Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Conservation's Dirty Secret

Last night I watched Channel 4’s Dispatches programme entitled “Conservation’s Dirty Secrets”. It proposed to examine the way in which big conservation charities are run and questioning whether the conservation movement has got it wrong by focusing on charismatic ‘megafauna’ and by putting animals before people.

Personally I enjoyed the programme as there are often concerns about how and where donations are spent and the interrelations between charities and big corporations. The programme uncovered rather unsavoury links between conservation charities and big polluting oil companies and the charities gave poor responses to the reasons behind these links. However, this is journalism and many people felt that it bordered on sensationalism (comments via twitter).

To berate a charity for using cute, fluffy animals to get the money in is not, in my opinion, the travesty it was made out to be. If the charities in question are ploughing the donations into a range of conservation challenges across the world then I am happy for them to have a flagship species to help them raise awareness. In terms of educating people overall however this “disneyfication of conservation” is not ideal and a more holistic approach should be taken; more effort made to show why it is important to sustain a variety of ecosystems and species.

The programme also showed the very murky side of putting wildlife before people. Groups of indigenous people in Kenya were shown to be being evicted from their homes and aggressively pursued by armed government officials; resulting in rape and murder. All in the name of a new reserve for the African Wildlife Trust. This is not acceptable under any circumstances. Local people must be considered and involved in these projects for them to work. It is essential for them to engage with conservation, and for them to benefit. This is not a new concept – but it seems an elusive one to many.

Overall I think it raised some important points but it did not give the charities in question much right to reply. It is a reminder to people to check (as best they can) where their donations are going before they give their hard-earned cash and that applies to all charities not just conservation.

As a student of conservation and a member of conservation charities I will not be changing any of my donations as for me the money that is spent on the projects and the good work that is carried out far outweighs any concerns I have about where and how it is being spent. Currently I donate to local and national charities and am not involved with international organisations.  This programme will not stop me from donating to, or working for a large, international charity but I will certainly think more carefully about it.

But don't take my word for it follow the link in the first paragraph and make your own mind up!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

This season is all about the little black caps.....

A sad weekend for me now that Springwatch has ended on television and I can no longer indulge in my Chris Packham adulation on a nightly-basis... however on the advice of the man himself I decided to get out there and experience it first-hand.

It has been a while since I last volunteered at Langdon - about 2 months.  Shockingly remiss of me, however I needed time to prepare for my exams etc and then a month to unwind!  Anyway, I went out this morning to assist with the work party and spent the first hour brush cutting the edges of a Public Right of Way.  Whilst fixing a wobbly blade on the brushcutter Mick received a phone call to advise that one of the cows had escaped from the meadow.  These clever cows manage to squeeze themselves through the kissing gates to make their escape.  They are only young cows but still - it's a tight fit.   We all went down and managed to herd it back through the main gate fairly uneventfully. 

 Whilst we were down there I had my first birding experience of a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) flying around the lake.  At college a tern was described to me by a tutor as "a gull which has died and gone to heaven".  As soon as I saw the tern I understood exactly what he meant.  From a distance it looked very much like a black-headed gull but upon closer inspection it was slender, elegant and simply beautiful to watch.  Potentially, a new favourite!

Common Tern (c) Wikipedia

To top it all however I had another birding first - a blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla).  This was a male singing his heart out at the edge of the bridleway we were clearing.  Fairly common on the reserve yet I had never seen one.  A truly beautiful song, and attractive little bird too.  An excellent day for my bird spots!

Blackcap (c) RSPB

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Moth trapping.... Mosquitoes 4 - Nicola 0

At the end of May I participated in Basildon Natural History Society's records evening.  We were moth trapping at Marks Hill.  The evening started with the regular members setting up 3 moth traps connected to a generator.  We had a table and chairs set up with a magnifying lamp and several small plastic pots and lids.  The object of the night was to capture whatever flew into the traps or indeed flew around our heads!

I was off to a bad start when before the traps were even switched on I was bitten by a mosquito or other such horror.  I realised I had made a school-girl error, foolishly not considering that I was going to be in woodland at dusk, I had failed to apply a single drop of insect repellent.  Being allergic to mosquito bites this was a huge mistake.  So, with that attractive "rambler" look of trousers tucked into my socks, my scarf woven tightly about my neck and the velcro on my jacket fastened tightly around my wrists I set about the all-important task of moth capture.

Armed with a few plastic pots I investigated the first moth trap.  My only experience of moth trapping has been to leave the traps out overnight and then examine the contents in the morning.  It is fairly easy to put the moths in the pots then as they are cold and not moving around much.  This was a whole new experience for me.  Trying to catch a fluttering moth in a small plastic tub, whilst avoiding touching, or looking directly at, the bright hot mercury bulb is no mean feat!  We spent several hours doing this and once I got the hang of it I was capturing moths on the ground, on blades of grass, flying around me and from the inside of the traps.  Each pot was taken to Peter who identified them and made a note of the species.  Once we had a collection of about 10 pots we took turns to walk away from the lights into the woodland to release the moths.  My two favourite finds were Pale Oak Beauty and Green Silver-lines (pictures below)

Pale Oak Beauty [Hypomecis punctinalis]

Green Silver-lines [Pseudoips prasinana britannica]
The next moth recording evening is in a couple of weeks and I would love to go again - but this time I will be head-to-toe in repellent and may even fashion a bee-keeper-esque suit from a mozzie-net...