Anyone who knows me (or follows me on Instagram or Facebook!) will know how much I love my feathered garden visitors – and I know from chatting to lots of people that I’m not alone in this – so you can imagine how horrified I was to learn recently that we could be helping to cause the deaths of millions of these tiny creatures every time we do a grocery shop.
Most of us use olive oil pretty often – but unless you’re a connoisseur or a real foodie, you might not give much thought to how the olives are harvested and what harm that could do. I certainly didn’t, until I discovered that many producers use powerful machines to suck the olives from the trees at night. The cooler night time temperatures preserve the olives’ flavours – but the trees are used for night time shelter by birds on their migratory journeys to and from North Africa.
The harvesting season is from October to January, which coincides with the bird’s winter migration, so sleeping birds who think they have found a safe place among the olive branches are sucked to their deaths. They include our beloved robins, goldfinches, greenfinches, warblers and wagtails – who we welcome into our gardens with food and water and who ‘take care’ of so many of our garden pests, as well as gladdening the heart with their glorious song. The carnage is unnecessary – olives can be harvested by hand as well as during daylight hours, and if this makes a bottle of olive oil a little more expensive, I think it’s a price well worth paying and I know many of you will too. Who remembers the Waitrose Christmas television advert that showed a robin braving all sorts of dangers to travel back to it’s ‘own’ garden to share a mince pie with a companion? Those canny folks who make the Waitrose (and John Lewis) ads know their audience well – whose heartstrings wouldn’t respond to that?
So how can we know which olive producers are not killing our birds? Google ‘olive harvesting and bird deaths’, and you’ll find a list on the Ethical Consumer website of brands with a bird-friendly guarantee.
Here is the link in case you have any trouble finding it: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/olive-harvesting-bird-deaths.
As awareness of this issue grows, that list should too, but for now, it can help us cook and drizzle away in the knowledge that we’re not contributing to the destruction.
With that in mind I’ll be taking extra care of my own garden birds this winter. It’s always a good idea to be consistent with leaving out food as once birds discover it in your garden, they will return there in the hope of finding it again- often using up precious energy on freezing cold days. The thought of them doing that to find an empty feeder makes me want to cry, so I’ll be keeping mine topped up and looking for a flat table-type feeder too, for those – such as robins – who are ground feeders and find that easier.
By the way, although I can’t stand the things myself, mince pies are actually really good for birds in winter. Amongst other things, the fat in the pastry is apparently a really good source of energy for them in cold weather. Let’s hope as many of them as possible make it through the winter – and remember, you can help make that happen every time you head to the supermarket.