As many of us are currently enjoying the sight of young gulls finding their feet (and wings!) in our towns and cities, this time of year also brings reports of human intolerance and animosity towards these beautiful birds.
In Filey on the Yorkshire coast, not only are police investigating the shooting of several Herring Gulls by some gun-touting idiot, but the local RSPCA had to step in to prevent careless contractors from killing (apparently inadvertently...) dozens of gulls which were inhabiting a derelict building that they were in the process of demolishing. Distressed members of the public had reported seeing dead gulls amongst the rubble.
But the problem is not confined to Yorkshire, nor is gull intolerance only a trait of individuals.
Whole town councils too are becoming hysterical over what they call the gull 'problem'....
Dundee - The Most Hysterical City In The UK?
Dundee appears to be amongst the more absurd parts of the UK when it comes to persecution of urban wildlife. There, fuelled by farcical reports of gulls 'terrorising' the apparently panic-stricken residents, the council have deemed it appropriate to cull nearly 200 gulls. Figures obtained by Dundee's Evening Telegraph show that 174 gulls have been killed so far this year with the number likely to rise.
Dundee council is reported as saying that they are not carrying out a 'cull' but are rather "exercising rights under the Wildlife and Countryside Act".
Hmm. The dictionary definition of 'cull' is " to reduce the population of (a wild animal) by selective slaughter".
So, in spite of their protestations to the contrary, it seems that Dundee council are indeed carrying out a cull. Why try to dress the slaughter up as something else? Their claims that the gulls pose a significant risk to public safety would be frankly laughable - only there is nothing funny about the mass killing of a supposedly protected species whose population is in steep decline.
Hope Through Education
If incompetent councils continue to act on the demands of a few ridiculous residents then we might as well resign ourselves to a future devoid of urban wildlife.
There is hope, some more enlightened councils have refused to kowtow to the irrational minority.
Meanwhile we as individuals can educate others in our communities to delight in, and respect, these most impressive and misunderstood birds.
Long ago, I wrote a series of diaries in which I observed everyday life from the perspective of my youth.
Though I hadn't seen the diaries for years, I knew I wouldn't have thrown them out (unlike some of my other early attempts at writing which mercifully didn't survive to embarrass me in adulthood...).
So, a few days ago, after several fruitless searches through boxes of memories, some best forgotten and others fondly revisited, I uncovered them, ten volumes of tiny notebooks tied neatly together and wrapped in a polythene bag.
Tentatively I unwrapped them and began to revisit those long ago days from the first half of my life.
I thought I'd take the bold step of sharing some of those very private diary entries on here because, far from being embarrassing ramblings, I am actually quite proud of the young man I find in those dusty old pages....
Lonely but hopeful
I expected them to be the naïve, probably angst ridden, writings of a troubled young man because that's how I think of my young self. I remember being mostly unhappy. I was lonely, that I do know, and the diaries confirm this.
One entry says: "I could do with some friends I think...I can live without people but I think in doing so one can lose touch with reality...."
I wasn't sorry for myself but I was scared and full of self-doubt. I was socially awkward (still am) and trying to find a place for myself in what must have seemed like a very odd world. I did, however, appear to be doggedly 'hopeful' and optimistic: "...anyway things aren't so bad, tomorrow could be the best day of my life, who knows!"
But as the years went on, I can see, through reading the diaries, the point that I eventually spiralled into depression much of it no doubt stemming from being unable to 'come out' as gay. This was the eighties and, although attitudes were changing, being openly gay was still not an option for me, so I found making friends difficult. I acted 'straight' and became quite good at it, convincing both family and friends (and even myself at times) in the process, but I can see now from this distance and with the benefit of hindsight that it was destroying me on the inside and something would have to give eventually. It did - but it took several more years.
Though reading some of the diary entries makes me a little sad, seeing that young man trying to make sense of a life that had as its foundation pretence, misconception and uncertainty, I am nevertheless pleasantly surprised to find that, not only were the private thoughts of my young self fairly mature, but often upbeat and sometimes very funny. It was also good to discover that even then I was aware of the environment and troubled by the destruction of nature that I saw happening around me.
This entry related to a field behind our house: "went for a walk around the housing estate that used to be 'our' field. So very very sad. I used to watch kestrels, frogs, voles and see wild flowers and blackberries and elder trees - and so much more. All of it has gone. The awful part is that all that wildlife had nowhere else to go, it simply 'went'..."
But throughout my diaries there was always that thread of hope. That same day's entry ended with: "there's always some good if one looks for it, our garden is erupting in wild poppies, nature will always have the winning hand".
I was always taking little journeys of discovery - and self discovery - even whilst still at school when I would 'bunk off' and walk for hours by myself, a trend that continued into my late teens and early twenties.
I came across an entry describing a solo trip I'd made to North Wales. "Got on the train to Betws-y-coed and broke the journey at Llanrwst. Beautiful there, really beautiful. I walked perhaps five hundred yards out of the little town centre and gasped at the simple beauty of the autumn wooded hillsides.... I sat for over an hour on the banks of the lovely river and ate sandwiches. Brown trout leapt out of the water, having evaded an angler or two further upstream..."
It wasn't all nature and (borderline twee) observations on my surroundings.
Home life was sometimes very challenging but the people around me were often inspirational and the source of humour. Humour, I've discovered since re-reading my diaries, was the way I got through my loneliness and the heartache of a troubled and closeted youth.
My grandmother appears frequently in the diaries, as do other members of my immediate family. I hadn't however realised just how much the wider family had influenced me. Elderly relatives, Great Aunts and Uncles - now long gone - were often around and provided stability, wit and wisdom.
I'm enjoying thumbing through the diaries now, I'm dipping in and out of the ten volumes so there's plenty of reading to do. The diaries ended abruptly in December, 1990 but there were two further entries three years later where I spoke of the changes in my life. The first reads: "my family continue to provide stability in my confused life though I fear becoming a burden to them. I know I need to change some things and to face up to what is all too 'real'."
That thinly veiled reference to my sexuality shows that I was ready to take a leap of faith and embrace change. It seems I had emerged from my lowest lows and was ready to find a brighter way forward.
The very last entry was 24th September 1993. I wrote about having witnessed a butterfly being attacked by a wasp and it had obviously affected me. I wrote: "I saw how fragile life is. Why though do some butterflies fall victim to wasps while others survive? Is there, as some would have me believe, a karmic law in effect? Or is this life just chaos?"
In the twenty five years since the diaries ended, I did manage to turn my life around. Many challenges came along but, as most of us do, I survived. The family circle has grown smaller but is still central to my life, a very few good friends remain and I was eventually honest with myself in acknowledging my true identity - and living it.
The final words of the diary are some that I can still say with honesty today, all these years later:
"some truths will always remain constant in my mind. There is God and all is well"
It's a shocking figure isn't it?
In addition to this, more than 4 million pigs are also killed every single day and millions of other animals in the nightmarish world of factory farming*.
Although I'm neither vegetarian nor vegan, I do recognise that these figures are unacceptable and so I have been making efforts to cut down on meat consumption as part of a plan to implement a more responsible diet. It's a moral conflict I have to deal with but we have to be realistic, there is no sign of the wider world turning vegan, let alone vegetarian, and so we need to find a way to end the terrible over consumption of meat - and more importantly to stop the abominable treatment of animals that has become part of the whole unpalatable process.
The Way Forward: Cultured Meat
If there were ever an argument for cultured meat - the mass production of real meat grown without animals - then the mind boggling numbers of animals killed each day should be enough reason to embrace the 'meat without animals' ethic.
Because the truth is that people are clearly not going to give up eating meat any time soon - and meanwhile 180 million chickens and many millions of other animals are being slaughtered every single day to feed gluttonous human beings.
Cultured meat, also known as 'lab meat' and 'clean meat', is real meat grown from animal cells but without the need for animals.
It's undoubtedly the way forward.
A Matter Of Education
People consume far too much meat, a trade fuelled by advertising, the trend for fast food and a gross lack of education. When my generation was growing up, we ate chicken perhaps once a week. We ate lots of vegetables and many meals were produced using humble ingredients. It's not only healthier but more economical - but that way of approaching food has been lost and has given way to pure greed, a trend symbolic of the 21st century and all that is wrong with the world.
Many young people, at least in the western world, are fed a diet that is far too meat centric. The rise and rise of fast food chains illustrates this. It is seen as a treat to make frequent visits to unhealthy fast food chains where high fat, low quality food like burgers or vile chicken 'nuggets' are consumed in vast quantities. One wonders whether many of this generation would even be able to prepare a meal from raw ingredients, let alone one that contained any kind of useful nutrition.
It's unhealthy, unsustainable and unethical.
Shameful Disregard For Animal Welfare
But the biggest shame - and it is very shameful - is that figure.
180,000,000 chickens killed every day to satisfy human greed.
The sooner cultured meat reaches the marketplace the better. The unimaginable cruelty that animals suffer at the hands of humans to satisfy selfish gluttony is frankly disgusting.
Many times when I advocate the merits of cultured meat, I am met with a less than enthusiastic response. Claims that the process is somehow 'unethical' or that it smacks of sinister Frankenstein-like meddling with our food, are spurious. It is less 'meddled with' than all the mass produced supermarket meat that is consumed today, some of which has been pumped full of Lord-knows-what to make it bigger and heavier than it would naturally be - and filled with chemicals to counteract the disease that would normally occur under the cramped and unnatural conditions under which the animals are raised.
An Ethical Way Forward
Israeli company Supermeat are one of the pioneers in the production of cultured meat. I've written about them before but it seems apt in the light of these appalling figures to reference them again. It's not only the fact that switching to cultured meat will mean an end to the immense cruelty associated with factory farming but, as Supermeat's website points out "according to research, switching to clean [cultured] meat will allow a reduction of up to 98% in greenhouse gas emissions, 99% in land exploitation, and up to 96% in water usage."
That is why I support the efforts of companies such as Supermeat and others who are striving towards a world where factory farming will be a thing of the shameful past.
Many will call me a hypocrite for eating meat whilst criticising the meat industry but to be honest, that's not the point. I see and acknowledge all that is wrong with factory farming. It is symptomatic of a world where ethical thinking is fast disappearing. Greed and gluttony are becoming acceptable traits.
Cultured meat would provide the solution to at least one of the world's problems.
And to those who remain sceptical I ask: can you live with the knowledge that 180,000,000 chickens lose their lives each and every day to satisfy your craving for a cheap meal?
My petition to save English ravens from being culled is getting lots of support from the public - showing quite clearly that we will not tolerate the persecution and extermination of a rare and protected native species.
As the number of signatures approaches 3,000 we are sending a clear message to those in power that giving a green light to kill these majestic birds will not be tolerated.
When we get to the 5,000 mark, I'll contact Environment Secretary Michael Gove and try to persuade him to revoke the licences and to stop the issuing of any more.
Please continue to sign and share the petition - and sincere thanks again for all of your fantastic support.
Farmers will be allowed to shoot protected Ravens in England it has been announced. Natural England, the Government sponsored wildlife agency, has issued licences for the cull in spite of widespread public outrage when similar permissions were given to kill Ravens in Scotland earlier this year.
The birds, which are only now beginning to recover from long term decline, remain a very rare species with an estimated population of less than 8,000 pairs in the whole of the UK.
According to farmers, the Ravens attack lambs and piglets which they say justifies the new move to shoot the birds.
Although it is clearly terrible to hear accounts of Ravens killing lambs, one does have to point out the hypocrisy when the same lambs are destined to suffer a similar fate at the hands of humans a little further down the line anyway....
The move to cull these magnificent birds raises many questions about the government's commitment to conservation and preserving wildlife. They point out that the numbers of birds shot will be "strictly limited". Of course that will depend on the integrity of the farmers.
A statement issued by Natural England (quoted in the Sunday Times) claims that "The number of birds killed......won't harm the improving conservation of this species." They are either so naïve as to believe their own claim or they are attempting to pacify an already furious public with hollow reassurances that will do nothing to improve their already tarnished reputation. They are, after all, the same people who sanctioned a free-for-all nationwide badger killing spree.
I've set up a petition to persuade the government to think again and revoke the licences.
Please sign and share widely.
CLICK HERE TO SIGN
I was reticent about publishing my recent post, in which I pondered the existence of creatures such as fairies and other elementals. But I needn't have worried. The response, (with more than 1000 views so far), was overwhelmingly positive. It seems that people, even in this technology dominated age, still believe in magic and the discovery of wonder.
Some responded to the piece with accounts describing their own sightings of fairy folk or anecdotes from others who have seen and experienced these and other ethereal creatures. It would appear that there is still a widespread belief in fairies, even though we live in a time when one might assume that truths and beliefs are influenced and informed by scientific 'facts' alone. To find that this is not so is reassuringly refreshing.
Science has not yet 'proven' the existence of elemental beings but that doesn't unsettle me in any way. Science has yet to explain many things that we know exist, such as metamorphosis, one example being the process whereby a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Of course it can be described as a 'chemical reaction' and a 'rearrangement of molecules' but in fact (and here I do mean fact), we can witness it happening and see the incredible result of something that might - using regular science as a yardstick - be considered impossible. And imagine trying to visualise a butterfly if you had never seen one...
Recently I witnessed the incredibly moving sight of Damselflies in the British countryside. Fluttering playfully above a stream, vivid green-winged Elysian beings. The sight of these wonderfully bizarre and other-worldly creatures was a reminder that we do not have to look very far to find forms of life that challenge our preconceptions. If a Damselfly exists then surely it's not such a stretch of the imagination to believe in fairies.
My conclusion is that sometimes that which is deemed impossible is in fact possible. Though many may not have seen fairies and elves with their own eyes, they may well have seen other scientifically challenging forms of life. This amazing world is home to so many impossible and improbable creatures. So it is very likely to be home to elementals too.
Those who scoff at the notion of fairies are a little silly, one might even say smug. People with small minds, opinions based only on received knowledge, and with limited wisdom are never going to be the ones who change the world.
As children we know that anything is possible, we live in a state of fascination and discovery. But as we grow up, we are influenced by those whose remit is oftentimes to make us conform. Imagination is a quality that they try to drum out of us as we grow older. Independent thinking is frowned upon. But some of us refused to let them take our imagination away.
Truly, anything is possible in the bigger reality if one enters with an open mind, while conforming to a world of limited perception means missing out on a world of limitless possibilities.
I'd love to hear your own tales of encounters with fairies, elementals and other nature spirits.
Please contact me (you can remain anonymous if you wish) through my contact form or just leave a comment following this piece.
I've just returned from a few peaceful days in rural Wales where there was time to think and time to wonder, in the magical surroundings, about the magical things in life.
I recalled tales of supernatural beings, fairies, goblins and other species of little folk, that have intrigued me through the years.
It was easy to believe in the existence of these ethereal beings when I was small. And in this beautiful quiet Welsh valley, once again it seemed somehow possible. Indeed, in the isolation of this lovely place, one only had to take a small leap of faith to imagine the fantastical becoming 'real'.
Whatever 'real' is....
Although fairy folk have been documented since very early times, when there was widespread acceptance of their existence, they passed first into folklore and later into mythology before being largely banished into the realms of pure fantasy as people moved away from a connection with nature and instead embraced science, industry and technology.
Fairy folk were consigned to history and those who professed a belief in the supernatural beings became a source of ridicule.
Sporadic reported sightings of fairy folk were quickly dismissed as nonsense and gradually their memory faded.
But in 2014 a respected professor, John Hyatt, took some photographs which startled the world. Professor Hyatt had apparently captured images of fairies whilst photographing the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. This was not a replay of the famous Cottingley sensation of the early 20th century when two young girls claimed to have photographed fairies, the resulting images causing a widespread fascination which lasted for decades until the whole episode was exposed as a likely hoax.
This time it really looked as though there might be irrefutable evidence of the existence of the little folk, photographed using modern equipment and by a renowned professor.
Even so, many scoffed at the very notion, ridiculing the pictures and dismissing them as showing nothing more than dancing midges.
But others believed.
And as images of the mysterious beings were shared around the world through social media, the professor was inundated with photographs of fairies from all parts of the planet.
It seemed that the existence of the mystical creatures might not merely be wishful thinking or the imaginings of a few romantics. It suggested, at the very least, that there was a strong desire to believe in something otherworldly, perhaps magical - and maybe even confirmed what many of us have always known, that there is more to life than that which first meets the eye.
Professor Hyatt told the Manchester Evening News that his images were "genuine and have not been altered in any way". He added "The message to people is to approach them with an open mind. There are stranger things in life than fairies, and life grows everywhere".
In some countries the belief in, or should we say 'knowledge of', supernatural beings has never been disputed. In Iceland, for example, elves (another species of fairy folk) are entirely accepted as real by more than half the population. Anthropologist Magnus Skarphedinsson told the South China Morning Post "There is no doubt that they exist. In other countries, with western scientific arrogance [and] the denial of everything that they have not discovered themselves, they say that witnesses are subject to hallucinations.”
I've never given up on my belief in things magical, the type of magic and mystery that exists in the unfathomable beauty of nature. And if that encompasses a willingness to believe in fairies and other supernatural folk then I'm very comfortable with that.
I'm in good company after all. Many respected people are humble enough to know that we don't in fact know it all.
And when I stand amidst the staggering beauty of a mysterious remote Welsh valley, accepting the reality of the supernatural is actually the most natural thing in the world.
It was depressing to read the news of yet another UK local council hell-bent on felling apparently healthy trees this week; part of a trend, it seems, that involves concreting every last inch of our towns and cities, often under the guise of health and safety 'to protect pedestrians from uneven pavements'.
As an excuse for hacking down a healthy tree, that one is a bit rubbish.
This time the tree felling is taking place in South Shields, whose residents are furious at the wanton destruction of their street trees by a council who appear to be oblivious to the concerns of the people they were elected to represent. The good folks of South Shields are afraid that their town will suffer the same fate as the now infamous city of Sheffield, whose sad claim to fame is that of being the tree felling capital of the UK, thanks to its reckless council. In spite of mass protests, that city has become synonymous with all that is wrong with local government.
Lessons from other countries...
While it doesn't help the growing problem here in the UK, it is nevertheless heartening to read that in other parts of the world, there still exists respect for green spaces, especially in urban areas. If only we could follow their lead.
India is a good example. Recently the high court in Mumbai acknowledged what all thinking people already know - that the felling of even one single tree will have a direct impact on the local ecosystem. Justice Abhay Oka told the court that "when permission is granted to fell [even] one tree.....the tree is permanently lost - and the loss of even a single tree can have an adverse impact on the environment." Justice Oka also reminded municipal corporations of their obligation under local Indian laws to carry out a census of existing trees every five years.
Can you imagine something as environmentally responsible as a census of trees taking place here in the UK? At the rate local councils here are cutting them down, I doubt it would take them very long to count any trees that remain. Not that many councils are noted for their competence with figures...
We can learn valuable lessons from cities such as Mumbai where clearly they have a better understanding of the essential role trees play in keeping our environment healthy and vibrant.
But alas for the distressed people of South Shields, their council appear to remain unenlightened. Worried locals have set up a group to monitor and act on tree felling in their locality. Their Facebook group, South Tyneside Tree Action Group (STTAG),
explains that they don't want to be the next Sheffield although they say that they have been encouraged by the noble battle residents of that city have been fighting: "inspired by the campaigns in Sheffield, this group has been set up by local people in South Tyneside to monitor and take action on tree felling and the revoking of Tree Preservation Orders in the local area."
South Tyneside Council claims that it will replace the lost trees in South Shields with new ones "nearby in a more appropriate location" (whatever that means) but locals best not hold their breath. Liverpool City Council 'promised' the very same thing when they felled more than thirty healthy Plane trees last year to make way for a huge multi storey car park. The new trees are yet to materialise, although as I write, the council is pushing ahead with a plan that involves cutting down yet more trees in the city centre.
The mind-set of those who propose urban tree felling is baffling to many of us. But maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Stupidity is on the increase and there's not much you can do when faced with that.
I recall an old saying that might possibly apply to some local councillors, perhaps the ones who make the decisions to cut down healthy trees in Spring....
Ignorance can be educated. Crazy can be medicated. But there is no cure for stupid.
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