To further refine my knowledge of potential approaches to both landscape and wildlife subjects, I started to consider various contemporary issues and debates in news stories relating to the natural world.
The first article I have highlighted, relates to recent pressure upon politician to focus upon environmental issues as means preserving Britain’s heritage and wildlife. Within some of my previous research of this subject, I noted that Natural England had posted an article highlighting various flaws in recent government policies towards environmental concerns. This article featured upon the RSPB’s website, offers a more positive view of the potential developments in conservation. However, the overriding concerns for the ever increasing deterioration of our surrounding land and how drastic changes need to be made in governmental attitudes to ecological issues.
RSPB response to Nick Clegg green speech
Last modified: 07 November 2013
Today’s green speech from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg contained welcome commitments on environmental issues – but these must be turned into reality.
That’s the message from RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harper, after the event this morning hosted by the Green Alliance.
Mr Harper said: “It was right that the deputy prime minister put the natural environment back on the political agenda. It is clear that nature matters to him and his family. That it is why it is important for Mr Clegg to outline his agenda for protecting and investing in nature.
“Mr Clegg encouraged the environmental movement to continue ‘holding our feet to the fire’ when it comes to pushing for progressive environmental policies from this administration. However he also sought to defend the lobbying bill which could seriously affect our ability to do just that.
“Government does have a role to play so we welcome his commitment to statutory environmental bodies such as Natural England and Environment Agency – but these are bodies that are facing major cuts and are no longer able to speak truth to power.
“The current plan for saving nature is inadequate so we need a political arms race for the best answers to these problems. Mr Clegg must therefore turn intent into action and we look forward to hearing Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband’s response.”
Another article featured upon RSPB draws highlight to another reoccurring, national issue in relation to wildlife, the impact of farming and agri-business upon deteriorated natural habitats. One of the most avid campaigners of this concept found within the field of natural photography was Fay Godwin, in particular within ‘Our Forbidden Land’. I found that this issue has continued to escalate further, but there is an element of optimism within a recent rise of social awareness in regards to the significance of negative human influence. Within this article, RSPB discusses how various farmers and agri businesses have taken steps to show a vested interest in preserving local wildlife.
Minister urged to give wildlife-friendly farming a future
12 November 2013
Farmers and agri-businesses from across Northern Ireland have lent their support to the RSPB’s campaign calling for DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA to give wildlife-friendly farming a future by transferring vital funds into the Rural Development Programme (RDP), and specifically agri-environment schemes, to ensure that farmers can continue to help threatened wildlife and restore natural habitats.
The farmers and agri-businesses have signed a letter sent to the Minister earlier this week, encouraging her to transfer the maximum rate of funding (15%) from Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It is understood that the Minister will make a decision on how much will be transferred before 31 December this year.
John Martin, RSPB NI Senior Conservation Officer commented: “The letter sent to the Minister is quite unique. Almost 70 farmers and agri-businesses are clearly saying that investing in wildlife friendly farming is vital to protect wildlife and habitats, as well as providing a clear and targeted purpose for public money.
“Within Northern Ireland 73 per cent of our countryside is agricultural land and the way in which it is farmed has a massive impact on our wildlife and natural environment. Many farmers are already giving nature a home and this letter to the Minister demonstrates an appetite to continue protecting our natural heritage into the future.”
Jack Kelly, a farmer who signed the letter, added: “As a local farmer I know that I can help restore nature in our countryside – and have been doing so for the past number of years.
“Things have changed dramatically during my time in farming. Species such as the corn bunting and grey partridge used to be regular visitors to our land, now they are a distant memory. I have also seen a sharp decline in butterflies and bees as well as other beneficial insects that help to pollinate and protect my crops.
“I have added my name to the letter to the DARD Minister because I believe that Government should be doing all it can to help protect our wildlife and habitats. I attended an RSPB farm event on 4 November which highlighted how agri-environment schemes are helping to reverse the declines in birds and other wildlife. I recognise that when farmers get help to work their land in a more sustainable way, it is a lifeline for many of our most threatened habitats and species.”
I also came across a story that raised certain ethical issues in the agenda and priorities of natural organisations. For the last decade there has been a great deal of dispute within scientific communities in regards to the spread of tuberculosis via badgers within the UK. Despite a significant amount of scientific findings and evidence against culling badgers, some which suggest that badger culling could spread the disease further as a result. The decision to go forward with the cull regardless highlights a priority in the interests of farmers and landowners in potential financial losses that could arise through the death of their cattle. This could possibly be further reinforced through a national past time of hunting for sport. This article highlights neglect of Natural England, an organisation I had previously respected for its efforts in encouraging social awareness of environmental issues.
Natural England overruled its adviser to extend badger cull in Gloucestershire
The controversial decision by Natural England to extend the culling ofbadgers in Gloucestershire was narrowly approved against the recommendation of its own top scientific adviser, according to internal documents seen by the Guardian.
At the board meeting, the head of NE’s science advisory committee, Professor David Macdonald, described the view that killing more badgers would lead to better disease control was “not easily reconciled with the evidence”.
A legal challenge to abandon the cull is now certain, said the Badger Trust, which successfully ended culling in Wales through court action.
The NE executive who made the final decision to extend the cull, Andrew Wood, told the meeting: “The science was uncertain and did not give a definitive answer. A judgement-based decision had to be made.”
Prof Macdonald, an NE board member and badger expert, told the Guardian: “It’s an appalling dilemma, but the evidence suggests an extension of the culling in Gloucestershire is unlikely to [curb tuberculosis in cattle]. I fear there will be two tragic losers, the farmers who are paying the crippling bill for extending this trial and the badgers whose lives may be lost for little purpose”
Jeff Hayden, a director at the Badger Trust, said: “This government has a feudal attitude to wildlife and feudal attitude to transparency. They have withheld information as long as possible and have still not disclosed other information. We will make the legal challenge, it is just a matter of timing.”
The badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are intended to test whether shooting free-running badgers at night can kill enough animalsto cut TB infections in cattle. Both failed to kill the minimum 70% required in the six weeks allowed but both were granted extensions by NE. Even after its extension, the Somerset cull still failed to meet its minimum target. Bovine TB has risen in the last decade and led to the slaughter of 28,000 cattle in 2012, which ministers say cost taxpayers £100m.
The NE board meeting on 23 October considered the case for extending the Gloucestershire cull by eight weeks, but four of the nine members expressed severe reservations, particularly on the pivotal advice of the government’s chief veterinary officer (CVO) Nigel Gibbens. Wood said that advice was “the key” to the decision to extend.
During the meeting, the minutes of which have been obtained by the Guardian, MacDonald said: “The CVO’s advice that killing further badgers would lead to better disease control is not easily reconciled with the evidence.” He added it was “hard to understand” how further trials could be licensed following the failure of the initial culls. Other board members agreed that the extension was likely to increase TB infections in cattle, with one noting “independent advice should have been sought”. The minutes record discussion of “the fact that it was difficult to predict what the disease control benefits would be”. In the end, the board voted narrowly to allow Wood to make the decision.
A decade-long project that ended in 2008, called the randomised badger culling trial (RBCT), found that killing over 70% of badgers for several years curbed TB by about 16%. But it concluded that culling under 30% of badgers actually led to an increase in TB infections in cattle, as fleeing badgers spreading TB more widely, an effect called perturbation.
In the first six weeks of the Gloucestershire cull, only 30% of badgers were shot, even after a drastic cut in the badger numbers initially estimated to live in the area. The NE minutes, marked “restricted – in confidence”, reveal that “part of the Gloucestershire culling area had been inaccessible due to protester activity.” In the RBCT, the badger culls were conducted over far shorter periods: 8-11 days to reduce the risk of perturbation.
Gibbens’s advice to NE, based on the RBCT data, was that extending the culling for another eight weeks would reduce TB in cattle. However, a core member of the team that conducted the RBCT, Prof Rosie Woodroffe said: “The chief vet’s advice to carry on culling is based upon a very incomplete view of the available evidence. The targets were set high for a reason – if you don’t get enough badgers, you make things worse.” The scientist who commissioned the RBCT, Lord John Krebs, has called the culls “mindless“.
MacDonald said: “My biggest concern is a higher level issue that transcends the case of badgers, and I am deeply concerned that ‘advice’ from Defra officials should have such a determining effect on the decisions of [Natural England] whose function is independently to evaluate evidence. It is crucial that government should have the benefit of constructive challenge from non-departmental bodies that are sufficiently well-resourced and independent to give the highest calibre of advice.” In September, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg revealed that he had blocked attempts by his Conservative coalition partners to scrap NE.
An NE spokesman said: “There are obviously going to be different individual views expressed during meetings. The executive has granted the cull extensions with the full authority of the board and taking account of the very clear advice of the CVO that this would have net disease control benefits.”
A Defra spokesman said: “NE’s experts carefully considered all the information and recommended the licence to continue culling should be granted. This was in line with the CVO’s advice, which has been backed by the British Veterinary Association. We need to do everything we can to get on top of bovine TB which is spreading across the country and devastating our cattle and dairy industries.”
I came across the next article originally when considering ethical issues relating to zoo photography. As a result, I hadn’t fully considered the wider implications of the ethical issues highlighted throughout other aspects of wildlife photography. It is an excellent piece which educated me a great deal in the wider spectrum of wildlife documentary and how the greatest importance should always be placed upon the preservation of the environment and wildlife being studied. Minimal interaction and disruption should be preferable.
There is also the issues of dishonesty when using captive subjects, staging images or intensive post production manipulation, the result is misinformation and misrepresentation of the truthful reputation of ‘wild’ and ‘natural’ scenes. Due to the intensively competitive market in professional wildlife photography in the digital age, there is a greater sense of pressure to produce remarkable and iconic images to distinguish your work and stand out. The conclusion of this was especially constructive, as it offers a series of guidelines for ethical wildlife photography.
Always photograph animals from a safe and respectful distance.
If an animal shows any sign of stress, move further back or leave altogether.
Be patient and never try to force an animal to do something. Remember that the impact of many people is cumulative: you might be the 100th person that day to yell “Hey moose” while the poor creature is trying to feed or care for its young.
Never encroach on nests or dens during the breeding season.
Treat the habitat with the same regard that you have for the animals themselves.
Respect local cultures and customs when you are working abroad.
Check published recommendations, such as the excellent code produced by the Nature Group of The Royal Photographic Society
Finally, always be honest and truthful when captioning your photos.
Ethics in wildlife photography
As the digital revolution opens up a new world of possibilities, Mark Carwardine considers the rights and wrongs of wildlife photography.
So confessing sins in the caption may ease a photographer’s conscience, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem.
Camera trap photography
- Provide only organic food that is part of the animals’ natural diet.
- Be wary of live bait. It is probably OK to offer mealworms to songbirds, but providing mice for birds of prey is a step too far.
- Try not to leave the bait out too long.
- Don’t feed large species that are potentially dangerous.
- Don’t use sounds as bait if they are likely to cause unnecessary stress.
- Use the waterholes and feeding stations already provided in nature reserves.
- Stress in the caption that you used bait.
- Always photograph animals from a safe and respectful distance.
- If an animal shows any sign of stress, move further back or leave altogether.
- Be patient and never try to force an animal to do something. Remember that the impact of many people is cumulative: you might be the 100th person that day to yell “Hey moose” while the poor creature is trying to feed or care for its young.
- Never encroach on nests or dens during the breeding season.
- Treat the habitat with the same regard that you have for the animals themselves.
- Respect local cultures and customs when you are working abroad.
- Check published recommendations, such as the excellent code produced by the Nature Group of The Royal Photographic Society
- Finally, always be honest and truthful when captioning your photos.
In addition, I found a direct response to this article which was very recently published also upon discover wildlife.com, which elaborated further upon some the areas discussed previously. What distinguishes this though is that represents a more ambiguous, objective point of view, questioning and reinforcing different aspects of Carwardine’s impassioned opinions upon wildlife photography. One aspect I found particularly relevant was the purpose of the visual work influences the acceptability of post production manipulation and its credibility as a evidential documentation of animal behaviour.
The first question you might ask is: doesn’t it depend largely on what you’re planning to do with your photos?If a picture of a tiger is intended to illustrate the anatomy and form of the animal – in a children’s textbook, for example, or just to frame at home – does it make any difference where the individual was shot (wild or in a zoo), or whether you removed irrelevant background?
Ethics of wildlife photography – revisited
For my recent video project, I also started to consider more local environmental issues. One area which proved to be a subject of much discussion in the last few years was Chat Moss. This further reinforced the significance of preserving non-commercial areas of natural interest. A brownfield site containing a localised and diverse ecosystem, inhabited by numerous lifeforms. This like many similar issues strikes a personal interest, an awareness of human interference within both our surroundings and interaction (direct or indirect) with the lifeforms within them.
Chat Moss Peat Extraction: Bog under threat
The site is currently 100 ha of bare peat with not a blade of grass or any other vegetation on it, because it has all been removed to allow peat extraction. For that reason it has never been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest although a neighbouring site Astley Moss is designated as a SSSI and also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive. Ironically the Chat Moss site is regarded as having the greater potential for nature conservation.
The peat extractors dry out the site by digging deep drainage ditches around the perimeter of the site. These ditches have the effect of also drying out adjacent land. Two pieces of adjacent land are designated as Sites of Biological Interest and both sites are already suffering from reduced water levels and loss of bog vegetation. This impact will only get worse as peat extraction continues, unless the main Chat Moss site is rewetted and restored to lowland raised bog (active sphagnum forming bog).
What development is proposed?
The proposal is to continue extracting peat from the site when the current permission expires at the end of December 2010. The current permission requires the site to be restored, and it has always been understood that this would involve restoration to active spagnum forming bog. The developers want to ignore this condition and extend the peat extraction for another 15 years. During this period another 2 metres of peat would be removed from the site. This would not only put the planned restoration off for a long period, but also make effective restoration more difficult. The choice therefore is between bare peat and continued peat extraction or a rewetted restored site which would be one of the most important lowland raised bogs in the region. 99% of lowland raised bogs in the NW have been either damaged (many beyond repair) or destroyed completely.
The response to this was the uphold the existing ban upon continued peat extraction in Chat Moss, allowing it to begin its long haul recovery process. Upon visiting Astley moss within Chat Moss, I could see both aspects of remnants of humanities agricultural history of abuse and the rising strength of natural elements that were living and thriving within the local mosslands. One of the most significant concerns raised throughout this was the importance of reintroducing the next generation of the children to nature and the true importance of continued and increased preservation and conservation of such places.
Government upholds ban on Chat Moss peat extraction
The government has refused to allow any more peat extraction at a 7,000-year-old wildlife haven, to the delight of campaigners.
Ministers upheld two separate council decisions to block future works at Chat Moss.
The government has refused to allow any more peat extraction at a 7,000-year-old wildlife haven, to the delight of campaigners.
Ministers upheld two separate council decisions to block future works at Chat Moss.
Farmers had hoped to continue extraction at the lowland bog, one of the last of its type in the country.
But environmentalists fought the move at a public inquiry last year, saying it must be saved for future generations.
After six months’ deliberation local government secretary Eric Pickles ruled further extraction could harm the bog’s restoration and release high levels of carbon dioxide, harming the environment.It also said further extraction would discourage a drive to find more sustainable alternatives to peat.
Friends of the Earth’s north west regional campaigner Helen Rimmer said: “It’s a huge relief that common sense has prevailed and Eric Pickles has refused to allow further peat extraction at Chat Moss.
“It beggars belief that in 2012 companies still want to destroy British peat bogs. These are important wildlife sites that ‘lock in’ carbon and reduce flood risk.
“The government has rightly set targets to end the use of peat in horticulture and there are plenty of peat-free alternatives – digging up bogs for our gardens is unnecessary vandalism and must be stopped.”
Peat farmers William Sinclair Ltd applied to extend their peat farming license last year, sparking around 1,000 objections.
When both Salford and Wigan councils refused, the firm appealed, triggering a public inquiry in March.
Worsley and Eccles South MP Barbara Keeley said: “I am delighted by this decision to end peat extraction at Chat Moss. The decision is in line with the arguments that I put forward, alongside Lancashire Wildlife Trust and local people.
“Salford Council had rejected proposals for extraction to continue.
“This decision means that the damaging process of peat extraction at Chat Moss will end, allowing one of the country’s last remaining lowland peat bogs to be protected.
“The land can now be restored towards its original form and Chat Moss can be protected for future generations.
“This is a great victory for local people.”
Planting trees for wildlife
Last week I spent the day with 200 11-year olds, helping them plant as many trees in the grounds of their school. Most of the kids had never planted a tree before, and many didn’t hesitate in telling me how “boring” and “pointless” the exercise was.
And yet, in assembly later on, the majority listed planting trees as the highlight of their day. So what had changed? I think it was a case of “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. It was freezing cold, many of the kids turned up without a coat and some, sadly, had never experienced nature before. With every group of 10 pupils, each one clutching a brown stick (which I promised wasn’t dead and would one day turn into an actual tree), I asked: “who wants to dig the first hole?”. Suddenly this boring and pointless exercise had become a little more interesting.
Last month saw the launch of the UK’s biggest ever campaign to reconnect children with nature. Created by The Wild Network in conjunction with the documentary film Project Wild Thing, the campaign aims to encourage children to swap just 30 minutes of screen time for “wild time” every day, in order to increase levels of physical activity and alertness, and improve their well-being.
I thought of this campaign, as I watched each child plant his or her tree. Some of the kids marked the spot where their tree grew, in order to return and watch it mature over the next five years (seven if they stay on in the sixth form). Others asked questions about the species they were planting, or wanted to do all the digging. A few didn’t want to touch the soil and were terrified of worms (you can’t win them all).
The trees were native saplings including silver birch, rowan, hawthorn and blackthorn, and had been donated by the Woodland Trust. They were planted as a hedge at the edge of the playing field, and will one day block out the view of the nearby road, while providing a fantastic habitat for wildlife.
Overall, although each article features a different views and purpose in highlighting certain wildlife issues, each reinforces the continued fascination and interaction with wild and nature dominated environments and how both positive and negative human influences represented the conflicted relation with man and nature. As a result, different forms of imagery (art versus documentary) whether landscape or animal photography, all of which are contemporary and relevant with public interest.