Conservation in the age of coronavirus

Shooting Times & CountryApril 22, 2020

Conservation in the age of coronavirus
The cars and planes have gone to be replaced by deer, badgers and a cacophony of birdsong and insect sounds, says Richard Negus
Richard Negus

Grey partridges are enjoying the lack of traffic in the countryside

I write this at a time of uncertainty and trepidation for all. COVID-19 has utterly changed our lives in a few short weeks. What the ramifications will be, both financial and physical, in the medium to long-term are topics of much concern and speculation.

Those of us who live and work in the countryside should thank our lucky stars, for we are truly blessed. We fortunate few have not had to endure the tedium of four walls and 24-hour television suffered by those locked down in city tower blocks.

Our exercise is not one of an hour spent tripping around an urban park like social-distancing hamsters on a wheel. I drive my truck the few miles to Flea Barn and there I have worked and continue to work in my solitary world. My interactions are with my dog and the birds and beasts that live here. My only human companionship is provided by Flea Barn’s owner, Ed Nesling, as he passes by in his tractor or as a distant, cogitating form, walking his crops or looking for the grey partridges that have become an all-absorbing obsession of late.

Safe territory

For those of us who are working conservationists there are already obvious signs that the virus is having an impact on wildlife. Within a week I noted that the absence of road traffic was having an effect. Roe and muntjac were to be seen feeding nearer the road edge and at times of the day when they would more usually have been in cover. As the traffic continued to decline, the paired-up partridges, grey or French, had taken to treating roadside verges as safe territory. Roadkill was becoming a rare sight.

“Within a week I noted that the absence of road traffic was having an effect”

Suffolk is a very rural county; we have no motorways, a mere two A roads and a laughable train service. Bus routes are so convoluted and erratic that it is said some commuters using the service have been dismissed for being days late for work rather than hours. So the car is essential and our narrow lanes, at peak hours, become busy thoroughfares.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, however, the cadavers of hedgehogs, muntjac and badgers bloat, reek and decay at the lane’s edge no more. Sad clumps of feather and flesh no longer become road dressing. The lockdown has seen an end to drivers speeding down rural rat-runs. For now, no cocoons of Japanese or German tin casually plough down birds in the cause of getting to a meeting on time. However, while at first glance all this is a positive, there has been an unexpected outcome.

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April 22, 2020