Birding can be a double-edged sword, getting out birding, seeing, hearing and ‘doing’ birding is as we all know incredibly good for the soul and simply the best way to spend time. If you take it at all seriously though, eventually you get to thinking, reading and often feeling pretty negative about a huge array of bird-related conservation issues. There seem to be so many that some days the negative stories just seem to pile up in my reader, species lost here, habitat destroyed there, poisoning, illegal persecution, the list can seem endless. It can be difficult not to feel impotent and under attack from all sides.
Earlier this month I received an email from someone who cares a great deal about birds and their conservation, let’s protect his anonymity and call him Mr White. This email was flagging up the activities of a ‘sporting agency’ in Britain who were offering trips/holidays to Morocco to shoot Turtle Doves.
Turtle Doves are a protected species in Britain, in fact the status of Turtle Doves has become of so much concern there is a special project called Operation Turtle Dove created to look at how the huge declines in our British breeding populations might be halted. Recognising that conservation of the Turtle Dove needs to take into account both breeding and wintering areas the project aims to build on research into the Turtle Dove breeding grounds in England; establish feeding habitat over core breeding range through advisory and farmer initiatives and research into factors operating during migration and at wintering areas.
Mr White was understandably angry and horrified that in the midst of all of this a British company seemed entirely happy to ship out fee paying customers to shoot Turtle Doves in a foreign country. Whilst most Turtle Doves present in Morocco during the summer periods are probably local breeders the possibility of late arrivals or early returners from the British breeding population getting caught up in the slaughter was a real threat.
Further research revealed two more companies in Britain and several others across Europe all engaged in the same shooting tourism. The next few days saw something amazing happen, harnessing the power of social media via blogs, Twitter and Facebook a small band of ‘protesters’ created a publicity and pressure campaign highlighting the activities of the three companies and encouraging like-minded individuals to register their protest by Tweeting them, posting on their Facebook pages and emailing the company directors.
Whilst the companies concerned seemed reluctant to engage with those from whom the protest originated, one by one they succumbed to the pressure of protest and removed the advertising for the Morocco Tours from their websites. Two of the three companies issued emails or statements suggesting that they would not run tours until they had researched the issue further, a third just removed the advertising.
It may only protect a few handfuls of Turtle Dove but it sent a powerful message to many, that we are not impotent and that if enough of us stand up and say NO to some of these issues then we can change events, business practices. It was also a lesson to me, I understand that many, many birders are quiet folk, seeking out a little peace and tranquillity wherever they can. If we want to protect that peace and ensure that future generations have the same privilege though, we need to be prepared to get our hands dirty once in a while and uncharacteristically raise our voices now and again in support of what we believe. This was a little win perhaps, but hopefully the first of many.