Thursday, 11 June 2015
Britain's 'National Bird'
It's not often that I write anything meaningful for this blog, so forgive me for the sudden stylistic shift. And, before I launch in to what I want to say, may I just point out that, for various reasons, I didn't actually watch the big reveal of Britain's National Bird last night on the BBC's Springwatch program.
For anyone who doesn't know by now, (European) Robin won the poll by what can only be described as a landslide. According to the BBC, 34% of the 200,000+ voters chose the species. In second was Barn Owl, with 12%; Blackbird came third with 11%.
This is utterly unsurprising. The United Kingdom (UK) already has a national bird - Robin. It's a very common species with a distinct plumage. Not only are they commonly found in gardens, parks and other urban/suburban environments, but they are a charismatic species with an iconic song. They can also be very confiding, and are sometimes even fearless of man. It is a symbol of Christmastime, when it pops up just about anywhere - cards, wrapping paper, mugs, decorations ... you name it, it's probably got a Robin on it.
Robin is therefore a familiar and instantly recognisable species to the vast majority of British public, unlike some of the final 'top 10' - such as Puffin, Red Kite ... and Hen Harrier.
As just about anyone with a sympathetic ear for nature or conversation will know, Hen Harrier is almost always having a hard time of things on our shores, not least in recent weeks following the 'mysterious' disappearances of breeding males in the north-west of England (see here and here). I won't delve in to this further as it is straying from my point somewhat.
Going on the counter-attack, birders and conservationists have rallied together to vote Hen Harrier in the aforementioned poll, the aim being to draw the species' miserable plight to the attention of the British public. Those that voted have done a fine job of propelling it to its position in the final top 10.
What I can't get my head around is some of the fallout on social media. People (by people I mean individuals involved in the birding/ornithological/conservation 'scene') who are disappointed/shocked/saddened/appalled that Hen Harrier did not figure further up in the list. Conservationists - and indeed birders - form such a tiny fraction of the British public that ninth place is surely an excellent result? There's a fair chance that most of the 200,000+ voters haven't even heard of Hen Harrier, let alone are aware of the appalling discrimination that it continuously suffers. At least Mark Avery seems a bit more realistic, describing it as 'A great victory for the Hen Harrier' - which it is.
Back to the vote itself. Apart from the successful 'hijack' (meant positively) that ensured Hen Harrier a finish in the top 10, the entire campaign seems something of a lost cause. It has established that Robin is our national bird - a status that it already possessed. Yes, it's great to get people talking and thinking about birds, but the furore and media coverage will die down very quickly - as it does with just about everything. People will move on, and the campaign forgotten by most.
So, after months of social media bombardment, are there any winners, Robin aside? Well, there does appear to be one. The face of the campaign - self-proclaimed naturalist, writer, broadcaster, speaker, photographer, wildlife tour leader and educationist David Lindo - has gotten his name banded about a bit, and he's been back on the telly. You can also buy a t-shirt to celebrate the inevitable re-establishment of Robin as our national bird from his website, alongside a whole assortment of other questionable memorabilia.
Without wanting to sound too much of a cynic, David and his team have evidently worked hard on this campaign, and that at least deserves some credit and recognition. However, now that it's all over, I can't help but wonder what could have been achieved if all that effort had been invested in something else.
These are uncertain times for the natural world - not just in Britain but across Europe, and indeed beyond. Wouldn't it be great if all of those votes translated to signatures on a valuable petition such as BirdLife's Nature Alert campaign?
So, before you buy a t-shirt to celebrate what was an inevitable victory, take a good, hard look at the above photo. Then I politely suggest that you reconsider how you might spend the £23 you would have shelled out for it. Why not invest it in something that would perhaps do some good somewhere, or at least contribute towards it?