30 Days Wild

June is the time to be wild…

The Wildlife Trust are running an awesome challenge for the whole of June, known as 30 Days Wild. The idea is to do something wild everyday for a month. It’s about making room for nature no matter where you are or how busy your life is! Nature is so important for us so we should try to make it part of our everyday lives as it makes us happier, healthier and more creative. Besides, who doesn’t love an adventure? I feel everything I do in the outdoors is a mini adventure of some kind. I feel like being in nature can always restore me to my default, reawaken my senses, let’s the stress fade away and makes me truly happy.

Even so at times it can feel like I do not spend as much time in the wild as I would like to. I spend my days fighting to protect the environment without always stopping to enjoy it. So I will be taking part in this challenge. And I will post all my adventures here on this blog, so watch this space!

Woods are one of the wildest places to be! (my photo)
Woodlands are some of the wildest places to be! (my photo)

You can join in the challenge too by signing up here. You will receive a downloadable booklet filled with Random Acts of Wildness (I love the name!) and a wall chart where you can track your progress and plan your acts. There’s also a Facebook group you can join and a hashtag, so we can all take on this challenge together. I’m so excited.

Here’s a few ideas I’ve come up with to get you inspired:

  • Lie in a meadow filled with long grass, even if it’s wet!
  • Go cloud watching, what shapes can you see? Can you make them into a story?
  • Follow an ant trail
  • Find some odd shaped leaves
  • Try out geocaching (one of my favourite things to do)
  • Go and enjoy a wild place such as a wood with only yourself and a pet (whether that be a walking a dog or on a horse), see what they see
  • Visit one of your favourite outdoors places with a notebook and write about all the natural things you see, list them or get your creative writing skills flowing
  • Draw a tree, absorb every detail, doesn’t matter if you don’t like the outcome!
  • Find feathers from as many different bird species as you can
  • Learn all about a native species that you know very little about
  • Feed the ducks with a healthy food (bread is bad for them). Though I tried grapes from this list and they were not at all interested, grains or birdseed is best.

I would love to hear if you are taking on the challenge, your ideas and how it goes. I will be following lots of 30 Days Wild blogs too! Follow me here or on Twitter or Facebook to see how I get on.

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Hunting: a complex issue for environmentalism

This post first featured on my Blogger site on 6/01/2015. Sharing again in light of current debates on hunting due to the Conservatives’ promise to repeal the ban. Also one of my favourite posts, so I wish to share it with you all!

I’m on the fence with hunting (hah some of you readers may see a pun there). I’ve gone from hating it (I loved the programme Farthing Wood as a young child and had a toy fox called Foxy Loxy that I took everywhere), to supporting it (I grew up riding ponies and being a member of the Pony Club, therefore, yes I have been fox hunting on several occasions), to being disgusted with my own hypocrisy as I have developed into a firm environmentalist/conservationist. But now I’m following a middle ground, and it is a No Man’s Land where I feel increasingly uneasy.

A fox hunt meet I watched on Boxing Day
A fox hunt meet I watched on Boxing Day

I would just like to clarify that I am a true animal lover. They are my life. I would never seek or enjoy the death or cruelty towards any creature. I hate spiders and even then I refuse to harm them. When I heard about the first wolf seen in the Grand Canyon for decades that got shot recently, I was honestly heartbroken. When it fits no purpose, is only for sport or endangered animals are involved I am very opposed to it. And when I have been fox hunting in the past, it was not about killing a fox for me and, I think, for most people who enjoy fox hunting it is never about that. You take the prey away and ‘fox hunting’ still exists. It is about the challenge of racing and leaping across the countryside, putting all your trust in the wonderful creature beneath you. It’s about that bond between man and animal. It is exhilarating fun with quite a bit of terror thrown in, which is what makes it so enjoyable and so different to anything else I have ever done. Horses absolutely love going hunting. The tradition, camaraderie and culture of it is also a great thing to be a part of. When I have been hunting not many foxes or other animals were killed. They can often be 8 hour long treks with maybe only one or two kills to show for it and each hunt is in a different location. When I went hunting I would hope against hope that we would not catch anything. I cannot speak for everyone who goes fox hunting but I never knew anyone who was outright bloodthirsty. Once at a hunt meet (I expect most people won’t believe this but I swear its true) two foxes ran past the group of horses and hounds. You might expect instant angry cries for the kill with hounds setting upon them instantly, but that did not happen. They were quietly allowed on their way. I’m not trying to argue you into supporting fox hunting here, I’m just highlighting my personal experiences.

Bubble Wrap Conservation

There is a serious issue with modern conservation. It is often about keeping the environment in a fixed state, making sure everything is protected and stifled. It is essentially bubble-wrapped. Oh, isn’t everything so cute and cuddly? We must not harm it or change anything. That is not the conservation ideal I support. I support the kind of conservation that fuels the current debate on rewilding. I support the restoration of habitats and species where it’s about allowing the whole ecosystem to adapt, evolve and ultimately flourish just as nature intended. This is allowing nature to be cruel. This is also a nature where humans are not locked out. There’s no reason in my mind why hunting cannot be a part of that, as long as it is limited to sustainable levels that enhance, rather than destroy, ecosystems. However, it is important that endangered species are protected. Also, in a world where we have destroyed big predators (for example, lions used to roam freely in Europe, yes even in the UK) hunting is needed. Unchecked, herbivores are single-handedly destroying our once thriving landscapes. I, of course, would much prefer to reintroduce the big predators as an alternative but that’s another debate for another day. After all, humans are omnivores, we evolved to be a predator and be a part of existing ecosystems. Yet, would the world be a better place if we were herbivores? Most probably.

A barren National Park, devoid of wildlife. Is this really what we want conservation to be?

Double Standards

There is much about debates on hunting that I struggle with. I know people who rage bitterly against fox hunting but are happy to tuck into a steak or see no problem with the fishing industry. The meat industry is highly unsustainable and abhorrent, livestock often lead lives of constant suffering and then these lives are cut short with cruelty. And do not get me started on the current fishing practices, there is little that makes me more angry. Commercial fishing destroys whole ecosystems within minutes and underwater life is subject to a wide range of cruelties. Fish being crushed to death under the weight of hundreds of others, hooks that are capable of ripping mouths, jaws and gills whilst the fish still live, seabirds drowning in nets, the list is endless (I share these nasty details only because many remain ignorant of the true realities of fishing). If we’re talking about animal cruelty shouldn’t how we eat be top of the list rather than focusing on the hunting of common species? At least the fox or deer or pheasant has a chance to get away and has in all likelihood lived a natural life of freedom until that point. And why is far much less fuss made about shooting or angling? Are they really any different? Perhaps, this is the cute and cuddly view coming in. Foxes are cute, fish are not. The argument is often made that we eat what we shoot or fish from these activities which makes it okay. But why does eating make it okay? Is that why unnecessary cruelty in the meat industry is seen as acceptable, simply because we are eating what we kill? I am possibly wrong, but it seems very easy and acceptable for people to pick and choose what they take a moral stand on and I have issue with that.

Fish feel pain and stress just as we do. Source: AnimalAid Photo: Occupy for Animals

Hunting is Conservation

For right or wrong, hunting is actually a huge part of conservation. There are reserves in Africa solely established so that elites have a playground in which they can kill as many exotic beasts as they like. Conservation is their justification. I, of course, am horrified by this reality. In Europe, some reintroductions of the European Beaver have used the argument that they could be another species of game for hunters. This is sad, yet beaver populations can get excessive and need to be controlled. It’s either reintroduce the beaver and allow hunting of it in the future, or not have them at all. In some places hunting of beavers has to be actively encouraged as nobody wants to kill them (essentially they are too easy a prey). Much conservation involves controlling/removing invasive species. There have been recent moves by government to cull grey squirrels in the UK. They are a species that does not belong here and have pushed the native red squirrel to near extinction. The RSPB recently stated they support game shooting as the sport benefits habitats. The National Trust cull mink on their property. I am not necessarily suggesting this is how conservation should be done, but it is part of the reality.

Some African lions are protected and bred just so they can be hunted

Ban the Ban

Coming back to fox hunting, there is another huge issue I have. I once saw a protester at a hunt. She held a placard depicting the words “Keep the Ban”. That is the least inspiring slogan if I ever saw one. The hunt carried on behind her sparing her little thought. Does no one see a huge irony here? The supposed ‘ban’ has not banned fox hunting! It simply laid down some easily bent rules with huge loopholes. This has resulted in the sport becoming more cruel, in my opinion. The rule is that hounds are not allowed to kill anything. But people? They can kill whatever they like! This means that the hounds find the foxes, flush them out for them to meet guns waiting for them. There is at least one hunt I know of that uses an eagle instead of hounds. Perhaps, some people find this less cruel. But when hounds are involved, the strongest, youngest and fitter foxes may be able to escape. The old, sick and injured are more likely to be caught. This is survival of the fittest. Hunting also spreads fox populations around instead of them gathering in select areas. Guns, however, kill everything; weak, strong, sick, healthy. They all die. A fox with a bullet that was not a fatal shot may suffer for a long time before it dies. At least that does not happen with hounds. In my view, either completely ban it or do not. There should not be this half-hearted middle ground that has achieved absolutely nothing. So you say ban it then, hurrah! But farmers will shoot foxes that kill their chickens. My family used to keep chickens as pets. I think we had around 10 at one point. Pretty much all of them, over several years, were killed by foxes. Foxes tend to kill several animals at once and then only take one to eat. If hunting is truly banned, hundreds of hounds and horses would probably have to be put down. Perhaps, not all the horses but certainly all the dogs. They are not suitable as pets. As a horse and dog lover that is heartbreaking for me. So I can understand why this is upsetting for people.

So, What’s the Answer?

Regarding fox hunting, I feel the debate is extremely polarised, almost to a nonsensical level. Rural vs. urban, rich vs. poor, horse-rider vs. non horse-rider, hunter vs. environmentalist, right vs. left, tradition vs. change, man vs. nature, pest control vs. conservation. Some of these battles appear to have little to do with the issue of animal cruelty. I also think there is quite a lack of understanding by one side of the other side’s perspective and vice versa. For example, I am personally against the shooting of animals as I think that it is cruel and barbaric whilst using hounds is more natural. However, I have a friend who thinks shooting is humane whilst using hounds is cruel and bloodthirsty. These views cannot be reconciled. Similarly, this is the key problem with debates on environmentalism. Two sides standing on completely different playing grounds and when that happens it is very difficult to find a compromise or a right answer. Oil magnates exist on a completely different level to Greenpeace, for example. They are aliens to each other.  With fox hunting, I can perhaps bridge that gap slightly in that I have some understanding of both sides. And look where it has left me? On the fence. I’m not sure it’s an issue that can ever be resolved with a Yes/No vote.
If pushed to make a decision on hunting more generally, I would say I am against hunting. If there was a magical book that told me how to be the perfect environmentalist/conservationist and Step 1 stated that ‘you must oppose hunting’, I would happily jump off that fence, the decision made for me. But it is not that simple. It is not an argument to support but sometimes it may be something that is necessary.
So is it possible for environmentalism to reconcile itself with hunting? For some, no, hunting is wrong. For others, yes, hunting and angling is part of conservation. For me? As an environmentalist, there are bigger fish to fry.

Lynx of the Week #1

Lynx, links, get it? No? Sorry I'll go hide in the corner filled with shame (Photo Credit: Dogrando on Flickr)
Lynx, links, get it? No? Sorry I’ll go hide in the corner filled with shame (Photo Credit: Dogrando on Flickr)

Instead of spamming my Facebook friends with excessive links they probably couldn’t care less about (*newsflash* not everyone is obsessed with the environment, oops) I thought I would start sharing them with you dear readers every week.

Also a couple of blogs I follow do similar posts and I think it’s a great idea!

So here the most interesting and inspirational reads I came across this week! And yeah I’m afraid quite a few are election related rather than environmental … But politics affects us all and every aspect of our lives, unfortunately.

Ok here’s some fun stuff to cheer some of us up!

  • Weird and funny observations about nature – nature is so bizarre and mysterious, it’s why I love it.
  • Gorgeous tiny house – I’m obsessed with tiny houses and minimalist living at the moment, this is a stunning little house, love the stairs, fireplace and bed! Very relevant for green living.
  • Why Samoyed dogs are the best breed – I may be biased but no other breed can beat them. I grew up with no less than 9 of these fluffballs at any one time (at most we had 14)

And lastly, all of Europe’s nature is under threat, find out more in ClientEarth’s post and please take action. All environmental NGOs are involved in this campaign, highlighting the enormity of the threat.

Have a great week!

My thoughts on the election outcome

I told myself I would not post another political post after my last one. I honestly try to be nonpartisan and I never used to be so political. It’s very hard not to be when you live and breathe trying to save the environment, however. 

I’ve always been an optimist but even if I wasn’t I don’t think I’d have expected today’s outcome. Nobody knew the Conservatives would outright win. We were prepared for hung Parliament, Coalition, parties fighting it out. And that’s kind of what I wanted. A Labour majority with plenty of Greens where they could gain experience of ruling and gradually instill the change we need. Or lots of parties to represent the wide range of views emerging in society and politics in the UK, which is a good thing. I expected some kind of chaos, probably bad but manageable. 

But what we did get is much much worse. Because now we have a Conservative government that cannot really be tempered by the other parties. The Lib Dems provided checks and balances but that still led to failures that made it the worst government for many years. It wasn’t obvious on the surface but our nation and our land has suffered, and those of us who have been unfortunate to work or live under that surface have seen the real destruction. Lucky you if you haven’t seen it, but it means you haven’t seen the real implications of a Tory majority. 

And now the Conservatives can push forward with the policies they’ve barely started, to their hearts’ content. That means more extreme austerity cutting everything in sight even though economists have proven it doesn’t work. It means prioritising economy over everything else in life, which is just made more shocking by the fact austerity doesn’t work. Prioritising economy over your friends and family. That means ensuring the big corporate companies that fill the Conservatives’ pockets (and paid for their propaganda) get tax breaks and deregulation. It means more restriction on what charities can campaign about. But of course corporates and newspapers can lobby government as much as they like. It means no NHS, as we know it. It means teachers quaking in their boots at the thought of further damaging changes to an already broken education system. It means meaningless development at the expense of the environment and all the vital resources the environment gives us. It means suffering at the bottom of the human food chain. While those at the top crow about ‘trickle down’ economics which is a myth. It means prioritising debt over the needs of human beings, wildlife and nature. Which are all so interlinked yet Conservatives only see these three things as obstacles. They are not obstacles, this connection with the world that surrounds us is what progress should be about. It means potentially leaving the EU which would truly be disastrous. Human rights, access to free trade, ease of travel, environmental protection and biodiversity all felled in one swoop.

Yes some of this I’ve only read about or studied during my very human society focused subjects. I studied EU law, I know how much we depend on it. But some of this I’ve experienced personally. A  lot of this I see through my job. Only today an elderly volunteer lamented to me about her ailing husband that can’t get the help he needs because of cuts. Everyday people email and ring us begging for help because their homes, the places they love are going to be destroyed in some way. Because the wildlife that thrills them is cast aside like rubbish. Because these small special things that make people’s lives what they are don’t matter. And no one listens because nature is seen as not important. This is down to weak protection that the old government introduced, protection they won’t change however much we, as a charity, and advisory committees and research ask them to. Now that they have power this will continue and my job will get so much harder. People shouldn’t have to fight their governments for what is right. This isn’t democracy.

This is why I’m truly absolutely heartbroken that the Conservatives got the majority. All I see ahead is a spiral of decline. I would love it if I was wrong, I want to be proven wrong but my optimism is fading fast. My faith in our nation is too.

So I’m sorry of my strong “socialist” opinions offend you. I’m sorry that I think you’re wrong if you disagree with me. You are wrong, nothing I have discussed above is acceptable. But this is not a debate about some obscure philosophy or whether you love or hate marmite. This is about people’s actual real everyday lives and that struggle. This is about our future. This is about the environment that we all rely upon for our resources, our health and for living a full life as it should be. These things matter and it worries me that it’s entirely possible many people in this country do not think they do.

What we can do to carry on the fight (also first para described my feelings perfectly): Five ways to deal with a full blown Conservative Government

The environment, the election, and why you should vote

It is so important that we all vote in this general election. If nothing else, it is the most unpredictable election in living memory. Each and every vote can make a real difference, so here’s some help to get you voting!

  1. Don’t know who to vote for? The website Vote for Policies can help you there. You take a quiz and pick which policies you prefer. At the end it tells you what percentage of the policies you preferred belonged to each party. So you should really vote for the one with the highest percentage! The most people who do this get Green Party as the majority, just sayin’. This helps you to see what you believe in rather than just following personalities or tactics. Do it now!
  2. Is it worth being tactical when voting in your area? The Electoral Reform Society website tells you if your constituency is a safe or marginal seat. If it’s marginal then your vote could be really important and make a vital difference. If it’s a safe seat, yes it’s likely you won’t have as much impact. However, you never know what can happen on polling day! I advocate voting for what you believe in either way, how else can positive change happen?
  3. Don’t know anything about your current MP, PPCs and constituency? The website Democratic Dashboard can tell you pretty much all you need to know. Including how many times your MP has attended Parliamentary debates and how often they use alliterative phrases (bullshit spotter essentially!). It’s worth checking out for a laugh if nothing else. It also has a polling forecast.
  4. Now you have absolutely no excuse to not vote!

The Leaders’ Debate recreated in Lego Credit: Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester – Lego makes everything interesting, right?

A Chance for Change

I’ll be honest, I’m not neutral here. I also see this election as a chance to escape the current failings in the government we have had for the last 5 years. A chance (yeah I’m being optimistic) to leave behind the very damaging austerity approach. It has achieved nothing (except taking services away from the people who need it most such as the disabled) and it is a lie, read about the austerity delusion here (certainly an interesting read).  A top economist argues if we continue this approach it will actually hold back recovery. The UK performed worse than expected in its initial recovery whilst other European countries are much better off now. I’ll be the first to admit I’m no economist but I thought to make more money you had to invest it. How does cutting spending help anything? How can our economy flourish again if the vein is cut? And no, spending millions on HS2 doesn’t instantly solve that.

But the struggling economy is not my main interest, the people and the environment who are suffering because if it are. Since the beginning of the Coalition, the increase in food banks and their use has been rapid. Benefits for vulnerable people are still increasingly being cut. University funding (hence rising fees) and humanities courses are being cut. Multi-disciplinary education is so important! Protection of nature and our natural resources has also been pushed out with massive cuts leaving Defra and Natural England barely able to function. I personally have seen the drastic impact this has had on marine protected areas through my dissertation, as one example. ‘Protected’ is now deceiving. The Coalition likes to claim it is the ‘greenest government ever’, yet in the National Audit Committee Report it got red for nearly all environmental areas including wildlife protection, air quality and flood prevention. The Conservatives like to crow about how they planted 11 million trees. It sounds impressive but it’s actually a pretty low number, probably just about covering all the trees that have been lost. So that’s not an increase and it’s not increasing carbon capture. The current government has also repeatedly prioritised development over the environment. Another thing I saw personally through my dissertation research. ‘Sustainable development’ is a dirty phrase that sets alarm bells in my head now due to this.

Ok, my rant is over but I think it’s really important people realise some of these issues before they vote.  Perhaps we cannot make government truly end austerity or give more priority to the environment but we can try to make a point and give more influence to those who oppose it. Despite all this, the profile of the environment has increased massively over recent years due to NGOs and the public conscience. This has been reflected in all the Party Manifestos.

Nature and the Election

So let’s have a quick look at what they all have to say.

  • Labour: promote green spaces in local planning; keep forests in public ownership; produce an ambitious adaptation programme; support the work of the Natural Capital Committee to protect and improve wildlife habitats and green spaces (Labour have elsewhere committed to the Independent Panel on Forestry’s recommendation of 15% woodland cover by 2060, and a 25 year plan for nature).
  • Conservative: ensure public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation and plant another 11 million more (ahem) trees; provide free comprehensive maps of accessible green space; launch an ambitious programme of pocket parks; protect green belt and other designations; extend life of Natural Capital Committee and develop 25 year plan for nature with it
  • Lib Dems: implement findings of Independent Panel on Forestry regarding public forest estate; pass a Nature Act to put the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing and set natural capital targets; plant at least an additional tree for every child born – about 750, 000 every year as part of an ambitious afforestation plan; introduce concept of ‘landscape scale planning’ through updated planning law
  • Greens: a new legal framework for protection of landscape and wildlife and promote a new Nature and Well-Being Act; promote landscape scale-conservation; aim to ensure everyone lives within five minutes walk of open green space; introduce a nature improvement area in every town, city and country; prohibit destruction of unique habitats by way of biodiversity offsetting elsewhere; replace the National Planning Policy Framework; scrap HS2
  • UKIP: *ALARM BELLS* They want to scrap the Climate Change Act (going against the public who called for it) and leave the EU. This would remove most of our environmental law in one swoop.
  • They all support fracking except the Green Party.

This does mean that environmentally many of the parties have common ground, meaning in the event of a coalition they cannot break their promises on the evironment. We’re watching you!

Well done if you read all that. Keeping to word limits has never been my strong point. Now you all better go vote on the 7th, next Thursday!