I happened to glance through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year portfolio recently (it arrived with my copy of BBC Wildlife). Stunning images, of course, and the burrowing owl chicks are a hoot!
Which made it all the more shocking to realise that many of the images were deeply disturbing: a newly planted field of palm oil with the skeleton of two rainforest trees in the middle, a production line of snakes hung up for skinning, a bear milked for its gall, dead fishing bycatch falling through the sea under a fishing boat, a wild monkey having its teeth trimmed and filed using pliers and a whetstone to make it a ‘better pet’ – to name but a few.
All of these images came from other countries – nothing to do with us , you might think. And nothing to do with the recent Comprehensive Spending Review which has so exercised minds and media over the last few days.
It’s the attitude of mind which binds it all together. Every one of the examples above is about the material value which can be grabbed short term from the living world, regardless of the unsustainability of the activity or its impact on other life.
The attitude of mind prevails locally. A Westcountry MP condemns Natural England because it ‘cares more about weeds than the welfare of country folk, It believes that butterflies and bats come before people’. All Natural England – whatever its failings – has ever tried to suggest is that a world without weeds, and bats and butterflies, a world devoted solely to growing our crops, is bad news not just for the welfare of countryfolk but for everyone. An MP trashing it publicly – using emotive and subjective language – is all part of the culture which allows the spending review to cut it back so savagely without fear of objection.
The farming editor of a regional newspaper fears that CAP Reform ‘will rob our farmers of subsidy in favour of overt environmental considerations, knocking the chance of making a decent profit margin for the sake of pandering to a ‘green’ lobby which is always indifferent and often openly hostile to modern agriculture’. This is patently untrue, even of my own organisation. We do oppose unsustainable farming and fishing practices – but we work daily with farmers and fishermen proud of their sustainable approach and keen to work in partnership.
My foreign languages aren’t good – but I find myself wondering how the palm oil farmers, snake skin traders and the like undercut environmental activity in their own countries. Putting rainforests before margarine? Caring more about reptiles than people?