Wednesday, 13 October 2010

How Dear are Deer to SWT, and Nigel?

Further to the deer killing atrocity and the comment from Nigel who is of course Chief Executive of SWT, I’m grateful for his expression of outrage The police comments, apparently reported to Nigel twice removed, may or may not result from experience from a number of incidents, or may be a desire not to see anything sinister at another level. That’s hard for me to say, but as yet I’m not convinced. To see a severed animal head facing me just where I get out of my car in the morning - as is known to numerous people - shortly after I’ve made some of the comments I have, may not be proof of anything. But anyone dismissing the association out of hand would need to explain why the other two notices (from the wildlife trust) were left undisturbed.

I’m interested in Nigel’s dismissal of Mark’s comment above his. Yes, what Mark says is strong and the reaction from Nigel is not unexpected. But I think we should all look more deeply into what’s behind it. I think I’m in a good position to evaluate SWT’s attitude to the deer and to wild animals generally. There’s no substitute for observation year on year and day by day which is what this blog tries to do. Anyway, I’ve watched a gradual change in the attitude of people at SWT to the deer since 2006. At that time they were at best ambivalent, reflecting division of opinion among wildlife conservationists. Some conservationists thought deer very much a bad thing. One of these was the Natural England officer then responsible for this area. He made his feelings very clear at the Icarus consultation in 2005. No, he certainly did not want deer. These wild animals were too much their own masters with their own agenda that didn’t fit in with the conservationist blueprint. And in obedience to this authority the SWT people took their cue from him. Consequently we were impressed and taken aback over and again by the absence of any reference to deer in their publicity and their paperwork of which, believe me, there was no shortage, and in the tentative way they responded to any mention of the deer.
It would not have surprised me, if I had followed Nigel round the country at wildlife trust junkets and awaydays, to hear him telling his fellow wildlife trust directors (they only elevated themselves to Chief Execs. later on) how marvellous was SWT’s ‘very own’ moorland at Blacka with its bird assemblage but never mentioning the red deer.
All of this time I was seeing and recording on this blog some stunning wildlife sights involving Britains largest native wild animal. Yet little or no mention from SWT. Why? Was it due to the deep seated orthodoxy in the local conservationists that could not reconcile itself to the free-spirited independence of these beautiful animals – creatures that refused to be controlled? It was at this time I read the article by SWT’s Reserve Manager in the local Totley Independent with frank disbelief. Coming down from a gorgeous morning in some wild and romantic scenery and having watched a group of stags, I settled down to read the article titled “Beautiful Beasts of Blacka Moor”. By the time I had read to the end I was wondering whether we were living on the same planet. The beasts mentioned in the title were not deer but a herd of cattle which at that time had never been anywhere near Blacka! This article crystallised everything that was cockeyed about SWT and its policy makers. About that time they produced a very smart looking leaflet with text and map about ‘their nature reserve’ at Blacka Moor indicating the great wildlife that could be enjoyed here. But the pictures were of bird watchers and cattle, none of deer and not even any mention of them. The truth is they didn’t know what to think of deer because they were waiting for some official top down permission to approve them or not.
I started to comment on this blog on this strange divergence of view and it may be that I scored the odd point or two. But more than that, over a period of time SWT seemed to find it increasingly difficult to sustain this position that the deer were somehow quite separate to the real value and appeal of Blacka. This was hard for them because The deer were uniquely associated with the wilder aspects of Blacka. Their problem was that they could hardly disapprove of the deer when the public so obviously loved them far more than the tatty looking sheep or the extravagantly defecating cattle. Also, SWT were going round from door to door soliciting subscriptions from local people some of whom had seen the deer and loved them or seen pictures from this blog. It also happened that some newer and younger people were recruited to SWT who had a different attitude to the deer. Quite simply, they liked them. How they could do otherwise I don’t know. But I remain in doubt about whether they were running counter to the institutional view. Just lately SWT have started to use pictures of the deer in presentations. Well, it's a welcome change, but we should not delude ourselves that this is from conviction. It is born of calculation and opportunism. It would not do for them to be so against the grain of popular opinion. Not for an organisation reliant on membership fees.

The point I’m making here is that there has been an anti-deer undercurrent, not always expressed in the open and that it is a phenomenon that runs alongside strong opinions amongst some farmers. At a recent consultation farmer after farmer called for a cull of the deer. At that point I dared to respond with a not totally serious call for a cull of farm animals, which were a danger on the roads quite as much as deer. I said at that time that I might finish up with a pitchfork in my back. So far that has not happened. But we have now seen a deer’s head in the car park.
Conservationists may feel the need to appease the farming industry. But they need to be careful that their priority is wild animals. That's certainly not been clear up to now.


Nigel said...

Thanks for such a clear statement of what I believe. Needless to say, it's not exactly on target. You really are incapable of recognising the common ground that exists between us, aren't you? You don't have the monopoly on recognising the splendour of our native wildlife, and I really don't understand why you take such great delight in adopting the stand that you do. You may be right that there was some more sinister intent behind the positioning of the head and the removal of the notice. I really don't know. Whether or not there was a connection, I can say with absolute certainty that SWT was not behind it, and that we are absolutely against it.

For the record, I can honestly say, hand on heart, that SWT is entirely in favour of red deer at Blacka Moor, that we always have been in favour of them, and that there is currently no apparent reason why we would ever not be in favour of them. We are neither party to, nor bound by, any views that may or may not have been expressed by Natural England officials relating to red deer in the past (even ones that don't relate to deer at Blacka Moor itself), and have (to my knowledge) never expressed any view that we were in favour of discouraging, restricting or excluding red deer at Blacka Moor.

The reason why we have until recently not used photographs of the deer at Blacka in talks and publications is that we have had very few really good photographs to use. I'd be delighted if you'd allow us to use some of yours, but your hostile tone has always suggested that the answer would be "no", so we haven't asked.

The reason why we have put so much effort into talking about the cattle in public, rather than the deer, is because needs must. The cattle are an aspect of the site that we can influence directly (which is less easy and in any case not necessary with the deer), they are legally our responsibility (in terms of animal welfare, health & safety, etc - which the deer aren't), and they continue to draw hostile comment from you (which the deer don't).

It's important for people to understand what we're doing on the Moor, and why we're doing it... so that they can make their own minds up about it. The more you raise doubts and express your own views on the cattle grazing, the more we are required to inform people of the alternative view, to keep the debate balanced and informed.

The deer, on the other hand, are a fact of life that is universally welcome and uncontroversial. Anyone who wants to, and who has the right approach, can go up and see the deer... and marvel at them. Anyone who gets pleasure simply from knowing they're there can do so, from the comfort of their own homes. It doesn't need SWT (necessarily) to intervene to make this happen.

Much of the information used in our publications in the past has been drawn from bird surveys, fungal surveys, plant surveys, etc, that didn't specifically include the deer, and some of it came from the original documentation that set out why the SSSI of which Blacka Moor is a part was designated as being an area of national and international significance for nature conservation.

It's a simple fact that impressive though they are, red deer are common and widespread across much of the UK, and that they were not part of the reason for designating the site.

So: SWT loves the deer, too, and we're delighted that they're there... but we don't go on about it. Aside from anything else, you do a fine job of promoting the deer, yourself (which is great).

Nigel Doar

Blacka Blogger said...

Just satisfy my curiosity, Nigel: How many times have you walked round Blacka in the last 12 months?
Replies in less than 5 sentences please. I would prefer not to have to purchase more memory from Google.