Moorland fires aren’t usually accidental. They are the result of negligence on someone’s part. A flicked cigarette butt, a portable BBQ left smouldering, perhaps a discarded glass bottle magnifying the suns rays. In drought conditions, such as those we’re experiencing now in the UK, dead bracken and heather make for the perfect tinder to fuel a conflagration. Professional moor managers understand this. Which is why they have traditionally carried out controlled heather burning. Not just to create fire-breaks but to control disease and pestilence. Did I say ‘professionals”? Indeed I did. Artisans who manage the moorland for grazing or for shooting interests. Put simply, farmers and gamekeepers.
Last weekend, someone’s negligence lit the blue touchpaper that was Winters Hill. It has burned for the past week. A moor all but destroyed. The first people to rush to fight the flames, on land owned largely by the RSPB and United Utilities, were the Fire Brigade, locals and (armed with experience, skill and a passion to save the wildlife on the moor) gamekeepers from nearby shooting estates. Today (Friday June 29th2018) many environmental experts are concurring on a point raised by the farmers and gamekeepers who attended. This catastrophe could have been more easily contained if the moors hadn’t been mis-managed. There were no fire breaks, no muir-burning. The misplaced concerns of wildlife charities to the practise of controlled heather burning has just displaced and incinerated innumerable fauna and flora across a seven square mile patch of its own precious moorland. An ‘own-goal’ with immense environmental consequences. But hey, RSPB, hopefully you’ll learn from this?
If that’s not bad enough, we then have to endure the hypocrisy of non-experts like George Monbiotclaiming that the fire was the result of grouse shoot management. He was wrong. Read this accountby a gamekeeper who (with his family) spent the week with the fire fighters trying to stem the spread of the blaze. Was Monbiot on the moor helping? This self-appointed guardian of ‘all things wild’ and bigoted opponent of rural life? No. He was already tapping at his keyboard to blame the rural community for causing the fire they were risking life and limb to save. A man of high intellect, spawning prejudiced drivel to an audience of urban keyboard warriors who wouldn’t know a fire break from footpath or a curlew from a cormorant. Before he even knew the truth.
As I write, fires are still breaking outacross the moor and folk who have had little sleep for a week are endeavouring to contain the flash points. Real heroes. Local heroes helped by the military. Personally, as someone who lives on flat land and enjoys walking the moors a few times a year, I can’t thank them enough for their heroic efforts.
Until the last cinders die, hopefully under the deluge of a summer storm not yet predicted, the folk around Saddleworth will be on a knifes edge. They need our praise and support. They certainly don’t need the misplaced criticism of quasi-environmentalists like Monbiot. Keep doing what you do, guys and girls. Keep the faith.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2018
Apologies to Danny Lawson/PA for use of an iconic image from Winter Hill
As always, the lead up to the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ brought forth the usual pincer attacks from both those opposed to shooting on ethical grounds (the genuinely concerned) and those determined to make a name for themselves by opposing shooting (the opportunists). If you are going to make a stand against any institution … and the shooting world is a strong institution … it pays to get your facts right. Unfortunately our shooting opponents, including the ‘big guns’ (excuse the pun), rarely research facts before hammering social media sites with their biased rhetoric. It works, of course, this blatant barrage of misinformation. It works because the target audience doesn’t doubt, for one moment, the spurious data being tweeted and posted and blogged to them. They sit on their sofas in front of a widescreen, HD television watching a completely distorted picture of rural life and nature while scrolling through posts by Packham, Avery and others. So our armchair ecologists and urban environmentalists suck up the twisted propaganda because they want to believe that they live in a world that fits their comfort zone. A world where animals and birds only ever die of old age. A world where the cat sitting on their lap as they view Autumnwatch is exonerated of songbird slaughter. A world where badgers only eat beetles, not hedgehogs. A world where hen-harrier nests are circumnavigated by foxes. A world where every dead or missing raptor has (usually allegedly, seldom proven) been shot maliciously.
Strange as it may seem to these non-shooting folk, we (shooters) actually love and understand wildlife more than the average Joe. We work hard to maintain real wild habitat (farmland and woodland … not sanitised nature reserves). We work hard to protect land and vulnerable species from the effects of vermin. Define vermin, I hear you ask? Vermin are over-populous species that have a detrimental impact on the environment through their feeding or behaviour. The cute bushy-tailed squirrel enjoyed in the local park is a voracious egg and chick thief in the rural wood. Magpies, working in pairs, will devastate a hedgerow full of songbird nests in hours. Rabbits, left unchecked, will decimate growing crops. Corvids and woodpigeons can strip seed and shoots from fields in hours. Facts like these are conveniently denied or ignored by our celebrity wildlife ‘champions’ who see the shooting of every single creature as ‘threatening’ that species. Their duplicity is perplexing to a rational mind like mine. Why are they so vehemently and very publically opposed, for instance, to the management and harvesting of game-birds yet totally ignore the outrage that is Halal slaughter? The same dichotomy is prevalent with hunt saboteurs. I’ll tell you why. Because they are cowardly hypocrites, that’s why. To attack a religious tradition on social media would incur legal challenge, whereas attacking the shooting community doesn’t.
How many of you have young children who may never see that quintessential British mammal, the hedgehog? “What’s a hedgehog, Dad?” “Oh … a hedgehog is a small, prickly mammal that does no harm other than to hoover up snails, slugs, beetles and earthworms”. To badgers, that vastly over-protected and destructive mustelid, the hedgehog is a doner kebab wrapped in a spikey pitta bread. Control badgers and hedgehogs re-populate areas. A proven fact. Moves to cull badgers (please note, cull … not eradicate) met with a passionate campaign from our celebrity bunny-huggers too. The hedgehogs apparently didn’t matter. The TB infected cattle being slaughtered and destroying livelihoods didn’t matter. Not killing badgers was all that mattered. Totally unscientific.
I mentioned the G-word earlier. The tweet-drummers of the bird charities cannot possibly deny the success of grouse moor management in restoring wildlife balance and encouraging the survival of curlew and other ground nesting birds along with the grouse. I’m not going to mention hen harriers as they clearly aren’t important to the RSPB. They can’t be, because the RSPB walked away from involvement with the DEFRA Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. Not the behaviour you would expect from a leading national bird charity. Interestingly, I was up in North Yorkshire for some walking earlier this year and was impressed at the numbers of curlews I saw up amongst the heather. It was nesting time and the birds were highly protective, buzzing us and calling with that distinctive, plaintive cry. These were keepered, shooting moors and were alive with stonechats, rock pipits and meadow larks. Incidentally, if you are looking for a walking base in North Yorkshire, I can recommend The Barn Tea Rooms & Guest House in Hutton-le-Hole.
All that matters to these half-baked naturalists is that they champion one species over all others and just keep moving their objective. Conservation should never be about protecting one species to the exclusion of all others. Nor should it be about creating an environment which favours one species above all others. Wrapping a fence around a tract of land and declaring it a protected area for wildlife is not ‘conservation’. It is ‘isolation’. Conservation should always be about balance. If it takes a trap, a net, a rod or a gun to help maintain that balance … then so be it.
©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, August 2016
Across the decades there has always been a difference in views, yet fairly conservative opposition to hunting and farming. The Industrial Revolution and consequent urbanisation of Britain has left a legacy of a few generations of citizen who are totally detached from the traditions of rural life, farming and hunting. Miseducated now by the sanitised portrayal of wildlife, they are beyond hope. Due to the mind-bending of animal and bird charities (helped by a willing media), we have stumbled beyond ‘Disneyfication’ and plunged over the same precipice as Bambi’s father. Those who have never felt hunger will never appreciate where food comes from. Those who have never had to catch, harvest and prepare their own meal will never understand the concept of hunter / gatherer. Those who have never had to protect a herd or crop will never sympathise with the need to cull nuisance or predatory species.
The opposition to perfectly legal and necessary rural activities has gained a new breed of supporter. The Misinformed. Organisations like LACS, PETA, the RSPB or RSPCA have easy prey now (forgive the pun) because they are not targeting an educated audience with their distorted and hateful propaganda. They are recruiting a generation of humans who have little concept of natural history, rural tradition or purpose. This is the microwave, smartphone, hypermarket generation. This morning on a local radio quiz I heard an intelligent 30 year old asked “What animal lives in a drey!” His answer? “A beaver”! A news story told how Norfolk County Council are running cookery courses for young parents to show them how to use an oven and cook fresh vegetables. They have people coming to them, parents of young children, who have never peeled a potato, fried an egg or prepared fresh green vegetables. I was saddened by both incidents but it made me realise how dependent the world has become on consumer fodder rather that fresh produce. There was a story on social media recently about a mother whose young son refused some steak because he had seen it raw and was told it came from an animal. Refusing to eat it, his mother asked what he would like instead. His answer was “chicken nuggets”!
I wonder where this modern tribe of animal rights activists and hunt sabateurs go for dinner? Surely they can’t all afford Cafe Nero? When they gang up and get on the mini-bus what do they pack in the rucksack besides crowbars and pepper spray? Cucumber sandwiches? I doubt it and I feel that a huge aura of hypocrisy surrounds these so-called animal champions. Of course, there is an older (which should mean wiser, but sadly doesn’t) breed of activist. A species who attack the traditional rural way of life from the comparative luxury of celebrity status. Interestingly, all of them aspire to recognition as wildlife ‘experts’ which makes their pathetic whining all the more annoying. Of course, each one of them will get more ‘hits’ on a salacious social media blog than your average country-sports magazine will sell copies in a year. Thus the logarithms of propaganda will continue unabated. The Misinformed will multiply and more warped individuals who think meat arrives in the supermarket by magic, beavers live in dreys and squirrels hibernate will join the ranks. Of course, these balaclaved’ champions of the oppressed (their perception, not mine) wouldn’t dare turn up at a Halal abbatoir for fear of meeting their match.
Take away the fast-food pampering of the urban communities, hold back the milk and butter, ransom the potatoes so that the frozen chips dry up. Sell the chickens, sheep and cattle in the market place again. Make people grind the grain, make their own flour and bake their own bread again. Then watch how society wakes up to the importance of rural tradition … and perhaps then the urban will stop interfering with the rural. Rock stars will stick to making music. Comedians will continue trying to be funny. Charities will re-visit their contributors mandate and we will all learn to live in harmony again.
Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, June 2015