Springwatch

Hunting … Keeping The Fire Blazing

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Occasionally I find that my writing comes under attack from anti-hunting protagonists who claim that there is no place for hunting wild creatures in the twenty-first century. Recently Chris Packham (mercenary natural history presenter and BBC-subsidised bigot) made a similar statement. He was attacking (via Twitter) the chairman of the Kent Wildlife Trust, Mike Bax, when it emerged that Mr Bax was a former Master of the Blean Beagle pack. In his tweet, Packham stated “C’mon @kentwildlife. Join in the 21C and employ people … etc”. He was petitioning for a mans dismissal. Disgraceful. Sorry bud, but what’s time got to do with it? Half the world still has to hunt for, or grow, its own food. It’s a basic precept of being ‘human’. Indeed, if hominids hadn’t stood up on two legs and empowered themselves with fire, the “21C” would be irrelevant. Time is a purely human concept which Nature ignores. Nature works with sun, moon and season; not hours, days, months, years and centuries. If Packhams trite statement inferred that twenty-first century Homo sapiens should have evolved beyond the need or urge to hunt, I would suggest he drops the bird books and picks up ‘The Hunting Hypothesis’ by Robert Ardrey. A book written when Packham and I were combining dissecting owl pellets with ‘pogoing’ to Clash and Sex Pistols records. Packham went one way, I went another.

Modern man owes much to the neanderthal hunter. The necessity to gather together in small communities was borne of the need for security and protection from large carnivores. Creatures that could have ended the emergence of the superior hominids. Developing from frugivores (fruit eaters) to omnivores opened out Natures larder. As our brains enlarged; so did our ingenuity. The capture and caging of one elusive piece of natural magic changed the course of our evolution. Fire brought with it the ability to survive the cold. To cook and smoke meat or vegetation, thus negating seasonality and possible putrescence. Fire allowed us to progress from flint tools, to smelt and soften metals, to create iron weapons and become more efficient hunters. By then, of course, we had already gathered herds of beasts on which we could feed and we had domesticated the wolf  to help protect those flocks. Sorry Mr Packham, but only hunters could have domesticated wolves, drawing them from the cold to the warmth of the fire with offerings of cooked meat. No hunters, back then? No ‘Itchy and Scratchy’ today. Understand?

Yet hunters and farmers do far more than that. They pride themselves in recognising what needs conservation, what needs culling and they balance it accordingly. People like Packham (and, trust me, he’s not alone) just can’t understand that concept. They think that nothing should be killed by humans. I wonder what he feeds his dogs on? Lettuce? I’m an animal, in “21C”. A very comfortable and content animal. I’m slightly superior to the creatures around me because I use tools. I never gloat about it. I just do what I need to do, for whomever needs it. That might be a robin whose nest is being eye-balled by a carrion crow. It might be simply a rabbit for the cook pot. Often it’s culling an agricultural pest species like wood-pigeons with the bonus of a culinary treat.

Allow me to go back to Mr Bax, if I can. The truly ‘wild’ places are in private ownership and managed for shooting and stalking by gamekeepers and estate wardens. The ‘bunny-huggers’ hate this. The Wildlife Trusts do wonderful work and have their place and they do well enough without the interference of bigots like Packham. I would guess that Mike Bax has done far more for Kentish nature than Packham ever has, yet Packham wants his head served up on a plate. So, Mike used to hunt with Beagles? Good for him. He comes from a long line of humans stretching back from the neanderthal era who helped Homo sapiens (and nature) reach Packhams “21C”. I’m one and proud to be. We’re still here and we will never bow to the ridiculous notion that Homo sapiens should never hunt. One day, when the perverse reality of a world without stability actually happens ( and humanity self-implodes ) if you don’t know a ‘hunter’, then God help you. “22C” might need people like us, like never before.

Copyright: Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2017

 

Wildscribblers ‘State Of Nature’ Report 2016

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Now the pheasants are out in the coverts ducking the guns, I thought it would be worthwhile to follow the excellent example of the RSPB and its cohorts … sorry, allies … let everyone know the ‘State Of Nature’ in this little corner of Norfolk. Particularly because it seems to paint a different picture to theirs? I can only guess, ‘cos I don’t read propaganda. Old Seth, my mentor and poacher par-excellence, tells me he read a bit before wiping his arse with it. I keep telling him that its bad for his piles but he just won’t listen.

We’ve had some mixed results on the estate this year in re-introducing species and restoring the balance of our fragile eco-system. Having had a bit too much success on the conies, we were getting a bit short of legal things to shoot so Seth and his boy, Luke, went over to Hickling Broad one night and came back with a couple of mink. Good plan, I thought, but we still haven’t seen the little buggers. Lot’s of discarded fish heads, but no mink! Seth’s been telling the Guvnor’ that otters are taking his trout from the lake. “Shoot ‘em!” he ordered. Seth told him that would be ‘illegal’. First time I’ve ever heard him use the ‘I’ word.

The buzzards have been a problem with the poults as always. Love to see ‘em soaring above the woods but one day Seth said they’d look better if they had a bit of competition on their tail. I haven’t got a clue where he got the golden eagle but he told me he put the tracker in his niece Jodie’s suitcase before she left for Ibiza. The eagle seemed like a good idea but the buzzards recognised its accent and weren’t fooled by the outward display of aggression. It took a bit of a barracking, followed by a swift flight back north. Norwich City fans are used to dealing with this too.

We thought about bringing in wolves and lynx to control the deer but Dave the Deerstalker got a bit pissed off. On balance, he’s the cheaper option and wolves or lynx are unlikely to throw us a spare haunch now and again, are they? Seth thought that crocodiles might be a legal way to tackle the otter problem but I reminded him that (a) crocodiles in the river would grab a cow or two and (b) crocs aren’t a displaced UK species.

The biggest problem we have here is the decline in hen harriers on the estate. Because there have never been any here. We’re feeling quite left out and thinking of designing a grouse moor so that we can be accused of flooding Great Yarmouth (and who wouldn’t want to flood Great Yarmouth?). Seth’s already planting heather and building grouse butts on the escarpment. I’m not sure that cut off IBC tanks buried in the loam count as butts? Fair play to Seth, though. When I asked where we were getting the grouse from, he just tapped his nose as always and told me that after Avery and co’s attack on DGS, there were hundreds of battery farms trying to shift grouse poults, cheap as chips. What do I know?

Skylarks? Dozens of breeding pairs here thanks to Olly and Lawrence (the farmers) maintaining hay meadows until after fledging. Me and Seth keep an eye on the ground predation. I do the small vermin and he does the foxes. Have I mentioned badgers? Oh, sorry. We have some of the biggest badger setts in Norfolk here. Seth wants to set up a night-time ‘Badger Safari’ but I’ve advised against it for Health & Safety reasons. Firstly, there would be more badgers than humans (and badgers eat anything!). Secondly, the weight of a Safari vehicle packed with punters might finally collapse the whole estate into badger Valhalla. I also advised that on a night-time safari, the punters would expect to see hedgehogs? Norfolk n’ chance here! Our lovely furze-pig is a badgers Friday night doner-kebab.

We have the usual abundance of creatures here that the bunny-huggers would have us wrap in cotton wool and call harmless. Magpies, crows, jays, woodies, rats. Rats! Packham says they should be loved! Might change his mind when either Itchy or Scratch get leptospirosis? Did I say abundance of creatures? Apologies for the exaggeration, because at any given chance me and Old Seth shoot the feckers. It’s what we do in the interest of real, controlled conservation management. Observe always, intervene only when needed. Or, as in Seth’s case, when definitely vermin … ‘shoot the feckers!’

Anyway, time to move on. Seth and Luke have a badger on the spit. Nice open BBQ tonight. Nothing like a bit of wild boar on a Friday night. If we’re unlucky we’ll hear the howl of the wild. Will it be the lynx attacking a sheep … or the wolf attacking a human? No, not yet. It will be the screech owl and I hope I never see the day when the barn owl can’t be heard. Why can’t the ‘bunny-huggers’ and ‘feather-strokers’ concentrate on an iconic species like this instead of attacking the shooting community. Old Seth, of course, has a simple theory about this. He always does. “If you han’t seen nuthin’, yer can’t know it!”

The badger tasted a bit strong. The ‘afters’ were sweeter. The ‘skylark sorbet’ was lush. Oh hell, did I say “lush”. Now there’s a whole other open wound.

I’ve digressed. State of nature here? Absolutely fine. Where the vulnerable need help, we deal with it. Where there is over-population, we deal with it. Where re-introduction is needed, we deal with it. And you don’t need to a put a penny in a charity box.

Me, Old Seth, young Luke? Our farmers and landowners? The GWCT, BASC, NGO, CA? We do more for the countryside every day than any wildlife ‘charity’ or self opinionated media numpty will ever achieve. And we do it with a passion and a sense of humour.

Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2016.

The Twilight Writer

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My favourite time of day has changed with my advancing age. As a younger man I used to favour dawn. The breaking of the day, the slow creeping rise of the sun and all that happens before the golden orb seizes the day. The time of the slinking fox, returning from nocturnal mischief. The time when deer browse boldly far from the forest edge, cloaked in the morning mist. The time when the rabbits, having finished their nightly plunder of the barley shoots, sit plump and inviting outside the warren. Dawn is the time of the crows first foray. When the magpies and the croakers trawl the leafy lanes searching for last nights road-kills. Useful work, unpaid for by the County Council … but the only beneficial thing they’ll do all day

Now, as I hit three score, my crib holds such comfort that often the dawn chorus sounds better when heard through an open bedroom window. The art of writing has destroyed the daily ritual of my middle age; early to rise and early to bed. My writing peaks, in terms of mental agility, in the evening and so twilight has become my favourite time of day. That cusp between sundown and true night. The time when the final echoes of avian evensong fade from east to west, following the descent of the sun. That daily wonder for those with an ear for birdsong; a sonic wave ebbing towards the sunset.

Twilight also brings the pipistrelle bats. They pass close to my awning, hawking the gnats and mosquitos that dance above my bench-top lantern as I write. They swoop past the coach-light on the nearby wall with deft airborne dexterity. Beyond the garden, way out in the wood, the tawny owls often bless the rural soundscape. Sometimes it’s the females “keewick”, sometimes the males “whoo, whoo”; often both. A haunting, spectral sound … yet so enchanting.

An evening under the canopy, writing al fresco, will draw thousands of words from my chaotic mind and tap my memory. Citronella has become the scent of creativity as I scribble, surrounded by candles. Occasionally the rainfall will bless me with its hypnotic patter on the waterproof canopy. As raindrops glitter in the candle light and text flows onto the page, I am at my most relaxed. If I get ‘writers block’ I simply stop and oil the cogs with a glass of cabernet. If there’s a chill in the air, a fleece and the patio heater may come into play until the writing is done. I generally write freehand, with pencil and paper. The old fashioned way. It’s so much more artisan than using a laptop or tablet and, working outdoors, none of that ‘electricity’ stuff is needed. My scrawled transcripts are transferred by me later onto the iPad or PC.

Yep! Twilight is the time for me, for sure.

©Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, May 2016

Page, Packham and Politics

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Just a short post on a very calm September night here in Norfolk where it is so temperate I’m sitting out on the garden deck in a T-shirt at 10pm. If I get mightily sick of the constant war of words between anti’s and shooters I have to say I am more saddened by the internal conflicts of those who support the right to hunt, shoot and fish. Don’t we all stand for the same principles? Call me naive, but why does Robin Page attack the BBC and Packham (I’m on the same train there) yet also round on the Countryside Alliance, who do so much to protect the validity of country-sports?. I would love to have the opportunity write a column for the Telegraph or Guardian stating the ‘view from the field and wood’ but I doubt I will ever get the chance. If I did, it wouldn’t involve the personal rants and politicisation of country affairs (or urban v. rural affairs) that Page, Monbiot and others post. Mother Nature isn’t interested in politics, tribalism, class or culture. She just does what she does. And that’s what I like to write about.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, September 2015

 

Witch-Hunts & Wildlife Wars

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If you are in the public eye (and in a very minor way, I am, as a country-sports writer) you need to watch what you say. If you’re happy to say it, then you need the balls to defend it too. I joined a petition tonight aimed at the BBC asking them to moderate the biased behaviour of someone who I had latterly regarded as a soul-brother. Chris Packham. We have the same dirty, hands on approach to studying wildlife. Turning over animal scat and pulling it apart to see what the prey was, picking up bird pellets to dissect them and understand what they’re eating . I pride myself on my fieldcraft skills and an ability to interpret the evidence on ‘scenes of crime’ left by predators. I use that phrase with caution, for the natural death of any creature these days seems to invite accusation that it was a ‘crime’. I study bird-song, particularly as a ‘language’, trying to understand the difference between a mating call, an alarm call or a mere celebration of voice. Yet I do that not just because I am a wildlife lover but also because I’m a hunter. Birds relay signals to the hunter about the state of the landscape far more than beasts. Not that I’m going to give away any secrets here … read my books!

Animals, birds and insects kill each other. Mother Nature actually encourages this awful slaughter. If She didn’t everything would starve to death. Birds eat bugs and worms! Foxes and badgers eat rabbits, ye Gods! Even household cats, fed twice a day by their owners, slaughter songbirds! I’m not sure where you took your Biology ‘O’ level (I breezed mine despite playing truant bird-nesting , pond dipping and scrumping apples) but the first lesson we were taught to ready our young minds before the first rat-dissection class was that the big fish eat the little fish. Incidentally, that class? Guess who the teacher asked to provide the rats? I was way ahead of the game. Death is a ‘given’ in Mother Natures master-plan. How and when is just as random as Her huge, unpredictable pogroms. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, plagues, famines. Packham and his cohorts (Avery, Oddie, May etc) decry the right of man (the superior mammal) to kill other animals. How shallow, how obscene, how dysfunctional is that … as a human being? These people are living in a fantasy world where the lower order of Mammalia and the lowest bird are more important than the higher order. Mother Nature takes care of these things. Trust her.

Incidentally, I was part of a Social Media exchange tonight which questioned my perception of ‘man’ being part of the higher order. Someone joined the exchange who told us that domestic cats killed songbirds because ‘they needed to hunt to survive’. My ribs are still aching.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, Sept 2015

 

The Cruel Truth

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As a hunter, writer and blogger, I frequently hear the word cruelty … usually in a critical sense and aimed at me. I use the word myself (often) but I actually understand its context. Many of my critics don’t. Cruelty is an important and very emotive word when used in both shooting and anti-shooting circles. The Collins English Dictionary definition of cruelty is deliberate infliction of pain or suffering”. I, certainly, never point a rifle at any quarry with the intention of anything other than instant dispatch. I’m broad shouldered enough to  deflect such accusations and I can’t help smiling inwardly at the behaviour of many people who call my activities ‘cruel’. The old adage “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind. Facebook is littered with argument and counter-argument regarding who are the cruel and who are the kind. I saw an interesting double-photo tonight pressing the point. It showed an overcrowded battery farm stuffed with chickens and a single buck standing in a woody glade. It asked the question “What type of life did your meat have?” A superb way to make a point but probably completely lost on the ‘misinformed’.

Some animals are capable of extreme cruelty, yet escape the attention or wrath of those opposed to hunting or shooting. Watch a domestic cat toy with a field mouse, encouraging it to squeal and squeak, torturing it before killing it. Yes, that’s your dear little moggy you’re watching … but he’s only playing, isn’t he? Check out the aftermath of the vixens visit to a hen-house and imagine how she terrorised the birds, herding them into corners before seizing them and tearing off their heads with no intention of eating them all. Deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. The mink (that tyro released into the British countryside by idiots who thought that fur production was ‘cruel’) does the same in the duck pond. Even that iconic riverside mammal, the otter (seen all too infrequently) is capable of wanton and needless slaughter.

If you want to call the three-second twitch of a shot rabbit as its senses shut down ‘cruel’ then that’s fine by me. I will overlook your ignorance but I would like to invite you to watch the slaughter of a beast under religious direction, with no regard to the animals welfare or natural rights.

Please, don’t ever call me or my hunting brothers and sisters ‘cruel’ while you tolerate this inhumane treatment of animals for fear of being politically incorrect. Go take your protests to the really ‘cruel’ in this (or any other) country. And that includes the animal charities who purport to rescue but actually end up culling thousands of animals every year. Good intentions but poor management.

Funny word, ‘cruel’, isn’t it?

©Wildscribbler, August 2015

Alive & Kicking: Bungles and Bees

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My last post on here turned out to be a prophecy fulfilled, unfortunately. No-one is to blame for this. Many of us in the pro-hunting camp rely on a number of hardcore political lobbyists aligned to our various Associations and Alliances to do the campaigning for a fair deal for hunters, shooters, anglers et al. I take no real joy in having predicted that the timing was wrong for a debate on amendments to the Hunting Act. If I was to blame anyone for the faux-pas, it would be the Tory administration for not lining up their ducks in the right order (if you’ll excuse the phrase). What really got my goat, however, was that it allowed an annoying and insipid bunch of animal rights campaigners calling themselves ‘Team Fox’ to claim some sort of moral victory. The postponement of the debate had nothing to do with animal rights concerns and everything to do with a political ‘pissing contest’. It exposed the SNP as future meddlers in English law despite promises not to do so and therefore highlighted the need for EVEL (English Votes for English Law). Which is where the ducks were lined up wrongly, of course.

All of this, on top of the recent decision by SMP’s to enforce airgun licensing in Scotland, just shows how unreasonably emotional the subject of hunting and guns can be amongst my ‘Misinformed‘. One pundit calculated this week that it will take the 14 remaining Firearms Officers in Scotland about 45 years to process the 500,000 license claims from existing airgun owners. The law is an ass? You bet your ass! Airgun crime is at an all-time low in Scotland (indeed, the UK). Airgun ‘criminals’ are hardly likely to apply for a license, are they? What a waste of political, legal and police time. Time that would be better devoted to combating radicalism and protecting UK residents from ‘real and present’ danger from terrorism.

But enough on politics. This is Wildscribblers blog! My off-road sorties into the Norfolk hinterland in pursuit of vermin are on hold for a week or two, which will please Mr May and friends. Not that the rabbits and magpies will be entirely safe. A fairly serious RTA yesterday, from which both I and the other driver walked away unscathed, means the X-Trail is a write-off. A testament to the strength of modern vehicles. My little courtesy car isn’t exactly built for farm tracks so I will be using Shanks Pony to access land for a while.

Has anyone noticed how prolific the wildflowers are this summer, and hence the ‘pollinators’. All around me in Norfolk, the County Council cut-backs have meant minimal cutting back of verges except where it threatens motorists visibility. As a result, highway verges are a splash of colour. Poppy, ragged robin, dandelion, foxglove, mullein, hemlock, rosebay willowherb, mallow, vetch. The list is endless and a huge source of pollen for hoverflies, honey bees and solitary bees. Brilliant to see. Of course, where there are insects, there are birds. The yellowhammers, warblers and robins have an abundance of food now. I took a picture the other day (that I will share some time soon) of a yellowhammer with a beak full of flies. I wondered where the nest of chicks were? And whether the magpies and crows were watching? So, I have a question for the reader? If the little yellowhammer is a hunter of flies, what momentary pain does the fly feel? Probably the same as the momentary pain the yellowhammers chick feels when the carrion crow snatches it? Perhaps the same momentary pain that the crow feels when I shoot it? Predation, pain, death … these are all a common theme in Mother Natures grand scheme. You can’t discriminate and exempt any creature from this inevitability. If you do, you are playing at being at ‘Mother Nature’ or ‘God’ or whatever you, personally, call the higher plane. I call it Tao … but to each, their own.

Have a good weekend, guys and girls. I will. Because I’m still alive. And for about three seconds yesterday morning, I didn’t expect to be.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2015