Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Australian Nature Reserve: Whingeing Pom #2

If my previous whinge was about one particular backpackers, this rant does include a more general anti-Australian sentiment. However, it is anti-anywhere outside Britain because we’re such the world leader that the rest of the planet looks totally shite. Heavens! What could it possibly be? You’ve read the title, so you know already. It was never going to be our ethnic cuisine or weather or drinking habits, was it?
Two Peoples

Yup, nature reserves, or more specifically facilities for watching wildlife. Australia is blessed with a great many conservation parks and so on, and probably beats us in terms of percentage of land set aside for nature. This sounds good for the birdies and critters, but is it? If the public can't engage with all this space, won't they eventually resent accommodating it? Won’t it suffer abuse, being out of sight, out of mind?

The Herdsman Lake Visitor Centre was the last useful, enclosed birding facility I would find until Atherton, by which point I'd driven ten thousand kilometres. This journey did throw up the odd shelter and a couple of hides that looked over dried-up lakes, but that was it. The antipodean birding Mecca of O’Reilly’s in Queensland had no more than a cafĂ© balcony from which to view. Even low-cost basics like information boards were missing and as for more substantial infrastructure like car parking, visitor centres, cafes, shops, accommodation... patchy in the extreme.

Imagine travelling six thousand miles in Britain or about seven times between John O’Groats and Land’s End. You could use that distance to zigzag liberally down the country through major centres like RSPB Forsinard, Loch Garten, Strathbeg, Montrose, Vane Farm, Lochwinnoch, WWT Caerlaverock, Saltholme, Leighton Moss, Martin Mere, Welney, Titchwell, Cley, Minsmere, Barnes, Dungeness, Pulborough, Arundel, Radipole, Slimbridge, Sedgemoor, but strangely not into Devon and Cornwall. This is only a selection and then there are countless smaller reserves, Wildlife Trust sites, even individual, unaffiliated hides. I know we're a compact little island but you don't have to travel far to watch birds in comfort.

The only upside to the paucity in Australia was that I felt like quite the pioneer, a frontiersman, opening up new territories, boldly going where no birder had been before. It was more of an adventure. And I bloody well earned the birds I did see.

Not so much a whinge then, as a hymn of praise to Britain. We're crap at just about everything else but we do birding good. Maybe we don't take so much care of the actual birds themselves but that’s a whole other rant.

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