Nature Notes

On May 13 1988 I was amused to read a report in The Daily Telegraph that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had erected a mesh fence to keep bird-fanciers away from a colony of little terns on Great Yarmouth beach, whose numbers had grown from 20 pairs to 70 pairs in three years.

On August 2 1990 I was interested to read a report in The Daily Telegraph as follows:

“Britain’s biggest breeding colony of little terns, on Great Yarmouth Beach, Norfolk, where 201 pairs were nesting, has been largely wiped out by two hedgehogs and a kestrel.”

Kestrels, of course, are fanatically protected by all the high-tech and paramilitary resources of the multi-million pound RSPB, which on this occasion seems to have been hoist with its own petard, as they say. It is hard to know with whom we should sympathise most in this tale: the ordinary bird-fanciers, who were kept away from fancying little terns by a mesh fence put up by the superior bird-fanciers of the RSPB bureaucracy, or the unfortunate little terns, condemned to twitter away unseen.

My own sympathies are with the hedgehogs. They are delightful, if slightly flea-ridden, animals, with whom it is sometimes possible to hold an intelligent conversation. Has anybody ever had an intelligent conversation with a little tern? Hedgehogs do not demand a whole apparatus of repression to survive. Every time a hedgehog wipes out a little tern, it is a blow for freedom.

Auberon Waugh, “Nature Notes”, The Daily Telegraph, 11 August 1990

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