Where eagles don't dare

by Black Sheep, 27th March 2019

Our national parks should be beacons of hope for beleaguered wildlife, not mirroring a decline in biodiversity

As touched on by an excited Iolo Williams in the April issue of Welsh Border Life, the proposed reintroduction of golden eagles to Snowdonia should be a cause of celebration for anyone with a keen interest in wildlife.

Eagle Reintroduction Wales is working closely with Cardiff University and renowned wildlife consultant Roy Dennis to reverse 400 years of this magnificent raptor's absence in North Wales. But much will depend on landowners. And as revealed in the media this week, the omens aren't great.

State of UK Nature 2019, due to be published by conservation bodies in the autumn, will point to a decline in the population of nearly 60 percent of wildlife species in the UK. And far from providing a sanctuary for those on the endangered list, our national parks are in danger themselves of losing their United Nations status as globally protected nature reserves, just when they're most needed to deliver. How can this be possible?

Speaking to The Sunday Times, RSPB chairman Kevin Cox points the finger of blame at farming, grouse shooting and tourism. "National parks are often in worse condition than areas outside the park," said Cox. "They aren't being monitored, lack funding and have no clear purpose."

Incredibly, government policy still encourages the use of chemicals and intensification when it comes to farming the land in our national parks. There are 3.3 million sheep in Snowdonia alone. And surprise, surprise, farmers are furious about the plans to reintroduce golden eagles there. They'll endanger their sheep, they say. Not nearly as much as their chemicals endanger our wildlife.

When are we going to learn that intensive farming practices are destructive beyond belief? As a nation, we eat far too much meat as it is, while the simultaneous import of New Zealand lamb and export of Welsh lamb is a folly that only adds to the industry's carbon footprint.

The rabid vegan lobbyists are certainly due their ridicule, but if their mission statement was a more sensibly balanced nudge towards lower meat consumption, then it could be argued it's working. Meat consumption is down, and rather than rail against it or seek greater exports, farming should set a course for a more widespread, sustainable output of organic produce that would enrich our land, improve our health and maintain revenues.

With the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) admitting that less than a third of protected nature reserves in national parks are in good condition, where better to start?

Michael Gove has performed admirably at Defra, but there is still much to be done. One can only hope the chaos of Brexit doesn't deny us the services of one of the best environment secretaries for generations. He'd be wasted in the bear pit of No.10.

A mutton for punishment, Black Sheep welcomes all comments. Email blacksheep@borderpublishing.com to air your points of view. You can also read Black Sheep in Welsh Border Life every month


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