This week I began a Masters degree in Wildlife Management at Newcastle University – a course that quite honestly, I never expected undertake. Mainly because, on a personal level, the term “management” seems at odds with everything a younger me hoped to achieve. Standing in direct conflict with the predefined, pristine image of the countryside I based my decisions on a few years past. When “saving” animals at all costs was the only thing I aspired to do, and conflict with the “bad guys” seemed inevitable, even necessary.
The course itself really is an intriguing one, at least at first glance. It incorporates modules centred on human/wildlife conflict, invasive species, managing disease and much, much more. And involves work alongside everyone from Natural England to the GWCT, groups who often make decisions that my sentimental self disagrees with. It will surely provide a much-needed shock to the system but seems to fit with my budding interest in the wider countryside. And my belief that if the countryside does not work for everyone, it does not work at all. Though I fear there are a few habits I will have to banish if I am to truly engross myself in it. First and foremost: the tendency to generalise those of alternative lifestyles.
Though I have mellowed in recent times, largely as a result of previous work in the company of sportsmen, I am still very much guilty of falling into the conservation booby-trap from time to time. Of wanting to protect anything and everything whatever the cost, and entrenching myself ready to do battle with anyone of a different mindset. Still, to this day, I find myself jumping the gun with some frequency, and making decisions based on sentiment and personal beliefs as opposed to fact and logic. This is not always a bad thing, passion is, after all, what drives us, but must change nevertheless. Let me give you an example.
Shooting. The very word often inspires fits of anger from those who cherish wildlife, and it did from me for quite some time. A few years ago, fresh out of university for the first time, I would have firmly classified myself as an “anti” – disgusted by the very notion of killing wildlife for “fun” or profit. This changed, largely as a result of some real world experience, working with sportsmen on a number of sites in Scotland. Now, despite abhorring certain associated factors, I cannot describe myself as such.
I personally, quite like many sportsmen, respect their work and above all else, respect their right to live as they see fit – providing they abide by the law. Yet still, time and time again, I let my own morals cloud my judgement, and because someone is doing something I find distasteful, find myself inclined to rant and rave absent consideration. Both for the wider scheme of things, and for individual people. This I fear must change, at least if I want to make a difference in our increasingly polarised countryside, and I very much hope this course provides me with a broader, more pragmatic outlook. It really will be an uphill struggle.
Another example, qutie similar to the above is the issue of predator control. And as a nature-lover, I instinctly oppose any act that results in the death of an animal. Repeatedly guilty of attacking farmers, sportsmen and their like for partaking in it, yet wholly accepting of the need to, from time to time, control predators for the sake of conservation. The RSPB do it, and so do many conservation bodies. Though whoever purpetrates it, the actions likely have the same effect, whether it is a crow, magpie or stoat being removed. Making a distinction between the two, I fear, makes me a frightful hypocrit, regardless of the reasons behind such actions. And while I am a little bit more accepting of such things now, I still cringe whenever I see larson traps arranged around the fields of my local farm, or indeed whenenever difficult decisions are made regarding species such as Buzzards. I find myself up in arms for no other reason that I do not like to see things die. Another thing that has to change, if indeed I intend to be a conservationist – ready and willing to make difficult decisions – or an animal rights activist. The lines do blur from time to time, but the more I think on it, the more my mind is made up. Though I do fully buy into the animal rights scheme of things, the two do appear at odds from time to time.
I apologise for this rather rambling post, though the last few days have caused me to ponder my beliefs and motivations in a little more depth. And to assess just where I want to be in a few years time. This I have decided, though to get there I am going to have to avoid hypocrisy, rashness and sentimentality. I am going to have to build on previous bouts of pragmatism, forsake the moral high horse that, so often, I am inclined to take, and avoid aiming to please. I make no apologies for my apparent indecisiveness with regards to certain issues – shooting, predator control, farming etc. Life is, after all, a learning curve, and questioning one’s self, I feel, is horribly important. I feel there is room for emotion, it is what drives us, yet for the foreseeable future intend to distance myself from my previous “act first, think later” approach, and work with all parties. Both to better myself, and ultimately, to make a difference in the future.
I will always hold opinions, in some cases strong ones, but now see the need to dig further into the basis of such opinions, before, as is often the norm, bull rushing into any particular course of action. I will embrace my time at Newcastle, and see where I end up. I cannot do much more than that.