We need predator control measures to safeguard future of endangered species
Since our island was first inhabited by man, the winter solstice has been perhaps the most important event in the annual calendar.
Those fortunate enough to be present at Newgrange on December 21 this year saw that the planetary alignment had once again advanced to herald the return of the sun.
Our ancestors knew well the importance of this and how vital it was that the sun was reborn to warm the earth and begin the renewal of the cycle of the seasons.
Huge changes have occurred in the Irish countryside since Newgrange was built, but the sun and the seasons can still be relied on to behave, more or less, as predicted.
As I write this the shoots of daffodils are emerging and the buds on the chestnut trees are sticky and swelling, preparing to burst forth in late spring.
Lamb's tails are waving on the hazel bushes and on my prized Salix acutifolia 'Pendulifolia' clusters of silver catkins have emerged, dazzling when the sun catches them against the background of a vivid blue sky.
Walking through the oak and beech woods is a special pleasure at this time of year with a thick layer of leaves carpeting the woodland floor. As they slowly rot to create rich humus they give off a wonderful primeval scent while, above them, the branches stand stark and bare against the winter landscape.
The weather up to now has been unsettled but relatively mild and the holly bushes are still laden with berries but no doubt the field fares, thrushes and blackbirds will shortly strip them.
We need a prolonged cold period every year to kill off the various bugs that survive winter in the garden in mild seasons.
Many of these are recent arrivals from the Continent and along with the bewildering array of tree diseases that have reached our island, they all might prove less of a problem if we had a lengthy icy spell.
Around the bird feeders in the garden the finches and tits fight for their share and the sparrowhawks also use these feeding stations as a source of food.
I often wonder about our new-found love of predator species and find it puzzling how the public are being almost brainwashed into believing that they are all beneficial.
Now that buzzards are plentiful along with the increasing numbers of grey crows, magpies and jays, one has to fear for the well-being of those remaining nesting birds that manage to escape the foxes and feral cats.
Some form of predator control is surely required if our farmland song birds are to survive, especially when so many are dwindling in numbers.
I accept that a healthy population of predators can be an indication of an equal health in the population of their prey species but roadkill and abundant garbage gives buzzards, magpies and crows an artificial, man-made advantage.
We seem to be reluctant to allow the establishment of woods and other wildlife habitats if they happen to occur in areas that are supposedly required by specific creatures, like the hen harrier.
Few of our wildlife 'experts' seem to appreciate how adaptable the natural world is and the manner in which they enforce their beliefs must be questioned.
A good example is the denigration of non-native plant species even though the evidence is overwhelming that birds, mammals and insects enthusiastically take up residence in woods, copses and gardens where non-natives dominate.
Urban gardens are especially important now that so few wild flowers survive naturally in farmland.
Our new environmental schemes could prove inadequate and perhaps it would be more beneficial to pay landowners to securely fence more small areas of farmland and wetland while exercising limited control on common predators like the grey crow.
Such control is essential if we are to save endangered species like the Lapwing and Curlew.
Many of these areas would eventually become populated by trees naturally so why not speed up the process and allow 'close to nature' or FEPS forestry in some areas that are marginal for farming use and yet are currently sterilised due to the National Parks and Wildlife Service regulations.
This morning I had to break the ice on the drinkers for the hens and ducks while the ground underfoot was crisp and frozen.
The sky was bright and clear as the morning sun climbed above the trees and crept slowly across the roofs in the yard, dispelling the frost with its warmth. How well sunlight affects our mood and gives us a sense of optimism. No wonder our ancestors worshipped it.
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