BY KEN GRIFFIN
Good day to you.
A friend of mine took a humorous poke at me the other week and made mention of wolf reintroduction in Scotland, and it brings to mind something I have been working through my mind regarding the human species. I term it thus :
This deals with the academic capacity to fabricate a mind goal, set about achieving it, in this case to do with blinkered conservation at someone else’s expense, without comprehending the absolute ecological chaos which could ensue beyond that point.
Much in the same way that it is considered that one might go mad if one tries to contemplate infinity because for most people, they require to bracket things with a beginning and an end whilst failing to consider that there might be consequences awaiting on the far side of the barrier, and perhaps it might be considered at this point that authoritarian declarations throughout the ages, postulated with some finality by scientists who were important in their day, litter the hall floorways of academia as younger generations unearth further knowledge.
So this hypothetical, self-sustaining Neolithic re-wilded park – for the time being known as the Highlands of Scotland, (re-wilding is the latest fashionable ‘in-word’ which lends authority and respectability to conservation projects, but which in fact has been quietly practised by individuals in unknown corners for many years), which has become today’s target location for retired holiday-home and boarding houses along with the new asset-stripping practice of Air-B&B’s; will host wolves, lynx, and according to some wishful thinkers – bears, and these creatures will reduce and control man’s designated number-one enemy, the deer, as they race past beaver lodges formed by NON beaver felled trees which the conservationists claimed at the beginning of their new introductory wheeze, were European beavers which did not harm trees.
The fact that beavers had mysteriously arrived from Europe ahead of the designated release date and were happily setting-up home in one or two of our Scottish central belt larger rivers was ignored without comment as a fait accompli, but that would hardly be surpising because it was endorsed by the same nature bureau who would quickly prosecute an ‘ordinary’ person who does not possess the required green card, for killing a member of the crow family which was eliminating every other bird species in his garden.
In the meantime, whilst plans are being made to achieve all this by negating-by-propaganda any real country-folk opposition on their biased TV shows, the ‘other hand’ of conservation largely influenced by politics and fuelled by tax-payers’ money from an ecologically ignorant Scottish government, have stamped their feet and ordered the decimation of the deer herds, which of course, coincidentally removes the last remaining icon which it is cleverly inferred to the majority vote-holding public in and around cities, ‘belong’ to the private landowners, in order to discredit them and discourage private land ownership.
Thus the ownership of land is transferred from those who bought the estates and ran it largely out of their private pockets, admittedly with some forestry grant aid, into the hands of re-wilding, government employed academics in a bloodless coup – bloodless in the sense that generations of skilled traditional Highland jobs are eliminated and such families are moved on, but bloody in the case of the deer which are being shot, many out of season, (or during the seasons conveniently re-invented by the new conservationists), and viable living calves are cut out of their dead mothers’ wombs to die; legs moving and bodies shivering.
Thus, Field sports visitors who added to local Highland economies meet an inglorious end and seasonal hill work for local folk and in some cases, students, accompanies it along with the demise of some of the most famous Atlantic salmon rivers in the world.
Such is the bureaucratic dictatorship of the new order that they empower their paid riflemen to lay waste to a largely self-sustaining source of healthy protein whilst killing, as collateral damage, healthy female deer on the point of parturition, and one wonders if the badger-lovers whose heads live in Disneyland are aware of the evil they endorse with their support and money.
The goal is achieved. Hurray! The Caesars in comfortable offices far away from the reality of spilled guts and still pulsating wombs lying on the grass can call for their vessels of water in which to wash their hands.
But back briefly to the humorous dig in the ribs about wolf re-introduction. My feelings about wolves are, shall we say, ambivalent.
Whilst I was temporarily posted at the Bridge of Don barracks outside Aberdeen in 1968 I used to take my young family along to Hazelhead park where in those days there was a small zoo which housed domestic animals and pets for children to pet, but which also included a large enclosure further away containing timber wolves.
The wolves fascinated me. I had always had a ‘pull’ to be accepted by wild creatures because by some chance it suited my childhood in wild places; and it was with this in mind that I found that by sitting at one of the chainlink corners of the compound, a young male would detach himself from the others and come sit next to me, apparently listening with ears cocked and head to one side whilst I spoke to him.
I visited as often as I could and he always came over to sit with me.
Would there have been a next step? Of course not, it would never have been allowed and life gets in between. Closer communication would not have been possible and in any case, I was transferred to Edinburgh and the environs of the then Army School of Piping at the castle for my Pipe-major’s course.
Fifty-two years have passed since then but my memories of sitting only inches away from that young wolf remain. Was I so wrong in wishing for a bond of trust? Pragmatism steps in. We have left no room for the wolf which is why the last known one was officially killed in Scotland in 1688 although sightings were rumoured for over a hundred years more.
In the same way as trees were felled in order to make safety clearings around habitations and provide firewood and timber, the wild creatures were driven back and killed in order to help ensure human safety and protection against marauders of domestic stock. Lives and livings were at stake and there was no room for the larger predators.
The mountains and glens of Scotland have never been the empty and unused wildernesses as seems to be imagined in the minds of the majority of today’s population. Every corner of the fastnesses had a name and a use and a history, but our govenment bodies – and Edinburgh is as far away as London in practical terms – have given the vastly increased midland and lowland masses who have the luxury of overnight transport on modern roads – the ‘Right to roam’, (which in effect the indigenous people always have had in Scotland, including the right to fish for brown trout in unstocked waterways).
The more accessible animal-habitable areas of the hills and glens have always been utilised as grazings for sheep and deer, with herded cattle occupying the pasture of the rough glens.
Deer will ascend to the higher places in suitable weather in order to nibble and rest away from nuisance flies, as will reluctant sheep herds if driven by proper shepherding, but the visually impacting high places of large mountain acreage hold little for either ungulates or predators as a home-base. Such places belong to those few miniature mammals such as pygmy shrews which can survive on lean pickings, and those birds which can gain access to food by the mere spreading of wings – with the exception of the hardy ptarmigan and blue hare – sparse in the North West, which have evolved to survive on the hard rations to be found in alpine conditions.
So where do wolves – or bears – fit in to the Britain of today? I can only imagine a scenario which contains cities and towns from which people will emerge to refresh themselves and play in the enlarged ‘natural’ parks which would be mainly devoid of any traditional countryside pursuits where such animals might roam unimpeded by the requirements of humans, because any other arrangement would result in inevitable clashes where, in the present ‘green’ climate, the humans would come off materially and morally worse.
In the meantime, Covid-19 arrived. Surprise! It had been quietly foretold but was ignored like anything else which might get in the way of finances and a government which has proved to be detrimental to the morale of us all; in one instance holding a drinking party whilst our Queen; just widowed, sat in mourning in isolation.
Not everyone believes in the monarchy, but for any self respecting person that was a vile degradation indicating the utmost indifference from members of our government to a long reigning woman who, as a princess, served as a driver mechanic during WW2.
We had no idea how the Covid -19 viral situation might develop but it began to give the impression of what a future might be for the survivors in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Communities separated, families forced apart for fear of passing on infection, and self-isolation. Industry wound down and it is indicative of how entrenched our lack of self-sustainability has become that the main focus, ad-infinitum on the daily news was how the entertainment, hospitality and tourism, so-called ‘industries’ were suffering; although for some in favoured places, it was another opportunity to get their hands in the till and profit from others’ misery.
There was no mention of real industries which actually produce things of worth to sustain a nation such as mines or smelters or steel, not a word about makers of fabrics or of soft fruit farms. One daffodil grower in the East of England could not obtain his usual East-European pickers and his crop largely went to waste. He managed to employ six young local people who walked off the job after a day of rain.
Anyway, up here in the North West we can grow only limited supplies of anything due to a lack of agricultural ground which consists mainly of narrow and intermittent coastal strips around the river mouths of sea lochs, the crops on which suffer from the vagaries of erratic weather; but in any case, where was the seed to come from where there were no seed crop supplies? Many traditional mixed farms outside coastal towns, even on the more alluvial river-mouth areas of the East Coast had partially closed down and the land sold to housing developers, partly because they could not compete with the prairie-type farms of further South, which in turn are at the fickle mercy of supermarket retailers, and a small patch of Tatties on a croft up in the Highlands and Islands was not going to solve many problems, particularly as when this virus struck there was no time to prepare.
Just over twenty years ago I retired from the task of estate woodland maintenance, and finalising, with my team of stalkers, the completion of a model Highland deer herd on this peninsula. At that time it hosted a balanced population of fifteen hundred deer on 66 thousand acres of deer forest which – after ten years of experimental assessment which concluded some forty years of selective culling, the incoming weights of deer carcasses had stabilised to provide proof of a balanced grazing pressure.
After I departed from the position the killing rapidly increased and the numbers were radically reduced according to the new fashion which was enforced by the government advisors, leaving nothing but unchecked hill grasses and heather.
It was a very real example of the finite extent of an otherwise educated rationale.
Far fewer herbivores remained to control the otherwise unused vegetation whilst the clean grazing habits of a well-managed deer population in which they pace and crop were no longer available to urinate and dung the ground which provided nutrients over a wide-spread area during their daily routines of ascending and descending the hill faces at dawn and dusk; nor to help clear patches of heather with new shoots for grouse, or the insects for grouse chicks which are encouraged by dunging nutrients.
There are now far fewer natural mortality carcasses which are inevitable on even the best managed deer ground, thus denying the eagle and raven, badger, fox, marten and all of the smaller carnivores on the hill some sustenance during the hardest part of their year in early spring or further into early summer when the calves are still vulnerable; thus, it might be said, effecting a conservationist ‘own goal’.
Claims about starvation and too many deer are wrong in the majority of cases because a deer can only crop so much food in a day. The crucial point lies in the quality of nutrients which can be extracted from that daily intake and the energy-sapping weather which affects the body mass which that extracted nutrient has to fuel. There is also the matter of nutrition and mineral value, or lack, which transfers from the base rock to the plant-life but this seems to have been ignored.
However, there is a further consideration because of the introduction of American wapiti blood from Southern English deer parks which now probably extends to all parts of the readily accessible mainland in Britain. Stags, being long-distance travellers during the rutting season will have relayed genes through generations of transfer which in receptive females can and will produce larger-bodied animals which, when born and raised in periods of better weather will survive, but they are not properly evolved to cope with the conditions they will encounter in most areas of the Highlands during leaner years, and the prolonged effects of wet chill in the North West are bound to emerge, thus giving the impression of starvation when large hinds and calves are found lying dead because of a lack of nutrition – not intake bulk, and it was here that the Victorian era of masculine superiority which permeated all aspects of social strata during that period, and for some decades after revealed another of its flaws because attempts to introduce ‘better heads’ on the deer forests by the insertion of this viable hybrid blood had unforeseen side effects. Dung dropped by deer also provides food for beetles and beetles provide food for the pygmy shrews, and there is evidence that the furred and feathered carrion eaters have been driven to abandon their old foraging grounds on the middle-ground hill and corrie areas in order to scavenge where possible on the lower ground where in some cases they are becoming a nuisance.
Did anyone inform the wolf, bear and lynx adherents that the projected prey victims of their new Neolithic-type nature park were being radically decreased by order of their administration who are hiring ‘hit-men’ ?
The obvious conclusion is that such reintroduced predators would quickly adapt and find alternative sources of food, especially after they had largely cleaned up the remaining deer which have never been subject to being driven by determined predators. Surprise attacks by bears are possible in woodland areas, but on the open hill? The main diet of bears in hill lands consists of ground squirrels and berries and there are none of the former and precious little of the latter in Scotland.
Sheep would now be on the menu – and the calves of small cattle herds.
Protests would undoubtedly pour in; they already are regarding the predation of lambs by a reintroduced surplus of sea eagles which are of course protected and must not be number-managed, but the ‘New Green’ contingent don’t give a hoot about a native farmer’s livestock, and it appears that there is no reparation for domestic stock losses. A telling remark to the media by a representative of Scot Nature was to the effect that the eagles are good for tourism. Crofters themselves are now the next obvious blockage after private landlords. They perhaps consider that with their crofting laws they have more political clout than the politically incorrect landlords with whom they have had historical feuds, (and who were in some cases, better friends to them than they might imagine), but they should not disabuse themselves of the possibility that they could be the next human target for eradication by the new greens – who seem to operate with covert fascism. If I remember rightly, a probe has already been made by the SNH in order to see if they could interfere in crofting practices, but was immediately repulsed. It would not be long before the tail was wagging the dog.
Victory in the acquisiton of land is a heady and habit-forming thing and make no mistake. Hitler suffered from it as did many other invaders who were more successful in the centuries before him and the manipulative brainchild theorists have now joined the queue – quite successfully on TV with their end of program rallying call of (“Please write and tell us about your secret favourite places”).
I looked around me at the virtually empty hills in 2020, empty apart from a hugely increased number of hill-walkers and the all pervading sound of revving NC500 vehicles which now encircle two thirds of the peninsula, all of which would compete with the proposed predator re-introductions for ‘rights of passage’. These people would scare the hunted quarry away – as they do with hill stalking deer-management parties, and I pondered on the fact that for no realistic reason, a valuable asset on which the local community could help sustain itself during difficult times had been removed. I had the rifle and many years of professional experience with such a tool, but where were the deer ?
You can’t shoot and eat memories, and it would be a pity to kill the memento remnants of a once excellent deer herd which occupy the park and entertain the tourists on their way to the Potting Shed Restaurant in the walled garden of the Big House.