Inland mega. Juvenile/first-winter Purple Sandpiper today at Farmoor. Also juv Ruff and juv/first winter Dunlin (bottom images) , a couple of Yellow-legged Gulls and 250+ Sand Martin.
Tuesday, 31 August 2021
Purple Sandpiper, Farmoor Reservoir
Sunday, 29 August 2021
More Garden Birds
It's Jacob's last week before he goes to school so we have been hanging around the Old Vicarage doing family stuff. Once the local authority have him to start he's conditioning I'll be free to start implementing my birding autumn plan. Bulgaria have red-listed UK and still no change there so not looking good for the September trip and as Holly will be eight months pregnant in October so probably not a good idea for me to be on a mid-Atlantic island. Might be another UK based autumn (which I really enjoyed last year).
So just a bit of garden birding lately (did do Thursday evening at Beddington Farmlands; Barn Owl, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Green Sands, Yellow-legged Gull etc) and some garden mothing and wildlife gardening. The tit flock continue to be outside the office window, no further sign of the Spotted Flycatcher but Blackcap this morning, the odd Yellow Wagtail migrating over, House Martins and Swallows (no Swifts round here but still a few at Beddington).
Friday, 27 August 2021
Are Nature Conservationists Overpaid?
An interesting thread on twitter recently by Daniel Greenwood HERE calling for an urgent need to address the pay scale of conservation jobs with what looks like a strong public/twitter consensus that people working in nature conservation deserve/need higher wages. There also seems to be a widely held perception that higher wages will attract higher ability and better performing people and this will help to drive ecosystem recovery.
From my very limited perspective, I find those suggestions rather bitter when I do my best to swallow them . Common sense should prevail and I should agree of course- everyone doing a good job should be paid adequately. However I've been warped and subjected to significant persecution by paid professionals (private and public sector) in the conservation sector and witnessed senior consultants, NGO representatives and local authority officers collaborating with Viridor in ecological decline and local community oppression. It's difficult for me to agree that these people should be paid even more when they are involved in net biodiversity loss and are assisting in profiteering. In this sector, the higher paid consultants are the ones most willing to assist corporations in green washing and covering up net biodiversity loss (there must be competition in the sector that drives this) so in this case the more you pay people the less nature you get (we have had cases of falsified reptile reports for consultants then went bust soon after!).
However I do agree that my perspective is very limited and probably not entirely representative (I do consider myself to exist 'on the edge'- its a nice view here) . NGO controlled nature reserves which are not so tied up in corporate interest are different environments altogether and in this environment net biodiversity gain is being achieved and indeed there is a strong case that these people should be justly rewarded. However it's not quite as simple as that as a lot of the funding for NGOs comes from other sectors. e.g Viridor while depleting natural capital at Beddington Farmlands were funding the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts and paying for the boats on the reed bed boat rides at Arundel WWT. Is the overall NGO model that supports an overall Capitalist system (by providing companies like Viridor greenwash) leading to overall net biodiversity loss? You only have to look at these NGO's own claims of biodiversity decline in the UK to prove that nature conservation as a sector is failing fundamentally.
Why should people in a sector that is fundamentally failing be paid more? How will incentivising more of the above ie. both direct and indirect collaboration with the primary source of ecological destruction (the capitalist corpocracy and GDP based economic system) be good for the planet or society? This should not be rewarded.
Nature conservation as a sector is quite unique. Few sectors are based on a renewable resource which has the ability to self generate (e.g. re-wilding), where de-acceleration leads to greater output (un-gardening etc), where there is a large volunteer labour supply, where economic profit is often not the primary objective (generally a lot of jobs are created by funding and subsidies) and one which is often the resource that is exploited/utilised to create economic growth in other sectors (housing developments, high speed rail networks, incinerators, mining, landfill, farming etc etc). It's a pretty unique situation. To use a simple analogy an engineer cannot let 'engineering take it's course' and sit down and watch bridges, houses and kebab shops spontaneously appear out of the ground in the same way that a nature conservationist can let nature takes it course. Ecosystems are already complex economies and systems which run on Natural Capital. Indeed they need managing but its a very different box of chocolates to other sectors.
Let's go back to my own limited perspective. I run a small nature friendly green space management company. To justify our claim of being nature friendly we have several model/show gardens that we manage (one on Bedzed (a small garden) , one on the Flowers Estate (a communal block) and one on the Oxon/Bucks border (a large garden) which we manage in the same way as all other gardens. We use the three model gardens to measure and monitor biodiversity (we have recorded nearly 1000 species at the Oxon/Bucks border garden) to provide a basic indication of the effectiveness of our management model. More than happy for anything we are doing to be scrutinised. Again I think I have an atypical perspective because I make money direct from the market- no subsides or funding and not been paid to greenwash companies like Viridor (however no doubt our customers are involved in all kinds of nature destroying activities in their private jobs). It's no big deal what we do, just a small company with enough money to live a comfortable life with time to go birding and enjoy life. In fact enough time for me to able to volunteer and it is in this role that I have 'met' the professional ecology sector. At one point I was co-ordinating 6000 hours a year of volunteer effort (HERE) , which resulted in a high performing local community group and we published all our results on ResearchGate (click on Project Log HERE). The work resulted in nominations for the BTO Marsh Awards, Birdwatch Magazine Conservation Hero award and winning of the Hackbridge Hero Award and awarded Environmental Excellence in a Bioregional Green Business Network award. So basically it was an award winning effort and my main objective was to link that effort into what Viridor were obliged to be doing (creating a 400 acre nature public nature reserve) and what Sutton Council biodiversity department were doing too (managing the boroughs overall biodiversity resources)- basically to align efforts to create a corporate-council-local community alliance, to all push in the same direction to create a flagship urban nature reserve which integrated fully into wider society. I was just a local citizen trying to be just that- a good local citizen working within a society concept.
However, instead of achieving that alliance what this effort actually achieved was something quite different. It dug out of the murky ground the contorted mandrake which is the commercial ecology sector. Instead of Viridor site's ecologist getting behind the volunteer effort, following a freedom of information request it was revealed that he campaigned behind the scenes to discredit our work, describing it as unscientific (I hold an MSc) and telling councillors and decision making bodies that I was an 'agent provocateur with fiscal backing' who was co-ordinating volunteer effort to lead them into illegal activity (I was actually organising a petition!) . The only explanation I can think of for this was that he felt like his job was threatened (would Viridor just use the volunteers to do the ecological monitoring). Anyway this character assassination behind the scenes did not fall on deaf ears and soon after the Sutton Biodiversity Officer removed me from the project Conservation Science Group when I advocated more community activism supported by the council (legal protest, petitioning etc and public mobilisation- basically using democracy for what millions of people have died for in the past). It was already a given that Viridor would try and spend as little as possible on the reserve development, attempt to water down existing planning obligations and spend as little as possible overall on meeting their planning obligations (this is just how companies are compelled to work in a stock market driven environment) which is exactly why I was coordinating volunteer effort in the first place to balance out this market failure- this is why volunteering is so important as in this imperfect world it does something to address the damaging externalities created as a by-product of corporate capitalism. It was not a given that they would discourage that and refuse funding from s106 monies specifically allocated for efforts like ours, even if we were criticising them and campaigning, we were just an ant shouting at a T-rex, they should have been clever enough to know to even acknowledge that campaign would look weak and to try and crush it would reveal deep cognitive limitations (see HERE - i think this proves that these companies are actually vulnerable and have low ability people who aren't very smart working in them).
As a local resident passionate about my local nature reserve it's a good thing that volunteering options exists in the world- not everything is about money (in fact all the most soul lifting and beautiful stuff has fuck all to do with money) and if you have enough money to live comfortably its good to do something for society. So why would the sutton biodiversity officer try to crush this effort too? Again it must have been seen as a threat rather than the guy just being highly impressionable about a rumour generated by someone protecting their paymaster and their own pound of flesh they were getting. There were wider connections with Viridor and the Council overall, links with charity donations to councillor pet projects and major tax savings for the council that Viridor were providing so overall Sutton Council were protecting the reputation of Viridor by trying to water down the public outcry over the loss of local biodiversity. Presumably the biodiversity officer was being strongly encouraged from higher up the ranks to make the volunteer effort go away, or at least pipe down and get in line with their overall commercial driven agenda (more on my ousting in the local media HERE) . We are hoping to bring these matters into a legal challenge that is currently being developed by local campaigners ( the latest chapter related to more murky dealings, this time the district heat network connected to Viridor's incinerator in local media HERE) to hopefully scrutinise the whole project before the courts (in their compromised position indeed so will need a democratic dimension to this challenge too) to examine carefully why this project is such a massive cluster fuck (the world in microcosm so important to solve the issue in this test tube).
So hopefully it is quite clear why I find a claim that the site ecologist and biodiversity officer should be paid more, for effectively being involved in a corporate driven bid to greenwash ecological destruction and crush local volunteers rather bitter to swallow. Again I fully accept that I may just be one unlucky bastad to find myself in this situation and most paid ecologists are not supporting corporate ecological destruction and oppressing local volunteers. However the state of the nation's ecology would suggest I have not won the dark lottery and this whole culture is widespread. In fact it is probably the status quo.
However, one should not despair and personally I find all this more fascinating than upsetting. Despite being oppressed and all my hard work being annihilated by a conspiracy of the local corrupt hegemony against me personally luckily I don't feel hurt or emotional distressed as I find eternal re-energising in nature and the non-human community. However for most people I presume social ostracism is a big deal and this culture of compulsion to harm (or get cancelled) can't be good for the mental health of people working in it- which is presumably why so many people acted irrationally and attacking someone who was trying to bring them all together for mutual benefit. Some of it isn't mental illness though and just plain ego driven cruelty so that has been amusing and its given us an ethical licence to expose wrong doers and we've had fun with it too HERE and HERE (not much more uplifting than catching the bad guys and dragging them round the town). I have got a bit frustrated with it all but I certainly don't feel hopeless and I do think the solution to it all is quite simple (the solution has to be rather simple).
I think the solution lies in one simple fact. Viridor did not want to create this reserve. As the lead in all this (they were providing all the money, sub-contractors etc to develop the reserve) this was a burden on their core business activity. As a burden they were looking for ecologists that would assist them in a half job , corner cutting , green washing them and crushing any resistance from the local community- those who helped them do that were paid and rewarded. Those who wanted them to do a good job were cancelled.
So the solution then is really very simple. How do you get a capitalist corporation to want to do something?
I think this question is the most important question in nature conservation today. It looks like at this precise moment in history, big government and the state has been so cut and reduced that it is completely incompetent (our local Sutton council had its budget cut by 75%, staff reduced from 2000 to 500 and the biodiversity department reduced to one or two paid staff- you can see why the senior officer was driven by fear to protect his job and appease the hierarchy he was in or else he was next for the chop) and corporations effectively have a dictatorship. A dictatorship is not necessarily a bad thing. Viridor (or rather their mother company KKR @ Co Inc worth over £550 billion) have more or less absolute power (interestingly the tiny fault that the sutton biodiversity officer was able to oust me on from the decision making table was when I referred to this dictatorship as a wolf and sheep situation, one where the sheep needed to get together and contest loudly. He considered my position untenable to recognise reality- in my opinion a grotesquely unjust decision in light of my award winning efforts- it's not like I called them all a bunch of fucks (not at that point anyway :-)). The corpocracy have spent the best part of the last four decades making Thatcherism a reality, with the deflation of government and privatisation being rolled out. Now they've done that why do they need the greenwashers anymore? Conservation funding has been cut, officers sacked, NGOs are starving and the whole jolly model of a nature conservation sector piggy backing of corporate capitalism, getting funding for green washing them, building reserves from money generated from wholescale ecosystem destruction has come to an end. Free market forces have won the day (facilitated both by the 2008 financial crash and the covid pandemic where global emergencies generated from rampant capitalism have been used to bail out reckless financial gambling so that what we mean by free markets is free markets bailed out and propped up by tax payers all in the 'too big to fail' mantra- which they are so what's actually won the day is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor ) and the conservation sector has been reduced to broken depressed largely powerless community, whimpering that they need more money so that they can do more of the same that has led us to this disastrous situation.
So here we are in a corporate dictatorship (like I say not really a capitalist one just one run by an oligarchy with very dubious and conflicting values). All hope now lies in getting these corporations to look after nature. So back home, how can we get into a situation where Viridor's ecologist and the Sutton Biodiversity officer wants to support our volunteer effort . Rather that should be rephrased how do we get into a situation where Viridor order their ecologist and the council biodiversity officer to get behind the volunteer effort and form an alliance with the council and the local community to create a success at Beddington Farmlands? The answer will hopefully be delivered in the upcoming legal challenge and its a very simple answer- they need to want to. It needs to be in their interest. It needs to be linked to their bottom line. They need to be rewarded for doing it (or avoid punishment). If the main driving force of society and economy get on board of ecosystem recovery and companies are rewarded for this- through taxation incentives etc and measuring natural capital and net zero etc (all this of course is being rolled out embryonically in the new Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill and COP26 could see border adjustment mechanisms and carbon trading schemes coming in) than we are no longer in a situation where nature conservation is a parasite riding on the back of corporate capitalism. The corporations have fought very hard for complete domination, to rule the world. They wanted the responsibility. They wanted to carry this immense burden of managing (one that I routinely shirk from to go birding or write ridiculously long blog posts that nobody but me understands). Maybe the oligarchs will soon see why a little bit bigger government and big society is not such a bad thing after all. Maybe vital muscle was cut while trying to remove fat. Maybe in this crazed battle to rule the world- left versus right, socialism versus capitalism, state versus business the victors have killed what they need to thrive?
In the meantime should nature conservationists be paid more to carry on with business as usual - FUCK NO. Are they overpaid?- if the sector's job is to create natural capital and they are failing than its simple anyone who is not being productive is overpaid. Should people involved in natural capital generation and ecosystem recovery be paid adequately to live comfortably- of course they should. They should be rewarded handsomely. To do that they need to move to the new model of corporate rule (not greenwashing them but genuinely working with them to generate natural capital) and help them with the poison chalice they have won. Should they be paid as much as engineers etc- of course they should, by optimising the unique attributes of the nature conservation sector, mobilising volunteers, working with natural regeneration, finding the cheapest ways for the corpocracy to generate economic and natural capital (not the most complex way that justifies overspending and inefficiency and maintaining welfare-states for the middle class intelligentsia in the charity and NGO sector) .
This new type of conservationist, productive people, high performing and high ability who can generate natural capital wealth should become wealthy and highly rewarded. In fact many of these people are at large already and indeed underpaid, a different breed to the dark ecologists, these are the good guys, the other side of the coin and its time that coin is flipped. Unfortunately there is a current nature conservation establishment of people who have got big mortgages and expensive children and made their money out of the exploitation of nature who will not want to stand down to make way for the new age of nature conservation and they should not be paid more, or less......they should be driven to extinction and in the process the culture of corporate destruction of nature and the captains of disaster capitalism facilitated by professional greenwashers and refugia builders will also come to an end and nature will recover from those reserves and refugia to re-populate the wider environment through landscape scale and system level management.
This is coming, the kids are striking for the environment, child leaders are rising (and learning), the establishment is using every desperate measure including a relatively mild pandemic to crush freedoms so they can manage this transition, a new value system that challenges the GDP paradigm is emerging and the next generation, a generation of revolutionaries, revolutionising the corporate system and linking economic and ecosystem recovery (not becoming 1920s communists or re-establishing 1950s massive government or any other free loading shirker paradise bollox- not good for me!) will be very well paid.
Wednesday, 25 August 2021
Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Last few days at the Old Vic
A steady last few days at the Old Vic. The self sufficiency drive is doing well, been harvesting apples and making juice, stocking up the freezer, dug out the last lot of summer potatoes and harvested wild fruit and nuts from the garden. The bioblitz drive also doing well, only five species away from 1000 species recorded in the garden (the cigar and fireworks are on standby) , the moth list is now on 471, only 29 away from the 500 target. Hoping to hit both these targets this year.
Summer holidays are nearly over (Jacob will be starting school so been making most of it). Our most recent day trip was to the West Midlands Safari Park. These places never cease to amaze me- pleasure domes of IUCN critically endangered species, animatronic extinct megafauna, hot dogs, penguins, rollercoasters and cuddly toys. These places are absolutely packed- this really is how most people (in this country) 'connect' with nature. It's such a paradox, with information boards about extinction and the whole thing flying under the banner of conservation, at around £150 a day for a small family for entry, lunch and toy, this is connecting with nature mass consumerism style. I really enjoy these places (they are mental!) but they are like a giraffe filled dream world, almost psychedelic, like a trip, so detached from reality, insane, like a circus of all consuming un-relentless detachment from our evolutionary past, our animatronic ancestors telling us stories of mass extinctions and the eventual fate of all species and all eras Perhaps we will be immortalised somewhere, in some theme park, someday. Not sure our mini-farm is really any match for pandemic, escalating inequality, growing authoritarianism, mass extinction and climate chaos but it's hopeful rather than pure fantasy.
Great Thunberg keeps going on about that we need to act like this is an emergency. The fact that she keeps targeting this message at world government and is given so much attention by main stream media is interesting and makes me suspect that her message is being propagated so loudly by the system because in some ways, paradoxically, it upholds the system (a truly radical message that undermines established power would not be embraced by the system so that it could shoot itself in the foot). Not sure there's any conspiracy here, just the convenient exploitation of naivety and a young girl having fun. Like any teenager she collects social media likes, likes attention and it's good material for the loud speakers of the planet (her message ticks all the boxes- it ticks the cognitive ease box basically- in fact there is only one box when it comes to mass ideology and simplicity is that box).
Anyone who understands how this world works (i.e. in an infinitely complex evolving way which is impossible to understand) is always acting like we are in an emergency, because we are, an eternal emergency. Life is fragile, freedom even more so and chaos is always close and oppression even closer. As Greta says (I really like her) this is an emergency, not because humanity and the natural world is somehow more vulnerable than it ever has been but because an ecological narrative that makes us believe we should surrender our freedom is at large. She is the emergency. A narrative that says that big government is the answer, that through taxes and vaccines they can protect us while the capitalist forces that continue to expose the masses to the threats of ecological and climate stress while they extract value from nature remain unopposed (there is no mass movement targeted at the billionaire class). This is how government and the billionaires work together to control the majority and ask us to carry the burden of the human condition while taking ownership of our fears and our vulnerabilities, turning them into stories and selling them back to us.
To act like this is an emergency is to do exactly what the most powerful people on this planet do- they protect themselves and their families and their allies. That's all I can do in my limited capacity and that's what billionaires are doing- the reason they hoard wealth, have multi-homes across the world linked by private jets and helicopters, are non-domiciled, have private security forces, bunkers and panic rooms, invest in space travel and space colonisation (to get the fuck off this planet), in cryogenics and genetic enhancement is because they know this is an emergency, and they know that mass extinction, genocide and societal collapse are never too far away and when these things are inevitable, it is best to drive them rather than be driven by them. If they can stay on top of unsustainability, they can steer the collapses, re-sets, culling and re-structuring. They can sustain unsustainability indefinitely with the burden of that being taken up by the world's poor kept in perpetual misery and by drawing down on nature's infinite ability to re-generate. World governments will never act like this is an emergency because government is a buffer in this emergency, to protect the rich, to deflect global stress onto the vulnerable and to permit summer holiday circuses and dream worlds and to allow little girls to have the world stage to enforce the fantasy that government and democracy is a match for evolution and nature. My experience at Beddington Farmlands taught me very well about the weakness of democracy and the incompetence of government in the face of superhumans, corporations and billionaires. I align with nature in the fight for freedom from superhuman (and their systems) oppression and destruction- not government.
Sunday, 22 August 2021
Juvenile Caspian Gull- Farmoor Reservoir
Isaac West found this beauty at Farmoor yesterday. Still there today.
Ebird list from today HERE, other highlights including 2 Ringed Plover, 1 Greenshank and 5 Yellow-legged Gull.