Angry couple forced off their farm so it can be flooded for rare birds

The Telegraph reports that a couple are being forced from their 60-acre estate in Bembridge on the Isle of Wighton, on which they've lived for 30 years, in order for the estate to be flooded to create breeding grounds for rare and endangered birds per EU law.

According to the Telegraph, "The land was originally within a Site of Special Scientific Interest but there was no suggestion water levels would be raised to protect birds. In October 1998 the land was incorporated into an EU Special Protection Area and the family sold 420 acres to the RSPB to help meet EU rules. The RSPB argued the SPA was performing 'far below optimum' meaning raising water levels on its land was necessary."

The couple states of the law requiring them to move: “It has forced us out of our home because it effectively values the rights of birds above the rights of human beings."

And this is bad because...? Considering how favored humans are in general over every other species every day, it doesn't hurt to put other species in a place of priority once in awhile. What's more, it's not an actual hardship on the family. A bummer, sure, and certainly emotionally difficult -- it wouldn't be easy for anyone to leave their home of 30 years when they never planned on leaving, especially at this late stage in their lives -- but not a true hardship.

They're being compensated: "Mr and Mrs Hicks, 78, will be rehomed, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer." The Daily Mail states that it will actually be a seven-figure bill to rehome the couple. While this is phrased as if it is a burden on the taxpayer (both the Telegraph and Daily Mail reports take an indignant tone about the EU law and RSPB's move to claim the land for wildlife), it reveals that the couple is not exactly being sent to go live in a shack somewhere. They are going to have a perfectly nice new home. In fact, Mr. Hicks even called it a "fair offer" from the EU, according to the news reports. And while their biggest regret is not being able to pass the land down to their three sons, the three sons aren't exactly in dire need of the inheritance; they "work as a psychologist, a doctor and a lawyer."

And what was the farm used for? "It was excellent land which we used to grow hay for our horses and for around 100 sheep to graze."

So basically, it comes down to an older couple, their horses, and 100 sheep versus breeding grounds for rare waterfowl including brent geese, widgeons, shovellers, lapwings and redshanks. One bit of private land for limited use, or a new habitat to welcome in and support multiple species in danger of disappearing for lack of breeding grounds.

While the couple, quite understandably, feels upset about it (they state, "We have been forced into this agreement with a gun to our heads because it was made abundantly clear to us that under European law there was no other option" but we're pretty darn sure no one used an actual gun, the "gun" simply being a well-written law), there is a greater purpose being served. They could leave one farm to their three children, or they could leave a larger legacy of a healthy ecosystem filled with birds and biodiversity for many, many people to enjoy, including their children. And let's go back to another important point: the land is within an EU Special Protection Area. So it's not as if this could come as a massive surprise to the couple. The possibility was always there at some level.

While I am empathetic to the couple's position, the conservationist in me is thankful for the laws that allowed this to happen at all. And it passes my "put yourself in their shoes" test. What would I think were my family home of 30+ years to be flooded for some birds? To be honest, I would probably feel quite a bit of pride at the use to which my family home was being put, and would hope for the success of the conservation efforts (after all, it better be worth it!).

This is just one take -- my take -- on the situation. But no doubt everyone has their own opinion on the rightness or wrongness of this issue. So, weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

Tags: Birds | Conservation