There are times when I wonder about my commitment to our birdlife. What do I actually do to help it? Going out and looking at them is just passive support. Identifying, counting and sending in the results to bodies such as the local bird clubs or the BTO goes a little way towards helping collate a database on which greater deeds can be planned and carried out. As much as we need foot soldiers to carry out the grinding work in all walks of life, some of us might have experience, spare time and a profile that can be used to great effect in the struggle to better the lot of our birds. I have plenty of the first two - experience and time - but do I use it? No, if I'm being honest, I don't...
I don't do work parties. I don't volunteer. I tend to get turned off by campaigns. Is it just me, or am I the only birder that is fed-up with hearing about Hen Harriers and driven grouse moors? I shouldn't admit to that, for fear of having Mark Avery and his giant stuffed harrier pay me a visit in the dead of night along with Chris Packham clutching a box of harrier-shaped Lush bath bombs. It's not that I don't want breeding harriers to be protected - I do - it's just that whenever we get into such emotive areas, plenty of people on both sides become polarised and will not listen to the opposing view. I haven't read Mark Avery's book on the subject (Inglorious), but have heard that it is a balanced work. But when all people in the countryside with guns are painted as Satan it is no different than hunters reckoning that all birdwatchers are twitching scum who chase tired migrants to death. Both are wide of the mark.
I blame social media for my apathy. When mildly-informed commentators send out inaccurate bile, or spout knee-jerk sloganeering (and this is retweeted ad infinitum), it is over kill. We can all laugh at Ian Botham for his ill-informed staunch support of hunting, shooting and fishing, but the manner of his quotes are no different from some of the tweets that I have seen from birder's regarding the world of shooting. And no, I'm not into field sports, but because I've birded in northern France over the past couple of years I've learnt to appreciate that not all hunters are oafs who blast anything that flies out of the sky. It is because of these French hunters that there is so much brilliant habitat and so many breeding birds along the northern French coast. Now, I know that this isn't Britain, and it's not moorland, but many of us tend to tar all with the same brush.
My outlook on farming has softened somewhat. I am not in denial that intensive agriculture has walloped our birdlife in the 20th and 21st century, but there are farms and farmers out there that do care about how they farm and strive to protect hedgerows, ponds and birds. They are not all money-grabbing subsidy-gobblers who plough Barn Owls into the dirt while exterminating bees with toxic sprays (although some undoubtably do carry out procedures that do not go hand-in-hand with a healthy environment). Until we all learn to listen to each other's viewpoints and are able to discuss how best to move on - so all can gain from the solution - then there will be conflict and there will not be resolution.
I bird over downland that is populated by cyclists, dog walkers, joggers, horse riders and flyers of model aircraft. They all have as much right to be there as me. Not all dogs are out of control. Not all cyclists ride to fast. And not all birders are twitchers who harass tired migrants.