Showing posts with label Birds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Birds. Show all posts

Monday, 30 April 2012

Are you looking at my bird?


Police are arranging protests about cuts to the front line which they say will make their job impossible because they already have far too much to do.  Strange then that two uniformed persons - thought to be officers - were dispatched from Harrow police station for a word with a gallery owner.  (Note: contains an image some people may find shocking. Report: Evening Standard)

An officer happened to see a picture he disapproved of - apparently while he was on a bus - and was able to divert two of these furiously busy personnel from their normal work of catching murderers to argue about classics, or rather, to lean on the gallery owner to take down a picture of Leda and the Swan.  As it happens, they were packing up for a new exhibition anyway.

If the gallery manager, Jag Mehta, gives an accurate account, the visitors claimed that 'condoning bestiality' was illegal, which sounds more like a PCSO making something up on the spot. 

In general, you can condone what you like, providing you don't mind what people think of you. What you can't necessarily do is is carry it out (Sexual Offences Act 2003), distribute it (Obscene Publications Act 1959), or possess a depiction (Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) without the law imposing a penalty. 

The legislation is dotted about rather than consolidated, but luckily the Crown Prosecution Service has written a  useful guide to these offences.  However, there have been cases which alter the matter, which means their guidance cannot be a definitive. Also, the 8 page pdf the Ministry of Justice wrote has vanished, or at least the online copy has. [Update: having trouble with this link which worked for a while and now does not:  Here it is,  maybe it will come back.  Many thanks to the researchers at Backlash.]

The following relies on the CPS guidance on extreme pornography.  They know all about Leda and the Swan
The painting "Leda and the Swan", another example raised during debates in Parliament, would also not be caught by the new [2008] offence, because it would not meet the "explicit and realistic" test.
Established photographer Derrick Santini was sailing very close to the wind under this definition.  His portrayal of the myth may explain why somebody going past on a bus may have got all hot'n'bothered.
Santini’s use of the lenticular process involves photographing a sequence of still images, using live models, which are layered and printed using a special technique, under a ribbed plastic sheet acting as a lens.  This results in a hologram-like effect where the figure within the frame moves as the viewer passes, although not an actual hologram, it is a form of animation where an illusion of depth is created.
Makes a change from those old nudie cards where if you tilt the picture, the lady's clothes jump off.

I'm assuming that the swan and the woman were photographed separately otherwise the RSPCA might have something to say about it - and I'm guessing that what is depicted is impossible. You try training a swan to land in that space.  There isn't a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Models. It says something that given a picture of a naked lady and a migratory bird, apparently in the act of congress, the police are worried about the one with feathers.

If you want to see the full set of pictures, they are on page two of Santini's gallery under the heading "lenticular artworks".  The website is full of slow-loading animations.  It might not be easy to explain them if somebody were to ask so they shouldn't be regarded as safe for work, which is a different question from whether they fit within the definition of an offence.

There are plenty of legal disputes to be had here; for example can a theme such as Leda and the Swan come within the second CPS heading?
 That the image is extreme namely grossly offensive, disgusting, or otherwise of an obscene character;
A little offensive, yes, particularly if it is the rape version of the myth but in general the theme of humans and swans getting it on is common. But one of them is only disguised as a swan i.e. at various times in the past it is more acceptable to show a human and an animal rather than two humans.  There are always  people who worry about the sexual nature of the motif in showing any intimacy but only the ignorant have ever misunderstood that it is about sex with animals.  

Besides, it is neither reasonable nor possible to go back through the museums demanding that all the Leda and the Swan versions are hidden in the archives, trying to decide which ones are merely ecstatically affectionate. 

In addition, it was only in January 2012 that a conviction was denied by a jury in R v Peacock.  The material being supplied by Michael Peacock was nasty and fitted within the guidelines of what could be regarded as obscene, so the CPS brought the case under the Obscene Publications Act. The jury did not accept the prosecution case.  Since we can never see in to the jury room, we don't know exactly why, but we do know that this signals that the CPS are mistaken in what the public are prepared to regard as likely to deprave or corrupt.

However, Alex Antoniou of the City Law School points out that all this means is that the Obscene Publications Act may be undermined.  The CPS now uses the newer extreme pornography charges as these are about possession of an image rather its than publication:
prosecutions under the new sections introduced in January 2009 (ss 63-7 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008) related to extreme pornographic images have dramatically increased in the last two years: according to the CPS, in 2009-10 prosecutions were brought in respect of 213 offences, whereas in 2010-11 the number of offences reached 995. It is noteworthy that these latest figures released relate only to possession of extreme pornographic images portraying bestiality.
A prosecution under s.63 requires the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  An officer could be in a great deal of paperwork if they didn't check first that the CPS wanted to use a classical theme as a test case - especially the exact one which was quoted in Parliament.  This artwork tests the boundaries of realism by using photography but on the other hand, a moment's thought about swans tells you that you can't be looking at something realistic.

It is reassuring to know that when the Home Secretary cuts the number of police officers, it won't matter because we can just get rid of the two spare ones who go round wrangling with art wallahs. Until then, don't tell them about Europa and The Bull.

Here is a Leda and the Swan pas de deux. There are two things to note: firstly that the male often holds his arm in a swan form. This is to signify that Leda sees a swan but we all know he's really supposed to be a god in disguise.  Secondly, that the bodies echo each other the way birds court.



Thursday, 17 June 2010

Gulls and Sea Eagles

On the south coast, especially in Peacehaven, war has broken out between people and birds. The seagulls have become aggressive as they are protecting their eggs and chicks, while the property owners hold much the same views, only in a mammalian context. Opinion is divided. The gull colonies are a nuisance but if you go and live at the seaside you can reasonably expect some seabirds.

Despite the claims of Tim McKenzie, founder of a pro-gull rescue service, that the numbers of British herring gulls are falling, you couldn't prove that by council offices, which regularly take complaints about the numbers of them. The figures from the British Ornithology Trust suggest that it makes a difference which sub-species you are talking about and the last survey was about two years ago. In global population the bird is not in danger.

Gulls are intelligent creatures with excellent eyesight adapted for scavenging and have been doing well since we stopped burning food waste or giving to the pigs and started trying to bury it at the rubbish dump. The south coast is lined with fast-food outlets and visited by people incapable of putting waste food in sealed bins. There are also people who insist on feeding the gulls in the mistaken belief that the creatures are starving to death. If herring gulls are dying - and English Nature says the numbers of certain varieties have fallen - it's only a wonder they aren't going off bang from over-feeding.

Gulls in general don't have to work very hard to increase their numbers. So long as they can find a nesting site, they are guaranteed all the food it takes to raise chicks and they have few predators except very determined cats. According to Mrs Rosemary Howat in Hove, her moggy has already given up after being dive-bombed and screeched at. In 2002 Mr Wilfred Roby, an 80-year-old retired ambulance driver from Anglesey, died when he was attacked by a gull in his garden. It was a heart attack brought on by surprise, so it wasn't like he was pecked to death, but that's of little comfort to the bereaved.

There are circumstances where gulls can be legally killed, or the nests moved. The licencing is now from Natural England which held a consultation in 2009 and revised their guidelines. They received helpful advice from conservation and wildlife groups such as the RSPB, who provided a summary of the general legal position:

"Licences issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) are bound by the requirements of EU Council Directive 79/409/EEC (the Birds Directive) on the conservation of wild birds. Member states are required to establish (Article 5) a general system of protection for all birds referred to in Article 1 of the Directive, including the prohibition of deliberate killing or capture. They are also required to prohibit (Article 8/Annex IV(a)) all means of non-selective capture or killing including, explicitly, 'traps'. Member states may, however, derogate (Article 9) from the provisions of Articles 5 and 8 inter alia in the interests of public health and safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water, and for the protection of fauna and flora. This may be done only in the absence of another satisfactory solution and if clearly defined terms and conditions are met."

Which is an awfully long way of saying: 'don't kill wild birds, except if you absolutely have to in order to protect something else which deserves protection more, and you can't avoid the killing'. No quarrel with that; the RSPB and English Nature are both wildlife protecting groups, not pet-keepers.

English Nature then issued general guidance notes about gull-control, summarizing the changes.

"These changes included the removal of the herring gull and great black-backed gull species from general licences (the status of lesser black-backed gull was unaffected).... Natural England has decided that it is appropriate to control the scale of killing under licences. Therefore, with some exceptions (for example, air safety and herring gull egg control in urban areas for public health and safety) action against both species will now be authorised via individual licences. This approach will help to ensure that killing is only undertaken where strictly necessary. It will also allow Natural England to limit the number of birds killed".

In summary: gulls can be killed under general licence from English Nature (a power devolved from DEFRA), but it they are of the named species herring or greater black-backed, (not the lesser black-backed) you have to get an individual licence which means showing there is no alternative to destroying the adult bird. If you are the manager of an airport this will be granted but otherwise the next step down is to deal with the eggs.

Rather than break them or remove the nest, eggs are oiled so that they never hatch, but the birds sit on them and don't attempt to nest and lay eggs elsewhere - at least until they realize that they are wasting their time. It's a effective form of population control. Keep that up for a few years where you don't want the gulls nesting and they'll soon get the message; go find a proper cliff . Don't forget to put up spikes so that they don't try to come back again. And stop putting food out for them.

There is another option based on an old craft and which preserves both breeds and skills. Falconry. It's already used in seagull control by professional falconers in Eastbourne. It happens that last week the RSPB were disappointed to have to abandon plans to re-introduce the Sea Eagle to the Suffolk coast, when English Nature withdrew the half-a-million pound funding, and there was fierce opposition from farming groups. There is an opportunity here.

Admittedly it wouldn't be a wild eagle, but a trained hunting eagle would be better than nothing. They would give the tourists a magnificent free show and it would be a proper job for a person in these difficult times, present no danger to livestock, and the cost could be met out of the savings on clearing up seagull guano. Indeed, it doesn't even violate the intention of the legislation; the eagle doesn't so much hunt the gull as intimidate it in to getting the hell outta town.

Suffolk's loss could be Eastbourne, Peacehaven, Hove and Brighton's gain.