The shooters were out again on Wednesday. My study looks out across the field to the release pen in the wood, where the captive bred birds are introduced to 'the wild'. The Dutch banned the rearing of birds so that they can be shot down for pleasure in 2002, regarding it as morally and environmentally insupportable. I have sympathy with their view.
A couple of years ago I found a sparrowhawk which used to perch on a drainpipe at the end of the house lying dead on the ground, and I have little doubt it ate poisoned bait (as probably did the pet dogs and cats which regularly go missing in the woods).
In 2006 The Times drew attention to the fact that 'Shooting Times' had published a list of the countryside's 'most wanted pests' - a list which included eagles, ospreys, red kite, buzzards, falcons, harriers and goshawks, together with otters and badgers.
I was reminded of this by the report about paving and decking being responsible for the fall in urban sparrow populations. It's not a new suggestion. Authoritative studies have also shown the fall to be due to aggressive magpies, cats, disease, climate change, pollution, unleaded fuel and mobile phone masts. I'm not convinced of the paving and decking argument, because numbers have also fallen massively in rural areas. Our sparrows all but disappeared some time in the 1990s. They reached a clamorous peak one year, in which we could barely hear ourselves think for the clamour of them in the eaves, then the following year, Bam! Not a sparrow to be seen. It was so sudden that I can only put it down to disease or a bird of prey.
Anyway, while we mourn the endangered sparrow and are urged to remove our decking and put up nesting boxes, a host of commercial pest companies are offering to rid our gardens of the pesky sparrow. For example Safeguard, 'The Pest Control People for London and the South East', advise that there are several methods available for controlling sparrow populations including use of pesticides. Countrywide Falconry And Pest Control Services Ltd offer "humane, fast, effective removal' of sparrows across London and the South East of England. The Pest Control UK Directory regards all birds as a source of disease, and says that keeping birds away from your lawns and gardens is not 'anti-environment'. They suggest use of spikes, nets, holographic and iridescent foil, sonic and ultrasonic devices, and
elimination of food sources for wild birds, such as spreading methyl anthranilate on the lawn to make it taste bad. These are the sort of people who don't like trees because leaves make the patio untidy.
Yesterday there was a quail with a damaged leg huddling by the garage, presumably injured the day before. But don't feel sad; fresh batches of fee-paying urban 'sportsmen' waddle out of the shoot trailer twice a week, so perhaps it'll provide gratification for one of them today.