For instance for a sparrow hawk so if you did away with, say, songbirds, collar doves for example, then you’d do away with the sparrow hawk. Also the eggs from birds often go to feed other species like say squirrels. Birds, at the other end of the chain, also keep down the insects.
RL: There’s a lot of emotion over these sorts of things isn’t there.
Grant: Yes, do you remember the fox attacks on a little child? As a result of that people said get rid of the urban foxes. But do you know the problems you will have if you got rid of the urban foxes? You’d have a rat problem. Urban foxes are one of the biggest predators of rats and keep them down for us.
RL: OK, let’s try another one. Whatever good is there of having a badger around?
Grant: Well, I have badgers in my back garden. What I do – for I always get this question from people who love gardening, and I play devil’s advocate here a little bit for at the end of the day we all have to co-exist – I often say to the person, when was your house built, and they’ll say something like, oh, about 1968 or whatever it was, and then I’ll say, how long do you think that badger sett has been there, and they’ll say they don’t know, to which I’ll reply, probably at least a hundred years. So in the nicest way, you’re the intruder or trespasser and often the route that a badger takes is learnt from the previous generation, so a lot of these are ancient routes of these badgers, and so your garden was imposed on them. It’s a bit like a farmer ploughing up one of the footpaths we use regularly and we feel upset. Now you’ve done that to the badger, so what you need to do is just accommodate this badger and where you work out that he enters and exits your garden, make it so that he can enter and exit easily and leave his hole open. If you don’t want your lawn dug up, do a little investment and get a bag of peanuts and every night during the spring, summer and autumn, I scatter two or three handfuls of peanuts over the lawn and, personally, I get the pleasure of watching the badgers. He’s a bit lazy and so won’t bother to dig if I scatter a couple of handfuls of peanuts.
RL: I don’t think the people on the allotments who have had trouble with the badger would take very kindly to this.
Grant: Well the trouble is that we are marginalising these creatures with our building works, so where do they go.
RL: Surely we’ve got plenty of countryside so surely they could go there?
Grant: Yes, but the trouble with badgers and foxes is that we haven’t told them the areas where they can’t go and the areas they can go, they don’t read the signs. I know someone over on Foulness island scaring the Brent Geese away from his seedlings, while over the other side of the river at North Fambridge we have a reserve that we specifically manage with short grass for Brent Geese. The trouble is that the Brent Geese haven’t read the signs. It’s the same with the badger. Yes, you have to be a bit ingenious and think of innovative ways that you can satisfy him so he doesn’t eat your sweet corn. I don’t know the exact answer because all the time we keep developing more and more land that these species used to inhabit and you have the choice that at the end of the day you have to either live with these creatures or eventually they will lose and die out.
RL: Isn’t it like the problems with magpies, which became protected, so developed that they started wiping out the smaller bird population so we needed to reduce them or drive them away?
Grant: You have to draw a balance and keep some species down in order to preserve others. Even within the Trust we all have our own opinions
RL: Yes, I’m sure. I think one of our emotive reasons against badgers here is that we used to have hedgehogs in the garden until the badger came.
Grant: Yes, I understand. For the last six years we have been doing a garden survey of Essex and we have found that the hedgehog is strong in the north of the county and the badger isn’t, and the badger is strong in the south of the county and the hedgehog isn’t. It’s a bit about the pecking order of the various animals. I observed last year that an urban fox came into the garden while there were two or three badgers and the fox bowed to the badger. The badger allowed the fox to eat with them but if he got too close they saw him off. Hedgehogs and badgers are competing for exactly the same food unfortunately. It doesn’t mean hedgehogs aren’t around because I know where they still are in Rochford, but just not as strong as they used to be.
RL: OK, we’ve probably gone on sufficiently long, we should draw it to a close now. You have certainly provided some food for thought or fuel for argument because there are clearly no easy answers to some of these problems of balance. Thank you so much for the time you’ve given up. Sometime in the future it would be good to continue the conversation and open up some other areas of discussion. Thank you again.
Talking with Grant Maton, of Essex Wildlife Trust (Part 3)
Grant Maton is the Corporate Communications Officer for Essex Wildlife Trust. This is the third part of the conversation we held on the work of the Trust and conservation generally. In this part we move on to talk about just a few of the creatures we encounter in our own gardens and the problems we find with them and in reaching a balance with wildlife concerns.
Rochford Life: A little while ago on our gardening page I asked the question that we all take for granted, why is it good to have birds around? What would be your answer to that?
Grant: Well we have this thing called biodiversity. People ask us questions over planning applications, and they say well, we don’t see any wildlife on this area, but the fact is that there might be a particular invertebrate there and only there. For example, down in Southend, there is one site that has a Click beetle and there are only two sites in the whole of the country that have this Click beetle on them and one of them is in Thorpe Bay. Now from a wildlife point of view, from a viewing point of view, it is not particularly pretty and you probably won’t see it and it doesn’t necessarily have a function, but from a biodiversity point of view if you have lost the Click beetle, and you lose other species that you didn’t see, then you have just lost the species and it is gone for ever and once it is gone it’s gone. Now with birds they are part of the food chain. We may look at them and see that some a pretty birds and some we don’t even see at all, but at the end of the day, at one end of the chain they provide a source of food.