Wildlife programmes

With a new series of Planet Earth generating a lot of excitement, Spring, Autumn and Winterwatch on the BBC and Living the Wildlife on RTE, it’s perhaps time to return to an article from a year ago in the Guardian. In it BBC presenter Martin Hughes-Games argues that wildlife programmes don’t help conservation and an excellent example of the disconnect between wildlife programmes and the situation on the ground is currently taking place in Galway city. Despite Friends of Merlin Woods appearing on the RTE series Wild Cities in the past year extolling the value of the Merlin Woods complex to the city of Galway, what a unique resource it represents and the dangers posed to it by an expanding urban population as a section of the meadows is about to be rezoned for development.

Figure 1. Red Squirrel in Merlin Woods, Co Galway.
Figure 1. Red Squirrel in Merlin Woods, Co Galway.

Increasingly in an era of online petitions and causes, the idea of “promoting awareness” of problems, through garnering Facebook likes and online debate, is increasingly seen as an important part of any issue. Be it mental health awareness, violence towards women or the plight of wildlife in our increasingly changing world, whether clicking a button will lead people to take a positive action for change is a debate that is perhaps best left to the sociologists. But my criticism of wildlife programmes goes further: the issues are not being raised in the first place. For example, the fox (Vulpes vulpes) and the Sparrow hawk (Accipiter nisus) both appeared in the latest series of Living the Wildlife. After habitat loss (which affects all species) the main threat to these species is persecution from humans and there is a long and sordid history of inhumane treatment of foxes and birds of prey in this country. While laws are in place to prevent this they are rarely enforced and even then punishments do not serve as sufficient deterrent and sadly none of these subjects were raised during the episodes.

Figure 2. Merlin Woods is home to a number of birds.
Figure 2. Merlin Woods is home to a number of birds.

Now while it could be argued that wildlife programmes are just that, wildlife programmes and not conservation or environmental advocacy programmes, if those issues are not raised there where and when will they be raised. The RTE schedule features Ear to the Ground, Big Week on the Farm, coverage of the National Ploughing Championship and any number of other programmes promoting farming and many radio stations have a weekly farming slot. Wildlife programmes are the only opportunity to counter this pernicious idea that Irish farming is ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ and the opportunity needs to be grasped as such. In the recent EPA report Ireland’s Environment – An Assessment 2016 only 21 rivers are classified at the highest quality (0.7% of sites) compared to 575 between 1987 and 1990 and 82 between 2001 and 2003. While urban waste water contributes to this issue it is largely based on diffuse pollution from an agricultural sector that is expanding rapidly as part of a government plan Food Harvest 2020. This is to say nothing of TV3 hosting a programme on climate change that featured a climate change denier and the widespread reporting of the ramblings of people like Danny Healy Rae in a country with the highest per capita agricultural emissions.

So enjoy Springwatch in Spring, Planet Earth 2 with kids and Living the Wildlife next year but bear in mind they represent an idyllic view of wildlife that is increasingly unavailable to most of the population and is rapidly disappearing from our country and our planet.

Rory O'Callaghan
About Rory O'Callaghan 5 Articles
Rory O'Callaghan is currently the National Coordinator for Seasearch's citizen science site monitoring scheme. He originally completed a B.Sc. in Applied Freshwater and Marine Biology in GMIT before undertaking a M.Sc. in Animal Behaviour in Anglia Ruskin University Cambridge. His primary research interests are on the use of citizen science for species monitoring, competition theory, invasive species and anything shiny that crosses his path.
Contact: Website

2 Comments on Wildlife programmes

  1. Hi Rory
    Yes your article is very interesting. What I did find is that Wild Cities did have an effect on the public as many days when we were out doing the petition on the streets, People signed it because they saw the programme. Would they have signed it had Merlin Woods not been a feature ,I am not sure ,possibly not. I think we need to do more to highlight our environment on a much more consistent basis through national ,local media. The problem with local media is usually down to vested interest and this is the problem we found , not being able to get our story out enough. I also noticed on Social media , some people who were supportive were afraid to share info incase they would be seen going against the hospice , so it took very strong people to fight for the environment. We shouldnt have to fight to preserve these areas but yet we have too unfortunately. It makes me sad too that everyone loves these programs but when it comes to the crunch , they still don’t value their own local environment enough to stand up for it and prefer to leave it up to someone else. But at least we have a good few here after four years of showing the value of Merlin Woods ,they are valuing it and that is through education in many different ways and support for us as a group from many different NGO groups and individual experts who we couldn’t have got this far without and the surrounding communities. At the end of the day it was the elected Councillors who let us down , lets hope the planners wont fall so quickly. Caroline Friends of Merlin Woods

  2. Nice email Rory. You may know that Galway City Council applied for, and were awarded a Green Leaf award for 2017. I have no idea why? A majority of Councillors indeed voted to rezone sensitive lands at Merlin Woods and to take lumps out of the Terryland Forest Park for a new road. One of the principles of EU Green Leaf is that green space is kept as green space. Galway City Council has fallen at the first hurdle, in their failure to respect public green space.

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