I used to be a regular bird watcher. I would go out with my binoculars to a nature reserve or a local wood. Over time I have stopped going out so much.
This morning I was out delivering a package when I saw a bird on the Links, a grassed area here in Edinburgh.
It was a large bird, as large as a big gull, with a brown-flecked body and a pale head.
It was the pale head that woke me up. My mind raced through possibles, none of which was likely – not in this country anyway.
When I got closer I saw it was a juvenile gull – probably a Black-backed gull – that happened to have a much paler head than the norm.
I could have looked more closely at the colour of its legs to try to pin down what kind of gull it was, but my mind was taken up with something else.
It was the realisation that when I saw the gull and couldn’t identify it – and thought for a second that it might be an African species – my mind opened wide.
My eyes opened wide. The scene brightened and I was firing on all cylinders.
I thought of children with their multiple new experiences and how we close down a little as we get the measure of the world.
And it told me something I already knew – that I love wildlife and nature.
There is a series on TV called Springwatch. It is presented by Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games and the subject is UK nature in all its variety.
On Springwatch recently, Chris Packham talked about how birds are captured – for trade and for food – in big numbers in Africa. These are birds we in the UK think if as ‘our’ birds but which of course make an annual migration to other parts of the world.
Environmentalists have been crying for years over the destruction of British wildlife.
Now Chris was explaining that the problem had to be looked at globally – something that can be done now because we can attach micro-transmitters to birds and track their migration routes.
It doesn’t let the UK off the hook but it adds another dimension to understanding the problem.
It doesn’t let the UK off the hook because we have a terrible record for grubbing up hedges and turning farms into industrial-farm deserts.
We have a terrible record in the use of pesticides.
We have pretended to be amazed to find bird and animal numbers decreasing year on year – and putting up our hands with a ‘Who knew?’
But we have known for years and still the destruction goes on.
Now add something else into the global mix.
The US and UK have issued travel advisories against visiting Kenya.
This is from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice today:
There is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. The main threat comes from extremists linked to Al Shabaab, a militant group that has carried out attacks in Kenya in response to Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.
There are frequent incidents of violent crime including mugging, armed robbery and carjacking, particularly in the large cities.
Over and above the terrorism and violence, it would be a worldwide disaster if the violence in Kenya results in more poaching.
If the fragile system that keeps its wildlife from being poached were to break down because people are in the middle of a brewing war zone, that would be bad enough.
But we know from recent history that warring factions fund their wars through illegal sources – and that would include ivory, rhino horn, and whatever else they could trade for guns.