I used to enjoy Springwatch, it seemed to get the blend of factual reporting and frivolous fun about right. Now however it seems to be a launch pad of one or other of the presenters comedy careers. The programme specialises in boorish innuendo coupled (ha!) with the inane flirting, childish banter, and an over all lack of substance. Worse it trivialises serious matters and leaves matters that go to the heart of the problem with conservation, hanging in the air. It ploughs the establishment furrow, hedgehogs need our help, badgers are ruthless indiscriminate killers and let’s just ignore the hen harrier. Before you know it they will be inviting shooters and gamekeepers on to the show, for that is what it is now, to regale the viewers with stories of killing and the wonderful conservation work that they do by trapping and ridding the landscape of vermin and pests. Animals such as foxes that is to you and me.
I can’t help but feel that there will be a change in cast before to long, either that or Chris Packham who so articulated the frustration and anger of the plight of the hen harrier last year in the rain in the Dark Peak, has had a change of heart. One wonders if having to toe the BBC editorial line on controversial matters was the real reason behind the exit of Bill Oddie from the programme? Spring watch has become like the Times nature column since Simon Barnes mysteriously was let go, bland dull and rather boring, with the occasional patch of purple prose standing out like the purple heather on a Derbyshire hillside in the summer. Welcomed for its brief appearance before one realised what has been lost and what is being held back by its presence. Spring watch attracts a large audience, but it is missing the opportunity to educate its audience on some crucial wildlife matters. It is becoming as bland and irrelevant as Country file is.
The National Forest has always struck me as more of a marketing and PR vehicle than a genuine forest, so it was fascinating to hear Sophie Churchill the recently retired CEO for the Forest, talk about it, trees, and environmental issues in general. Apart from allaying my misconceptions about the forest, modelled on the medieval model apparently, she takes a very down to earth approach explaining that there is really no one way, no right way of doing things, but of course some wrong ways. Squirrels came in for a bad press. The grey variety of course, or American. Squirrels do untold damage to trees but the habit of poisoning them has to be replaced with more effective and less indiscriminate ways of culling. Shooting in a variety of forms seems to be favoured, but what was not discussed was the use of natural predators. Polecats I believe will prey on grey squirrels. It seems to be a better way of dealing with the problem. Of course there will be down side, perhaps some domestic cats may be taken, and even the occasional pheasant poult, but as some 30% of the later remain un shot at the end of the season one really can’t see that as a valid objection. And the benefits of seeing another wonderful predator in our woods would bring a thrill to those of us keen to see at least a hint of re-wilding.
The lecture was the last in the series of free public lectures held at the Buxton campus of University of Derby. These are excellent, and should be better supported. They are free and delightful and a wonderful opportunity to hear about things at first hand from people at the apex of their profession or industry. They are unstuffy and beautifully informal, I can’t wait for next seasons programme.