We woke up this morning to an opinion piece in the Telegraph by cuddly Alan Titchmarsh, daytime television presenter and gardening guru to a a generation. Entitled ‘My Spirits are lifted by British Birds’ it presents as a benign, country garden-infused, stroll through Alan’s love affair with the birds of the British countryside. Titchmarsh takes us on a wander through his days in the scout troop and reflects, almost with melancholy, about needing to ‘make do with Quail’s eggs’ now that egg collecting on the massive scale that contributed to early declines of his favoured Lapwings is banned.
While early in his seemingly innocuous ramble he seems to recognise that for Lapwings “its decline has been in direct proportion to the ploughing up of much of our native pastures”, he suddenly changes tack mid-way through as he reflects on the changing species composition of our countryside. Middle England’s hobbit-like gardener-in-chief highlights how he “doesn’t remember nearly as many magpies when I was a boy growing up” and launches into an Aesop-like tale of a New Forest friend whose garden had “fallen silent since the songbird population had been reduced by the depredations of an increasing number of magpies”. After consulting with neighbours the friend had picked up his trusty air rifle and set off on a quest to bring back his songbirds. Eight dead magpies later and lo and behold in Titchmarsh’s words “He now wakes up to birdsong once more”.
Millions spent on researching the decline of our songbirds and waders, the reintroduction of formerly persecuted birds of prey, landscape-scale solutions, hundreds of scientific papers highlighting the contributions of habitat loss, changes in farming practices and land use, the widespread increases in pesticide use and lessons of the Fifties and Sixties distilled into a solution so pure, simple and downright dangerous!
Titchmarsh strays further into a dung heap of his own making claiming “that there is every bit as much interference involved in the encouragement and protection of certain species – especially raptors (birds of prey) – as there is in the culling of others”. He seems to miss the point that the only encouragement many birds of prey needed to recover was for man to stop killing them on an industrial scale.
While Titchmarsh is entitled to his opinions on legal predator control we think it is both reckless and dangerous for high-profile individuals to suggest that picking up an air rifle and shooting magpies, or indeed any of the other predators he mentions such as Red Kites, is an instant panacea to saving songbirds. His ridiculous fairy tale ending of the return of songbirds after the killing of eight magpies simply ignores the basic ecology involved in predator/prey relationships. Unfortunately this kind of uninformed incitement to go out and shoot a few predators is exactly the kind of irresponsible drivel that often feeds the roots of wildlife crime. Relying on the perennial unscientific nonsense of articles like this far too many individuals take to guns and poisons in the misguided belief that they are ‘protecting songbirds or waders’. Worse still is that it provides the veneer of respectability to the practice.
We would respectfully suggest that Mr Titchmarsh stays well clear of offering over-simplistic solutions that encourage people to start shooting wildlife in our countryside. Sadly many will be as ignorant in identification matters as our genial gardening guru seems to be in basic ecology, the results can often be birds and animals shot or poisoned randomly and indiscriminately. Predatory birds have long been demonised and wildlife crime widespread in our countryside as a result, Titchmarsh’s rose garden tinted solutions only make changing that harder.
You can find out more about air rifles and the law at http://birdersagainst.org/air-rifles-and-the-law/