As temperatures rise from the coldest December spell in a decade, life on Devizes Crammer is returning to normal. The Crammer Watch team concentrate their efforts on the natural course of activities for the wildfowl present, as aggressive swans drive others onto the roadside in territorial disputes...…
Meanwhile, confused as to whether they should be fed, due to a lack of official advise to update them on the situation, townsfolk are understandably concerned for their health and wellbeing, after the deaths of two swans and two Canada Geese in December.
But the questions which need to be asked now, but clearly are not, are concerned more with the appropriateness of actions taken by Devizes Town Councillors on the matter; off I go, not wanting to issue a rant so close into a new year, but feeling it’s imperative; someone’s gotta say it……
Firstly, Guardian Town Councillor, Chris Greenwood declared on the Devizes News Facebook page that an outbreak of bird flu had be confirmed on the Crammer, and the birds had been collected by DEFRA for testing. This was backed up by a stern campaign on another Facebook group, Devizes Issues, by the admin and Conservative town councillor, Iain Wallis, not to feed the wildfowl on the Crammer to prevent spread of the disease.
Only when questioned on his statement did Mr Greenwood revert to DEFRA guidelines, stating any suspected outbreak should be treated as a definite outbreak, therefore this governed his advice to stop feeding the wildfowl. Meanwhile, Mr Wallis took it upon himself to delete any differing opinions on his own Facebook group. The argument for continuing to feed being, because of a lack of natural food source, the wildfowl would consequently die of starvation, if bird flu was evident or not.
They both informed the public DEFRA had collected the birds for testing, and this was backed up belatedly by Devizes Town Council, who issued a notice advising the same, not to feed the wildfowl. Clerk Simon Fisher adding in his published musings that the Council were operating on skeleton staff during the period, despite it being some weeks prior to Christmas.
As confirmation from DEFRA didn’t arrive all went quiet on the Western Front, updates were scarce and suspiciously varying. Councillor Wallis stated DEFRA were “busy,” others suggested DEFRA was closed for Christmas, a fortnight prior to Christmas. Councillor Greenwood stated no confirmation was likely, as DEFRA rarely test individual birds. But the real facts are coming to light from a leaked email from Clerk Simon Fisher to a Crammer Watch member; the birds were never collected by DEFRA at all.
In the email Mr Fisher states, “we did report the bird in the hope they would be collected but they weren’t. Given the time period and the level of decay that had started to set in, the birds were double bagged and disposed of. We are pleased that since the initial incidents, that there have been no more deaths, but we are now seeking advice from the Wetland Trust on the best way to feed the birds, which may be something that we do it ourselves in the future.”
Seems evident now it’s all been one big, fat fib, the likelihood of bird flu remains unknown and so does the chances of ever knowing. Only one bird on the canal has been reported dead since the original few during the freezing spell in December, DTC reports today, and well, nature takes its course, wild animals will unfortunately die. There’s as much evidence to suggest there never was an outbreak of bird flu as much as there was, but the truth may never be known. Reasons why the issue has been handled so appallingly would be speculation. Despite no one was pointing a finger, it was a close one to call after all, I’ll give them that much. Yet, I believe what needs to be questioned is the bolshy way this was pushed into effect via social media hysteria caused by the individual Councillors.
And of course, none of it would be a problem if the birds were in an area with a natural food source, for without it, as is the Crammer, the birds will die of starvation, infected with bird flu or not. Furthermore, there’s a danger to the birds crossing over the busy road to find alternative means of food from nearby pub and supermarket bins. This information of the lack a natural food source was passed to us by Swan Support, when they aided a rescue of swans struck by pollution in the Crammer back in springtime. The reason why Crammer Watch was set up. Crammer Watch advocated feeding the birds safely and individually would give them the sustainability to survive the freezing conditions, and the jury was out for the while, now it seems it was the right thing course of action, after all.
The argument put forward by the councillors active on social media was by not feeding the birds we are reducing the likelihood they’ll congregate and spread the disease. I get this, I really do, yet through various channels Crammer Watch sourced information from DEFRA, from the top UK medical boffins and the King’s Swan Marker; they’re not simply acting on a whim.
They say it isn’t illegal to feed and where local authorities are trying to stop it in most cases, they have installed barriers and taken over safe feeding. Devizes Town Council have none of this yet, and only now, a month too late, have they suggested it “may be something that we do it ourselves in the future.”
But the really concerning issue is by the aforementioned town councillor, Iain Wallis, responsible for the area the Crammer is, in mounting a huge campaign for no feeding, via being admin of the controversial Facebook group, Devizes Issues, which saw any angle of debate questioning the ruling we should stop feeding the wildfowl, promptly deleted and the commenters banned. Mr Wallis furthered the campaign by suggesting townsfolk should take the law into their own hands by reprimanding anyone found feeding the swans.
It’s one thing for admin of a claimed “unbiased” social media group to delete misinformation, it’s another to eradicate personal opinions, especially when there’s no confirmation of the fact. Now temperatures have returned to normal, comments on the post have been turned off, so no updated information seems to allowed, the word is final there; don’t feed the swans.
The final straw in this matter, for me, was to encourage the public to question anyone feeding the birds, as, and let’s be frank here, it’s obvious this would lead to a “torches and pitchforks” scenario, in which enraged abuse is thrown at anyone who dares to take an opposing opinion to Mr Wallis. Lo and behold, several reports of this have been made by victims of such verbal abuse, one person claiming an angered man shouted at her child for feeding the ducks. What have we become?!
Make no mistake, this outcome is outrageous and despicable, in my opinion, and questions should be raised as to councillor Iain Wallis’s motives behind such a forceful approach. As no official updates were given, people continued obey and not feed the wildfowl, much less drive others away from feeding them by hurling abuse at them.
But why, you understandably ask, and the only answer I can provide is, I don’t know. The birds there would obviously die if not fed, providing more evidence for a supposed but unproven case of bird flu. Councillor Greenwood stated in no uncertain circumstances, such a continuation of deaths will result in a mass cull of all birds in the area, interestingly he noted the gulls and the pigeons. The very gulls Wiltshire Councillor Laura Mayes has been calling for a cull of for months, and likewise the very same town councillor, Iain Wallis, has been pushing for a cull of the pigeons?
Permission needs granting to cull birds, if relevant agencies assess there’s not a significant pigeon problem in the area, they’ll not issue a licence. But we’ve heard nothing of the result on this, and they say no news is good news. I could fairly venture therefore, they didn’t issue any such licence, ergo pushing for a case of bird flu would be the backdoor to having a cull. Of course, this is speculation, but I worry, why else is this being pushed without evidence, and isn’t it coincidental the same councillor pushing this is the one who campaigned to cull the pigeons?
What other reason could there be? That the councillor is, much less a wildlife expert, because he’s not, but a caring soul for wildlife? A confessed Conservative blindly following the advice of DEFRA unquestionably. DEFRA, a government department, the same government which, against advice of financial experts condoned we’re best leaving the EU and plummeted us into recession, a government who, against advice of the World Health Organisation, suggested we’d not need to lockdown in a worldwide pandemic until after international jetsetters flew in for a profitable horse race? A government who profited from said lockdown and partied through it while advising we don’t see our babies born or our elderly relatives die? A government who crushed the NHS and education budgets, have continued to lie at every given opportunity? That government? Oh yeah, sounds viable to me!
If it feels like said government have little respect for human life, why do you suppose they would for animals? A government with the kingpin prime minister stating a fetish of fox hunting, continuing to find reasonable grounds to turn the hunting act around, and advocating other unlawful blood sports, and a badger cull, for example, without any real proof it leads to bovine Tb in cattle. And ultimately, a government which assigns an MP like Thérèse Coffey as minister for DEFRA, despite voting against protecting Animal Welfare and Food Standards from post-Brexit trade deals, as well as a lengthy voting record of other disgracefully unjust and oppressive issues. Face it, Thérèse Coffey doesn’t view animals as sentient, least that’s what her voting record revealed.
The MP who defended Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International when they thought it’d be fun to hack the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, claiming objectors were on a “witch hunt,” yet had no issue aiding a similar witch hunt against Marcus Rashford, for merely suggesting the poorest children should be fed during the pandemic? Oh right, yeah, she sounds like someone who gives a toss about some swans living in a duck shit pond in Devizes, for sure.
Apologies if you feel I’ve gone off on a wild tangent here, but it feels like another brick in the wall. When a topic is debatable it usually means the motivation behind each side differs. Mine is purely based on the protection of the wildlife, the other side argue the same, but all I called for is a debate, with experts present, on how the Crammer can be improved to help the wildlife there. Chris Greenwood’s response to a call for a natural food source and an island ideal for bird flight paths, was “There’s currently no real possibility of providing a natural food source in or near the Crammer, due to it potentially restricting flight paths for the swans and geese, it would also disrupt the aesthetics of the area, by changing the very nature of a feature of our Town.”
The latter part of this raises the question of what folk in Devizes want, a pretty looking pond unsuitable and dangerous for the wildlife which visits it, or a conservational area apt for sustaining the needs of the wildlife. Crammer Watch say, “the Crammer had an island in the middle during the Victorian period, there is no other imaginable reason for its introduction unless it was precisely because of the aesthetic enhancement of walks.”
The first part of this, quite frankly, is codswallop. Crammer Watch points out, “swans drop in but can’t take off because there isn’t a long enough stretch of water for a safe runway and they can’t clear the trees or buildings.” Also stating “I have only seen them take off from the Green, albeit one may have taken off from water alone in June. I have started to wonder whether a way could be engineered to put swans off of dropping in. If non breeders drop in they find it impossible to leave in the short term and nothing to eat.”
Ergo, given Occam’s razor, that the explanation that requires the fewest assumptions is usually the correct one, without any confirmation or even evidence of bird flu, and the only birds dying in the extreme cold has now stopped as the temperature levelled, the argument with fewer explanations required is that the birds died of extreme weather conditions, as is the unfortunate natural course of life.
Whether or not the unsuitable conditions at the Crammer played a part in this, well, we could carry on all night with, but what’s clear, without feeding they’ll die anyway, so the logical reasoning is to feed them and anyone who says otherwise are either misinformed or have a different agenda. I also apologise to those councillors I’ve called out on this, all’s fair in love and war, for there’s a fair chunk of speculation presented, I’ll admit, but I can see no other reason for staging such a ferocious campaign against feeding them without the required evidence. But more so, I question the need to incite folk to police it themselves, for this would undoubtedly cause friction.
I believe a full, independent enquiry needs to be done, as to why the councillors perpetrated their fictious campaign; what else are they lying to us about?
Let’s hope for a positive outcome for the new year ahead, but if not, I urge you to leave The Devizes Issues Facebook group, because no one should be taking its advice and reprimanding children for feeding ducks; inexcusable behaviour from a town councillor, for heaven help if incited verbal abuse turned physical.