Friday, 11 January 2008

Is Birding Bad for the Environment?

Here's an interesting article from The Times...

A lungful of carbon delusion

How are we to deal with climate change? If you had asked that question 10 years ago the answer would have been simple: plant lots of trees.

If, however, you had asked that same question four years ago you would have been told that nuclear energy and wind farms were the solution. More recently still you might have got yet a third set of answers: biofuels, carbon capture and trading.


Give it a chance as it goes on to explain the fashionable five minute answers to climate change, carbon sequestration, nuclear energy, etc, for the fallacies they are. It also has harsh words for conservation groups, indeed it mentions the RSPB by name, and I'm vexed because its criticisms are entirely valid. The society does encourage car travel, its magazine is dependably full of advertisements for long-haul birdwatching holidays, while inside in the news pages the dangers of climate change could form an omnipresent headline.

Closer to home I think about all the birdwatchers I know. Most weekends they will be travelling by car, often to sites flung across all regions of the UK, and I begin to wonder, is birdwatching as an activity really such good news for wildlife conservation? We commonly use private transport far more than people who could scarcely give a damn about wildlife, the of which irony sticks out like a saw thumb, and a particularly unwelcome saw thumb at that.

It is abundantly clear to most of us now that carbon emissions influenced climate change has to be the greatest concern for all conservationists. Saving those coastal lagoons today may mean very little when the sea has claimed them in 50 years time, rainforests in South America are already suffering severe drought as weather patterns change, we know the list of conservation projects imperilled by climate change has the potential to be endless. This is why in certain quarters expeditions like The Biggest Twitch can receive such unquiet derision. During 2008 a former RSPB warden plus partner shall fly all over the globe, carbon footprint and all, hoping to break the record for number of species seen in a calendar year, and they do this in the name raising 'awareness' for conservation issues (that bang you just heard was your jaw dropping on your desk).

Clearly we're not all quite as deluded as the Biggest Twitchers, and yet, so many of us will think nothing of regularly driving 50 miles to see some admittedly charming birdlife. With a million RSPB members, maybe 3 million more people birdwatching every year, this all adds up. Fearing that they are a growing influence on carbon emissions and climate change George Monbiot uses the term 'love miles' to describe the flights and car journeys we undertake to see friends and relatives . In a similar capacity, the phrase ethical birdwatchers may need to begin thinking about is 'bird miles'.

Surely this makes it time to reined in our bird miles, and enjoy our local birds for the beautiful natural heritage they are. What is the other option? To continue down the path we're on, encouraging mass transit to top bird sites, ultimately beckoning closer potential oblivion for simply countless numbers of species in the UK and around the world.

'Bird miles' may be a drop in the ocean, infinitesimally insignificant in the face of India's new model car or China's new model coal-fired power stations. But where do we make a stand? There could be no more idea place to begin that with our choice of leisure, should we find it pollutes beyond reason, even if that includes birding. This does not mean the end birding, we all still have kitchen windows.

This month the RSPB heavily promotes the Big Garden Birdwatch, a great exercise indeed. It campaigns to save the albatross, the Sumatran rainforest, the Aquatic Warbler in Poland and fights the expansion of Lydd airport.
Is it time for the RSPB to begin encouraging away from our cars, to make more of our local areas, dare I say, limit our travel?

I can hardly imagine a message members would want to hear less. What to do folks?

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