Episode 110: StreamScapes with Mark Boyden

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In this episode, once again, we’re going to talk about environmental education. Our guest is Mark Boyden, one of the founders of the Coomhola Salmon Trust. Mark was involved in producing native salmon stocking projects for rivers in the Irish South-West and in the efforts to reintroduce salmon to the great River Rhine. He also participated in successful captive freshwater pearl mussel breeding research. Out of these programs, a biodiversity community engagement project called StreamScapes was born.

My conversation with Mark made me rethink some of my opinions on community engagement and the patterns of communication so often seen among environmentalists. Mark presented a really fresh approach and if you are in any way interested in conservation you should definitely listen to our conversation. I appreciate that you might not agree with everything we say but it is important to recognize that we need a variety of approaches to reach our goal of educating people about the importance of the natural environment and the need to protect it.

Episode 107: Remarkable Creatures with Aga Grandowicz

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In many conversations on my podcast, we have observed that long-term success in nature conservation will be impossible without engaging and educating future generations.

Today kids, like their parents, are more and more disconnected from the natural world. Even the children’s dictionary has replaced words about nature with newer words. And so acorn has been replaced with analogue, buttercup with broadband, clover with chatroom, and so on.

That’s why, if you are a conservation-minded parent who cares about the future of the natural environment and preserving it for your children, you need to take their education about the natural world into your own hands. As you should with any other topic.

To help you with this, I would like to wholeheartedly recommend a wonderful book for children, ages 10 to 15, titled “Remarkable Creatures: A Guide to Some of Ireland’s Disappearing Animals” written by Aga Grandowicz. Aga is a wildlife artist, illustrator, graphic designer and author.

On this podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Aga about her book, her motivation to write it and her life close to nature. After listening to the podcast, visit Aga’s online store and buy the book. You might also be tempted to buy some of her artwork!

Episode 106: Irish Cave Bones with Ruth Carden

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Regular listeners have already heard that this episode was coming. And we’ve been planning it for a long time. Conflicting schedules, travel plans and life, in general, were always getting in the way. But boy, was it worth waiting for! 

And so, we sat down for a chat with Dr Ruth Carden, a zoologist, who specialises in the zooarchaeological analysis of faunal assemblages. To the casual reader, Ruth is probably best known for her groundbreaking discovery of butchering marks on a reindeer bone found in the Castlepook Cave in north Cork. This discovery dramatically changed our understanding of Irish human history, pushing back the earliest signs of human activity by 20,000 years. 

We discussed this discovery as well as other topics related to Ruth’s research, including Irish glacial fauna with a particular focus on the Giant Irish Deer which is sometimes, incorrectly, called Irish elk. I wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t asked Ruth about wild boar in Ireland. Were they native to Ireland at one point in time? You need to listen to this episode to find out.

And here is the craziest thing. All that research work is self-funded by Ruth and done largely in her spare time. Please, keep an eye on Tommy’s Outdoors website as we will shortly let you know how you can financially support Ruth’s efforts. For now, I want to give a massive shout out to the car company that co-sponsored one of those projects: K&N Motors, Dublin 22. A big round of applause for these folks, please!

Episode 105: Human, Nature with Ian Carter

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Keeping a diary can be a useful thing. Especially if the diarist focuses on events and experiences pertaining to their area of expertise. Ian Carter, naturalist, ornithologist and author, has kept his wildlife diary for over three decades. Ian worked for Natural England, a governmental advisory body, for twenty-five years. He has written articles for respected wildlife magazines and has co-authored papers in scientific journals. Ian was also involved with the Red Kite reintroduction programme and other bird reintroductions and wildlife management programs. 

It was therefore my pleasure to chat with Ian on my podcast about his latest book titled “Human, Nature – A Naturalist’s Thoughts on Wildlife and Wild Places” published by Pelagic Publishing. The book is an elaboration on Ian’s diary. It discusses his observations and extends them to wider philosophical questions related to our interactions with wildlife. Many of those questions and observations are quite similar to the ones I myself have accumulated over time. So I really enjoyed the opportunity to discuss them with Ian.

I would definitely recommend Ian’s book to all wildlife enthusiasts. It comprehensively discusses most, if not all, topics related to nature conservation and our relationship with wildlife. A special shoutout to Pelagic Publishing, an independent academic publisher of books on wildlife, science and conservation.

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.