I read the following letter in the local paper the other day. It was in response to an article by wildlife writer Jim Crumley on the lack of legal protection for the wild beaver population in Tayside. The first half of the letter sounded quite promising but I was astonished and dumbfounded at the second half:
Farmers also love nature
Once again, I was annoyed after reading the article from Mr Crumley (2nd August) in which he says farmers and keepers would rather kill everything inconvenient that moves rather than give nature time and peace.
Mr Crumley, we are farmers, and most evenings my husband and I have a walk round the fields to look at the cattle, and it would not be the same if it was not for the wildlife around us.
We will see maybe a deer and of course all the different birds – that is, the ones a buzzard or sparrowhawk haven’t killed.
Why can’t you see, Mr Crumley, that there is good and bad in wildlife, just as there is with humans.
We think just as much, believe it or not, of our wildlife as you do, but we as farmers see at first hand the devastation some species can cause, both to our own animals and to nature.
Of course sparrowhawks will kill small birds; that is what they eat. Buzzards will take young ground-nesting birds such as lapwings and oystercatchers; that is part of their diet. In terms of evolution this is nothing new. Predators have killed and eaten prey for thousands of years. Lions eat zebra, orca eat seals, dolphins eat salmon, peregrines eat pigeons, blackbirds eat worms, blue tits eat greenfly, bats eat midges. What is comparatively new is interference by the most dangerous predator: man.
While we may not necessarily kill other creatures to eat them we destroy their habitat: worldwide, the pollution of seas and rivers and the destruction of forests. In this country the ripping out of hedgerows, enlargement of fields, spraying of crops, cultivation of fields, and these actions are carried out by farmers, the occupation of the letter-writer who is complaining of some birds being killed by predators. Predators, as I interpret the letter, are the ‘bad wildlife’ which, again as I interpret it, take farm stock and native species (though buzzards taking rats or rabbits may be excused).
I have great respect for most farmers, whose job seems to get more difficult by the year, but they must realise that modern farming methods have killed off far more farmland birds than predators do. Anyone in their 60s and 70s has witnessed at first hand the change in farming and the rapid disappearance of skylarks, grey partridges, lapwings, corn buntings etc.
There is no doubt that this is being addressed to some degree by some farmers who are taking practical measures to ameliorate these losses, sometimes at their own expense, but it will be a long time before wildlife on farmland returns to what it was when I was a teenager. I just hope the letter-writer is one of these conservation-minded farmers. Somehow I doubt it.