From the spoken intro to my latest podcast for Lush Player:
“As many people will know – and as we’ve discussed in a number of podcasts here on Lush – the UK government has sanctioned the killing of badgers across an ever-expanding area of England in an attempt to control bovine Tuberculosis or bTB, a disease of cattle and the cattle industry. To quote Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust, the cull “is the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory. In the five years to the end of 2018, the government will have spent over £50m of public funds killing over 67,000 badgers, many of which are healthy and tb free”.
Killing wildlife to protect economic interests has long been the default reaction of government, but is there an alternative?
Vaccinating cattle against bTB is a non-starter because at the moment there is no test to distinguish between a vaccinated cow and an infected cow which means the meat cannot be sold in to major retail markets, despite the minimal risk to consumers especially if that meat is thoroughly cooked.
So how about vaccinating badgers against bTB instead?
In April I attended the UK’s first Badger Vaccination Symposium. Hosted by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust, and the Badger Trust the event was held at Derby University and brought together policymakers, academics, scientists, veterinarians, farmers, and vaccination teams for the first time.
The symposium looked at the latest science concerning Bovine Tuberculosis, the role of badgers in the spread of the disease (and badgers undoubtedly do carry bTB, though whether they introduce bTB to new areas or catch it from diseased cattle being moved around the country is still hotly disputed) the practicalities of vaccinating badgers (with particular reference to the work taking place in Derbyshire) and its effectiveness as a strategy to halt the spread of the disease.”
After the symposium I spoke with five of the key players: first with Debbie Bailey of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and Gail Weatherhead of the National Trust, then with the aforementioned Dominic Dyer, Professor Paul Lynch of Derby University and the Chair of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. and Tim Birch, the Head of Living Landscapes at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.
Chatting with Mark Avery about Wild Justice and Dominic Dyer about – well, loads of things, in the same week? My podcasting cup truly runneth over.
I have a huge amount of regard for both Mark and Dominic. They’re very different individuals of course, but both are intelligent, focussed conservationists. Dominic (we concluded as the sun sunk over the yard arm) has ‘street smarts’. He’s also honed his speaking style so it flows and loops back on itself with nary a hesitation or deviation (if he was on ‘Just a Minute‘ he’d win the round with ease every single time), but still has a great knack of being the ‘everyman’ despite a CV that include high-profile roles in industry, leading marches through London, taking tea with politicians, and steering the Badger Trust through the mass slaughter of what is supposed to be a highly-protected mammal.
Anyway, Dominic and I met up in Bristol, prior to his talk at the AGM of the venerable Bristol Naturalist’s Society (which was founded in 1862 and ‘exists to stimulate a greater awareness of natural history and geology in the Bristol area’). We meet up fairly regularly, and it’s always inspiring and interesting. We set the world to rights, firm up schedules, roll our eyes about the mess politicians have made of Brexit, and bemoan the current lack of opportunities for journalists to write about the environmental issues that we’re both most concerned about.
One ‘schedule’ we are looking at, incidentally, is a series of new conservation/environmental discussion-based podcasts that would look very much like a ‘town hall debate’ with me in the chair.
I have the location, the equipment, and the skills to record and produce the debates and a broad range of contacts who might take part, whilst Dominic has the knowledge to be an expert ‘semi-permanent’ contributor and an even broader range of contacts who would take part solely based on his say-so (at least that’s what we think!). We’re now going to go away and work out the first three or four ‘debates’, contact potential guests, and organise the dates. If that interests you, I’ll post updates right here.
To end this short post I’d like to just reflect on Dominic’s talk, which was on the politics of wildlife protection (and forgive the above photo: Bristol Nats use a church hall in Westbury-on-Trym and I couldn’t help myself).
As I said, Dominic has a remarkably polished speaking style. Using ‘A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife‘ as a prop (and see the photo below), he wound a tale that took in the moon landings, Greta Thunberg, stats on policing costs for the badger cull that were released just thirty minutes before he started talking, the history of pesticides, and the Bristol Nats themselves, without a single ‘er’, ‘like’, ‘you know’, or ‘what I’m trying to say’ in 35 minutes.
Apologies for perhaps seeming to eulogise, but as someone who can’t approach a five-minute introduction without notes, in an abstract ‘observing how things work‘ kind of a way I find it fascinating to watch a skilled proponent like Dominic at work. All the more so because I know for a fact that an hour before he started he really wasn’t sure what he was going to say.
I’ve seen Mark Avery do the same thing. Chris Packham is a remarkably organised speaker too. It’s as if their thoughts and their speech centres are linked so closely they almost function in synchronicity. There are obvious parallels with stand up comedians who hold ninety minutes of well-rehearsed material in their heads but can still make it sound fresh (while having to adapt to interruptions and current events). I’m not sure it’s a skill you can learn. It can be refined but while you and I can get better at ‘delivering speeches’ if we practice, I do believe we’d never get as good at it.
Does that matter? I think so, because I know that many of us question what we can contribute to conservation, what we can do to help the dire situation the planet and its wildlife finds itself in. I’ve beaten myself up (metaphorically of course) many times because I just can’t speak like Dominic, Mark, or Chris. But maybe that’s not my ‘role’ (or yours).
My podcasts are my contribution. If you listen to them I barely feature in them. And that’s deliberate. They’re not supposed to be about me. They’re a platform for the ‘guest’. I want to hear what they think, what they dream of, what they work towards – and when they can’t do it without hesitation or deviation (and very, very few people can) I’ll edit it to make it sound like they can. Of course I’d like to be a charismatic orator – many of us would I guess and I’ll always give my best imitation if I’m asked to try – but that’s not my role. That doesn’t mean though that conservation doesn’t need what I can contribute.
And if you’re also beating yourself up about not being a Dominic, a Mark, or a Chris, please don’t. Discover what you can do, no matter how small or large, how trivial you might think it is, because conservation (desperately) needs whatever you can contribute too…
Sometime last year Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust, and I had a chat about me possibly producing an audio version of his important 2016 book ‘Badgered to Death: The People and Politics of the Badger Cull‘ or BTD (which sounds close enough to ‘battered’ to summarise the way our badgers are treated).
I love the book, Dominic has always supported my podcasting (and we’ve recorded a number of podcasts about the badger cull together), so I figured I’d give it a go. I took a week’s holiday and tried several many times to get a handful of chapters recorded to a standard that I was happy with.
It’s not something I’ve tried before (and it takes way longer than I’d anticipated) but after many stumbles I ended up with recordings of ten chapters. I edited them down and sent three mp3 files to Dominic. He said he liked them, he talked about writing an extra chapter as an ‘update’ – and we both promptly forgot all about them as we realised we had nowhere to put them.
Now of course I have a new blog, with a new mp3 player plug in, and three audio files sat on a computer doing nothing.
Which is kind of a waste really…
So here is an embed of me reading ‘A Disease of Cattle‘, Chapter Three of Dominic Dyer’s ‘Badgered To Death’.
What do you think? Would you listen to more of the book if I recorded more of it? Saying yes doesn’t imply an obligation to actually listen to another word, and conversely saying ‘stick to the day job mate’ won’t upset me so go ahead, be honest…