Bloodlines

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Such is the power of the current Brexit storm, that any issue unconnected (and many things connected) is swept out of thought almost as soon as it comes to mind. And having turned the most complex of sociological and economic issues into a straightforward question of ‘Yes or No’, it seems that every point of conflict can be approached in precisely the same manner.

There is no place for middle ground. With two sides shouting blindly from either end of the room, the voice in the centre simply has no weight. In fact, any notion of compromise achieves nothing other than unite the opposites in condemnation. The peacemaker becomes the enemy. And resolution ever more distant.IMG_8737 (2)

Such times also lead to a simplification of process. A loss of resource or commitment will inevitably lead to a cutting of corners. It is far easier, and considerably cheaper, to fill a poorly river with tank-reared fish rather than tackle excess abstraction, siltation and the lack of invertebrate life.

And a short-term fix will often cause deeper problems. Repeated restocking dilutes the genes of those lineages that have evolved for thousands of years.

The sudden increase of food can create an imbalance of predators, and with no evolutionary instinct the stocked fish are easy pickings. Cyclical fluctuations in the populations of predator and prey are natural and often marked, but a sudden boom and bust can create deeper problems within an environment, and compound the illusion of a problem that isn’t really there.

And while so many eyes are studying divorce bills, trade arrangements and the unpicking of 45 years of infrastructure, other regulations become relaxed or completely ignored. Legal practices are exploited to a point of apprent recklessness and no-one really knows at what point red tape should be applied or who it is that should be deciding.IMG_8729 (2)

Hedgerows have received a fair bit of focus this spring. Or what is left of them. Smoke plumes have been a familiar sight inthe local landscape this year, as miles and miles of hedgerow has been cut back and burned. But before scorn is poured upon farmers and landowners, it is important to understand their own predicament.

Many farmers are dependant upon subsidies, and payments are not always made with conservation in mind. A lush, thick hedgerow (with grass margin) means a smaller field and less subsidy.

Satellite imagery enables such decisions to be made remotely, ensuring even less humanity is applied to specific situations. A process streamlined for efficiency but clearly flawed. A farmer either loses money or cuts and burns.

It is a system that needs addressing but is too easily lost as all hands are ordered onto the Brexit deck. A similar situation gaining current attention is the netting of trees and hedges in order to prevent birds nesting. Preventative measures have long been employed to deter birds from rooves and public areas, but this is a new level of sinister. It seems that the basis for prevention is in order to secure development. Nothing must hold up the process of building and the turnover of construction. And if we shout and scream, who is there to listen?

Some small birds will find a way into these nets, becoming trapped as a result, but the tragedy does not stop there. Hedgerows are ecological arteries, vital not just for nest building but for the wealth of invertebrate life, fungus, root networks and nitrate influence delivered by an arboreal sliver. These are vital ribbons criss-crossing a sterile arable sea.IMG_8741 (2)

I took a walk along a hedgerow at the weekend and I cheated a little bit, heading to the coast where the grasses of the links are unimproved and only ever lightly grazed. This is a familiar pattern for much of Chesil’s length. A thin but distinct strip of scrub and pasture, checked by the prevailing south-westerlies and the saline crash of big autumn seas.

I walked for only a few hundred yards, a cool breeze on my face but warm early spring sunshine on the back of my neck. I found three adders, a female coiled in soporific satisfaction and two males, one freshly sloughed and glistening with his shed skin beside him.

Common lizards scuttled, the skylarks ascended and amid a mass of peacocks were an orange-tip and a speckled wood – both firsts of my year. The blackthorn blossom is already dropping, while the waft of flowering-bramble hints at the blackberry feast of late summer. I shall return again in a few weeks, hopefully to find whitethroat, lesser whitethroat and perhaps a surprise or two. I can’t wait.

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2 responses to “Bloodlines

  1. This is a great post, Kevin, in almost every respect. I think many of us are aware of the feeling that things – important things – are being neglected in the sound and fury of the Brexit debacle.

    I would make one point, though. Agricultural subsidies have not been based upon production for many years. Rural Payments are calculated purely on acreage (hectareage). If a farmer wants to maximise the production from his/her field, he/she will of course clear headlands and hedgerows. But a hedge and a strip of grass make no difference to the subsidy he/she receives under the current rules. Of course, if they sign up for Countryside Stewardship, they have been eligible for the Hedgerows and Boundaries Grant which opened in February this year.

    • Ahh – thank you very much for the clarity. And thank you for the nice words. It is hard to mention Brexit without the risk of stirring deeper feeling, but the frustrations here are that so many tricky issues are either side-lined orswept under the carpet.

      The Stewardship schemes worry me a little, too. Great in theory, but also open to abuse – and nobody in a position to keep tabs or investigate. And once the damage is done it cannot be undone…..

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