An extremely unpleasant new craze is sweeping the nation: It involves wrapping up lengths of hedgerow or even mature trees in netting. The idea is that once a hedge or tree has been netted, birds are unable to nest there. Why would anyone want to stop Blackbirds, Robins or Blue Tits from making nests?
Once a bird is sitting on a nest it gains legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It cannot be moved, nor can the hedge or tree, except under licence, during the nesting season. So, if you want to, say, build a new housing estate on land which is currently criss-crossed by hedgerows, and you don’t want to be delayed by some pesky nesting birds, then wrap the hedges up to keep them bird-free.
Can anyone see any problems with this cunning plan? What about birds that become trapped in the netting. What about Hedgehogs which might stumble into the net and become stranded, unable to move; vulnerable to being eaten by predators, or just starving. What about bats – which are much more strictly protected (under European Law) than most birds. Yes bats do roost in hedgerows and in trees – and when they emerge from hibernation, just around now, they will find themselves trapped on the inside of a large net.
This appears to be a new thing for this year but nets have appeared across the country, as this google map shows. After some fairly widespread coverage on social media, and in the news media (e.g. here and here), a petition was launched on the government petition website. That petition has now garnered over 200,000 signatures (as of 3/4) and local people are taking action by removing netting and saving trapped wildlife, though some birds have been found dead in the nets. The petition calls for the activity to be banned. The RSPB, whose job it is to protect wild birds, had initially taken a meeker position, asking developers (nicely) to think carefully before they put nets over hedges and trees. Subsequently, they and CIEEM brought out a stronger joint statement calling for the use of netting to stop (except under exceptional circumstances).
Vox populi vox dei?
I find I’m unable to watch the BBC TV news any more. Every single time I’ve turned it on (often accidentally) there’s someone being interviewed in a high street, usually near some market stalls. Does every town have market stalls or does the BBC news team scout out towns with them so they know where they must film? Or perhaps the whole thing is a set next to the new Albert Square one. Invariably the vox pops are from people saying “we’re fed up with the politicians …. We just need to Leave the EU NOW!” Or worse, dark accusations of betrayal. How is it that the interviewer never asks “and would that mean staying in the Customs Union, creating a new Customs partnership, do we stay in the Single Market, what about Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement?” All those knotty questions that nobody ever asked the public before the Referendum vote. Or perhaps the interviewer did ask those questions and received a blank look, or a reply that was not broadcastable.
From the Government all we hear is the tired old cliché “we must respect the Will of the People” and “this was the largest vote this country has ever seen” and dark mutterings about civil unrest, if the Vote is not delivered in the most extreme way possible. But this is simply not true. The Referendum vote was not the largest vote in UK history (General Elections have had larger total turnouts). And while more people voted to leave than remain, the electorate split 37% leave, 35% remain and 28% did not vote. Further, there was significant disenfranchisement, particularly of younger voters (and UK citizens who had lived abroad for more than 15 years), thanks to changes to the way the Electoral Roll is updated, introduced by David Cameron – remember him? And of course the 3 million EU nationals resident in the UK, who had no say at all on their future.
I must admit I have yet to see or hear a Vox Pop with a member of the public from the 28%; perhaps they might say “no I didn’t vote in the Referendum. I found the arguments on both sides very confusing, so I didn’t feel I could make a decision.” Perhaps they were right, because we now discover, nearly three years later, that the arguments were very confusing – so confusing that the Cabinet itself cannot agree on what the Referendum meant, nor can the Government, nor can Parliament. And certainly not the public. Nobody can agree on what the decision to leave the EU actually meant, nor how it was going to be achieved. Perhaps the electorate weren’t asked the right question.
Pretty much everyone can agree that the negotiations with the EU have been monumentally mishandled from the outset; and most agree that the very real prospect of leaving the EU without any deal would be catastrophic for the country. And yet, despite Sir Oliver Letwin and others’ best efforts to achieve some sort of consensus in Parliament over a way forward, a no deal Brexit is still on the cards. With this threat in mind, nearly 6 million people have signed a petition calling on the Government to revoke Article 50. It’s worth just reflecting for a moment on the sheer scale of this. I’m not saying all of those who signed would vote Labour, but the number of signatures is the equivalent of 46% of the total Labour vote in the 2017 General Election. Hundreds of thousands of people also marched in London last weekend calling for a People’s Vote – a second referendum. And this proposition – or at least a call for a ballot for the people to confirm any agreement that is voted through Parliament – almost achieved a majority in the indicative votes taken on the Match 26th, and may yet do so on the 1st April. By any standards, the scale of concern expressed by the public via the petition and march is very substantial. These are expressions of public sentiment, every bit as valid as the referendum – arguably more so given what we now know about how both Leave (that’s Vote Leave and the Farage/Banks outfit leave dot EU) campaigns cheated and gamed the electoral system.
A cynical ploy
Compare this with Nigel Farage’s March to Leave. This was supposed to be an army marching on London from Sunderland. Farage was going to show the Westminster elite the strength of feeling among the leave-voting public. In truth, turned into a bit of a farce. Some days have seen just 60 people walking, others perhaps 150. Farage has turned up for a photo-opportunity a couple of times, but is mostly absent. He’s abandoned the walkers to their fate. Fortunately, they have had very nice weather after the first couple of days and I respect the members of the public who have turned out to do this walk for what they believe in, however much I may disagree with them.
Respect is in very short supply though. Consider how the Government reacted to the nearly 6 million who signed the Revoke Article 50 petition. I did my own Vox Pops – this is how the Government’s response was described; “condescending…. mealy-mouthed… they talked down to us like children.”
And how will the Vote Leave demonstration – planned originally as a celebration of us leaving on the 29th, now more likely to be an expression of anger and perceived betrayal – play out? Hopefully not with any violence. (Update – yes, there was violence.)
It does feel though that our democracy, which we have come to take for granted, is feeling vulnerable. It is a fragile thing. It can easily be damaged or destroyed. Like those birds struggling to escape from the netted hedgerows.
And history may also conclude that Brexit was also a cynical ploy to graft private profit, by ignoring the laws which the rest of us abide by, but which apparently don’t apply to everyone.
This article first appeared on Lush Times