Thursday 23 May 2013

This Land isn't your Land

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

Many of you will recognise these words, penned by American songwriter Woody Guthrie, king of the political protest singers, inspiration to Bob Dylan and countless others. Although written about the US, the sentiment can be applied to just about anywhere. I think it is very apt today.

I am about as unpoliticised as they come. Mention politics and I switch off more or less immediately. It holds no interest for me, and I've yet to come across a politician or a political party where I've sat back and thought "Yes, you know what? I agree with you". Perhaps I never get that far? I'm one of the silent majority, the uncomplaining masses who get up every morning, go to work and pay their taxes, and let it all wash over them. My interest lies in birds. I have other interests of course - eating, drinking, cricket, popular music, even photography, but my life is so full I don't have enough time to pursue all of them to the obsessive extent of which I am fully capable, so birds is generally where it's at. Politics doesn't get a look in, and I don't have time to be an environmentalist.

I am not about to come out with a grand statement along the lines of "Well, all that changed today", but I have to admit that the level of fuckwittery I've learned of this morning has moved even me. Sufficiently so to not only send a few tweets, but also to pen a blog post - this is unfortunately the modern way, the equivalent of what used to be "Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms....". Yes, I'm so annoyed I tweeted about it and wrote my blog that six people read. Way to go!

I am not known for moaning; typically my posts are upbeat, light-hearted and positive. Not today. Our leaders are a bunch of vacuous and incompetent self-serving elite who are not fit for office. Like I said, I'm not political. So why the fuss? Well, quite simply, this land isn't your land. It's somebody else's, and you and I are not invited. I read today that something like 80% of this country is owned by 0.5% of the population. Naturally I don't wish to generalise, but those half a percent of people typically have different ideas on countryside management to the other 99.5%. To them, the countryside is a place to have a jolly good time, and a jolly good time means shooting things. I just don't understand blood sports. I suspect I never will, but to a few people it's one of the finer things in life. Fair enough, whatever floats your boat. I mean I like country music for Christ's sake, who am I to comment on what is acceptable and what isn't?

Without wishing to be judgemental, shooting living creatures isn't the most lovely of hobbies, but I appreciate that we're only here for a short time, and that time should ideally be spent enjoying yourself. OK, so you shoot a few birds, so what? It's not like you're Maltese is it? And the birds you shoot are essentially placed there in order for you to shoot them, not wild birds. Raised in cages, they get fattened up on food people put there for them, and when the time is right, normally a glorious day in August, they get let out, whereupon a small number of people massacre as many of them as they can as quickly as possible. What a great hobby, and truly sporting. I will never, ever, go on a shoot.

But here's the rub. Pheasants, being large, dumb, and tasty, are not just of interest to the Purdey brigade. Given the chance, a few of our wild birds and mammals will also show an interest. Who would have thought it? The commissioned "science" is ropey at best, but yes, Buzzards might take a few Pheasants. Not many, and certainly not with the veracity that White-tailed Eagles take lambs and children, but enough that it makes the tiniest of dents in the pockets of the already obscenely rich landowners. And that, clearly, cannot be tolerated; the Buzzards must die. Lucky then that they're a protected species.


Not content with ridiculously flimsy legislation and a pathetic sentencing regime which allows codgery old gamekeepers to act with almost total disregard for the law, it now transpires that shooting-estates can successfully apply to Natural England (the governmental guardians of the countryside, whose mission statement includes "Securing a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy, where wildlife is protected") in order to get a licence to remove the Buzzards eggs and nests. Remove as in permanently remove. How can this be possible you might ask? Surely any agency worth it's salt would simply deny the aforementioned request, seeing as Buzzards are recovering from historical persecution and are legally protected? Just like our recovering population of Hen Harriers. Oh, wait...

What you have failed to grasp is that we don't live in a democracy. A sweeping statement I acknowledge, but any political system where the Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs is a millionaire landowner with Pheasant-shooting estates and miles of fenced-off riverbank cannot possibly be democratic. I know, I can't quite believe it either, but you can see how convenient it is for the 0.5% of the population to have somebody like this in charge. Buzzards protected? Don't worry about it, if it costs you even the tiniest amount of money, we'll sort it out. And it is all about money. A proper blogger would have gone and got all the facts. How much revenue shooting estates generate. How many families they support (about 17). How much tax is paid, that kind of thing. I don't fancy doing that, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Shooting stuff is expensive. The landowners themselves probably don't shoot much, but they can raise a fabulous amount of money by letting other people do so, and there are plenty of people, it seems, willing to fork out. If a local Buzzard nobbles a few Pheasants, or even if it didn't and it was something else (perish the thought), that's one less bottle of port for a guy called Ronald with five middle names. Many more and he could be down a Range Rover. Yep, it's that serious.

So you can see why it makes complete sense to kill Buzzards, to eradicate Eagles, Kites and Hen Harriers, to cull Badgers, Gulls, and anything else that was here first in order to preserve that income stream. And what's more, you don't have to risk getting slapped on the wrist and being fined fifty quid because now you can get a licence from your lobbied-up pals at Defra and Natural England and do whatever the fuck you like with complete impunity. Everyone's a winner!

Except you, and me, and the indigenous wildlife, whose land this isn't.


  1. You wrote the blog. Perfect.

  2. Thanks for the comments, on here and on Twitter. I also received another along the lines of "let's shoot rich people", but with more vehemence. This remains unpublished; I think we're bigger than that.

  3. Yes. That was me. Sorry.

  4. Well said. Any idea how many buzzard killing/nest destroying licences have been awarded? Any volunteers for submitting an FOI request to find out? I was going to say that it's amazing that DEFRA announced last year that it had dropped plans for a cull yet have introduced one by the back door (or kept a secret pre-existing one in place?), but I guess given that the Tories remain the party of landowners for landowners, I guess it's not amazing at all.

  5. Extremely well put John. This is the first I have heard about this since DEFRA dropped its plans last year. I can't believe that Natural England are actually allowing this.

  6. Very well said. NE have messed up again, too:

    Lord knows what else they have done

  7. Spot on. These people are hardly the guardians of the countryside and yet have the nerve to patronisingly accuse anyone who disagrees with their greedy barbarism of being ignorant townies who don't understand the countryside! Most people understand the countryside perfectly well, and certainly understand this minority's behaviour, and their exploitation of our land and abuse of our native wildlife for the amusement of a privileged few is bad enough without powerful politicians with vested interests doing them favours. this government seems worse than most with regards to the environment, what with " feathered obstacles" Osborne, badger cull Paterson, Benyon etc...

  8. Excellent post. Unfortunately it's the 'silent majority' that has allowed these bastards to get away with it for so long (and with many, many other things). Good to see that more and more birders and others interested in wildlife are waking up to the fact that 'politics' does affect them after all.

  9. Well said of the best political statements I have read this year!

  10. Hell hath no fury like a birder denied birds. Great post.

  11. So what is the precise objection here? Is it that wild creatures should not be killed? Is it okay to kill foxes to protect Little Terns and Stone Curlews, but not okay to kill Buzzards to protect non-endemic birds such as pheasants? Is it okay to kill “pest” species such as Collared Doves and Corvids to help farmers make a profit? To cull deer to protect Nightingale habitat? Or is your argument one about democracy, and that the enjoyment birders and many others get from seeing buzzards has been ignored in favour of profit for a few? If the price of not culling buzzards was to see shoots ploughed up and replaced by sterile farmland with hardly any wildlife, would you accept it?

    I’m sure everyone who reads this blog has the same emotional reaction, but I think it’s worth taking a moment and establishing what the principle at stake here is.

    1. I know what you mean, but I don't think it's one black and white principle as such. Do you think a few Buzzards really take so many gamebirds that leaving them be would cause the shoots to fail and be replaced by sterile farmland? Cars would cause far more damage to the 35 million plus Pheasants. Also, I don't buy the idea that game shoots are wonderful preservers of our flora and fauna - some may be, but an awful lot care nothing for wildlife and certainly anything predatory is removed, yet they occupy a lot of our country's land and tell us to stay out. When there are no Hen Harriers (well, one pair) breeding in England anymore I think it's time to challenge the status of this land and the cosy relationship the landowners have with senior government figures. Sympathetically farmed land might actually be a desirable alternative to a shooting estate with no sense of responsibility.

      Also, Little Terns and Stone Curlews might need our help because they are rare and have lost habitat due to human activity. So, each situation you describe may call for different solutions, there is no one answer.

  12. Kudos to you on this post, Jonathon. I don't always agree with what you write, but you hit the nail on the head here.

  13. Very interesting post Jono. I agree that it is disappointing that the view of many is clouded by the actions of so few. I do not agree that all of the 0.5% have a different view of countryside management to the other 99.5%. Many of those landowners have a very balanced view of flora and fauna diversity and would not dream of shooting/snaring protected species such as badgers or buzzards amongst many others. I also suspect that the average shoot does not make a 'fabulous amount of money' for the landowners and merely pays the costs of having someone to look after the vermin that eat the crops. If this was all about money, all of the land currently managed for shooting would be put into crop in a hearbeat as cereals are much more valuable and have a significantly higher margin. Finally, I can't speak for England but in Scotland, no land can be fenced off unless their is a very good reason for doing so and woodlands are free for people to walk through. This causes its own problems as people walking dogs are free to walk across nesting bird sites. How would birders like a reserve like Rainham to be so free that a dog wandered around and ate the eggs? There is a balance somewhere.

    I would like people interested in the countryside to channel their anger and resentment at the falling biodiversity to promoting improved farming techniques that enhance soils, insects and birds while increasing yields. All of the townies could be happy with the birds and the country folk could be happy with the higher margins on their land.