I STARTED supporting the Wildfowl Trust, as it was then, about 40 years ago after a magical visit to their reserve at Caerlaverock in southern Scotland. I saw thousands of barnacle geese on and flying above their wintering grounds, whooper swans and all sorts of other wonderful birds most of which I have never seen before or since. There was an enthusiastic warden, I think his name was Colin Campbell, who was a real inspiration to the visitors.
Since then I have had a series of ‘adopted’ barnacle geese, but I have been conscious for quite a number of years that like so many wildlife outfits, the renamed Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has totally bought into the global warming scam, which is now used as an excuse for every adverse event. The final straw for me was when Alan and I visited the WWT reserve at Martin Mere not all that far from us in Lancashire early this year. What a joyless experience it was. Covid regulations were still in full force (unnecessarily) and everywhere you looked there were padlocked gates and ‘No Entry’ signs. Not a warden in sight – all the staff we saw were in the main building, in masks, attending to tasks which all involved avoiding eye contact with visitors (who had paid handsomely for the privilege – adult entry is £15.95). After that I cancelled my membership, or at least I thought I did.
However the other day a ‘Goose Adoption Update’ leaflet came in the post. It included an article on the emperor goose (Anser canagicus), a lovely chunky species that breeds in the Alaskan Arctic and winters a few hundred miles further south on Alaska’s islands.
This is part of what it said:
On another page there was a report on brent geese (Branta bernicla), which I wrote about here, saying that the population has increased by 80 per cent in 30 years in the UK and Ireland. (In passing, the WWT has apparently dispensed with Latin names.)
At the end of the leaflet was this jaunty message:
I took them at their word and emailed as follows:
Your latest mailing features the emperor goose, which the pamphlet says is declining due to a combination of hunting and climate change. Can you please explain the role of climate change in this decline? Can you also give some rough figures to give an idea of the scale of the decline?
Your pamphlet says that brent geese have increased by 80 per cent in 30 years. Is climate change thought to be responsible for this?
Many days later I received this reply:
‘In response to your specific question regarding the effects of climate change on the decline of numbers of the Emperor Goose, I would confirm that all species of wildfowl that depend on wetlands are experiencing habitat loss and some of that is due to climate change but also humanity, hence the urgency to promote respect for this and all species, as we strive to minimise our impact on the environment. Any species that has evolved to cope with extremes, will be affected by climate change, if the way they have evolved no longer allows them to monopolise their unique area. With regards to the effects of hunting, particularly in the USA, this has a huge impact on the decline of migratory species.’
In other words a lot of waffle, no figures, and no comment on the brent geese success story.
Obviously the problem – the only problem – is shooting. There are legal limits on how many geese may be shot, but Alaska is 665,400 square miles, impossible to police. A quick look on Google turned up 24 sites offering goose shooting, and I stopped counting at 35 on YouTube. In fact there were almost no videos that were not about shooting.
I don’t know what the answer is to the shooting problem – if it were banned it would still go on, but less publicly. The trouble is that while climate change is easy to blame, hands will be wrung and no action taken. Yet there is so much in practical terms that could be done to improve the environment and help wildlife. I suppose it is a lot less exciting than pouring soup over Old Masters or sticking your face to the road but I wish that energy (and apparently limitless time) could be put to good use.
Anyway when I have finished writing this column I will check that I have cancelled my WWT membership.
While on the subject of geese, this skein flying east to west were so high up that I could hardly make them out. You can see the moon at the top of the picture.
Sheep of the Week
THIS is a Greyface Dartmoor. The breed, also known as the Dartmoor or the Improved Dartmoor, is descended from the ancient sheep that used to graze the lowlands round Dartmoor. In the 19th century they were crossed with longwool breeds to achieve a heavier fleece better suited for the harsher uplands. It is a slow-maturing breed taking some three years to reach maturity, therefore it is not very profitable, but it is attractive and amenable, so there are a number of flocks kept throughout the country for show and visitors. The ‘greyface’ refers to the speckles on the nose.
You can find out more at the Dartmoor Sheep Breeders’ Association website.
Here are a pair of lambs with their ultra-patient mum.
And some more lambs, very energetic ones, with music that someone considered suitable.
There is also a Whiteface Dartmoor sheep which I will write about later.
AFTER I wrote about the Valais Blacknose sheep from Switzerland last week, TCW writer Janice Davis sent me this delightful picture taken by her husband Stuart while out hiking in the mountains. The great thing about these sheep is that they are not frightened of people.
Janice also referred me to another Swiss speciality, the many festivals which take place when cows and goats are brought down from their summer pastures in the Alps. I must say Switzerland looks a most attractive place.
Wheels of the week
THIS is a 1979 Austin Morris minivan, 998cc. The Mini (originally badged as Austin Se7en or Morris Mini-Minor) had been in production for a year when this derivative was announced in 1960. It had the same performance as the saloon (0-60mph in 33.8 seconds, top speed 69 mph, overall fuel consumption 38 mpg) but because it was classed as a commercial vehicle it was not liable for purchase tax. In 1960 it sold for £360 (£6,500 now) while the saloon cost £497 (nearly £9,000 now). For this reason it was popular as an alternative to a car with windows. It was apparently not supposed to exceed 30mph (40mph on the new M1). A total of 521,494 were built before production ceased in 1983.