Without the EU, the environment would suffer greatly: or so we are told by EU-funded organisations like the WWF and the RSPB.
So let’s briefly focus on just one of the invaluable conservation projects on which the EU thinks it’s important to spend our money.
As the Sunday Telegraph reported, the EU has funded a five-year £1.25 million project to encourage little terns to breed.
This involves getting schoolchildren to paint plaster of Paris bird models with the right grey, black and white colouring. The fake terns are then placed in pairs in appropriate spots during breeding season, with the male’s and female’s beaks pointing inches apart as if they were courting one another.
Sue Rendell-Read, the manager in charge of the project, said: “We are using the decoys to try and get the little terns to nest in safer places on the beach. This may be areas within fencing, which we put up during the breeding season, or areas higher up the beach, which we know will be safer in the summer.”
Ms Rendell-Read urged members of the public not to touch or steal the decoys, many of which have the name of the school child who painted it on the bottom.
Yes, that would be tragic, wouldn’t it? Why, the effect on tern breeding if these £1.25 million fake birds were to be removed would surely be incalculable.
I do however have a couple of reservations about this yarn.
The first, pretty obviously, is how, in heaven’s name, can so low-tech a project possibly cost £1.25 million? What are they painting these fake birds with: lapis lazuli and gold leaf? We’re talking about a total of 15 beaches’ worth of fake birds here. Even allowing for a generous 1000 birds per beach, that still works out at over £800 for something whose raw materials probably cost less than a pound.
And the second – which hasn’t been mentioned in reports so far – is: what are we even doing trying to save the little tern anyway?
Here’s what Birdlife International has to say on little terns’ scarcity:
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The little tern, in other words, is about as much in danger of extinction as the Herring gull (aka “sea gulls”) or the London pigeon.
Yet just listen to this woman from the RSPB in the Sunday Telegraph:
Emily Irving-Witt, the lead little tern warden for the Suffolk Coast, said: “Little terns are endangered and need all the help they can get.
“Numbers are decreasing alarmingly so protecting their breeding grounds means saving them from extinction.”
Yeah, well I suppose if my job was “lead little tern warden for the Suffolk”, I too would be doing my damnedest to talk up the threat to little terns.
But quite how she feels it appropriate to bandy about terms like “endangered” and “extinction” I do not know. It’s the kind of emotive and dishonest language which gives animal conservation a bad name – though of course, it’s entirely the sort of thing we’ve come to expect of anyone even vaguely associated with the disreputable RSPB.
The little tern is not “endangered”, let alone anywhere close to “extinction.” It follows that every penny of that £1.25 million is money chucked down the drain.
Brexit campaigners are frequently put under pressure to justify the £330 million they have claimed that Britain chucks every week into the gaping maw that is the European Union. Sky News interviewer Faisal Islam had a go at Michael Gove about this and went at it repeatedly like a teenager faced with a particularly juicy but reluctant-to-burst spot. Whoever is masterminding the Remain campaign’s strategy appears to think that this is a major weak point. But it’s only a weak point if you believe the EU propagandists’ line that we receive more or less half of that money back in the form of EU spending.
Well perhaps we do but I’m not sure if that money were ours to spend as we wished we’d want to spunk £1.25 million of it on plaster of Paris little tern models.