I’m writing this on a train between Norwich and London, heading for a do at the Royal Society called Controversial Conservation; it’s hosted by the World Land Trust and it promises to be something of a fruity evening. It’s mostly about the illegal killing of birds, and the shooters have promised to come and say their bit. Perhaps no one told them that Chris Packham’s coming.
I take no delight in controversy myself, and I’m always sad when wildlife conservations gets controversial. Yes, it looks as if hen harriers will be raising their fierce and much persecuted heads once again.
But right now my mind keeps slipping back to a day last week when, as guest of the Wildlife Trusts, I got on a boat in Newquay, Cornwall on a boisterous and lumpy sea. I love the way that even when you’re as little as a mile offshore, you’re in a new world of birds.
And we caught up with a flypast of Manx shearwaters: several hundreds, taking 20 minutes to pass: impossibly slim wings scything the sea, showing first the dark topside and then the pale underside in in a sleek, elegant rhythm. I was reminded of street entertainers I saw in Beijing: men who would cover the pavements with exquisite calligraphy – but their ink was water and so it vanished, evaporating as the brush moved on.
These artists would twist the brush in their hands so that made a line that was thick then thin then thick again: just like this passage of swiftly vanishing birds as they wrote their controversial message about their right to life in exquisite marine calligraphy. This was an area that should have been made a Marine Conservation Zone, but the government – as governments do – failed to go through with it. Let’s hope that it will make the cut when the next bunch of MCZs are designated. Oh God, another controversy. Can’t avoid ’em, alas.