Saturday, March 31, 2012

Remember you're a Womble...

I find it astounding that in 2012 we have a litter problem in our countryside. In so many ways our attitudes have come so far since the 1970s, 80s and even 90’s. ‘Green’ issues have become political and not just about lefty-liberalism; you don’t have to chain yourself to a tree or reside in a tunnel under the proposed route of a motorway to show you care about the environment. ‘Green’ issues have become accessible and acceptable like never before.

We’ve all heard of our 'carbon footprint' and 'ethically sourced' foods, many of us worry about the melting polar ice caps and biodiversity decline, and whether by hook or by crook we all recycle. Despite all of that, despite living in these environmentally-enlightened times, when seismic environmental changes are occurring- littering, such a simple issue to prevent, is getting worse.

A couple of weeks ago I became frustrated at the amount of litter strewn along the country lanes in this quite corner of Derbyshire, I assumed it was more apparent because it was exposed by the lack of vegetation or because like so many gripes it is prevalent when you look for it- but I was sure it hadn’t been this bad for years. I tweeted about it and many people up and down the country confirmed by suspicions- I wasn’t just a moaning do-gooder, I was a moaning do-gooder with a point.

So if there really is more litter- who is dropping it? And more importantly, why? In a spare half-hour I litter-picked a mile of the lanes nearest to the farm and gathered a full black bag of the stuff, and not just a half-hearted, loosely-tied bag of air, I’m talking about a burgeoning, ripping-at-the-seams bag of rubbish- but what do it’s contents tell us about our persistent litterers? What sort of person literally trashes the countryside in 2012?

The Disconnected: The whole picnic

A whole meals-worth of picnic wrapping all contained in a carrier bag and left in a hedgebottom- who is to blame for that? Well the food manufacturers have something to answer for given the amount of plastic wrapping- but what sort of family leaves all that waste behind?

Presumably to even opt for a picnic there must have been at least some perceived pleasure in dining al fresco, the culprits must have found this piece of countryside aesthetically pleasing enough to warrant stopping here to eat. Given that we’re talking about a remote country lane it’s safe to assume they drove here or cycled here, and we know they had a carrier bag- so why leave it?

Perhaps we live in a world in which we eat, and then leave. From fastfood to fine-dining once we’ve eaten, we stand-up and we walk away. Perhaps these people believe a countryside picnic is a brand name and this lane was an outlet. Perhaps they thought a ‘Countryside Picnic’ waitress would turn up after they’d gone. Either way, they were wrong.

The Selfish: wet wipes

No one can argue with hygiene and the people that disregard it can often be tracked down by nose alone, but we’ve all become rather obsessed by our quest to live in a sterile environment. We’ve all seen the adverts: bad mothers leaving their innocent children exposed to a teeming swarm of deadly bacteria or the neon glow of bacteria all over the entire kitchen and stemming from the uncooked chicken. Its clever marketing, it’s scare-mongering, and it’s little wonder we’re a nation of paranoid OCD sufferers.

The latest weapon in the arsenal of the over-wary is the anti-bacterial wet wipe. For just a few pounds you can carry a little pack around just in case you touch anything. They’ll kill all known germs and leave your skin coated in chemicals that make your hair drop out and render your children infertile (scare tactics of my own).

And sure enough they’ve reached the countryside. Despite being an undoubtedly clean environment, the sheer amount of these I found indicates visitors are terrified of contagion. Once their hands are wiped the wipee is then left holding a wiped wipe- they clearly have no choice but to drop it, then presumably wipe their hands again before fleeing the germs.

The Disregarding: Alcohol

Many of us enjoy a drink, and even more of us enjoy a day out- I find the two are best combined with a good village pub at the end of a walk but each to their own. In the hedgebottoms around here I found a surprising amount of empty cans and even a gin bottle- I don’t know what life throws at some people but when you find yourself knocking back half a bottle of gin in a country lane you probably have bigger things to worry about than what you do with your litter.

That said the vast majority of the cans were for the energy drinks and cheap lager that make an evening driving a Nova around Spar car park a much more enjoyable experience.

The Careless: Farm waste

People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones (or litter) and farms have a lot to answer for around here. The lanes are the traversed by farmers from across the area but we are one of only a handful of working farms in the area and are probably not blameless.

How farmers dispose of things such as plastic silage wrap is now monitored and it’s correct disposal recorded- but there’s nothing to stop long strips of the stuff taking flight in the wind before becoming entangled in the miles of hawthorn, bramble and barbed wire that divide our countryside.

 I doubt farmers go around putting it there, or shoving the plastic corn bag or the mineral bucket  in the hedge bottom  or throwing their work gloves in the verge but it’s nothing a bit of good housekeeping wouldn’t solve. There are several things we’re advised not to do on our own doorstep- and littering is one.

The Misguided: Balloons and lanterns

A cloud of coloured balloons in a cloudless sky or a trail of glowing Chinese lanterns through the night sky are nice things to see- and they may drift out of sight but you’d be pretty misguided to assume they’ve disappeared. I’m forever picking the remains of balloons and lanterns up from our fields and hedges- I found two balloons on my litter-pick and a lantern a couple of days later.

In practical terms is launching 100 balloons really any different to ‘launching ‘ 100 carrier bags or drinks bottles or crisp packets? And in the case of lanterns there’s the added risk as the whole thing is aflame.

Its easy to sound like a killjoy when you’re complaining about something that people enjoy but on our small farm we’ve lost at least one cow to a humble balloon. I'm sure you'd agree that seeing a previously healthy cow abort her calf or end up destroyed for the sake of someone’s balloon is a tad sobering.

The Mindless: Dog poo in a bag, hung from a tree(!)

That’s dog dirt. Picked up in a plastic bag by the owner. Then hung from a tree. It defies all logic, sense and reason. Whatever the situation- if it fell out of your dog- it belongs to you.

I’ve tried to find an explanation or justification I really have- but I can’t. Putting it in a bag is a good thing- but then the whole point is to bin it. If you don’t like carrying dog crap around like a warm, squidgy souvenir then  either don’t take your dog, or walk it somewhere you KNOW there are bins.

Leaving it in the countryside is like a big two fingers up to every other person who comes across it.


So who drops litter? Judging by the rubbish I found there are lots of different people doing it, and lots of different reasons why they do it. Be their actions disconnected, selfish, disregarding, careless, misguided, mindless  or even malicious the one thing they all have in common is that they’re totally unnecessary.

Perhaps it’s time to resurrect the old ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ campaign, or (heaven forbid) call  the Wombles. Or maybe we need to look more closely at our attitude to the countryside and how it’s managed. Maybe as a society we’ve become accustomed to such things being ‘someone else’s job’.

One of the more bizarre items I found was a punnet that once contained Organic Blueberries. It’s a mad contradiction when someone who is presumably aware of their own wellbeing and that of the environment (and pay extra for it) is able to discard their litter so freely. There must be a breakdown between the perceived cause and effect of littering.

Such contradictions are an increasingly common feature in our society, in the same way we worry about the environment we still do bonkers things like buying bottled water, flying everywhere, and eat out of season produce we know has travelled half way around the world. Why do we do it- we do it because  it’s only me, no one is looking, it’s just once, and someone somewhere will compensate for it by doing the correct thing.

It might not be a crime to think that way, but when 60 million of us think like that is there any wonder we’re seeing more and more litter in our otherwise beautiful countryside.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring awakening...

It's been several weeks since I last posted, our wonderful Internet provider left us without any broadband for a few weeks and there has been lots to do at this very busy time of year.

The dairy herd are still kept indoors around the clock which means a lot of work for those tasked with keeping them content. On the farm January and February are very much times for keeping your head down, working away, often in darkness and sometimes in snow. By March it's (usually) safe to at least take stock. We have a lot less silage, and a lot more muck but it will be a few weeks more before the ground is dry enough, and the grass recovered enough for the cows to go out- but there are lots and lots of signs that Spring is coming.

No one is more ready for those sunnier days than the cows themselves, for them 'turning out day' cannot come soon enough-it only takes a sunny day and they will gather at the side gates of their shed in anticipation. On such days its not wise to spend too long around the cowshed as the cattle tend to assume you're readying the gates for 'turning out' and can become unduly excited and stressed. And of course there are still a few cold nights and wet days when they're more than happy to be indoors.

Whilst the cows are perhaps picking up on the temperature, day length, and the scent of new grass, for us there are other signs of the impending Spring- its arrival to this quiet corner of Derbyshire has played out as follows:

  • 16th February: Black-headed Gull in full Summer plumage over the farm
  • 20th February: Skylark singing overhead
  • 21st February: Birth of 2012's first calf
After this we had a small Wintery interlude (winterlude?) before more developments:
  • 26th February: Oystercatcher heard calling
  • 27th February: Frogs in the ditches & a Curlew heard calling
  • 28th February: Baby rabbits emerged from warrens
  • 29th February: First Common Newts & Common Pipistrelle, large flocks of Fieldfare gathering and passing over.
  • 1st March: Birth of the second calf of 2012, Seven-spot ladybirds & Bumble Bees emerged, 6 Skylarks
  • 6th March: Great Crested Grebe courtship seen at nearby reservoir.
  • 7th March: first frogspawn
  • 9th March: Celandine flowers
  • 11th March: Small Tortoiseshell & Red Admiral butterflies on the wing
  • 12th March: Dandelion flowers & Mining Bees

It can only be a matter of days before the first Chiffchaff is heard or weeks before our Swallows return.

All this time spent offline and the seasonal optimism have allowed me to get three little projects underway. They're all slightly nerdy and will be very much ongoing- but I will keep you updated when/if they prove interesting.

Bird of Prey Monitoring:

I think birds of prey are a good gauge of the health of an eco-system, sitting (somewhat precariously) at the top of a food chain means when the whole thing collapses they have the furthest to fall and the longest climb back to recovery.

The farm attracts a decent number of bird of prey species, though the populations of some of our species appear to be at something of a turning point. Kestrel & Little Owl sightings seem to be fewer, while the Buzzard population seems to go from strength to strength, Sparrowhawks appear to also be more frequently spotted, though this could be due to the male that is living up to his name and hunting the Sparrows in the garden.

Hopefully by recording, rather than just 'noticing' I will be better placed to see how our birds of prey are doing, and as a result understand the effects our farming practices are having on prey species populations and nest site availability.

  • In the mean time if you're keen to prevent birds of prey from deliberate harm and would like to see the introduction of the offence of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England you can do so by signing the petition here

Brown Hare Monitoring:

Anyone who has read my blog before may well know that much as I am a bird lover, I am also extremely fond of this brilliant mammal, what's more I am interested to know how and why our farming methods (seem to) benefit this species.

This will follow a similar pattern to the recording of birds of prey in that it will hopefully provide more information as time goes by- and I will bore you with my 'data' at some point in the future.

  • If you want want to record the mammals you see please submit your sightings to The Mammal Society and help them build up a picture of how our mammals are doing across the UK. Submit your sightings here

Calving blogs:

As a dairy farm the story of why some of our birds have disappeared and others prospered is inextricably tied up with the management of our land, the management of our dairy herd and ultimately the pressures on the industry.

I think it's really important to understand what farmers do and the reasoning behind the decisions they make and I have often wondered how to communicate this, it's not about sympathy, or blame or tales of woe (well, not totally) but about openness and maybe education.

With the arrival of our first calves of the year, it seemed obvious, nothing tells the story of a dairy farm better than the cows themselves, so expect updates on what's happening in the herd and (hopefully) what becomes of this years calves as they grow. You may find it interesting and educational, you may find it very dull and wish I'd stop blogging- but either way it will make a change from my endless bird sightings.

  • No links for this one, but a nice picture of 2012's first calf, a Friesian heifer. I had a few name suggestions on Twitter, and non seemed more apt than Tweetie- more on her soon...