Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First there was bird-song . . .

From choice, I would write to you about the stories that make me smile, incidents to make you laugh. But there is only sadness in this story.
Why share it? Because I think it's important.

"First there was birdsong,"wrote the sage, "then birds were created to sing."

It's a beautiful and thought-provoking statement, but, as of this moment, it is also incredibly poignant.

Birds have formed an integral part of my life. From my country childhood, to work with the BBC Natural History Unit, right up until the present day, when fat-balls and peanut-holders dangle outside the third-floor windows of my London flat. There have always been birds.

But, in our fast-changing world, there is nothing you can take for granted. I say that because I've been talking to a friend who recently returned from a holiday in Italy. He and his wife chose to visit a peaceful, rural area well away from the tourist traffic, an area known only for its agriculture and extensive forests. My friend is a keen photographer. He takes his camera on holidays for the purpose of recording the wildlife, in particular the birds.

On this recent holiday to Italy, apart from the ubiquitous pigeons and seagulls, it appeared that they saw - and heard - no birds. No birds in the peaceful forests, no birds flying low over the vineyards, no birds roosting in the eaves of the sun-baked houses. No birds. The countryside around them had been silent.

Where had the birds gone? My friend made enquiries of the villagers, but met only with resigned confirmation that the birds
were no longer to be seen.

Such things happen so gradually, so imperceptibly. As in the case of the missing Italian song-birds, it isn't until a seemingly indestructible and vital part of the eco-system has disappeared completely that we realise what we've lost, how silent the world has become.

Did you catch a glimpse of any butterflies this year? When did you last see a hedgehog? And what about those clouds of starlings that once patterned the evening sky . . . have you seen them recently?
On a more practical note, did you know that in parts of China the farm workers are having to pollinate the fruit trees by hand? Indiscriminate and excessive use of powerful pesticides has caused the mass extinction of the once prolific pollinating insects.

No living species should become extinct on account of our heavy footprint on the earth. In our blinkered self-obsession, have we failed to see that we need the birdsong, we need the birds?
Not for our selfish enjoyment, not even out of respect for the myriad forms of creation, of which we are but one. Quite simply, because, in a totally inter-dependent eco-system, without the birds, the bees and the butterflies there will be no human beings.

By a beautiful irony, we have become the cuckoo in the nest, the over-sized cuckoo who is throwing out all rivals in our greedy, short-sighted demand for the earth's dwindling and finite food supply.

And wait a moment . . . just think about it . . . when did you last hear a cuckoo?