Just like the rest of the conservation community, Sunday for me was a sad day. An opportunity to bring about change that positively affects wildlife and signifies the end of decades of such a damaging sport was narrowly missed, and controversial spring hunting has been allowed to continue. Perhaps the worst thing for me was that this was the narrowest of victories; the yes campaign won by the slightest majority of 51%. It’s amazing how much even the smallest amount of votes – 2,200 to be exact – can have such a detrimental impact, isn’t it? The shockwaves from the aftermath of Malta’s referendum rippled through my twitter feed for a good few days.
It was interesting for me to see how people responded. Mostly anger; sadness, disappointment, exasperation at how we were so close and yet so far. And, quite often, resentment towards the Maltese who voted ‘no’. Words such as ‘disgusting’ and ‘vile’ were used in some of the more emotionally-charged tweets I saw.
Don’t get me wrong, I too was seriously peed off the referendum went the way it did. But instead of simply being angry, we need to use that anger to drive forward the change. Not to see it as a ‘defeat’ but as a reason to keep going, to analyse the ‘no’ campaign and make it stronger for next time. We are all very quick to condemn others for their decision, but we have no idea why they’ve made it – perhaps if we investigated a little further, we could use this knowledge to help work alongside the ‘no’ voters instead of against them.
I guess this way of thinking comes from the research I do. Investigating conservation conflicts often requires you to suppress your initial gut instinct of disbelief and annoyance towards other people’s views, and simply accept them as different instead – see them as something to work with. Especially in Scotland, where conflicts associated with birds of prey are rife, these disputes have become exacerbated to the point where parties have become polarised and unable to communicate. Conservationists are also guilty of ignorance; we can’t understand why you would want to hunt such a beautiful creature, and at the same time hunters and gamekeepers can’t understand why we would want to interfere in something they’ve done for centuries. Even as I write this I can see that coming across in my language: it can be very much ‘us’ and ‘them’.
But, as anyone with a successful marriage will tell you, communication is key to a healthy relationship – the same goes for conservation. How are we to understand each-others motives without actually speaking to one another? How can we, as conservationists, try to bring hunters round to our way of thinking when we can’t see theirs? Open dialogue is essential to finding a shared solution. And a shared solution is what we want – a straight-up ban will never work. The head of the Hunter’s Association Joe Calascione was quoted as describing spring hunting as an ‘integral part of Maltese tradition’. Grouse shooting, some would say, is an integral part of Scottish tradition, but that is detrimental to so many raptor species. We are having the same struggles, for exactly the same reasons. Try and enforce a law on something that has been part of people’s livelihoods, and you’ll get the same result – refusal, anger and, quite possibly, they’ll still do it anyway. Surely it’s better that there is, at least, some sort of control over the spring hunting at present. Hunters must be licensed and stick to the quota unless they want a hefty fine.
I am certainly not saying that I want this practice to continue. I just think that instead of calling names, we should put our anger to good use and find a long-term, sustainable solution, and one that does not polarise ‘us’ and ‘them’ still further.
“The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.”
– Ross Perot