefing up in my opinion.

At the present time it's essential the topic of raptor persecution is kept alive and the forthcoming Hen Harrier Action days are designed to do just that. Thankfully the RSPB has (finally) begun to openly support and promote them, but particular recognition needs to be given to Birders Against Wildlife Crime and associated individuals whose hard work continues to promote this national problem. Banning driven grouse shooting in our uplands may be a long way ahead, but active support is needed from everyone in sympathy with the proposition for change, which is where we can all help.