Wednesday, 23 September 2015
In the United Kingdom we are fond of elephants. They are the staple stars of natural history TV, their close knit family lives, endearing babies and charming eye lashes creating a ready empathy as we watch their triumphs and challenges. Their struggles in the face of drought and lions, or, worse, our industrial poaching for ivory only endear them further. Elephants seem to have a sense of their own mortality and existence, which are very rare properties in the animal world. It comes as a surprise to many people in the UK that elephant big game hunting is nonetheless legal in much of southern Africa, and that some conservationists positively support this sport. The logic is grimly simple. If hunters pay a lot of money to shoot an elephant and then a substantial chunk of that cash goes to the local people on whose land the pachyderm was shot then the local people will put up with living next to these large, fast, greedy, clever leviathans. We are fond of elephants in the UK.... but we don’t have them in our back yard.
The problem is with approach to conservation is exactly whose land an elephant is on (or, technically, was) when it was shot. Trophy hunts linked to conservation have often run into problems once people realise the potential pay out. The idea works best where it is wholly clear whose land it is and who counts as local. Which is also part of the dramatic tension at Druridge Bay as Banks are about to submit their planning application. Who is a supporter and who against, and how local do you have to be to count?
Or, as Ronald and Douglas Smith put it when describing objectors to the mine proposal in an interview for Look North:
“It’s the people as moved up from Newcastle”,
“Haven’t got a clue what they’re on about”
These are good points, familiar to many a conservation debate. Town vs countryside, locals vs outsiders, bunny huggers vs despoilers of the countryside.
The Smith brothers’ opinions matter a great deal. South east Northumberland is an area rather cut off and left behind by economic powerhouses further south. Jobs are needed, there is a proud mining heritage, the economy needs a boost. So will the objectors be immediately check mated? No. The trouble with the outsiders/local argument is it all depends where you draw those lines. Which is exactly where the problems start with who owns a valuable elephant.
Funny how the challenges of wildlife in Drurdige Bay or southern Africa can be so similar.
Sunday, 20 September 2015
Druridge Bay is about to become an amphitheatre for a classic battle of ideas and ideologies that that fought over a countryside for hundreds of years. The battle will not in some exquisite Coliseum but down and dirty in an open cast mine, more the scenery for 1970s Dr Who than Gladiator. Banks Mining are about to lodge their planning application for a new open cast between Cresswell and Druridge villages. Look North did a fine job of tracing out the battle lines: jobs, tourism, landscape, wildlife, energy, community, money. Their storyline captured the contested views of what might or might not happen very neatly, a microcosm of environmental debates from around the world. There were firmly held views, with anti-mine protestors dismissed as know-nothing outsiders whilst equally local opponents of the mine worried that alternative businesses would be snuffed out.
For conservationists the open cast proposal represents a complex and unnerving dilemma. The best wildlife sites along the Bay are restored open cast mines, from Hauxley at the north through East Chevington and Druridge Pools. The potential of a new site, restored as a fine reserve once mined out is obvious. On the other hand that might not be the outcome. Hauxley, East Chevington and Druridge Pools were all handed over to the care of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust or National Trust. Trouble is that Banks do not own the proposed new site and cannot offer this prospect as a definite prize to aim for beyond the short term horizon of mining. I suspect conservationists will be caught in the cross fire, at least in the short term. Fail to oppose the mine and we will be challenged by protestors who can draw on the deep roots of anti-nuclear power and sand extraction campaigns on the Bay. Fail to support the mine and we will be portrayed as anti-jobs, lacking the vision to see the future benefits.
I suspect this very blog will haver between these two poles, not least because of both the brilliant potential for a new wildlife site but the deadly uncertainty that it can be delivered.
Meantime the light has changed to autumns spun gold, warm in the day but the edge of cold in the air giving the lie to pretending it is still summer.