From the vaults: Coexisting (and poppies) – (21/06/2010)

P1060282There’s this field of poppies; a couple of fields in fact but one is particularly vibrant. The fields are adjacent to a busy road – part suburban, part rural: a commuter artery, functional and hectic. From a moving vehicle the poppies are briefly visible as a flush of colour beyond the hedgerows; a distraction in a place where concentration is at a premium. The small sacrifice of turning from the main road and pausing for a few minutes is one that most seem reluctant to make; this is simply a place where people hurry by on the way to somewhere else.

We’re back in the margins here: the peripheries of suburbia or the fringes of open countryside? Take your pick – it’s merely a question of perspective, or which way you happen to be facing at the time. The outliers of the housing line dissipate into rugby clubs, golf courses, garden centres and farm shops. It’s not long since the line was drawn in an altogether different place; a few years on and it will doubtless have been redrawn, erased, redrawn again …
Recent events have once more sharpened the focus on our sometimes uneasy relationships with other species, particularly in those places where burgeoning development has left us with shared territories. I recall a conversation with someone wanting to know what was to be done about “This awful bird” hunting at her garden table, and the indignation that the bird – a Sparrowhawk as it happens – was protected by law and nothing was to be done which, in my view, was exactly as it should be. The garden in question was newly established on formerly green land; a place which would, in all likelihood, have been a hunting ground for that raptor and its ancestors for generations back. The birds of prey were not the interlopers
That recent incident in north London, the one involving the fox and the two young children, dislodged an avalanche of over-reaction and misinformation …

“There are more foxes in the towns now than there are in the countryside”. Totally untrue – rural foxes outnumber their urban cousins by a ratio of about six to one.

“Foxes and seagulls – the numbers are just out of control”. This in a week when the RSPB reported a worryingly steep decline in the gull population.

Probably best (worst?) example of all was the supposed expert whose clumsily inept attempt to alleviate concern took the form of implicating a completely different, and even more maligned, species – the wolf – with the reassurance that “Foxes are not like wolves; they don’t just set out to kill people”. Well, what’s one more piece of posthumous bad P.R. for an animal already misrepresented to the point of annihilation in these islands?

P1060286A little self awareness wouldn’t go amiss sometimes: if we persist in discarding half-eaten food onto urban pavements we will continue to attract the foragers who at least have the merit of cleaning up some of our mess. More to the point though, as we overspill the boundaries of our towns and cities, we need to recognise that it is we who will be moving into their neighbourhoods at least as much as they do into ours.