If you wanted to extirpate wading birds from a given area, you’d be hard pressed to find a better technique than umbilical slurry spreading. It’s not so much the scouring effect of the nozzles, but that hose which trails behind the machine effectively “sweeps” the field from one end to another. You could say that it’s only a hose rolling around, but when it’s working, the canvas pipe is so heavy you can hardly lift it. As it’s hauled back and forth like a windscreen wiper across the field, it eradicates every potential seed of biodiversity.
But it’s also fair to say that the threat posed by these machines is largely theoretical. They’re spreading slurry fast on the farms around mine, but few if any of these places will have breeding waders. That’s not to say that the process is harmless, but rather that the harm’s already been done. Galloway is no longer considered to be a wader-friendly landscape, not because waders do not thrive here but rather because work like this drove them all away years ago. And there’s a subversive sense that once you’ve stripped all biodiversity out of a landscape, you’re free to push on towards ever greater productivity.
In debates about conservation on farmland, there is a well-worn trend towards farming hard in the productive areas and leaving some of the rougher places for nature. In Galloway, that theoretical dichotomy is stymied because we’ve found a way to make the rougher places productive too; the traditional hill margins have been planted with commercial crops of trees, and some of the “best” farms now have silage parks which run directly into conifer plantations. It’s no exaggeration to say that wildlife has entirely gone from these places.
But zoom even further back, because it’s not fair to take the most productive land for ourselves and leave what’s left for nature. Our food grows better on good soils, but so do many native plants and animals. A brown hare on productive land might have three litters of three or four youngsters in a summer. The same hare on marginal land might only produce two litters of two. That’s a marked difference, but the young hares born on productive land will often grow up and move out into less productive areas, the richer land working in unison with the poorer. I have so often seen farms and estates which change the management of their productive land and subsequently wonder why the apparently untouched hill suffers; why black grouse, partridges, hares and waders decline even though “nothing has changed on the hill”. It’s because everything’s connected.
This all harks back to the pumped application of slurry, which is now the very acme of an industry that has vanished into the anus of its own productivity. The best and most productive land in Galloway has been overhauled into something unrecognisably useless for nature. Leaving a few little patches for wildlife to survive on the margins is the equivalent of saying “we ate all the biscuits, but we saved you the packet”.