Episode 101: Beak, Tooth and Claw with Mary Colwell

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

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!

“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 92: Upland Ecology with Cathy Mayne

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

In recent episodes, I have presented a whole host of views and opinions regarding rewilding, land management, and the need to change the way we coexist with nature. In this episode, we continue on that path, but with a guest, Dr Cathy Mayne, who has a particularly interesting perspective. That perspective might not be entirely aligned with the usual rewilding approach, but it is very well thought out, balanced and realistic.

Cathy is an ecologist with vast experience in environmental management. She has a deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in land management. She also has a strong background in deer management and is a hunter herself. Currently, she is the Principal Ecologist at the Mountain Environment Services consultancy.

This episode is an absolute must for anyone interested in nature conservation, rewilding, and sustainable living. Cathy, without a doubt, is one of a kind and I am sure that our conversation will be as fascinating and informative for you as it was for me.

Episode 91: Beaver Trust with Chris Jones

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

In this episode, once again, we are going to talk about ecological restoration and bringing back species that were extirpated from their native range. Our guest is Chris Jones who is the Restoration Director at Beaver Trust.

During our conversation, we discuss the history of Beaver Trust, how it was found and why. Then we discuss beaver ecology and the role of beavers in the ecosystem. Chris gives us some real-life examples of benefits that beavers bring, not only to the environment but also to humans.

We finish our conversation by discussing the future of beaver reintroductions and broader, the future of ecological restoration. This episode is a must-listen if you are interested in ecology and habitat restoration.

Episode 89: Camera Trapping and Large Mammal Monitoring with Adam Francis Smith

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

In this instalment of the podcast, our guest is a young scientist, Adam Francis Smith, who lives in the Bavarian Forest National Park. Adam specializes in large terrestrial mammal monitoring and predator-prey interactions. He also works for the Frankfurt Zoological Society where he focuses on specific project areas in Ukraine and Belarus and where, with a team of ecologists, he tries to protect large wilderness areas.

During our conversation, Adam took us on a fascinating journey to, among other places, the Chernobyl Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve where he and his team set camera traps to monitor predator and prey species. Of course, there was no way to avoid mentioning rewilding, a topic that is prominently featured in recent podcasts.

Episode 88: Rewilding Scotland with Peter Cairns

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

Peter Cairns is the executive director of the environmental charity Scotland: The Big Picture, the first organisation in Scotland wholly dedicated to championing rewilding. We started our conversation by discussing the controversy surrounding the term rewilding. Since rewilding (for want of a better, less controversial, term) is of great interest to me, the discussion started to flow from there.

After that, we discussed a wide range of related socio-economic and environmental issues. Finally, we ended up examining individual species that had been extirpated. Some of them, like beavers, have since been reintroduced. Others, like lynx, could be reintroduced in the future. And wolves… yes we talked about wolves too. But don’t worry, this conversation wasn’t about some fantasies. I feel like we had a very reasonable and balanced discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Episode 80: Into the Wilderness with Byron Pace

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

Byron Pace needs no introduction to most of you. He is a man of many talents: a filmmaker, photographer, writer and the host of the excellent Into The Wilderness and Into The Anthropocene podcasts. Given that we share many topics, and even guests, on our podcasts I was delighted to talk with Byron. During our conversation, we discussed the importance of hunters and anglers for wildlife conservation and education about the natural world. We also delved into the subject of rewilding. Obviously, I didn’t forget to ask Byron about his road to becoming such a prominent outdoors content creator. For me, this truly is a milestone episode. Please enjoy Tommy’s Outdoors number 80.

Episode 75: Rewilding Ireland with David Smyth

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

This is yet another episode where my guest and I take on the subject of rewilding. This time our guest is the host of the discussion platform called Rewilding Ireland

During the podcast, we talk in length about various aspects of rewilding but we also talk about the future of the Rewilding Ireland platform. And towards the end of the podcast, we spend some time discussing whether or not megafauna should be a part of our rewilding efforts.

Episode 73: Quantitative Ecology with Kilian Murphy

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

Is it possible to use artificial intelligence to tell us how rewilding will look in any area where it is implemented? Is it possible to create a computer model that would tell us how the species eradicated from the landscape hundreds of years ago would behave when reintroduced? Listen to my conversation with Kilian Murphy where we talk about such models.

During the podcast we discuss the possibility of reintroducing wolves and wild boars to Ireland, and the difference in perception of rewilding between city-dwellers and farmers. We also touch on the role hunters have to play in rewilding projects and discuss the dynamics and density of the deer population in Ireland.

Episode 71: The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation with David Scallan

Listen on Apple Podcasts Listen on Google Podcasts

The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation, or FACE for short, is an international organization that represents the interests of European hunters. It serves as a bridge between the institutions of the European Union and hunters.

In episode 59 I talked with Dan Curley, the chairman of NARGC, the Irish member organization of FACE. Today, however, we’re going to talk about hunting from the European perspective, with our guest, FACE Secretary General, Dr. David Scallan.

During our conversation, we discuss the biodiversity manifesto, rewilding projects, hunting’s PR, as well as the ongoing process aimed at restricting the use of lead in field sports.