Greg Lance – Watkins
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The View From Here 06-May-2018
I haven’t forgotten my second Bumpkin blog but there are one or two things that need a mention first.
Last week saw me hit my 75th birthday. I was delighted – not because of my age – Just that I never thought I would reach it. As a child I was asthmatic – before today’s magic age of inhalers and assorted drugs – so I could never be described as organic. But at the same time I loved sport – particularly cricket and football – which would sometimes leave me struggling for breath so desperately that I could not speak. Over time I thought I must have put pressures and strains on my heart – but it’s still pumping away and my brain continues to be sufficiently active to remember a variety of goals, fours and sixes – so the exhaustion was worth it.
But the real achievement of reaching the age of 75 is the fact that I have paid for my last television licence – no more money to the BBC to produce programmes that irritate beyond measure. And I have to admit I still have a gigantic grievance against the BBC for what it did to me and “One Man and His Dog” – once one of the best programmes on television. Sadly the BBC’s countryside outlets seem nowadays to be limited to the chocolate box countryside with a bit of phoney animal-rights thrown in for good measure. Most “country” programmes have little in common with my every day rural life; most seem to be little more than giving ageing ex-children’s television presenters an opportunity to strut and preen for suburban –townie audiences who can hardly tell the difference between cowslips and cowpats – quite insulting to those of us who inhabit the real countryside and who have been trying to bring wildlife back over many years.
In addition the BBC’s political bias is almost unbelievable in an organisation that is absurdly called “public service broadcasting”. The torrent of anti-Brexit rhetoric is pure propaganda and it is quite clear that the BBC is anti-democratic – it believes that the elite of Metropolitan Britain should be in control of all aspects of “democracy” – but in reality there is little real democracy left.
At the age of 26 I stood for election to try to get on my local District Council. I was elected as an “independent” and remained for the next forty years – I eventually resigned as Central Government continued to cut away at free speech under the guise of “standards”. Typical was John Prescott’s “standards” – he could have an extra-marital affair in his office, but I couldn’t call a spade a spade in the council chamber when a Conservative councillor was entertained by a developer. John Prescott’s “standards” were, and are, far different from mine.
But the worst assault on democracy came from the BBC. Local elections should be about local issues in local areas. My first council had a substantial “independent” majority. The BBC has turned Local elections into national party elections – independent candidates get no exposure and my local council – South Cambridgeshire District Council has just two Independent councillors left. To make matters worse the individual wards have become so large – multi candidate wards that only a second rate class of professional politician has the time and money to stand.
Again, when I started out – we had no payment; my ward was my parish and I knocked on every door. Finally there was payment – I took it – but only to stop it being wasted elsewhere and I had four villages. Now, my village is in a nine parish ward with three blow-in councillors none of whom I have heard of. Democracy – dream on – and then of course the local district council has to deal with another affront to the democratic system – Mr David Cameron’s City Deal – a system of by-passing democracy and the planning system to turn the once beautiful city of Cambridge, and its surrounds,into a gridlocked nightmare of 21st century slums – build today – slums tomorrow.
Now for well over a year I (and Lulu) have put up with a constant stream of orchestrated abuse from anonymous animal-rights extremists. A friend downloaded 31 pages of “stuff” from just one source from the web the other day.
Readers of my tweets will have seen some of the insults and invective from time to time. The aspects of web abuse that I find disappointing is when animal rights agitators masquerade as serious “birders”, presumably to give themselves credibility.
Consequently when I mentioned Roseate Terns and predation the other day I was immediately hit by a stream of abuse from someone called Jonathan Williams: ”Just to draw more attention to this utter lie about roseate terns – the tern colony is still going strong at Cemlyn. Anyone who has ever set foot in a tern colony knows how good the group defence is so to say only roseate terns succumbed (I didn’t) to predation is complete fantasy and fabrication”.
The real world lies outside the land of electronic fantasy and I wrote about roseate terns and the real world at Coquet Island in The Daily Telegraph in 2015 – a beautiful place with beautiful birds. The fact that Britain’s largest roseate tern colony deserted Anglesey for Dublin Bay remains a matter of conservation fact and shame. (See “Terns” – Collins New Naturalist Library by David Cabot and Ian Nisbet). I wrote this for the Telegraph…
Telegraph – Country Diary 26.9.2015
A Dose of Summer Ecstasy.
Please relax – I am not in the early stages of senility – but we have just drifted into autumn (from Sept 21st) and I am reflecting on the highlights of my summer this year. Consequently I have to say that the greatest pleasure was given to me by the RSPB; well I am a member and so why shouldn’t it? It followed the receipt of a press release from the Society’s Grahame Madge – the way my computer presents information I thought he was a woman for two years – Madge Grahame. In fact he is a very pleasant man and was announcing that the RSPB had achieved 100 nesting roseate terns this year on Coquet Island – the first time the roseates have reached three figures for many years. Coquet island is perfect for them – it is 15 acres in size, it lies 25 miles south of the Farne Islands and is three quarters of a mile out to sea from the small coastal town of Amble. The island is managed by the RSPB for the owner, the Duke of Northumberland. I asked if Lulu and I could visit; the answer came back “yes”.
The roseate tern is a beautiful, endangered tern and has been special to me over many years. The first one I saw was on the Isles of Scilly. The discovery of breeding roseates there was made by the late Humfrey Wakefield, a naturalist/potter. In the days before digital photography Humfrey had spent hours in a hide taking pictures of a pair of common terns at their nest. He was astonished; when the developed pictures came back they revealed a pair of roseate terns at the nest next door. Humfrey could hardly believe his eyes.
From there I went on a pilgrimage to see roseate terns on Anglesey – it is a sad story. As the New Naturalist book “Terns” says (by David Cabot and Ian Nisbet – a tremendous book): “persistent predation by foxes and peregrines eventually caused the desertion of the roseate tern colony”. Bush telegraph told me at the time it was either one fox and two peregrines, or two foxes and one peregrine, I can’t remember.
Whatever it was, I was outraged that the 200 nests of Britain’s rarest tern had been sacrificed on the altar of conservation correctness – no predator control or management. The terns went off to Dublin Bay and have never returned. Some conservation purists say that predation has no impact on populations – no impact? The loss of 200 pairs of a rare summer visitor is no impact? I must get myself a degree and PhD in Fantasy Conservation. It would be good writing this column as Dr Page – perhaps Chris Packham and the BBC would take more notice of it.
But would we make the Coquet crossing? I looked out of the window of our Northumbrian B&B at 6am – rain and a high wind. The old weather lore says “Rain before Seven, gone by Eleven” – so on a beautiful afternoon we went with the warden Paul Morrison in the RSPB’s “rib” (reinforced inflatable boat) to within a few yards of the Coquet shore and its old lighthouse – which looks rather like a miniature castle. It is now an automatic light, but the first lighthouse keeper in about 1841 was William Darling – the brother of that Northumbrian legend, Grace Darling.
Because the island is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, we were unable to land, but even so we were confronted by wonder – birds, thousands of them, sorry, it was just incredible. I have never seen such huge “rafts” of puffins with yet more rows of these attractive little sand eel eaters lining the low cliff edge. Then terns by the thousand (nearly 4,500 pairs of assorted terns) in the air at once – wings, tail streamers, their calls – like several thousand squeaky bikes – I am sighing just writing this and recycling my mental images of the “sea swallows”. Then roseate terns came in so close to us as they fed their chicks on the island’s edge – my first roseate terns for 25 years. More good news too, the number of nests had been confirmed at 113 – and they were still counting. The birds actually lay their eggs in nest-boxes, strategically positioned by Paul and his staff and which do not attract the common, arctic or sandwich terns – a strategy that has worked. And predators? There are so many terns, that any avian intruders would have had a very hard time. In fact last year, a visiting kestrel was killed by the outraged mob protecting their eggs and young. So I can say only one thing in this instance – well done the RSPB.
To view the original of this post & the related comments on Robin Page’s blog please CLICK HERE
One reply, which was made by Kevin Parr, which is printed below led to a somewhat tangental conversation which he and I conducted which I felt it was unfair to swamp Robin’s blog with so I have continued it at CLICK HERE
To read more of this answer and the subsequent conversation CLICK HERE
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