Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Letter to the BBC Re: Jeremy Vine's "Killer Seagull" Segment

Last Friday, I happened to be listening to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 while myself and my family were in the car travelling around South Wales. One of the articles was discussing the unfortunate story of a woman's dog that was pecked to death by seagulls in her back garden. I use the word "discussing" with some sarcasm as it very much was not a discussion; it was commpletely one-sided and definitely not impartial, as the BBC are supposed to be. There was not a single wildlife or ornithological expert representative on during the segment and I really felt quite angry that the gulls were more or less being attacked by people with nothing to go on but their bad experiences with them. I decided to write to the show this morning, as I only got back from Wales over the weekend, to express my frustration at the lack of facts and proper information provided. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Mr Vine and team,

I am writing in response to the segment on your 17th July show regarding the dog pecked to death by seagulls. I listened to the entirety of the segment while driving round South Wales where, I will point out, there are a number of gulls. I found myself extremely disappointed and frustrated by the end of the segment as I was waiting for the moment when you would speak to someone on the other side of the argument, someone who wasn't just a caller complaining they couldn't drink a cup of tea in their garden without harassment, but that moment never came. 

The reason I expected to hear from a professional who could give some insight into the gulls' behaviour and the reasons behind it is that your show, as you know, is part of the BBC. I was under the impression that the BBC are all about impartiality and therefore don't take sides in debates. If this is indeed the case, then I would like to know why you failed to provide the other side to this gull debate; where was the representative from any of the wildlife organisations in this country? There are any number of callers or speakers you could have had speaking on this issue which could have perhaps balanced out what seemed like a complete attack on the gulls themselves.

I am in no way condoning what happened to the dogs and tortoise discussed on the show; what a horrible experience for the owners and as a owner of pets myself, I know the heartbreak they must have felt. What absolutely needed to be emphasised further was the fact that these birds do not go around pecking dogs for fun. It was mentioned but very briefly that the gulls were extremely likely to have been nesting nearby to the gardens in question and therefore will have been naturally and instinctively protective of their nesting area. If they think their eggs or chicks may be under threat, they will act to defend them, the same as any wild animal would, because we must remember we are sharing this planet with wild animals, or even as any of us humans would. 

When it comes to the aggression of gulls on the seafronts and beaches, well, we can only blame ourselves for that behaviour. Ever since visits to the seaside became popular, as far back as the Victorian era, we have fed gulls with scraps from our picnics. These are scavenging birds, I would like to point out, not fishing birds. They are found in various habitats across the country, not only the coast; they will simply go wherever there is food to be scavenged, just like corvids (crows, rooks etc.) So we have spent countless decades tossing chips and sandwich crusts to these birds, encouraging them to hang around the coastal areas and to gather when they see a group of humans with greasy paper bundles on their laps. They are only acting on the instincts developed due to our misguided encouragement. I would like to say that, during my recent trip to Wales, I spent a lot of time on various beaches and saw flocks of many different species of gulls but not once was I or a member of my family swooped on, even when we had food with us. None of which we fed to the gulls, obviously. 

I was sorry to hear some of your callers referring to gulls as 'pests' and 'vermin'. It's the same way feral pigeons often get spoken about. These birds are thriving in urban environments because they are intelligent and have worked out their best chances for survival are in these towns and cities where the scraps of food are abundant and tourists will happily share their lunches. No, it isn't pleasant to be dive-bombed while you're trying to enjoy an ice cream and it certainly must have been terrible for the pet owners to lose their animals in such a way, but none of this behaviour is for fun. They are acting on instinct. They are wild animals and we have to find a way to live in harmony with them. 

I am by no means an expert on these matters, however I do feel it is important to make sure the public have a clear understanding of the natural world they are surrounded by. Perhaps if you had bothered to have an expert on during the segment last Friday, much of this information and more could have been imparted and your listeners may well have gained new insight into the behaviour of the gulls. I feel the article was nothing but an attack on the gulls and it was the language used by Mr Vine himself that bothered me, when he referred to the birds as "killer gulls". That certainly doesn't sound like impartial language to me. This isn't a plague of gulls going round pecking people for fun and it is certainly nothing like Hitchcock, as one caller suggested. 

I really feel strongly that if you had invited an expert caller on to the show, the debate could have become exactly that which, by definition, should be two-sided. Instead, it sadly came across as a complete bombardment of "gull haters" with absolutely no factual basis. I would hope, should you feature such segments on your show in the future, that you might give a little more thought to the impression you are putting across. Wildlife is extremely important. Every species serves a purpose but without education in cases such as these, the public will never learn to understand and respect that.

Kind regards,

Emily Summers

I'm not expecting to hear back from them really, as it aired several days ago now, but I really felt the need to express my opinion. So many people don't understand wildlife and situations such as these really don't help. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

30 Days Wild Days 27-30: The Last Few Days

Well folks, we have officially entered July which means 30 Days Wild is at an end. I haven't had much time to dedicate to wild acts in the last few days of the challenge but I managed to sneak moments here and there. Here's a summary of what I got up to:

On Saturday, I allowed myself a lazy morning in bed. I took my cup of tea and breakfast upstairs, opened my window wide and listened to the screechy chirps of the goldfinches in the oak tree directly outside my bedroom. The sunlight was glinting and caught the yellow bars on their wings as they picked at the leaves in search of insects.

The whole of Sunday was spent working on portraits so I took a few minutes in the evening, just as the sun had dipped, to stand in the bridleway next to our house and listen to the birdsong. The songs of blackbirds, song thrushes and robins floated on the air, layered on top of each other and a few rabbits hopped along the bridleway, unaware of me stood very still at the end.

Monday heralded the start of our "heatwave" and at eight in the morning, the temperature was already high. With another long day of work planned, I took the opportunity to sit out in the garden while I had my breakfast, wriggling my toes in the grass and listening to the dunnock calling from the hedge, one long, high-pitched squeak.

Enter the 30th of June, the final day of 30 Days Wild and I was to be found volunteering at Pulborough Brooks. Boy, was it a hot one! One of the members of the volunteer work party asked me if I wished I was working out on the reserve on a day like yesterday and I in all honesty was quite glad to be inside. Partly because I burn so easily, so extended time in strong sun is never a brilliant idea for me. During my lunch break, I sat outside by the pond next to the visitor centre and listened to the sparrows, blue tits and the clucking of a moorhen. A male blackbird landed in front of me with his beak stuffed full of small morsels. I think there were some fledglings sparrows still in the nest boxes, poking their heads out and squawking to their parents.

Although I had quite a lot of work and volunteering keeping me occupied during June, I still just about managed to have my moments with nature each day and even learned a few new things. The campaign was a very effective way of encouraging us to engage with the natural world more often and I intend to keep it up wherever possible, by visiting new places and continuing to educate myself, particularly on bird songs and calls which remains my weakest area. 

Stay wild everybody!