For the Birds

Reportage of yet another spirited conversation with the husband. This time, I commented on a New Yorker piece that he said I would like.

I did like it. This is a profile of Jake Fiennes. Yes, that family. Joseph is his twin brother, Ralph his oldest brother. There’s also Sophie, Martha and Magnus. There’s also a cousin who is a polar explorer.

But this piece wasn’t about a famous family. It was about Jake, a self-taught naturalist behind a movement in British environmental farming. Basically, he’s been restoring sterile, toxic farmland, rebuilding habitat for birds and critters, increasing crop output.

Some information in the article disturbed me. Seems there is a pretty powerful arm of the European Union, which Britain is leaving, called the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Basically, this consortium is responsible for “perverse incentives and environmental impact”. In other words, its practices, which are forced on Union members, have been responsible for the decimation of farmland birds. “More than half have disappeared in the past fifty years,” according to the 2019 “State of Nature” report issued by dozens of British nature organizations.

Where the conversation got interesting was when I mentioned that Brexit was actually providing a chance for British farming to re-prioritize land uses. I worried for the rest of Europe. What was the CAP doing to Germany, France, Estonia?

The husband, during his 4 years in Hessen, Germany on a US Army base, paid attention to what German farmers were doing, which was exactly what Jake Fiennes is doing on his experimental plots. When I mentioned the farming tactics that British farmers had to accept if they wanted CAP money—pesticides, insecticides, heavy machinery, destruction of hedgerows, filling wetlands—I was highly suspicious that German farmers were doing the same thing now.

In the 1970’s, German land was farmed pretty much as it had been for centuries. That place is old! 50 years later, with multiple international corporations wielding power far greater than your basic 200-year-old government, and career bureaucrats eager to keep their comfy seats, I’m thinking European countries are seeing the same damage. CAP is inefficient, soaking up 70% of the EU budget, failing to provide an even playing field for new EU members, and rewarding big farms over smaller ones.

I really don’t know what the benefits of the European Union have been, except to make acquiring currency to travel in Europe a lot easier. But it seems that Britain was not alone in demanding reforms.

The husband was of the opinion that German farmers would have spurned CAP methods. Germany has yet not declared for the reformers or the anti-reformers, which includes France and Spain, among others.

I tried to point out that 50 years is a long time. No more rotary dial phones. No more VCRs. Things are probably different in Germany now. In the end, we agreed after much vigorous discussion, that DowDupont (US), Syngenta (Swiss), Bayer AG (German) BASF (German) were ultimately responsible for acceptance of heavy-handed agricultural techniques by government, and by farmers who want to stay in business. It’s interesting that Germany’s got two labs on this ticket.

This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Today I saw a male varied thrush at my bird bath. I entered the data on my eBird phone app. There’s one bird saved.


Today’s blog accompaniment film: A Place in the Sun, 1951, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


For the Birds — 3 Comments

  1. An inspirational book on the same topic is “Wilding – the return of Nature to a British Farm” by Isabella Tree.

  2. Except…the CAP was formed in 1962. The budget has been reduced from 73% of the EU budget in 1985 to 37% in 2017. That piece alone gives me concerns about the reliability of the source…and it would be helpful to have that link available simply to fact check it. And a source directly from the UK cites the bird issue, but also points out that we do not know how alternative policies would impact the situation:

    In any case, it would be helpful to know the date of the interview because the assertions do not necessarily match the current situation just based on a cursory read of the sources past Wikipedia or a half-hour’s search of readily available sources.

  3. One thing that you need to understand about the EU is that exactly how a directive is implemented can be tailored to each countries culture, so eg the directive covering bringing abatoirs up to standard, in the UK many local abatoirs closed becuse British bureaucrats insisted on every standard being matched perfectly despite the fact that in terms of cleanliness and animal handling these abatoirs were high quality, they just lacked say tiling right to the ceiling. In France they gave their small local abatoirs a lot more leeway with the end result that the UK has a few lare abatoirs which animals often have to spend hours traveling while in France they still have them. I would guess your husbnd is correct and the Germans have kept their small family farms because it was important to them that they do so – see also the number of medium size business they have in comparison to the UK etc etc