Episode 101: Beak, Tooth and Claw with Mary Colwell

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Last month, I wrote a review of an excellent book titled “Beak, Tooth and Claw: Living with Predators in Britain” by Mary Colwell. At the end of that blog, I said that I would really love to have an opportunity to talk with Mary on my podcast. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long! After a brief exchange of messages, Mary and I agreed to get together and record an episode.

Mary Colwell is an environmentalist, campaigner, freelance producer and author. She is also well known for her work protecting an endangered wader, the Eurasian Curlew.

During the podcast, we talked about her motivations for writing the book and its reception. We also discussed how Mary approached the research required to write her book, along with various facets of living with predators and the complexity of issues this creates. From there we went on to the ever-interesting subjects of conservation and rewilding.

Obviously, this podcast wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention the curlew, our largest wader. Mary explains why the curlew population is declining so rapidly, what is being done to stop this trend, and what can you do to help out!

Episode 100: Deer, Sheep and Fires with Ashley Glover

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There are no two ways about it. It’s a milestone episode. Episode 100. To mark the occasion we get together with environmentalist, hunter and axe thrower, Ashley Glover to discuss some of the most interesting subjects from the past three years. And while the title says “Deer, Sheep and Fires,” in reality it should have said, “Deer, Sheep, Boar, Wolves, Mink, Trout, Seals,  Woodland, Rhododendron and Fires.” You get the picture!

In our conversation, you will be able to identify episodes from Tommy’s Outdoors back catalogue that you might want to listen to. For your convenience, I have compiled below a full list of episodes discussed in our conversation. It is by no means a list of “best” episodes but just a list of those we mentioned.

Episode 20: Irish Wildlife Trust with Pádraic Fogarty
Episode 29: Forestry and Native Woodlands with Ciaran Nugent
Episode 51: Fighting Illegal Salmon Netting with Bertie Brosnan
Episode 54: The National Biodiversity Data Centre with Dave Wall
Episode 61: African Swine Fever Awareness and Prevention with Shane McAuliffe
Episode 68: Rewilding, Wolves and Biodiversity with Pádraic Fogarty
Episode 71: The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation with David Scallan
Episode 72: Seal Rescue Ireland with Mel Robinson
Episode 73: Quantitative Ecology with Kilian Murphy
Episode 77: Sweden is Hunting with Andreas Michalik
Episode 78: Human-Seal Conflict with Liam Flannery and Dan Brosnan
Episode 81: Skates and Marine Rewilding with Patrick Collins
Episode 88: Rewilding Scotland with Peter Cairns
Episode 89: Camera Trapping and Large Mammal Monitoring with Adam Francis Smith
Episode 92: Upland Ecology with Cathy Mayne
Episode 95: Białowieża Forest with Marta Klimkiewicz
Episode 97: Human-Wildlife Conflict with Amy Dickman

You will also receive hints of possible future episodes! I don’t usually give that information away, but hey! There is only one episode 100 for every podcast!

Finally, I would like to say a big “thank you!” to all my guests from previous episodes, for donating their time and sharing their views, experiences and knowledge. It is greatly appreciated. I would also like to give a very special thanks to all of you, my listeners! Thank you for your messages, your feedback and your support. You make this podcast worth doing. 

Onwards and upwards! To episode 200 and beyond!

Episode 99: Hunting and Dog Training with Bertie Brosnan

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Bertie Brosnan is known to regular listeners from episode 51. It was an immensely interesting conversation about the fight against salmon poaching in the rivers of the Irish South-West. In this episode, Bertie is back to talk about his other passions: hunting and dog training.

During our conversation, Bertie gives a fascinating account of how things were in the Irish countryside many decades ago. I just love to record episodes like this because first-hand stories and experiences from bygone times create a historical record. While listening to Bertie, I couldn’t resist the thought that we should talk more to our elderly folks, while they are still around. They not only remember the old times but their knowledge can give us an insight into how we can avoid repeating past mistakes.

I look forward to other projects with Bertie that are on the horizon. His knowledge and wisdom are definitely worth listening to and preserving for future generations.

“Beak, Tooth and Claw” by Mary Colwell – A Book Review

It’s not often that I write a book review. But every now and then I come across a book that I really wish everybody I know would read. In my podcast, the subject of our difficult coexistence with wildlife is featured in many episodes. By far the most complex and difficult issue is our coexistence with predators. Since the dawn of time, our species has lived in danger of being preyed upon, while at the same time competing for prey. With the development of farming, this conflict continued as we protected farm animals from predation. This created a deeply rooted aversion to predators and, as a result, today almost all of their populations are severely depleted.

Nowadays, we are becoming acutely aware of our impact on the environment and that it is not always something to be proud of. A complex picture emerges. We are torn between the old animosity towards predators and the new urge to preserve them or even rebuild their populations. In her book “Beak, Tooth and Claw”, Mary Colwell goes deep into this complicated topic, carefully examining our past and present relationships with predators living in Britain. And although the book is focused on Britain I believe it is equally relevant to Ireland or any other country. It is about the human relationship with predators in general. 

After the introduction to what a predator is (we don’t tend to think about badgers or tits as predators), Mary dedicated a chapter to each species. Foxes, badgers, eagles, corvids, lynx, wolves and so on. From these chapters, the reader can absorb many interesting scientific facts. What makes this book stand out is that it presents and acknowledges arguments from people on both sides of the spectrum. Those who want to kill and control predators and those who oppose such practices. In this regard, Mary does an excellent job! Never once did I feel like she was arguing from a moral high ground and telling the reader what to think.

What struck me while reading this book is the same thing that I noticed during the conversation, on my podcast, with environmentalist and photographer, Peter Cairns. The presence or notion of reintroduction of any predator species is always controversial and makes some group unhappy. Whether birds or mammals, if they’re causing any inconvenience to humans, we want them gone. Or at least pretty close to gone. And while that is too extreme, because humans have modified the natural balance between species, some lethal control measures are required and even well justified.

I would really thoroughly recommend this book for anyone interested in nature, conservation, hunting, farming or rewilding. If you approach it with an open mind and without prejudice, it will serve some serious food for thought. It might be your springboard to a deeper understanding of these complex problems.

If and when the opportunity arises, I would love to chat with Mary on my podcast. Until then, do yourself a favour and order a copy of “Beak, Tooth and Claw”. You won’t be disappointed. 

Episode 98: Eco Defense Group with Nathan Edmondson

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Wildlife trafficking and poaching are huge problems for the conservation of the world’s most endangered species. They also present significant social and economic challenges. On one hand, big green organizations like WWF are criticised for “militarization of conservation” in their attempt to counteract the increasingly sophisticated and militarized wildlife trafficking cartels. On the other hand, members of local communities often find themselves caught in a conflict between those groups. That in turn leads to injustice and human rights abuse.

In this episode, we start a conversation on this difficult topic. Our guest is Nathan Edmondson, co-founder and President of Eco Defense Group. They primarily work with local African communities to empower and provide necessary training, consultation and equipment to the frontline rangers who face danger and direct conflict. The Eco Defense Group’s background is in military special ops and, given the nature of their work, a lot of what they do has to remain secret.

Wildlife trafficking is an incredibly complex and difficult topic and I hope to bring you more episodes about it. If you have any comments, as always, I encourage you to put them down below.

Episode 97: Human-Wildlife Conflict with Amy Dickman

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Dr Amy Dickman needs no introduction. She is well known and hugely respected in both academic and conservation communities. She’s a conservation biologist and works on resolving human-wildlife conflict on human-dominated landscapes. Amy is a Kaplan Senior Research Fellow in Wild Cat Conservation under Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. She is also the founder of The Ruaha Carnivore Project where she works closely with local communities to mitigate the conflict.

During our chat, we explore the difficult topic of human-wildlife conflict and some of the related ethical and scientific issues. As it turns out, not everything is clear-cut and some questions are difficult to answer. If you are interested in wildlife conservation you will find this fast-paced episode fascinating. And as a result, you might find yourself questioning your own opinions.

Episode 96: Blue Sharks with Simon Thomas

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My podcast listeners have heard, more than once, that there was a time when I was absolutely crazy about shark fishing. Among the many species of sharks present in my local waters, blue sharks (prionace glauca) have a special place in the hearts of sea anglers. These sharks are still relatively abundant and provide an opportunity to get a taste of true Big Game fishing without having to go on an expensive fishing holiday.

We already touched briefly on shark fishing during podcast number 41 with my friend, and a man with whom I did most of my shark fishing, Luke Aston. Today, however, we’re going all-in on blue shark fishing. Our guest is Dr Simon Thomas who is not only an expert angler but also works tirelessly on analysing scientific data related to blue sharks.

If you’re interested in marine biology or sharks or you’re just an angler who wants to learn more about shark-catching techniques, you will find this episode mighty interesting. No doubt!

Episode 95: Białowieża Forest with Marta Klimkiewicz

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Białowieża Forest is well known among environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts around Europe and the world. It is the largest remaining part of the primaeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. This region, spanning Poland and Belarus, steaming with biodiversity, is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

But the situation on the ground is rather worrying with continued logging and complex land management issues. To explain the current state of affairs and what can be done to further protect this living gem of natural history, I talk with Marta Klimkiewicz from the environmental charity ClientEarth. (ClientEarth – Prawnicy dla Ziemi)

During our conversation, we often go on tangents to discuss other wildlife management issues in Poland like the human-wolf conflict and how to transition local economies to more sustainable practices.

Episode 94: African Big Game with Steve Scott

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Hunting in Africa is on the bucket list of many hunters. But for many, that dream might seem very distant. Almost impossible. But as you will see in this conversation with Steve Scott, a veteran hunter, TV host, and producer of television hunting shows, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Problems caused by the pandemic and related travel restrictions made the prices of hunts in Africa hit rock bottom. This combined with the progressive rollout of vaccines means that now might be the best time to fulfil your dream and book your bucket list hunt in Africa.