Helen Martin: ‘C’ word has become the elephant in the room

Feral cats are being killed to protect the Scottish wildcat. Picture: Peter Cairns
Feral cats are being killed to protect the Scottish wildcat. Picture: Peter Cairns
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THE conservation lobby/industry/movement . . . call it what you will . . . is something most of us would support.

Mention the “C” word and we think of the many species being wiped out around the world as man industrialises their native environments; the perils facing big cats and elephants facing extermination at the hands of brutal hunters and poachers; and even native, UK, hedgerow wildlife that has been drastically reduced by large scale, open-field farming, or the paving, patios and fences in suburban gardens.

But there’s another side to conservation. It belongs to the body of scientists and academics who want to preserve species by interfering with nature.

Ironically, in order to do that, they too – just like poachers, hunters and man’s encroachment in the Brazilian rainforest – achieve their ends by killing. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has set about trapping feral and stray cats (possibly former pets) which will be shot in order to prevent them inter-breeding with the Scottish wild cat. They want the wild cat to remain “pure”, presumably in the wild as well as to be exhibited in caged areas.

Well of course, we all want to protect native species, but at what cost, and for whose benefit . . . us, or the cats?

Nature decrees that elephants don’t mate with chimpanzees or tigers. Wild cats and strays seem to be made for each other. While the RZSS opts for killing the offending stray “ordinary” cats, other more humane groups believe in trapping, neutering, vaccinating and releasing them again, which may be a little more expensive than a bullet but is certainly less murderous.

Strangely, there seems to be little mention of the “E” work – evolution.

How did human beings get to where we are and how much of our evolution is down to inter-breeding with different, but similar and biologically compatible tribes or species?

Imagine what would have happened if an intellectually superior set of beings had been around to say “No, we want to keep you just the way you are. You are interesting creatures and we want to keep you in your caves and in our cages.” But perhaps there are other reasons beyond our ken why the scarce and dwindling wild cats are interbreeding with strays and ferals.

Also at risk is the native bluebell, a Scottish emblem which featured in playground songs of yesteryear as well as on matchboxes. It’s scarce, and though we have 50 per cent of the world’s bluebells on the west coast of the UK, it’s becoming scarcer, dependant as it is on the Atlantic and the now variable Gulf Stream.

A Spanish bluebell has come on the scene and is cross-breeding with the British variety to produce a paler, straighter, but just as pretty variety. These hybrids also grow in woodland but are more adaptable to urban settings, they are hardier and stronger and can cope better with climate change.

Well that makes sense to me. God and nature works in mysterious ways. Perhaps it’s the only way for bluebells to survive. But of course, there are enthusiastic horticulturalists damning the Spanish invader and encouraging people to rip them up by the roots. Man is at his worst when he attempts to play God.

Who still thinks it’s a bright idea to bring power ‘closer to the people’ ?

THE City of Edinburgh Council doesn’t have a great record when it comes to bringing in public projects (be it trams, cobbles or schools) on time, within budget, efficiently and safely.

The current schools disaster may not have, strictly speaking, been the council’s fault, but following on the trams fiasco, it is embarrassing to this city and others as the saga unfolds.

I hope the pompous, political posturing by some parties calling for more power for local authorities takes that into account.

The idea that there is some universal benefit in bringing such power “closer to the people” is frightening. Local councillors and officials are clearly not qualified to run, commission or inspect and approve such major projects. In a small country the size of Scotland these should be national government responsibilities, with the government carrying the can when they go wrong.

It’s an attack of the vapers

FOR two years now I’ve been a “vaper” rather than a smoker. Every single vaping liquid has a label clearly stating it is age-restricted to over-18s. Surely the sensible thing, rather than arguing over point of sale marketing in supermarkets and newsagents which is alleged to be “tempting” youngsters who aren’t allowed to buy it anyway, would be to restrict sales to specialist shops only.

Believe me, the average adult buying e-cig and vaping equipment needs professional advice on the kit, the battery and settings, safety, liquid strength and maintenance. The concentrated liquid itself is toxic if consumed rather than inhaled. It’s much more complicated than sticking a fag in your mouth and lighting up.

Puttnam plan is a real turn-off

FILM producer and Labour peer Lord Puttnam told an Edinburgh debate on TV licensing that Scots would be happy to pay a 30 per cent increase for more Scottish-made programmes on BBC. Perhaps he was working up a new comedy script.