It’s a Grey Area

I find myself in a state of confusion regarding man’s relationship with the animal kingdom at the moment, one in which I appear to be hearing applause and encouragement like those of a circle of schoolkids shouting ‘Fight! Fight!’ as two parties go toe to toe in the playground.

For as long as I can remember (which isn’t that long at my age, 11 am this morning, perhaps) there have been calls for us to stop being such arses regarding our treatment of the denizens that share this planet with us. Hunting the cast of ‘Jungle Book’ for clothing, shoes, hearth rugs, head plaques in the study or just ‘The jolly good fun of it all, what?’ is frowned upon and as time has passed the frown has only become deeper.

Sadly, as far as I can see, the less attractive of the world’s menagerie get much less attention, sympathy and support than the good-looking or impressive beasts. Polar bears, tigers, great apes, whales, rhinos and all the other A-listers (and all mammals I notice, which probably says something too) have no trouble in whipping public opinion up into a state of militant disgust with all the big guns (probably could have chosen a more sensitive phrase than ‘big guns’ considering) from various sectors demanding action. Whereas snakes, cockroaches, Mongolian death worms and the bot fly larvae invariably evoke feelings of almost universal skin crawling disgust. It is as if the world is refusing to recognise the formation of K.T.I. Can you honestly see anyone encircling a mound of bat droppings to save the sea of insectoids that live upon it? No you can’t and that’s because they’re ugly, unlovable little Mo-Fos with too many legs/claws/mandibles/stingers and horror movie modes of locomotion.

So when I heard that a cute, fluffy, adorable (first time I’ve ever used this word – must have hit my vape too hard, hey Adam?) little critter is about to face some serious shit and people celebrating the carnage to come I was metaphorically knocked back on my heels. Why are these creatures that hit all the right notes for the usual winning formula being singled out for such despicable attention? The reason is nothing new or surprising, it is because they are seen as interlopers, invaders, immigrants and that they are taking our acorns…our acorns by birthright. That’s right, they are the modern-day equivalent of the American GIs in World War II, they’re over here, oversexed and overpaid…though that last part of the Trinity isn’t really relevant here.

Say ‘Howdy’ to the grey squirrel. That’s the species at the centre of this genocidal call to arms by all and sundry because the poor old plucky ‘Tommy’ red squirrel has been getting his arse handed to him for decades and he needs protecting. Grey squirrels are stronger, fitter, hornier and fatter than their transatlantic ginger cousins and are also immune to a certain disease that affects poor little Tommy red that’s called ‘Blighty Blight’…or possibly not.

The means by which the war on Yanky grey will be conducted is in a traditionally British way by sub-contracting the job out to another party. (This is a long-held tactic as illustrated by the Battle of Waterloo, where only three Englishmen took part in the conflict and they were in charge of catering and admin, yet we still claim the victory as ours.) The party, or species, in this case, being, to my mind, the rather dodgy and untrustworthy looking pine marten. Despite having a name like a freshener for AirWair™, this member of the mustelid family is particularly good at killing shit, and specifically grey squirrels. This is due to the bushy-tailed rat-bastards (not my words, Sir David Attenborough’s…allegedly) spending more time on the ground than red squirrels who are wise to the old pine marten’s MO, as they grew up together evolutionary wise, and frolic around in the relative safety of the trees most of the time.

Pine martens have always been here, they’re as native as anything can be to this island but due to deforestation, predator control, desire for pelts and other silly buggery humanity has been up to for millennia they were harried into small, remote areas of the kingdom where they survived to this day…just about. Now they’re on the march in ever growing numbers, with strengthening footholds in Scotland and Yorkshire and with some with the help from conservationists are being reintroduced to such places as Wales, Gloucestershire and Oxford Circus. They’re mean, lean, killing machines and they’re preparing to annihilate.

So what we have is people – who would probably happily give a limb to feed a Siberian Tiger or Snow Leopard – actively asking for the culling of a creature who is arguably cuter than either of the above and demonstratively safer to share a habitat with. What happened? Did a grey squirrel nick their favourite dream-catcher or piss in their lentil soup or laugh at their yoghurt sandals. It’s like Bill Oddie has grabbed a spade and gone all Ecky-Thump on the badgers in the Spring Watch reserve because they smirked at his beard. Why this focussed hatred of a poor defenceless critter who is doing nothing more than surviving as best it can?

Imagine this, your child is holding out a monkey nut (the peanut thing, I don’t think grey squirrels are carnivorous) as steady as it can to tempt the skittish little garden visitor to take the treat from its pudgy little fingers (you should stop feeding your kid chicken nuggets ten times a week) and…Whoosh! A pine marten, Mother Nature’s ninja assassin, pounces from nowhere and tears the squirrel apart as if it were a bag of cheese and onion. Blood and guts spray you, your child and your patio doors as if you’d simultaneously told Pennywise and Clive Barker to piss off. Is that what you want? Industrial scale slaughter of a tiny bushy tailed cutey merely for obeying the ‘survival of the fittest’ law as laid down by Charles Darwin.

I would have thought this kind of bloodshed would be a rending on a spiritual level to the tree huggers but it appears not. The encouraging war cries for this long desired slaughter are akin to those emanating from a long ship beaching at Lindisfarne and they appear to be coming from every quarter with no one fighting the poor little greys’ corner at all. It’s like Woodstock never happened. It’s a sad day when the whole of humanity (citation needed) wants to see such murderous acts carried out and I fear for time when the few unicorns left in creation venture out from the cave pools they are hiding in at Wookey Hole, shake off their temporary gills (that’s how they survived Noah’s flood) and once again start eating Giant Pandas with a side of dolphin, which is their preferred diet. Whose side will we be on then?

Yes, nature is cruel, red in tooth and claw as they say, but does that mean we can wade in to address an imbalance that only we have perceived in relation to our high and bloody mighty moral stances as we have done so many times before to disastrous effect? If the answer to that is ‘yes’, well maybe it’s time we brought back dragons and harpies and cyclopes to redress some other systemic imbalances that are unfair because if you ask me there are far too many MPs…bankers…traffic wardens… scallies… nonces…speed cameras…I could go on for a quite a while but I’ll save you the grief.