Giving it the bird…
When I started out in fisheries research, one of the issues that I was involved in concerned the possible impact of the Shetland fishery for sandeel, a so-called ‘forage fish’, on the then current breeding failures of seabirds around the islands.
It was clear that a shortage of young sandeel, as food for the chicks, was to blame for their failure to fledge. Meanwhile, the fishery data strongly implied that the reason for the shortage of young sandeel was not the fishery, but natural environmental effects in the egg, larval and ‘pre-recruit’ stages of the fish.
Lengthy discussions with the British Trust for Ornithology and professional marine ornithologists from academia and the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology concluded this was the most credible perspective.
Unfortunately, that was not good enough for the RSPB:
So, the RSPB sought instead to destroy the professional reputation of my first boss (a true gentleman) and to damage my, ahem, fledgling career at the same time.
Long story short: later work by a consortium-funded research fellow showed that we were right; something only grudgingly accepted by the RSPB.
We then went on to develop a ground-breaking management regime for the fishery in which we provided data and annual assessments, but devolved management of the fishery to the local fisherman’s association and environmental groups. We would only intervene on management decisions if the local groups couldn’t develop a mutually acceptable plan (we never did have to intervene!).
The RSPB, of course, never ‘corrected’ itself to its million-plus members and never apologised for traducing my boss’s name and reputation or that of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association.
Slight diversion: Many years later, a policy push was instigated to compel warring aquaculture and wild-salmon angling interests to agree between themselves a management regime of some sort. It was touted by a here-today-gone-tomorrow senior policy official as a ‘first’ in Scottish fisheries management. In fact, he told a ‘porky’ because he ignored what we had achieved more than two decades earlier at Shetland (and our initiative actually worked).
(That’s the sort of behaviour that you get with greasy-pole-climbing yes-men who need to to validate themselves in the eyes of their political masters).
So, what was it that started me on this historical ‘avian and piscatorial’ polemic? It is simply that I took a childish and immature delight this week in the irony of reading that a pair of RSPB workers had killed a protected osprey chick when trying to ring it in its nest.
Here’s the limerick:
When I read it I thought “What the heck!”,
It seemed no-one had bothered to check
Which part you pick
When tagging a chick:
‘COS IT’S THE LEG THAT YOU RING, NOT ITS NECK!
(“Yes”, I know the chick fell from its nest and didn’t have its neck wrung – but it’s a limerick not a news report!)