You might have seen the article on the Daily Mail earlier this week that had conservationists and environmentalists across the nation seething. In summary, a gull allegedly attacked and killed one woman’s chihuahua in her garden in Devon, with the rest of the article crying enough’s enough to conservation of avian predators in the UK. Chris Packham described the article as “ignorant tosh” (in my view, an accurate description). But although frustrating and anger-inducing for many, the article was not necessarily a shock. Newspapers such as the Daily Mail have been promoting the wrong ideas about nature for years.
As busy people with hectic lives, we often rely on newspapers to provide us with information we couldn’t have found out ourselves. For instance, if not for the Daily Mail, I would perhaps never have found out about the fate of Bella (Sorry Nikki, to lose a dog is a terrible thing). For the spread of information, newspapers are incredibly useful. However, when this information is not adequately researched and is biased by journalists who believe they have no need to report using scientific studies “because a lifetime of observing the countryside is enough to know what’s going on“, it can lead to the promotion of entirely wrong ideas. In terms of nature, over the years the general public’s perception has been negatively skewed by ludicrous, sensationalist headlines e.g. “Giant killer spiders invaded my home and then ate my kids” (for real though, here are some actual examples). I will not be surprised if there is little objection to the legalisation of fox hunting being back on the cards, as foxes in particular are often demonised by the media.
In addition, articles describing birds of prey as “terror birds” with “sharp claws and a long vicious beak“ have no doubt contributed to the condemnation and loss of UK raptor species such as the critically endangered hen harrier. (By the way, nobody tell Robin Page what birds used to look like a few million years ago…). But these articles are simply scaremongering for the sake of views, website clicks and readers, and are damaging public perception of wildlife. Believe it or not, gulls don’t actually have an agenda to kill your pets. Red kites aren’t out to terrorise young lambs. On the same lines, spiders are not out to bite you. Bees aren’t out to sting you. Foxes aren’t out to ruin your night’s sleep by tearing apart your rubbish bins at three in the morning. The list goes on, but the point is that if something is a threat then a species will react and defend/attack accordingly, and if something looks like food, they will try and eat it. Simple, and with no alternate agenda. After all, we’re all just trying to survive here.
Thankfully, Karl Mathiesen at the Guardian posted a balanced response to the Daily Mail article, which explains neatly that healthy ecosystems arise from a good balance of predators and prey – a balance which at this point in time is almost entirely non-existent in Britain. The fact is, we need raptors for populations of prey species to be properly maintained. The attitude that we should protect the cute and fluffy from the sometimes bloody realities of nature definitely needs to change. And so too does the use of non-scientific, sensationalist articles about wildlife if we want a nationwide effort to restore ecosystem health to UK habitats.
Add your voice to others and help us take action to protect EU species under threat by joining the RSPB’s #defendnature campaign.