The Ventilator

Incorporating The Ranger's Blog

BirdsIsle of WightLitter and waste

Birds bothered by black bags

Matthew Chatfield

The Ranger had an most instructive and enjoyable trip round the Island’s landfill site recently. Run by Island Waste, it actually includes a lot of very nice wildlife as well as the busy landfill area. He couldn’t fail to notice the squadrons of rooks making their nests in the big oak trees – obviously they have plenty of food, so much so that Island Waste employs a professional falconer to scare away the rooks and seagulls very effectively.


But, interestingly, one tree in the copse was being shunned by the rooks. Almost every other bough was laden with a cackling brood – but not this one. Why not?

Black bag in a tree

When the Ranger drew nearer to the tree he discovered why. The clue’s in the picture above. Many years ago as a zoology student, The Ranger used to particularly enjoy his father’s old copy of King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz: essential reading for anyone with the slightest interest in animal behaviour. In that tome Lorenz tells in fascinating and charming detail how he studied the jackdaws that lived around his house in Altenberg, Austria. He describes many insights but one that particularly sprang to The Ranger’s mind in this instance. Lorenz observed that jackdaws had a ‘mobbing’ behaviour when they perceived something they didn’t like, whereby they would all gather round and attack it. Something they really didn’t like at all was anything that looked at all like a dead jackdaw: specifically anything shiny, black and flapping. Lorenz described one day getting mobbed himself for the crime of walking across his own lawn dangling a black swimming costume. Yes, a shiny black thing just like a bin bag. The Ranger’s theory is that the rooks were avoiding the tree with the bin bag in it as they found it too much like a dead rook. Soon, as the party went further onto the landfill site, it became apparent that the vast majority of wind-blown rubbish on the site was plastic bags of one sort or another. Another very good argument for banning plastic bags, if one were needed. Island Waste are well aware of this, and it happened that on the day of his visit, The Ranger was able to see the efforts they put into spring-cleaning the site after the winter’s winds have (hopefully) died down. A chap was diligently picking out the thousands and thousands of bags from the woodland, and very effectively cleaning the place. Ironically enough he was putting them all into plastic bags -at least he wouldn’t have far to take them. On enquiry, it transpired that a later phase of the operation even involved getting a qualified tree climber to ascend the oak trees and retrieve those bags too high to be picked off by hand. Very thorough – and no doubt the rooks will approve.

Clearing windblown plastic bags at the landfill site

Clearing windblown plastic bags from the woodland at the landfill site

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

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