Monday 22 September 2008

Birds and Words

Sad, but not unexpected, news on the bird front. Those are all birds I remember from boyhood - not in the suburbs but on holidays. Corn bunting (and indeed reed bunting), grey partridge and cuckoo from stays in Lincolnshire (grandparents); turtle doves from Folkestone, believe it or not, where they thrived in the wooded cliffside gardens. I have seen or heard none of them in years now - though of course, as I've remarked many times before, many species that I rarely saw in those distant days have since become commonplace. There are always compensations.
Happily, this piece points the finger squarely at loss of habitat, only wheeling out our old friend 'climate change' towards the end. This is surely right, as anyone with eyes can attest - the face of the countryside, except where it has been consciously preserved or neglected, is very different now from what it was 40 or 50 years ago. It is the same thing - loss of habitat - that is hurting so many butterfly populations. That and appalling spring/summer weather...
It isn't only birds and butteflies that are endangered. In a transparent publicity stunt, Collins dictionaries have come up with a list of words that they say they intend to drop, while simultaneously launching a campaign to save them. Hmmm... There are, in fact, some fine and useful, if unfamiliar, words in that list. I'd save the lot, and cut back on the rash of worthless nonce words that disfigure every new edition of virtually every dictionary - attended by much brouhaha - only to disappear from the next edition.


  1. I would agree Nige, that changing habitat is having a bad effect upon butterflies, Not so sure about birds, curlew disappeared from the Cheviots in the 1960s and have returned in force and the habitat there has not changed significantly. Buzzards have returned in force and are widespread, Hawks populate motorways, oystercatchers are now as much at home inland as they are on the beach.
    The only birds that we do not see now are dippers and skylarks. I guess those birds whose habitat was farmland were most affected, even there things are changing and who knows, they may return.
    I agree with you regarding words, leave well alone.
    Its some of the old, now unused phrases that I like "I was ever of the opinion" being a favourite.

    PS "our" cuckoo has bunked off early, muttering "bloody shitty British weather"

  2. God bless 'brouhaha'. I'm with you, Nige. I think that dictionaries are there to immortalise how we've used the language. They need to keep the old words as much as include the new. In fact, there seems to be less reason to include new words. Only when they have attained some degree of longevity should they get in.

    This whole business of including new words is more of a publicity stunt that publishers use to sell dictionaries.

  3. In the last few years the farmers have stopped using most of the chemical sprays that were used with abandon in the past. Also they are using low volume application with the ones that they are using. Gone, Thank God, are the days when you could smell at twenty miles a land-owner out crop spraying. But in the days when you were visiting, there was a vast change in how the Min of Ag' went about its business, you saw it at the bridge between. In the war years and after, production was Ordered with little or no regard to the realities. A little later EEC policy used money and Advise to go to the same place. So most of the marginal areas were put to the plough or grassland cropped to the Nth'. And while there has always been areas where methods have produced single crop, sheep, enough of them will crop better than a lawnmower. These areas were relatively small and narrow, mostly. It is the distance between land use which cause most of the problems.
    The RSPB are now working with this in mind having concluded that having islands for visitors is all very well but the locals get short shrift.

  4. That's exactly it Vince - habitat isolation. It's worse for butterflies, at least the weaker fliers among them. Butterfly Conservation's working on building great swathes of continuous woodlands etc in southern England. They can't do much about the weather though...

  5. Yes, something of the Golápagos effect.
    There is a chap someplace west of you, who is trying to buy enough land the build a forest of these islands, something wedge shaped and narrowish.
    But I do not get the ire saved for the farmers you meet over the past few years. A flag was sent up a mast, what else were they expected to do but salute it.
    Should you get a chance to view a use map of around 1820's -corn laws- for the area between the plain and Longleat you will be shocked when you look at the goo-earth for the same place. And that changed in about five years.

  6. Very disturbing news, indeedly. The same thing's happening far too rapidly to believe in Canada; I see fewer and fewer Monarchs every year (and I live in the bush). I used to see bajillions of them, gorgeous ones, and snap pics of 'em, in fact.

    Now, I can't recall seeing ONE this year. And another thing that's been sorely missed? Well, two things we used to see frequently in the north: Sun Dogs and rainbows. Nope. Not anymore. This world is going to the dregs.

  7. Judith, we have a spare monarch or two you can have, well maintained but very dysfunctional.

  8. Howl! (Or, do I mean Brouhahar?)

    Yes, Malty, but do they soar (and so much more)? IOW, they're not lie-about louts, are they? If not — yes, she said, yes — send 'em my way, especially if they can cook, particularly in bed, okay? TIA :).

    Gutter? What gutter? (I like my eggs fried in butter; and, I like my bacon crips . . .)