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Seeing the beauty in the bigger picture

Chris Packham Chris Packham | 14:52 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010

The cute, cuddly, sweet and vulnerable chick is obviously so appealing. So to see its life ended so brutally before it has even really got started is something which obviously appals many people. The blue tit youngster being fed to the kestrel chicks and the jackdaw pre-empting the fluffy emergence by eating the egg of the little ringed plover are two recent Springwatch cases. And last week, Simon's swan chicks were also disappearing without direct explanation but clearly as a result of some predator's attention.

kestrel-springwatch.jpg

The Pensthorpe kestrel and chicks

I'm sure most viewers realise that in many ways death makes the wild world go round, that predators have to predate to survive themselves. Well, most but sadly not all... A few people still seem to react with prejudice to the natural and entirely explicable actions of species such as magpies and sparrowhawks, which they suspect are responsible for the significant declines in some songbird populations.

But repeated and thorough research demonstrates this is a flawed thesis: predator populations are necessarily self-regulating and none can eat its prey into such paucity that it threatens its own extinction - thus the black and blues and the dashing missiles are just scapegoats. Songbird decline undoubtedly has its roots in habitat decline, and for the migrant songbirds there are also problems in their wintering ranges.

But some still feel that what they do to survive is 'not very nice', that 'it's cruel' or that they are 'nasty birds'. They are not, they are as near perfect as every other living thing (bar us) and what they do is part of nature's bigger picture - a bigger picture that is perhaps the most beautiful thing we can learn to see.

When we watch all the species we do, in the incomplete way that we do, it is very difficult to join all our experiences and brief insights into a joined up map of inter-relations. We can go to a basic ecology text and look at pond food webs, read about tropic levels, grass, antelope, lion... but the fact is that everything we see, in our gardens, down the nature reserve, is connected and, given a chance, it is functional.

That functionality is a form of perfection and perfection is beauty. We mess it up and interrupt and thwart its progress, but nature is tenacious. And on many levels it overcomes our clumsiness and still glows in the purity of its dynamic perfection.

That perfection is fuelled by the balance of predator and prey, the necessary cycling of nutrients, carbon and water, through the complexities of the bits of the world we glimpse around us. That's why the tiny, pretty, baby bird being torn up and eaten by another is actually a thing of beauty. Think about it. Reality is true.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I agree - bigger picture. Nature is wonderful in all it's glory - not just the nice bits! death is as much part of life as anything else.

  • Comment number 2.

    I couldn't agree more. Nature is designed to self regulate, and when left alone to do so, achieves this perfectly. The challenges arise when humans get involved. How can we say that a predator is wrong when we eat animals ourselves? Nature is beautiful in all it's ways, and to embrase it as a whole brings a balance to life.

  • Comment number 3.

    I totally agree. Everything has to eat to survive and nature makes sure each has the necessary means and food to just that. Just this morning, I was watching a young magpie being fed by a parent - possibly, someones chick suffered to feed the young magpie, but for me? it was a sight to behold and consider remarkable as it was right in front of my eyes on the garden fence! I'd never seen a magpie youngster being fed by the parent before and it made me realise that everything does have a place in the chain!
    To write the whole thing off as disgusting or cruel would've meant I hadn't seen the bigger picture.
    What can survive WILL survive!
    Are we counting what small animals the kestrels have had so far? Are we counting the insects the bluetits or the swallows have devoured? no.. but at least they're being fed!

    As greysquirrelsrock said, 'death is part of life'

  • Comment number 4.

    Although we all know they only do what has to be done to survive I could never see that image as a thing of beauty. It is enough to know they do it rather than having to see it!! Nature has it's own special beauty but in some respects I'm a wimp!

  • Comment number 5.

    100% agree. We are quick to berate a Sparrowhawk when it swoops down upon a cute, unsuspecting songbird, but it is only doing what nature intended it to do. It does what it has to in order to survive. Yet we seem to try and justify unnecessary war and conflict amongst our own kind.

    This is similar to the recent 'fox' attack debate. People are now calling for a mass cull of urban foxes simply because it was following it's natural instincts. For what it's worth, this is my view on the fox attack. Apologies for the shameless plugging.

    http://graaaavy.blogspot.com/2010/06/urban-fox-attack.html

  • Comment number 6.

    Very true. Also "..populations are necessarily self-regulating and none can eat its prey into such paucity that it threatens its own extinction" - Apart from us humans who consume, consume, consume & give very little back to the source from which our food comes from. In general that is.

    People often complain about how cruel & horrible nature is, when we as humans, scientifically still part of the animal world, are the only ones who do not live in harmony with the natural world and destroy habitats & species with our out-of-sync actions.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree. We complain if a bird gets killed. But the preadator needs to feed itself and offspring to save its species.
    from Alex (age 13)

  • Comment number 8.

    Ultimately death is part of life,and nowhere more so than within the realms of nature.
    I don't understand the logic of people who think a kestrel feeding it's chicks a young blue tit etc is cruel, It isn't, it is a mother providing for her young, and if she didn't do that her chicks would die, now which would be the more cruel a mother providing food, or a mother not providing food...it's as simple as that really I beleive.

  • Comment number 9.

    Chris, you are so right, however, I may not have agreed with you a few weeks ago when I was the horrified viewer of magpies removing two frogs from my pond and pecking them to a gruesome end! The pond at the time was engorged with frog spawn and therefore, new life is on its way and natures cycle is continuing.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hear! Hear! Chris; once again you are the voice of reason...
    I remember reading somewhere 'Nature isn't there for us, it just is'
    BTW - can you and Simon have a show on your own? :-)

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it is also important to remember that when a predator catches it's prey, the prey has been able to live a normal existance in the habitat in which it was created to live - unlike a lot of our farmed animals. I don't think it's nature that's cruel.

  • Comment number 12.

    Great way of explaining it. Hope all that think -poor little chicks and those nasty animals eating them- people read this.

  • Comment number 13.

    Agree 100% I was filming baby coal tits in my garden a few days ago, when I heard a ruckus and saw a Magpie emerge from a hedge with a dead blackbird chick in it's mouth. We don't get a lot of active hunting of other birds from Magpies in my garden so my first reaction was 'Great! If she's hunting that means she's got chicks to feed!'.

    She then flew into a tall conifer where heard the unmistakable sound of Magpie Chicks. :)

  • Comment number 14.

    DUNG BEETLES AND POO - SUPERB!

    Any chance Chris could do something on those heroic and fascinating dung beetles? (I'm sure he'll have loved their superbly inspired and inspiring opening appearance for World Cup 2010!) Also anything on wasps, hoverflies, krill, crayfish, spiders and woodlice etc and all things generally "bugular" would be very gratefully received - or maybe a special on parasites (eg what exactly is their role in nature??). Plus much more on eg mosses, lichens and liverworts, ferns and brackens, and the whole mysterious fungi family if possible please. And - what is Chris', and the other presenters', favourite weather, and why? Hope you can help with at least some of this, and a big thanks to all. And maybe you could think about a Summer, and then Winter, Watch fest too ...?!
    Plus, I have some amusing (if a trifle voyeuristic!) photos of a baby bird pooing - plus the resulting decorated nest - if Chris and his two Poo-dle hunters would be interested ...
    Regards, TB.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am probably one of your older bloggers and have been observing wildlife for many years. I love every creature great or small, they all have a place and the only creature that upsets the balance is MAN.
    I saw a magpie take a fledgling bluetit and cried, but he/she ( the magpie ) is only doing what comes naturally to feed their young or themselves.
    My partner threatens to kill squirrels and rabbits that eat his bird food and garden produce and I know that he works hard to grow his crops but the animals are only doing what comes naturally. We would go to extreme lengths to feed our own young if they were hungry!
    It is so refreshing to hear the Springwatch Team who feel the same way as I have always felt about wildlife ( most likely before they were even born!) Thank you for feeling the way I do about wildlife and enabling others to see it in the same way.

  • Comment number 16.

    We get a female Sparrowhawk hunting around our garden quite regularly, she's caught several Sparrows and the odd starling. it's fasinating to watch her in action and also to see the group reaction from the sparrows & starlings. I have no problem with this, predators have to eat. What upsets me more is the local Cats who catch birds, play with them then leave them to die a slow death while they pop home for a bowl of cat food.

  • Comment number 17.

    Oh thank you so much Chris. This blog article is such a godsend and will be such a great resource to link to on the Springwatch Messageboard, where are few of us have to do regular battle with those who are sure that Magpies are about to gobble up every fluffy little bird in existence.

    If only they would teach more basic ecology and natural history in schools and past the school stage, there would be no need to keep explaining it. Not only do I think that basic ecology and natural history should be a core subject in schools, but I would like to see this far more widely taught and tested for. I would love to see some of the Springwatch presenters and Chris in particular highlighting the need to get basic ecology and natural history established as a core subject. Then there would not be so much general misunderstanding about such things as predator prey relationships.

  • Comment number 18.

    Great stuff - sadly I doubt those who talk of murdering crows and cruel magpies are logging in to read this terrific bit of writing Chris.
    Anyway, our songbirds aren't all as sweet and fluffy as those anthropomorphising (good word, not sure if I spelt it right!) folk might think.
    I've been seeing blackbirds demonstrating extremely aggressive behaviour towards sparrows around our neighbour's bird table. Also, now their young have fledged, sparrows are chasing each other around like Battle of Britain aircraft - two crashed into my dog today, so intent they were on getting hold of each other!

  • Comment number 19.

    Chris, your comments about nature being functional are so true. People love to talk about the actions of a fox in a henhouse, killing more than it will eat, but in truth it's only humans who kill without need. If the fox had the chance, it would surely go back to eat all of its prey. There is no barbarity in nature; that comes from us alone.

  • Comment number 20.

    I would interested in Chris's comments about the behaviour of a sparrowhawk in our garden during the winter. I noticed the bird sitting completely still on a neighbour's shed. Initially we thought it was injured as it let us approach to within 6 - 8 feet without moving. It stayed still while we took a number of photos and did not react to any of our activity. After we had watched it for some time it suddenly took flight direct into a bush in which blackbirds were nesting. Is it usual for a sparrowhawk to feign injury in order to attack prey. Also we live close to the centre of our town and were surprised to see it in such a location. We have the photographs and can provide these if they would be of any interest.

  • Comment number 21.

    Whilst I totally agree with these comments about Raptor activity being natural, I totally disagree with the ever increasing "re-introductions" of raptors, Lets leave well alone, our song birds are having a bad enough time of it at the moment without any more foes being introduced or re-introduced.

  • Comment number 22.

    I am probably one of the older bloggers who has been watching wildlife for more years than I care to remember! I love all creatures both great and small and cried when I saw a magpie take a fledgling bluetit that the parent bird was feeding on the ground.

    Little fleas have bigger fleas on their backs to bite 'em and bigger fleas have even bigger fleas and so on ad infinitum. It was always thus, sad but true.

    We just have to go with the flow of life and death.

  • Comment number 23.

    We've lost our ability to hunt and have developed the perception that only a certain number of animals still hunt - such as lions in Africa.
    The thing is, if we didn't have supermarkets, we'd have to hunt and there'd be fewer of us.
    We're too successful and forget that nature and wildlife has to continue to hunt in order to survive.
    It's not like birds or other predators can go to a supermarket and shop like we do - our perception isn't what it should be and it's obvious people have forgotten that.
    The thing is, we do our part by feeding what we can to help SOME animal - does it matter which?
    We need to remember that we're the biggest predator on the planet and we're not just killing habitat environments, but altering the way nature really should be - and it's probably a lot wilder than our perception would allow. Imagine back before there were towns and cities of the size they are now, when most of the land was countryside... we didn't see it, it didn't happen, it never bothered anyone. Because we're doing what we're all doing, we can see it and witness it and we're able to see better what makes our wildlife what it is.
    I feel for those who think nature is cruel, and it is... but it should be respected for what it is, even if your initial thoughts are that you don't like it - it's all part of the most amazing chain of events ever and you're there to witness it all in it's most brutal beautiful glory.

  • Comment number 24.

    We need to recapture our ability to 'go with the flow' of the natural world. Whether we live in cities, towns or rural areas our tunnel vision leaves us frightened of what is natural and right. I'm not anti-human, but we are the only species on the planet that regularly drives other species to extinction, whether deliberately or not, because we are cut off from nature, and perhaps we should look at the way we control ourselves before we try & regulate other species behaviour.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thank you, Chris, for an intelligent and articulate explanation of the way life works. I know a good few people who could do with reading it and taking on board, and I shall do my best to persuade them to read this blog!

  • Comment number 26.

    I totally agree. Everything on this planet is dependent on everything else and there is a beauty and symmetry in this "circle of life". Humans are the only species that mar this perfection, because of our unnatural actions and interference.

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with Chris. I had a femaale Sparrowhawk in my garden in Edinburgh in February. She had caught a Pigeon and was eating her. It was gruesome but amazing to watch this amazing bird behave according to how God made her and also how she survives.

  • Comment number 28.

    Yes of course, but...
    In some cases we are happy to help creatures along, eg building otter houses and putting up nest boxes, and indeed feeding the birds in the first place.
    In the case of the little ringed plover on this year's show, why not drop a wire cage over the nest site as they do at other centres? I've seen this tactic used at WWT's London Wetland Centre in Barnes.
    The plovers can get in and out of the bars easily, but it keeps the crows and herons off the eggs. When the chicks hatch they become fair game, but at least they get a chance to hatch.
    We don't exactly have a superabundance of little ringed plovers, and we protect other scarce nest sites, for example ospreys (among many others), so why not give this little bird a helping hand?

  • Comment number 29.

    Life in all forms = beauty.
    To sustain life the death of animals and plants is a necessity,
    therefore death is purely a part of life's beauty....simples!

    Chris, thank you, your enthusiasm and view of the wild world is so
    valued, together we all can and will make a difference.

  • Comment number 30.

    Well done Chris!

    This really is a "No Brainer", and those of us who have bothered to learn from the natural world are truly sick and tired of our messageboard being hijacked by those who don't wish to understand, and those who deliberately seek to mislead the reader in an attempt to justify the legal and illegal abuse of our natural heritage.

  • Comment number 31.

    Totally agree Chris!

    Although having witnessed a peregrine falcon kill and eat a young oyster catcher in the field next to our house last Saturday I wouldn't describe it as a thing of beauty.

    Keep up the good work - really enjoy the programme and appreciate you sharing your knowledge in an understandable way.

  • Comment number 32.

    Chris, I disagree!
    I agree that Springwatch should show the cruelty of nature, because that is the only truthful, scientific thing to do, and hopefully it is educational to viewers.
    But it is another thing entirely to conclude that nature is just "one of those things" and something we must accept.
    The BBC is obviously right to have shown pictures of struggling pelicans caught in the Gulf of Mexico oil slick, and equally we are right to be outraged by the uselessness of BP.
    But we should be just as outraged by nature which creates just as much suffering. Just because it is nature, humanity shouldn't wash our hands of it. Nature is not some kind of God-given thing up on a pedestal all by itself. Humans are themselves part of nature, and ultimately our goal should be to "improve" nature by making it less cruel.
    Maybe "improving" nature to make it more humane is beyond our technology at the moment, but I suspect it won't be in years to come. I would like to think eventually we will reach a point where we understand the enviroment and genetics to the extent that species and habitats can be modified so that predation is a thing of the past. Where animals live longer and less stressed/agressive lives.
    Okay, this is science fiction, but even if this kind of thing never comes to pass it's surely wrong to adopt the idea that the status quo is how things *should* be as well as how they *are*.
    I believe you are a vegetarian incidently. I'm not, but I still think the first step is for humans to change their own eating habits, either by learning how to grow brainless meat, or by genetically modifying ourselves so we no longer want to eat the stuff. (The first option is almost certainly the most likely in practice!)

    FW

  • Comment number 33.

    The impression given from this blog is that everything evens itself out due ot the unique relationship that a predator has with its prey. Personally I think this 'bigger picture' is difficult to simplify when talking about predator/prey population dynamics. Whilst it is easy to envisage a sparrowhawk requiring x number of songbirds in order to survive how does the principle hold when considering others such as magpies which have more varied tastes and which I believe are prospering/adapting from mankinds' excesses by scavenging.
    Mankind is evolving and the pace at which he is doing so is illustrated by his technological achievements and his (gross but) successful (over) population of the planet. What is there to say that animals are not evolving too? .... in ways that are affecting the species balance by increasing their overall numbers to the detriment of another species numbers? The predator/prey ratio (with respect to magpies) may have shifted because we are unwittingly created a niche for it to do so. We may be within a dynamic shift in this balance and as a result people are increasingly witnessing more magapie 'atrocities' than they used to. P.S please be aware that I am not trying to demonise the magpies.

    Comments most welcome

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm obviously in a minority here! I fail to understand people who ooh and aah over the songbirds hatching, and fledging, and then cut away to a kestrel butchering a blue tit!
    In my garden we used to have a healthy population of small songbirds. These have shrunk over the last few years, but the number of magpies, crows, and seagulls have soared. No connection?
    I agree that nature must normally take it's course. I disagree with the simplistic statement about self regulation. When the supply of chicks and small birds run low, the predators will turn to other sources of food. The crow family, and seagulls in particularly will eat anything they can get their beak around.
    Finally how can artificially supporting sparrowhawks, kestrels, red kites, and sea eagles not make a big dent in the small bird numbers?

  • Comment number 35.

    A few facts, for those that are interested.

    1. The UK Magpie population stablised in the late 1980s, and has actually shown a slight decline over the last 5 years or so! The species is NOT increasing "out of control" as several self-styled authorities maintain.

    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends2009/wcrmagpi.shtml

    2. Although Magpies are omnivorous, only around 11% of the diet is, seasonally, comprised of vertebrate material, including carrion! Throughout the winter months the proportion of animal material drops significantly; replaced by plant material.

    3. One poster on the message boards makes the ludicrous claim that the presence of Magpies has prevented certain species (including unbelievably, cavity nesting species, which, by their very nature, are largely safe from Magpie predation!) nesting in his garden, when it's common knowledge that the distribution of other passerine nests shows no correlation with the presence/absence of Magpies.

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/3566065

    4. More than 40 years of Common Bird Census and Breeding Bird Survey data show no correlation between the recovery of the Magpie population and long-term declines in "songbird" species.

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/51484

    Sadly those determined to promote the persecution of certain predatory species in the UK will continue to ignore these facts, in order to mislead the uninformed, and garner support for their own questionable activities.

  • Comment number 36.

    This is a response to FuzzyWagtail mainly, and I must say that is some post, and nothing if not thought provoking. I have pretty much said all I have to say on my general views covered by this blog on the msg board "Intervention" thread, where I found the link to this, so I won't repeat them here.

    But I'm really struggling to understand your world view. I can't quite work out where you're coming from - is it a place where humans have taken the place of gods? You say we are part of nature, but then describe how we should transform it into something completely different, like a genetically modified big brother where we are only allowed to see your definition of nice things? That we should feel outraged, offended, at nature?

    I expect you will consider me wrong as well, and fair enough if you do, but I am so passionately in love with the natural world as it is, with nature and this planet on which it's evolved over billions of years, that the very thought of the ecological equivalent of uniform tomatoes and perfectly bent bananas turns my blood to ice.

    As your touching on some fairly big ideas here, I will get a bit philosophical too. How, with our little human brains, can we ever be in a position to definatively know what is best for every organism on the planet? How can we judge life processes of which we ourselves are an integral part, and not seperate from? How do you define questions like good and bad, and what is cruel (I am also always disturbed by the insistence of people using words like cruelty to describe natural behaviours - we are the only things on this planet with sufficient self awareness to be capable of cruelty, and it's something we unfortunately excel at. And as for the word "humane", I won't even go there...) and what's not? A plant responds to being picked by releasing distress chemicals - does it feel pain? Where is the line drawn - a plant is alive, is it brutally murdered by herbivores? Is it only the predators that eat mammals and birds that are cruel, what about invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians? Do we need to genetically modify Dolphins so they don't eat fish? If there's no night, how can you understand what day is? How can you appreciate the pure thrilling beauty of the dawn? How can one thing exist without it's opposite? How do we grow without knowing pain?

    What I'm trying to say is there is just so much more to the richness, the joy, and the pain of life, than we can understand. By removing so much of the "bad", I fear an excess of niceness might drive us all out of our minds. When I think about what you have said I just keep seeing the Stepford Wives running through my head. Humans maybe very powerful but I'm not sure they'll ever quite be up to changing the nature of reality.

    Another point I find a little odd is your reference to the need to be genetically engineered to stop wanting to eat meat before we can become your stated ideal of vegetarian. It's not impossible to be a vegetarian who liked meat. I am a vegetarian because I looked at the suffering of animals in the farming system, and the fact we don't need to eat it, and decided I wouldn't. It didn't just happen because I didn't like meat (which I did), but because I made a moral decision that seemed to me more compelling then any physical impulse to eat what was in front of me without thinking and taking responsibility for it.

    At the end of the day I guess we just have very different perspectives on life.

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi angrypensioner

    As I put in my post above, it would really help if there was more knowledge amongst the public about basic ecology and how populations of animals really work. This is because real world populations of animals don't operate in the way you mistakenly think they do, and you cannot just work it all out by looking out of your window and then understanding it all with common sense reasoning. Do you think you could understand the computer you typed this message with just by looking at it and then reasoning how it worked. However, that computer is much simpler than any ecosystem. No one has ever fully understood or fully described an ecosystem, but many have built computers.

    You see if you understood a bit more about ecology you would understand where the faults in your reasoning lay and why the statment about self-regulation is not simplistic, but something that is amazingly complex. I am puzzled as to why people who have not taken the effort to study and understand these things feel that somehow their opinions are somehow more relevant and more correct than those who have devoted their lives to in depth scientific studies of these things. Would you dream of presuming to know more about mathematics than a leading mathematician, or knowing more about complex surgical procedures than a leading surgeon? People who study and understand the natural world don't just sit in armchairs and come up with fanciful opinions about the natural world. They study it rigorously and scientifically, their understanding and learning is just as advanced as in any other area of expertise. So why is it that someone who has maybe looked at the birds in their garden, possibly through the window, and watched a few TV programmes, feels absolutely that they know more than genuine experts, and feel that they are absolutely right. This unerring certainty that you know best and others are wrong, is simply due to not having any real knowledge of the subject.

  • Comment number 38.

    Hello Evielane
    You make some good points, and I would certainly agree that it would be most depressing from the point of view of us humans to see predatory species disappear. In fact, it wouldn't happen, seeing as our favourite species are generally those top-of-the-food-chain predators. In particular dogs and cats.
    But it may be possible to breed vegetarian dogs and cats one day. Not to mention alligators, kestrels, etc etc. I love both gators and dogs and would hate to see these two species disappear from the wild in particular!
    After all we've already modified domestic animals through selective breeding. Unfortunately, though, so far we've only modified them for *our* benefit rather than for theirs or for the good of all animals.
    Your point about us humans acting like gods is also a very good one. We clearly have to be *very* careful and act only on the basis of science and morality.
    But I would argue we are already acting like gods -- just quite bad ones mostly. If you saw that brilliant BBC documentary on dog breeding (and in-breeding) a while back you will see what I mean.

    FW

  • Comment number 39.

    Hi Evielane

    I have to say I very much agree with you.

    Hi FuzzyWagtail

    I have to say I'm sturggling with where you are coming from. I think Evielane has covered pretty much all my thoughts on your first message. With regard to your second message, do you not think that interfering with nature in the say you appear to be advocating is for our benefit? You say we have modified domestic animals through selective breeding to our benefit. How would breeding alligators and kestrels, to use your examples, benefit nature as a whole? The whole food chain would be thrown out of balance and only cause damage to the balance of nature. Surely modifying animals in such a way is for the benefit of humans who cannot accept that this is the best way for nature to work in balance, and thus for our benefit and not for the benefit of the animals at all. It appears to me that you are thinking more of human emotion than what is right for the ecology. I understand what you are saying with regard to the breading of dogs, but I don't think this is relevant to the balance of nature in the context Chris is referring to, and we are all discussing.

  • Comment number 40.

    Fuzzy Wagtail - the thought of humans genetically engineering animals is only marginally less scary than the thought of them all becoming extinct due to our actions. If all creatures were herbivorous, then there would not be enough food in the ecosystem to sustain them all, and many would die from starvation. Surely better to have a quick death from predation than a lingering one. Also, being prey to another species is surely the ultimate in recycling!
    Oh, and cats can't be herbivorous - they need taurine in their diet. I assume the big cats do too.

  • Comment number 41.

    Sparrowhawk & juliaandwiggy -
    First, I think it is pretty basic to assume an animal -- any animal -- would rather not be predated any more than you or I would. Humans are only animals after all, and when you are talking about our most basic insticts of fear and our survival instincts I think we are all pretty much the same.
    I'm certainly dubious of the argument that predation ends the suffering of sick or injured animals that are dying. I suspect that in most cases they still die slowly hidden away under a bush or wherever before some scavenger finds them and eats them. In fact, in the case of poisonous animals like the komodo dragon predation is itself not quick. The victim is bitten and then takes ages to die.
    As for unbalancing the food chain, this is always in a state of flux surely, and not really that delicate, it's always readjusting itself. The predators at the top of the food chain tend to be the most vulnerable, and making them able to eat what those lower down the chain eat may even help some survive. While I'm not proposing that all predators be wiped out in one fell swoop, I suspect the scientific and gradual replacement of predatory alligators, say, by non-predatory alligators, would see the rest of the food chain adapting and finding its own level. I can't see that animal numbers need necessarily decline that much. I expect you would still need scavengers, like vultures, to clear up the bodies for a start. Secondly, as I understand it you need much less agricultural land to sustain one human on vegetable matter than you do to sustain that same human on animal matter. So presumably the same holds true for animals, and a vegetarian alligator would need a smaller territory than a carnivorous one. So you might see even more alligators! As a self-confessed alligator obsessive that would be a big plus point in my book. :D
    FW

  • Comment number 42.

    This has got to be a wind up! If not, these are among the most bizarre views ever expressed on these pages; and that takes some doing!

  • Comment number 43.

    I can assure you it's no wind up mickycoop! I'm deadly serious.
    Clearly the ideas above are pretty speculative, and I'm not a scientist so I'm certainly treading on shaky ground the more I start to go into these kinds of specifics.
    But my point is this: the nature community tends to be very *conservative*. It is only concerned with maintaining the status quo, it never seems to consider the possibility that we might be able to use science and technology to make nature better.
    Actually, Chris is better in this respect than most, so I'm being a bit mean maybe in picking on him. But he still seems to be presenting Nature with a capital "N" as though it were somehow God given and therefore something to be venerated.
    There are three views to take of nature.
    1. The historical view, which was that God gave man nature and animals to use and abuse as we please. And clearly in the past harming animals and habitats was not seen as a crime.
    2. The current view, which is that we must respect, cherish and conserve nature. This view still sees us as separate from nature. But it sees us as nothing but a pollutant on nature. Really it's just a negative reaction and guilt response to the fact that we used to do so much damage. It's not a very positive view. Anyhow, this current view suggests the more we keep nature separate from us in its own little static bubble the better for everyone, human and animal. We should neither trample nor interfere with nature.
    3. The third view is that we fully accept that we are part of nature, and that nature changes over time. Yes we should try to preserve its beautiful aspects, but equally we should do what we can to reduce its ugly aspects. And if that means using advanced science and technology, so be it. Nature is not good and pure any more than human created science and technology is bad. Nature and science simply are.
    From what I've gathered of his wider views I think Chris might be hovering closer to view 3 than view 2 in actual fact, more so than this article suggests. So I reckon he's more radical than most. But I don't think you're *quite* there yet Chris! :D
    An example of what I mean always makes things clearer.
    Back in the 1970s, say, if you got cancer it was pretty much a death sentence. But since then, huge effort by government, scientists and medical staff around the world have meant that if you get cancer today your chances of survival are pretty good. At the rate things are going, in years to come we will beat cancer completely.
    Pretty few people would argue I think that it is wrong to employ science and technology to this end because nature should take its course. Cancer is no less an example of the "ugly" side of nature than predation is in my view. And if we can think of a way, predation should be beaten just as cancer should be.
    One thing is for sure though, if we had never said: "Cancer is terrible! We must find a cure for it!" we would never have found a cure for it.
    It's only by admitting you've got a problem that you might eventually find a solution.
    Incidently, I'm not advocating that we should go around killing crows or sparrowhawks of course. That just makes us the predators, and as Chris rightly points out, achieves nothing.
    FW

  • Comment number 44.

    C'mon! I clicked this first! Just 'fess up and tell me what my prize is!

  • Comment number 45.

    Is it a speedboat?

  • Comment number 46.

    Naw, though you might get first prize in the windup stakes. x-D And 2nd in the "get a life" contest. I get first prize for actually wasting my time posting all this nonsense on SW messageboards, where no one is in the least bit interested... Mostly they're just interested in ogling (sp?) the presenters. :D

  • Comment number 47.

    This ain't funny anymore, just scary!

  • Comment number 48.

    I watched a sparrowhawk devouring a blackbird on the lawn in my back garden. Although pretty gruesome to watch 'in the flesh' so to speak, rather than on TV, what amazed me most was actally seeing a sparrowhawk so close in the first place. I live in the middle of very urban Watford, with a smallish garden, so thought such birds would be unlikely visitors. It was only about 10 feet away from my back window! I have some photos, but they are a little grainy. Are sparrowhawks that common now in urban areas, or was I just very lucky?

  • Comment number 49.

    DUNG BEETLES,WORLD CUP,FLYCATCHERS,OWN GOAL,OEUFF!! - THIGH-RUBBING ...
    Further to TB's message 14 above, I've just finally joined Flickr (not too easy, especially on dial-up!) to try to post the aforementioned Poop Deck photos - but now find I can't put them in the SW group anyway as the little Flycatchers were photographed last July, and in America at that (in Carmel, on the uniquely beautiful, fascinating, wildlife-filled Monterey Peninsula in California - where Kate H has also been lucky enough to spend time). Nonetheless, these somewhat blurred but fuzzily charming fledging chick pics might still be found somewhere soon, if Erniebobble, Dell, Tedbun and co can persevere ... Meanwhile, a huge thank you to all involved on SW2010 - the episode on Tuesday 15 June particularly was pretty much faultless and one of the best pieces of TV that we've ever seen (even if World Cup Dung Beetles weren't featured - although I'm still hoping for a late mention!!). Regards, TB and co.

 

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