I came across an article in the Irish Independent that not only amused me but also gave me hope that the little guy can change the course of national government corporations.
It relates to how a dozen or so red squirrels forced a change in the plans of Coillte (Ireland's equivalent to U.K.'s Forestry Commission) to build a private access road for the purposes of harvesting a stand of commercial forestry.
The saga was played out in a small village in the distant, northern western corners of Eire. Like many wooded areas, no matter what time of year, this one has a magical ambience, so much so, that it is an area to which the locals visit for walks or just peace and quiet contemplation. Part of the attraction must be the thriving, breeding colony of a dozen or so red squirrels. In Ireland, these beautiful creatures are just as scarce as they are in the UK. Even so these particular squirrels have become accustomed to visitors and don't seem to object to having their photograph taken! They have even appeared in the television documentaries on Ireland's wildlife produced by the renowned cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson.
The woodland has two areas, one native woodland comprising such trees as oak, ash, hazel, birch and other native trees. Alongside is the commercial stand of Sitka Spruce, this being the section Coillte wish to harvest.
The first indication the locals knew anything was amiss was when a planning application for an access haul road for harvesting the Spruce was posted on site. Although the application showed no trees in the native woodland to be affected, it seemed the proposed road would split the nesting site of the red squirrels. Locals believed such activity would upset the breeding of an already critically endangered species. One or two people decided that for such a delicate ecosystem enough was enough and that a more environmentally friendly route for the road should surely be found.
Another wildlife photographer and mountaineer, living near the forest was contacted and he activated his own personal contacts and organisations throughout the country to become involved in saving these native woodlands. A social media campaign was launched which soon raised 3000 signatures (yes not many by some standards, but not bad for a dozen squirrels). One signature being that of Colin Stafford-Johnson. He felt passionately about the problem and, as he was on a nationwide speaking tour, proceeded to garner support for the campaign as an example of a habitat, although small, supremely worth fighting for and saving.
Even a couple of weeks before Coillte held their public consultation meeting, they responded to the growing campaign by announcing that they had found a different route for the forestry road that would still allow them to harvest the Spruce without affecting the indigenous woodland or its inhabitants. What was also interesting, was their announcement that they were to replace the harvested Spruce with a new planting of Scots Pine, a species which is acknowledged to be more eco and wildlife friendly.
A lesson to learn is that when we look after our local wildlife and its environment, it can have a far wider effect, rippling out to the wider world
The essence of the success of this story was support garnered from local residents, local celebrities (the mountaineer/photographer) and international celebrities, and many more untold heroes. At the end of the day Coillte (let's face it, just any large QUANGO, is ultimately established and accountable to you the taxpayer) were prepared (perhaps forced) to listen and modify their plans in accordance with the local voice and environmental common sense of the public.
What better way to sum it up but in the words of the mountaineer/photographer, (from the Irish Independent) who said "the campaign showed how special these particular woods are to local people and how memories are indelibly marked in the local consciousness. Now families, old and new, are creating new memories. Talk of touching the woods touched a raw nerve with The People. There never was a problem with the tree harvest, it was always about the "wee fellas". This is an example and case of never underestimating the power of the little guy. It wasn't just the squirrels, it was the individual."
I tell the story because I passionately believe that bureaucracy from many large corporations, be they from a commercial or governmental organisation, frequently ride roughshod over environmental considerations purely in their obscene lust for growth and profit. The story shows we can all move mountains for the sake of our wild and wonderful countryside and environment.
Note:this grump was originally published in January 2018, and updated in November 2018
At last the planning application for the haul road has been withdrawn and Coillte have formally announced that they will be resubmitting the plans with a completely different route for the haul road totally avoiding the red squirrels habitat.
Grumpy's attention has been drawn to another member of the wildlife community in crisis in the UK and that is one that very few people have seen and, quite frankly, it is accepted that they are unlikely to see it is natural habitat. The particular animal in question is the Scottish Wildcat. It is thought that there are just 35 of these "pure bred" cats living in the wilds of the remote Scottish highlands and islands. Anyone, cat lover or otherwise cannot fail to be charmed by these gorgeous creatures.
Once again highly endangered wildlife is under severe threat from logging. Again the local community is trying to get together a petition to persuade both the Scottish Government and the Forestry Commission to change their plans. The target for the petition is half a million signatories, and although well on the way to that target every signature must count. I therefore request that you click here to sign the petition.
In addition to logging, it appears that big industry is preparing plans for a huge wind farm in the same area. Grumpy is a great believer in eco-friendly energy generation but not at the expense of any endangered species, a category into which the Scottish wildcat must fall. We cannot continue to ride roughshod over the environment and its natural inhabitants, and therefore the real owners. But if we continue to do so then it is at our peril. We never know what particular species may be crucial to the overall survival of the planet, a lesson exemplified by the story of the butterfly in Borneo.
So please, take a couple of minutes, log onto the link above and sign the petition. Signing is little more than a click, but as the story of the squirrels shows, every single vote counts.