Opinion by Tony Orman
Back in 2018, I wrote a column lamenting that I hadn’t heard a shining cuckoo that spring.In 2019, I noticed the same silence by the cuckoo. This spring – now 2020 – almost the end of October, I have again not heard the cuckoo’s distinctive mournful call
It’s a “funny-peculiar” thing. The arrival of the migrant native bird the cuckoo used to be eagerly listened for around October 1. Bird watchers vied to be among the first to hear the bird announce its arrival and would pen letters to papers proclaiming their recognition of the first cuckoo of the spring.
Now no one seems concerned or listening.
The cuckoo is small and is more often heard than seen,its presence easily identified by its distinctive whistling call repeated several times.
Another native bird which has markedly declined in numbers is the kingfisher, once frequently seen sitting on roadside power lines. Now only occasionally while fishing the Wairau River, I might hear the kingfisher’s distinctive call.
Now both the kingfisher and cuckoo are native birds. The seeming decline should be of real concern to the Department of Conservation and the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage.
But I have heard not a peep out of them either.
Perhaps they are too preoccupied with blitzing the Himalayan Tahr that grace the Southern Alps and with dowsing public lands with the chemical compound 1080?
Aaaah! Chemicals – that might be a clue.
But for a moment, I’ll continue to focus on declining wildlife because it’s just not the cuckoo and kingfisher.
On the upper Wairau River while trout fishing, there is no song of the cicada but only silence. Cicadas are important as food for insectivorous native birds such as fantail, rifleman, whitehead, grey warbler, fantail and others.
For trout cicadas are a considerable part of the fish’s summer months diet.
Is the decline of cicadas due to DOC dropping an insecticide chemical (1080) on three successive occasions – about three years part – in the upper Wairau?
But it’s not only cuckoos, kingfishers, cicadas and other life that is silent. Agencies which should be concerned, are mute too. Birds have almost certainly declined drastically but bureaucracies and bureaucrats are thriving in number and dominance.
The Department of Conservation is just one bureaucracy that is duty bound by an act of Parliament to protect native birds such as cuckoo and kingfisher and invertebrates such as cicadas. But it is strangely silent on the demise of native bird life such as the native cuckoo and kingfisher.
Nor in Marlborough does the District Council seem to show the slightest concern. Its Pest Management Strategy was approved a few years ago by council and drew from some councillors, words of warm praise.
Yet the same strategic plan bizarrely excluded the rambling Old Man’s Beard as a pest because it is so widespread which reflects council’s inability and utter failure to combat it. In the same breath, the plan inexplicably declared wallabies a pest although none exist in Marlborough. Besides the marsupial in 150 plus years has only just started to spread from its original liberation point in South Canterbury.
It seems the fairy tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes has parallels in real life?
Council would rather chase imagined pests than deal with real, increasing pest plants or seek the reasons for declining bird life. Not only mute they seem deaf to the ominous symptoms of ecological collapse such as the disappearance of cuckoos and kingfishers..
As a teenager in the 1950s and for a couple of later decades, frogs croaked by every stream or marshy hollow and catching tadpoles was a major pursuit for youngsters. Now they have gone. Bees are struggling in numbers.
Evening mayfly and sedge hatches on the river are almost non-existent. There’s a big, big decline in insects banging into and being squashed on car windscreens after dark in country areas. Eels have declined in number.
Are these apparent declines in numbers of wild creatures symptomatic of an ailing and declining ecosystem?
Nearer home, moths in dozens no longer cluster around street lights or lighted house windows. Is any authority or agency concerned? Yet overseas there is growing concern
Back in 2018, the International edition of “The Guardian” reported that the biomass of flying insects in Germany had dropped by three quarters since 1989, threatening an “ecological Armageddon”. Insects are the vital pollinators and recyclers of ecosystems and the foundation of food webs everywhere. In the United States, scientists recently found the population of monarch butterflies had fallen by 90 percent in the last 20 years,with bumblebees dropping 87 percent. Researchers are deeply worried that a whole insect world is silently going missing. It is a decline verging on loss, that could have deep, dark, unknown consequences for the planet.
Undoubtedly chemicals have to be a major suspect in the downward spiral of wildlife.
Are we dowsing an environment with a unprecedented mixture of chemicals? Household effluent contains bleaches and detergents that did not exist forty years ago. Are we dumping upon the environment via urban waste-water systems and widespread spraying of the country-side with agri-chemicals and insecticides and pesticides, a “cocktail of chemicals” of unprecedented volume and variety?
An indictment of the ignorant short-sighted lack of respect for the environment is that many urban areas still discharge sewage into waterways, either regularly or in substantial rainfall times. Chemicals, rather than cutting and composting weeds, is used on water ways.
Naturally farming practices have sought greater efficiencies and production. But don’t blame farmers. The authorities are at fault. DDT was replaced by diazinon for aerially spraying for grass grub. Although banned in the EU, its use is un-restricted in New Zealand. Diazinon is “lethal to aquatic life” and water bird life. That should concern agencies like DoC and Fish and Game.
1080 originally developed as an insecticide “by-kills” other life such as birds and animals. In essence, it’s an “ecosystem poison.” The Department of Conservation aerially drops 1080 on huge areas of wilderness public lands.
What does science say? Unfortunately science is a confused mess corrupted by a system of commissioned, paid science – in short money motivation. Some scientists have spoken out. But the system comes down heavily on them as it did on an eminent entomologist the late Mike Meads, who warned of long-term ecosystem damage following aerial 1080 drops at Whitecliffs in Taranaki.
The fury that descends on any scientist who steps out of line will ensure that their career and reputation will be in tatters. Consequently few buck the system.
Is New Zealand in Chemical Cloud Cuckoo Land oblivious to the ecological decline?
,c> Shining cuckoo – audibly disappearing but DOC don’t seem to notice