Thursday, 28 October 2010

Killing for "Pleasure"

Reports of the demise of UK's largest animal - a Stag known as "The Emperor" - may be premature. There is some confusion over whether he has indeed been killed or it is a fabricated story to discourage trophy hunters.

Regardless as to the fate of the animal, it has sparked some interesting debate. On the face of it, it's an easy one for the anti's to get upset about; rich person kills wild animal to stick it's head on his wall... guaranteed to outrage every mortgage slave with a vague interest in Wildlife. For me, the issue is nothing to do with who (might have) shot the Deer - I just can't fathom why we allow the killing of any living thing in the name of "sport". The defences commonly offered by those who partake in these actions are as ridiculous as those who see it as a class issue. "It's always been this way in the countryside" and "These *insert animal here*  need to be managed or they destroy the environment" are two frequent reasons excuses offered.

On a completely unrelated piece of research I conducted a few weeks ago, I happened across the interestingly named "British Association for Shooting and Conservation".  Good grief, do they really expect any normal, reasonable person to believe that this is anything other than a desperate PR ploy to justify a pastime? In fact, vast swathes of their website seems dedicated to forcing home the idea that it is perfectly legitimate to enjoy murdering animals with a gun. No end of ethics codes, conservation ideas and even a handy factsheet for Journalists - all about how wonderful shooting is for the environment.  Don't get me wrong; I have no problem with controlling diseased animals or where there is a risk of a high level of inbreeding that would threaten a species in the long run (though this never seems to have been applied to the Windsors). What I object to is people getting enjoyment and/or making money out of it. As with most things, money perverts what is right and decent - and there are regular reports of predators being poisoned or shot to protect game stocks, but precious little accountability and prosecutions are rare. Obviously the BASC is well used to batting defensively as they've felt it necessary to issue a Press Release that reeks of self-importance and denial that any wrongdoing has occurred in the killing of "The Emperor", whatever the circumstances. Far more nauseating, however, is this article on the Guardian's site by a chap called Glynn Evans. In particular, this line from the opening paragraph "Nothing compares to the thrill of the stalk. The feeling as you select a beast, approach it, take aim and fire to ensure a clean kill is unique, as is the feeling that you are doing something importanttakes some beating in the bullshit stakes. I also enjoy stalking deer, Mr. Evans, however the end product of my stalking is a picture that you could hang on the wall, rather than some antlers and a dead stag.

Like hunting with dogs, I think it's time we put an end to these high-brow pursuits that are "acceptable" simply because the people who carry them out have influence with the lawmakers of the land. It's not about class or money - it's about respecting the creatures that have had the misfortune to evolve on the same planet as us. If you desperately feel the need to shoot a gun - go clay pigeon shooting. There are far more humans causing a nuisance on the earth than wild animals - let's start culling them... Hedge Fund managers would be a good start.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

More days like this, please

Curlew at Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve
I fell asleep on the sofa on Sunday night. Usually, I don't get to bed until gone midnight - my internal clock ticks a late night and early morning beat... just not in the same 24 hour period.

The reason for my exhaustion was a day spent at Petworth, Burton Mill Pond and Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve. Out of the house at 7am, I was waiting eagerly for the gates to open at Petworth Park. My disappointment at a lack of any notable mist or fog given the cold overnight temperatures was compounded by the late arrival of the gatekeeper. By the time I had parked up, donned the boots and hauled myself into position along with a handful of like-minded individuals, any hope of significant vapour in the air had disappeared as the morning sun quickly made light work of what little there was. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the morning; plenty of posing deer and good shooting light (the results of which can be found on flickr).

Highlights from Petworth:

* Nearly getting trampled by a short-sighted stag
* Chuckling at the guys (with equipment far more expensive than mine) shooting directly into the sun
* After all the rutting, the first stag I've seen to get his wicked way with a doe
* Realising I'd not paid for parking and dashing back to the car park - to find I'd got away with it.

On leaving Petworth, I headed for Burton Mill Pond, a Nature Reserve three miles South. No decent pictures to be had here, although I did spot a Great Grey Shrike (first time I've seen one of these), Kestrel, numerous Woodpeckers, and a Pagani Zonda! After completing a round tour, I moved on to Pagham Harbour - another Nature Reserve - and what a marvellous place it is! Within 20 minutes of parking, I'd seen a Peregrine Falcon, Buzzard, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Little Egret and a number of Curlews. And that's just the birds I recognised. Unfortunately, I had to curtail my visit as time was against me. But I headed home rather pleased at my day's work and chomping at the bit to get out again.

Unfortunately It does seem that the weather is taking a turn for the worse, so I may spend the weekend sorting through my back-up and the thousands of pictures that really need to find their way on to it. And I might just stick a few more on Flickr too...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Petworth Deer

Fallow Stags Having a Slight Disagreement!

This morning I decided to pay my first visit to Petworth Park. I've heard about the Fallow Deer that reside on the National Trust land and figured that this was as good a time as any to see for myself. I hoped that there might be some rutting going on, but wasn't really expecting much conflict. All accounts I've seen to describe Fallow rutting indicated more pontificating and running away than serious action... How wrong could I be! Granted, it wasn't wall-to-wall, no holds barred fighting to the death, but plenty to keep me going. I eventually had to call home and grovel for forgiveness as I plainly wasn't going to meet my 2pm deadline - I was having too much fun!

But breaking the curfew has a price - I've had little time to review the morning's efforts. Initial impressions are that whilst I've got some decent shots, composition needs some work and I really needed 1/1000 upwards for the rutting. Exposing correctly for the contrasting dark brown and white colouring of the animals was also a challenge - especially in bright sunlight with heavy background shadows. I'll go through them in ernest tomorrow night and get the best of them on Flickr.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Rural Affairs

I've been perusing various consultation documents and plans released by DEFRA and Natural England over the past few days. Their aim is to establish a direction for conservation. An "invitation to shape the nature of England", they call it.

My problem with this is that DEFRA being involved in any conservation plans is fundamentally wrong. Rural affairs and conservation are two completely separate areas, albeit that they are commonly entwined as, naturally, a great deal of biodiversity matters would be pointless to address in urban areas. We've already destroyed those particular places in terms of habitat for most creatures, save for the odd "Nature Reserve" - where people can take their screaming children to gawp at a goat and a few ducks. Hell, they might even get lucky and spot a Heron before it quickly disappears at the sound of class 6 arguing over coloured crayons.

Farming and Agriculture often go hand in hand with the words "countryside" or "rural". But it can be just as destructive to biodiversity as building a block of flats. Every year we - as a race - are using more land to grow crops: ruining it with fertilizers, stealing from the water table for irrigation, meticulously raping the ground for every last nutrient to produce more and more for supermarkets to sell at the lowest possible price. Cattle mutilate grass meadows; woods and forests are cleared for agriculture; gamekeepers and farmers shoot or poison any creature that gets in their way and build ever larger, more modern barns and outbuildings. To me, there is little in these actions that are common with conservation and protecting our fast-disappearing natural landscape.

DEFRA should have nothing to do with biodiversity and conservation. Food and "Rural Affairs" are in direct competition with Environment - which should have a wholly separate organisation to counter the problems caused for the environment BY food and rural affairs.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Plato wins, but a rather uninspiring day

The BTCC is done for another year. After the excitement of 2009, with three drivers still in contention going in to the final round, I was hopeful of a repeat performance and plenty of thrills and spills at Brands Hatch yesterday. There were four pretenders to the crown, although the RML Silverline Chevy of Jason Plato was the odds-on favourite.

Alas, my hopes of an incident-packed, edge-of-the-seat day of racing was not to be. Plato ran away with it, all but securing the title by winning the first race and then making it official with further domination in race 2. The agonizing over where I should place myself was hardly worth the bother - not a notable incident occurred all day pretty much anywhere. There were the predictable offs at Druids, Paddock and Clark Curve but by and large the guys who mattered behaved themselves. Even race 3, where all was done and dusted, turned into something of a procession with Andrew Jordan leading from start to finish.

So my plan off setting up for action and staying at Clearways for most of the day didn't do me any favours. At least the racing was exciting last year - even if the bumper-busting photo opportunities were similarly limited. Unfortunately, 2011 sees the finale move to Silverstone. The only way it could get worse (for non-media accredited photographers) would be to go to Rockingham - don't get any more silly ideas please TOCA.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Quali Day at Brands Hatch

Shaun Hollamby eats dirt

Back from Quali day at Brands - quite happy with the images I got today. Lots of playing with low shutter speeds and panning, the horrible grey murk enabling me to get low speeds even through the fences. I'll put them up on Flickr when I get the time, but for now I've manually uploaded this one to the blog. You can always bet someone will put it in the gravel at Paddock Hill - it was Shaun Hollamby and the AMD Golf's turn in Free Practise 2. Looking forward to the racing tomorrow - early start to claim my place; I've yet to figure where exactly that will be. Jason Plato is looking good for the BTCC crown, but watch for Matt Neal and his trademark punt up the inside. He'll be desperate for points and knows that a ballast-heavy Plato might be slower off the start...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Light Extinguished

Finally, some decent weather! The rain and cloud that have blighted the past couple of weeks cleared yesterday, so I headed to Woods Mill after work. To my dismay, it was patently obvious that Autumn has caught up with me - by 6.15pm the fading sunlight was confined to the tops of the tallest trees. I realised that we have nearly reached that point where after-work photography is reserved for indoor and low-light shooters. Even landscapers will be cursing the darkness in a few weeks.

My enthusiasm, however, was not dampened. So at 7am this morning I headed back for another go - morning light had to be better, right? No - Not when you have to be in the office for 8.30. After wandering around for an hour, I headed rather miserably back to the car with nothing to show for it except a few shots of dimly-lit berries. As I packed up, light streamed into the car park and the sound of previously silent passerines filled the air. It's going to be a long 5 months until the light returns; sitting on my backside, looking out on asbestos-ridden, 1970's, pre-fab business units in the a*** end of Worthing with 18 wheelers rumbling past all day.  Of course, this doesn't mean that the wildlife disappears - in fact it will be a useful time for finding and observing nocturnal animals. Winter can also prompt shy creatures to venture out when food is scarce and I can have a go at star fields, trails and light painting. Plenty to keep me entertained until spring arrives.

And of course there's the BTCC @ Brands Hatch to look forward to this weekend. I have a few spare tickets, if you'd like one drop me a line.

Monday, 4 October 2010

All Change

Yep, I've had a bit of a fiddle with the blog. It seemed rather uninspiring to look at, so I thought I'd brighten it up a touch.

Plans are in development for a "proper" web site for February/March next year. I need to find the funds for kit upgrades!