A small piece of conversational journalism from 1980 has left me with a jolt of recognition of just how far off the rails we gone in the past quarter-century or so.
Harry Whewell was musing then on the availability of wild bird seed. Why would you think about that, you might ask today? Isn’t it nice that people are trying to help the birds?
Well, yes, it is good people are thinking about the environment (if also seeking some entertainment for themselves by attracting the birds).
But what struck me about the article was how in 1980 this was an odd and new idea – or at least could still be presented as such.
Harry asks, very logically, why it was that people weren’t simply feeding the birds scraps from their own table, or else allowing plants in their garden to grow and seed? (Indeed he also notes that dogs and cats used to almost invariably be fed human scraps, rather than specialist food.)
He asks: “was there anybody who could not find crumbs in their cake tin, stale slices in their bread bin, and bits of bacon rind in the sink tidy, enough to keep half a dozen sparrows, two blackbirds, and a robin happy?”
He worries that the seed might be grown in Africa and being taken human supplies, or taken from wild places: “A charm of Cheshire goldfinches might find one autumn that its normal supplies of thistle seeds had totally disappeared, the plants having been stripped by foraging schoolboys and the seeds sold to pet shops in Manchester.”
And when you think about it, he’s absolutely right. (And to add in today’s concerns: all of that seed was shipped, using fossil fuel, to the mixing plant, packaged in plastic bags made from petroleum products, shipped likewise to a supermarket, and very likely carried home in a private car.)
Meanwhile, the same people who are carefully pouring this into the bird feeder, are most likely throwing large quantities of perfectly good food – certainly good for the birds — into the waste bin, from where it is carried in lorries to a landfill site, where it will eventually produce globally warming methane. And the supermarket that is selling it is carefully locking into its rubbish bins huge quantities of the same.
And they are very likely carefully mowing their lawn into a perfect sward, excluding with poison any “weed” (for which read seeding plant that the birds might like).
So many things that we do today, when you start to deconstruct them, are wrong from start to finish – even buying bird seed.