As families were out in force at the weekend collecting a bumper blackberry crop, the rosehips glow like LEDs in the hedgerows and grapes and apples hang heavy from their boughs, comes news that vultures with a seven foot wingspan may soon gather in the branches of the London planes in the local park.
Not global warming this time, but the EU. For centuries the stock keepers of the Pyrenees lived in harmony with the European vulture; as the 'Mail' puts it
Wheeling over their flocks and fields, the birds were seen as neither a threat nor even a nuisance, but as a vital part of the ecosystem. For when farmers had to dispose of an animal carcass, they simply took it to one of the hundreds of "maladares", carcass dumps, scattered across the mountains. There, the vultures would gather to do their work. It was a system that benefited both man and bird.A 2006 EU directive that banned the dumping of animal carcasses has left the birds short of about 8 tonnes of meat a day, and they are hunting across Europe for carcasses. The ten thousand birds can cover up to 250 miles a day, and some have already been spotted as far away as Finland.
The Mail also carries a story about eastern Europeans eating our swans and carp. Now, I know carp is a Polish delicacy; a carp on a Polish Christmas table is as traditional as a goose on an English one. The poor devils are rightly mystified by our native fishermen spending hours catching one, and then carefully returning it to the water. And roast swan was once enjoyed on England's richer tables until our more enlightened age imposed a swingeing fine or jail sentence for collecting this food from our outdoor larder. Last year my local paper carried a story about Albanians who had taken a donkey from a nearby sanctuary. And had eaten it.
The Mail's stories must be taken with a pinch of salt, of course. Or paprika, perhaps. But the image of our swans and ducks disappearing from the parks to be replaced by brooding European vultures is a metaphor too attractive for a Eurosceptic such as I to pass up.