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Miles Kington

A lesson in recycling from the seagulls

As we all know, children aren't much in touch with nature these days, so to redress the balance I am bringing you another nature ramble, in which Uncle Geoffrey takes his niece and nephew, Susan and Robert, on a day trip to Bath, and gives them the treat of an instructive walk in the nearby landscape.

"Of course, geologically this part of the world is still part of - well, of which range of hills?" asked Uncle Geoffrey.

"The Andes?" said Robert.

"The Urals?" said Susan.

Uncle Geoffrey sighed for a moment. It was hard work being a good uncle to two children who, though undeniably bright, had a ruthless anarchist streak.

"Yes, the Cotswolds," he said. "We always think that the Cotswolds are up in Gloucestershire, but the distinctive stone deposits reach all the way down to West Wiltshire. And what do we know about the Cotswolds, children?"

"That they are full of little stone villages..." said Susan.

"Which are full of mail order shops..." said Robert.

"And full of tourists..."

"So that places like Bourton-on-the-Water have signs up in Japanese..."

"Saying: 'Beware Lip-Off'."

"Lip-off?" said Uncle Geoff.

"It's Japanese for 'rip-off'," explained Robert.

Uncle Geoffrey said nothing. The magic of the Cotswolds had somehow escaped his two charges.

"In summer," pursued Robert, "we see the most familiar of all migration trails - the Japanese tourist, in flocks of 20 or 30, but never singly, come halfway round the world to feast on the tartan cloths and polished leather goods so plentiful in this part of the world..."

"Oh, look!" said Uncle Geoffrey, keen to change the subject. "Look at that flock of birds!"

They followed his outstretched finger and saw a high, elongated V-shaped skein of birds against the evening sky. It was followed by another one, just as long and just as well-formed.

"Seagulls," said Robert.

"Heading home for the night," said Susan.

"To Bath," said Robert.

"To crap all over the historic Georgian buildings," said Susan.

Uncle Geoffrey winced.

"Must you use such words?" he said. "There are perfectly good technical words, like faeces, you know."

"Where are they now, the old familiar faeces?" said Robert.

"I heard a scientist on Radio 4 the other day talking about the evidence we can find in dinosaur excrement," said Susan. "But he didn't call it that. He called it 'dinosaur poo'. What kind of scientist would descend to that kind of baby talk?"

"The ironic thing," said Robert, "is that although the seagulls are very unpopular in Bath - even more unpopular than tourists, for although as fat and predatory, they bring no money in - the people of Bath are much to blame themselves. Out there in the countryside" - he gestured vaguely eastwards - "there are large landfill sites where urban rubbish goes. The streets of Bath are cleared of old food and burger wrappings. They are taken to these rural landfills. The seagulls follow them and eat their fill during the day. They then return to Bath in formation" - he gestured vaguely upwards - "and deposit their faeces on the classical facade of the city. The droppings are then scraped off and taken back to the landfill site..."

"That is quite enough," said Uncle Geoffrey, feeling rather sick. "

"Well, it's what recycling is all about," said Susan briskly.

"You stuff your faces, then you stow your faeces," said Robert. "It's the eternal cycle of nature."

Another age-old pattern, thought Uncle Geoffrey, was strangling young ones you know will bring disgrace on the tribe. But he knew in his heart of hearts that it was almost certainly too late for that.