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Fish-eating birds vs. Fish-catching people

January 25, 2010

Having been on the receiving end of it, I’m all too aware that there’s occasionally no love lost between birders and fishermen.  I admit, I don’t always understand the contentiousness of the issue.  I enjoy the odd turn with bait and pole as much as anyone, like so many others fishing was one of my first outdoor experiences.  And I accept the conservation efforts that fisherman support, if inadvertently, through licensing fees and equipment surcharges, but when an issue boils over between the two camps I find myself taking the birder’s “side” with little hesitation, which often happens to be the underdog’s position more often than not here in the United States.

So when I followed a link to the British Angling Time’s to read an opinion piece with the breathless title, The dark heart of twitching, I was surprised to find I was not even sympathetic with the writer’s position, but shocked at the implication that the birding community in Britain is so large that it would hire what is essentially a hit-man to beat up what is characterized as a kindly old man.  Obviously, I have a lot to learn about the British birding community, but I encourage you to read the entire opinion piece for a good laugh and a good example of the strawman fallacy if nothing else.

The gist is as follows: in Britain it is apparently legal for fishing clubs to procure licenses to cull Cormorants because of the “threat” they pose to fish stocks.  Regardless of whether the cormorant threat is true or not (I agree with the American Bird Conservancy that Cormorants are made out to be scapegoats for issues that are not necessarily related), the fact that a license to kill a single bird that has not, as of yet, posed a problem is sort of ridiculous.  Anyway, a single cormorant was killed, an unnamed individual took offense and apparently punched the gunman in the face, which was, it should be pointed out in the interest of fairness, colossally  stupid and indefensible.

The crucial bit of it, however, is that there’s absolutely no evidence that the attacker was a birder.  In the piece he’s described as “almost certainly a birdwatcher”, whatever that means.  But he doesn’t let this little lack of information stop him from leaving the actual incident behind and going on an anti-birding rant of such bizarre scope and paranoid extravagance I would have bet he had a well-worn Kenyan birth certificate in his end-table.  Not only does he accuse the attacker of, as I mentioned before, being a paid heavy for the birding community but he describes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in equally strange terms.

But it doesn’t stop birdwatchers ­ and its representative body, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ­ doing everything they can to make us out to be callous murderers. Be in no doubt, the vast majority of these people would have our sport banned tomorrow if they could…

In the RSPB (membership one million-plus), birdwatchers have a body with muscle, influence and, crucially, brains…. As such, the national and local media is routinely fed stories that first seek to portray those who watch birds as heaven-sent conservationists and second try to ensure that anyone or anything that threatens these creatures is depicted as the devil incarnate.

Clearly some latent issues here.  But he does describe cormorants as hideous creatures raping (yes, raping) man-made and natural waterways, so understatement is apparently not his forte.

Say what you will about birders, and yes, there are absolutely some legitimate critiques that can be made of our group.  But if you’re going to make them, you’d probably best be sure the right target is in the crosshairs, otherwise you just come off looking like a crazy person.

But I would like to know where my local birding club can hire some of these “heavies”.  Can any British birders help with that?

  1. January 25, 2010 8:10 pm

    I wish American birding institutions were influential enough to inspire such paranoia.

  2. Nate permalink*
    January 25, 2010 8:52 pm

    @John- Heh, you and me both.

  3. January 26, 2010 3:26 pm

    I’ll admit I had a difficult time with his entry (and that should say something based on my reputation). The initial assumption is where it falls apart. Then the “heavy” bit really pushed me over the edge (I mean really, is this the “birding mob” we’re talking about?). But I struggled through it like a good objective observer.

    From outside both departmental boxes, I can say he could have offered some serious food for thought. Instead, even his valid points are disregarded because of the original assumption and the “heavy” bit. Sad that his audience won’t be so astute as to notice the flaws.

    (And I’ll add this: I’m a radical vegan who abhors any harm to animals and who won’t even wear wool. I’m no birder–that should be clear–but I’d be quite willing to walk up and punch someone in the head for shooting a lone cormorant. Besides, only evil people think cormorants are “hideous creatures”…)

  4. Nate permalink*
    January 26, 2010 4:26 pm

    @Jason- The characterization of Cormorants rubbed me the wrong way too. I mean, yeah, birders, as especially those characterized as “twitchers” have no small bit of legitimate animus thrown their way, but this just seemed like an opportunity to take some cheap shots at the most outrageous depiction of a birdwatcher one could conjure.

    After that, the paranoia is pretty funny, more than anything.

    The means by which fishing clubs are allowed to manage cormorants could be another post entirely, though.

  5. Nick permalink
    January 29, 2010 10:41 am

    Yikes, England sounds worse than the Outer Banks.

    Who gets beat up when they’re holding a gun anyway?

  6. February 3, 2010 6:40 pm

    The Angling Times is a well-known anti-cormorant, anti-birding rag. We don’t take it seriously. Nor does anyone with an IQ greater than a member of the Countryside Alliance. (Look them up – another charming bunch.)

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