Interviewing Plantlife tomorrow

After a number of false starts I’m heading down to Salisbury tomorrow to have a chat for a podcast about roadside verges with Plantlife‘s Dr Trevor Dines (Trevor the Botanist on twitter).

If like me, you’re sick of watching councils mow down countless numbers of wild flowers alongside miles and miles of roads (especially in spring, depriving early pollinators of food, and early summer when huge numbers of small mammals and invertebrates lose safe homes) then this will be of enormous interest.

Plus, I’m really interested by the suggestion (made by many different sources) that roadside verges act as wild flower ‘reservoirs’ – if verges really do function that way, what more powerful indictment of how utterly screwed our wider countryside must be if strips of land alongside our heavily polluted roads are actually more botanically rich than the fields they pass through…

Tom Langton

I’m just back from a very interesting/successful two days in Suffolk with Tom Langton – the first spent around the site of the proposed Sizewell C reactor, the second interviewing Tom himself: in the morning we talked about the badger cull (Tom, an ecologist specialising in epidemiology, has some very ofrthright things to say about the badger cull, which he says is basically built around an error in interpreting data); in the afternoon we talked about amphibians and ponds (Tom was a founder of Froglife, and is an expert on Great Crested Newts).

In between I met up with the charismatic John Burton at the offices of the World Land Trust (interviews have been promised with John and his team and will be finalised asap!), and wandered around Tom’s land – an incredible 25 organic acres of rural Suffolk, where he and his partner Cath have dug out nineteen ponds, planted hundreds of trees, and allowed the return of flower-rich grassland.

It’s genuinely astonishing driving through miles of intensively managed farmland to turn down a long farm track and find this oasis. The land is still in the process of returning to the state Tom wants, but Turtle Doves breed here, butterflies abound, and those ponds are heaving with Great Crested Newts and amphibians. Underneath corrugated sheets lurk Smooth Worms and bees nest under the eaves of the house along with bats and a pair of Jackdaws.

It’s the kind of place you’d never want to leave, the result of many, many years of hard work – and from this island of biodiversity (surrounded by spraying farers and a goddam pheasant shoot) Tom works on a pile of Judicial reviews, sends streams of letters advising campaigners and activists, and – on behalf of wildlife everywhere – fights back!

It’ll take a while to edit up the conversations, but they will be well worth hearing when I do!

They want to build a nuclear reactor where…?

In the midst of the incredibly valuable Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and right next to the RSPB’s flagship reserve at Minsmere, that’s where…

Yes, admittedly there are the existing Sizewell A and B reactors already in situ (the construction of which involved the destruction of very rare shingle habitat with its specialised flora including Sea Kale, Yellow-horned Poppy, Sea Holly – the beach in the photo above is a shadow of its former self), but EDF Energy would now like to build Sizewell C – a massive ‘latest generation’ reactor which would take at least twelve years to build, ‘need’ a major road with a 7 metre embankment, a campus for 2400 construction workers, a 570 space car park, the removal of a woodland (with important bat colonies), bolstered sea defences (with unknown effects on shingle deposition), cut the end off an SSSI, and potentially risk the internationally important biodiversity of Minsmere (with its array of legally protected fauna and flora).

This tiny corner of Suffolk should have the highest legal protection available. It’s a mosaic of habitats that are increasingly rare, habitats wildlife needs. But here comes a company, supported by our politicians, who don’t see things that way at all. There’s a prevailing attitude in this country that seems to say that conservation and wildlife and beautiful places can be constrained within boundaries, can be made isolated, turned into islands without ill effect and that we (the human race) can do pretty much whatever we want outside those tiny specks of ‘protected’ land. We can do better than treat our environment and the precious flora and fauna it contains – and ourselves too – like this…

We need energy, I hear you say. Yes, we do – but do we genuinely need Terrawatts more energy and if we do, of what type? We may like the convenience of electricity on tap, but it’s killing the planet. How about we properly invest in energy-saving technology and learn to switch the lights off when we leave the room instead. And don’t we need renewable energy rather than nuclear anyway (which is only low-carbon and ‘green’ if you leave out the massive infrastructure requirements, the mining for rare metals needed in the reactor, and the cancer-causing waste that lasts for millenia)?

Yes, but look at the promotional image above and realise how beautiful the plant will be, sitting there all neat and tidy on the edge of the sea with no traffic or cars or trucks or people or litter or waste or lights or noise or anything…Seriously? Seriously, are you being fricking serious?

All questions I got to ask (well, maybe not the last one) after being invited over to Suffolk by ecologist Tom Langton, to talk with him, Rachel Fulcher (Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth (FoE), former local councillor and campaigner Joan Girling, and Adam Rowland, senior site manager at Minsmere.

I’ve recorded about an hour of conversation which I’m suspecting will best be presented as a two-parter – one with Tom, Rachel, and Joan, the other with Adam (we spoke sat on Whin Hill literally within minutes of a female Marsh Harrier drifting RIGHT overhead – talk about signals from above, eh).

It’s going to be worth hearing because chances are a) you won’t know much about this bloody awful proposed development, and b) you need to.

As a final thought, I’m genuinely privileged to get to do the work I do, talking with people who care, people who are taking on huge odds, people just like you and me who have decided to fight back. I always say that these podcasts aren’t about me, I’m a platform, a conduit if you like. These amazing people are worth hearing, so please give them a listen. We need to be informed, we need to hear the truth…

New Podcast Uploaded: Alick Simmons

After a bit of time off with bursitis (too much editing for my old elbow to manage!), I’ve uploaded a lively conversation with Alick Simmons we recorded a few weeks ago.

Here’s what i said in the spoken intro:

Alick Simmons is a vet, naturalist and photographer with a particular interest in the ethics of wild animal management and welfare. After a period in private practice, he began a notable 35-year career as a Government veterinarian much of which was spent promoting animal and public health and welfare involving disease control at the national and international level.

He was Veterinary Director at the Food Standards Agency between 2003 and 2007 and was then appointed Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer of Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

During an eventful life in government he was heavily involved in the control of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (or BSE) and was key in decisions made around eradicating bovine tuberculosis (or BTB) which lead to the start of the government’s current badger culling strategy.

Alick retired (or semi-retired) in late 2015, but has kept extremely busy. As well as being a member of the Wild Animal Welfare Committee, whose conference we’ve covered here on Lush, he volunteers for the RSPB and NE in Somerset, is chair of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, and a trustee of Dorset Wildlife Trust.

My name is Charlie Moores and I met Alick in March this year at the Wild Animal Welfare Committee conference, which was looking at some of the thornier issues around – as it says on the tin – the welfare of wild animals.

We bonded over some excellent wildlife photographs he’d taken on recent trips overseas, and arranged to meet up at his home in rural Somerset.

Our conversation took in his early life, his career, BSE and the badger cull, his love of wildlife, and his current views on animal welfare and disease control. I was particularly interested in why vets – who you’d assume all have animal welfare at the forefront of their thinking can have such differing views on wildlife – and how a scientist used to working with data and statistics dealt with ethical considerations involving sentience and the ‘value’ we put on wild animals in a world where most of us are increasingly disconnected from those animals.

What follows is the distillation of a fascinating day and it begins with a question about whether Alick had actually always wanted to be a vet…

The podcast can be found at Alick Simmons | Badgers, BSE, and wild animal welfare

Interviewing Alick Simmons

Alick Simmons is a veterinarian, naturalist and photographer. After a period in private practice, he followed a 35-year career as a Government veterinarian, latterly as the UK Government’s Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer.

Alick’s lifelong passion is wildlife; he volunteers for the RSPB and NE in Somerset, is chair of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, a member of the Wild Animal Welfare Committee and a trustee of Dorset Wildlife Trust. A particular interest of his is the ethics of wildlife management and welfare.

I met Alick Simmons for the first time at the Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC) conference in Edinburgh in March this year. We ‘bonded’ over his photographs of local moths and not-so-local birds he’d seen on a recent trip to Morocco, and despite our immeasurably different life choices discovered things in common (a love of wildlife being one).

Like all the key players at the conference I found Alick friendly, thoughtful and open to questions and debate. We agreed to meet up at a later date to discuss what WAWC is trying to do and mull over what has been a fascinating career. That meeting took place this week, at Alick’s home in rural Somerset.

I have to admit that whilst I was really looking forward to the conversation, I was a touch daunted by Alick’s experience and knowledge. I mean, this is a man who (via Belize and Australia) found himself at the heart of tackling the BSE or ‘mad cow’ crisis and was there during the early days of decisions regarding the badger cull. Alick is a scientist and vet as comfortable discussing spoligotypes [good luck if you follow that link] and talking with politicians as he is talking about Cream-coloured Coursers and Common Crane reintroductions with a birder.

I needn’t have worried (I rarely ‘need to have worried’ actually, but there’s nothing like ‘imposter syndrome‘ and self doubt to keep you on your toes). We set up what would become the basis of the interview in the morning, then had lunch. It was clear from the outset that Alick is someone who likes to be challenged and likes to think on his feet. We sat down to record later that afternoon, interrupted only when Alick’s cat wandered in and demanded his attention.

I’m not sure how much (or how little) will need to be edited as I was concentrating so hard on what we were talking about that I don’t actually remember the entire conversation – and if that sounds unlikely or even unprofessional, I’m willing to bet that many of us get so wrapped up ‘in the moment’ that time seems to pass in an instant yet back in reality hours have passed. Time flies etc etc..

I guess I’m fortunate that before publishing these podcasts I get to go back over every word at a later date, save the best bits, edit around my stumbles, and quietly delete the least comprehensible passages as if they simply never existed! Journalism eh…

Anyway, I’ll be editing asap, and uploading to Lush Player.