Another “perceptions of wildlife” guest blog this week, following the same setup as the last post by urban humanist Tayla May. This week’s post comes from young conservationist and budding scientist David Hunter, who was asked the same questions regarding his perceptions of wildlife and often controversial species. As you will see, his answers demonstrate perfectly that not all conservationists boast a positive perception of all species – and many actively agree with measures enacted to control them.


As someone who works on the science side of conservation, I rarely get to showcase my humanistic side when appreciating the natural world. I need to be detached, to be outside of the ‘feelings’ side of the argument if any headway is to be made with warring parties associated with a conservation issue. That being said, we are all emotional beings and events such as the shooting of the crane in south-west England a few days ago make me very angry, because of how senseless the violence is. The humanist approach to the natural world is one that most people who work in conservation biology and related fields have intrinsically – if we didn’t we wouldn’t have worked here (at least not for the pay…), and it is only through years of training and practice that we can learn to objectively view a situation (or as objectively as physically possible) and provide solutions to real problems in the world today. That’s especially difficult when people who you might share few to no opinions with are very emotive in their pursuit of goals.

I think the conservational approach is one that goes without saying given the career I’m representing here! The natural world provides a frankly ridiculous number of services and resources for us humans to make use of, regardless of how technologically advanced we believe ourselves to be. It would be madness to throw away such efficient and productive systems for mechanical alternatives; just because it increases profits in the short term. It is crucial that not just for an ethical standpoint but from a survival one that we maintain a healthy ecosystem with as much diversity as possible. You will notice I am not saying a ‘balanced’ ecosystem because there is no such thing. With climatic, geological and biological processes being in the constant state of flux that we are, there is no such thing as a ‘balanced’ ecosystem. We could have a healthy, productive one, or we could have an unhealthy useless one. But with either option, it is a constant changing along a spectrum on which diversity and productivity lie. – Apologies for the rant!

One of my pet peeves is people telling me that they are annoyed with conservationists because they are stopping people from growing food, from harvesting trees, from doing blah blah blah and the list goes on! With a bulging population of 7.5 billion, we as a species are having to adapt to find new ways of farming on the same amount of land. Farmland already makes up over 37% of the world’s total landmass (192,780,000km2 give or take a few tens of millions), but without natural pollinators, predator defences, even down to the bacteria that aid in producing cloud mass to water the crops, biodiversity and the natural world are at the core of that production. A good conservationist will be able to work with people (whether it is a pharmaceutical company or local farming cooperative) to achieve goals that enable and enhance their existing plans to either accommodate for the natural world or work around it in a non (or less) damaging manner. A bad conservationist will come to these meetings shouting and wagging their fingers at the naughty farmer/company/government telling them how awful it is what they are doing, and how they need to stop. the crucial thing is that these people are going to use the natural world (just like we do!) whether you like it or not, and people are much more likely to listen to a friend than they are to an enemy!

The only truly dominionist attitude I have is when it comes to my garden, which I try and maximise the diversity found in it – bending it to my will! I get where people are coming from when they make this argument, but these are usually the same people that tell me that humans are a ‘special’ species and very different from all others. You can’t have it two ways – either man is special and therefore outside of the realm of ‘bending nature to our will’ or it is part of that system, and you need to admit we are just another mammalian ape.

As for aesthetic values – nature is beautiful, in its complexity and harsh reality. I love it all!

Deer

I feel a very mixed response thinking about deer. Red deer and Roe Deer, our only two native species, are overpopulated as we have no natural apex predators to deal with them. The other semi-natural species, fallow, are similarly at bulging levels. The only real solution, in my opinion, to all these species and the unfortunate list of invasives is either culling (in the case of the natives) or eradication. This is to ensure that the plethora of other species that are damaged, threatened or lost from deer overpopulation are protected.

Brown Rat

Non-native pest species. Should be eradicated where possible, but will be nearly impossible over large landmass other than the likes of New Zealand. The damage to the countryside, natural world and even cities of this country are not worth the continuation of tolerance to this species in any area of the country. Unfortunately resistance to rodenticides is likely to make this very difficult.

Hen Harrier (I will struggle to write this in 100 words..)

There is space (and available resources/land) in England for 300 pairs of hen harrier in England, but there are only 4 birds. The status of hen harrier in England unveils the reality of the state of our countryside, and the challenges of protecting the natural world. Basically, no one has been prosecuted for the shooting of these missing pairs, despite their national protection status. Hen harriers have been estimated to take a very low number of grouse relative to other species predation (including man!!) and if gamekeepers argue that under 2% of grouse are killed by hen harriers are causing their moorlands to be unviable, then there is a serious issue with their business model.

Badger

This is a difficult one for me, and I imagine not many of my fellow conservationists are going to like me afterwards! I love badgers very much, but the evidence that came out of a very long, and thorough historical experiment known as the Krebbs trial has shown that between 5 and 35% of all BTB accounts are caused by badgers. In some areas that could constitute over 100,00 cattle. That could constitute entire herds, and thus whole farms incomes. The current badger cull is, to be frank, a ******* disaster. There are very few controls, it has no proper taskforce, and is a disgrace to ecology. If a real cull, in a small enough scale to be measured, with sufficient funding and protection was carried out, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a reduction in BTB. That isn’t going to happen, and the Krebbs trial has its own problems, but I don’t have time to talk about that here!

Grey Squirrel

Wow, I’m talking about a lot of death in this one! Grey Squirrels are lovely fluffy animals that play an important part in the ecosystem… in North America. Forest damage, egg poaching and yet more ecological damage are all the symptoms of grey squirrels in our country. It would be eminently sensible to plan a national eradication programme to remove grey squirrels from the UK. They have already been eradicated from pockets of the country, and the rise of the pine martin in the north of the country has pushed them back. I feel there is no issue in planning to remove grey squirrels, and push for our lovely reds to come back (apart from radical animal rights people and funding!)

Pheasant

I would never shoot pheasant for sport (it’s barbaric), but many people do. I will be honest; I have had very little experience with what the impacts of pheasant farming and shooting in the UK is. I don’t doubt it results in illegal raptor persecution, which is abhorrent, but personally, I have had very little to do with pheasants and pheasant shooting – and its something I should know more about. As a scientist and a conservationist, I can’t give an opinion on something I don’t know enough about, as it would reduce my own integrity, and that of all those in my profession. I’m going to go and do some reading now, so I can be more informed for when the topic inevitably arrives again.

One thought on “Perceptions of Wildlife: The Young Conservationist

  1. A most informative blog, David Hunter, thanks. A couple of topics I’d share different views on are the Hen Harrier and the Badger debates. With regards to the Hen Harrier, 300 potential pairs figures for England alone, I don’t see that being anywhere near relevant in 2016. Right now, there is too much competition for this ground-nesting species over nesting spaces and dwindling food supplies. Competitive forces working against Hen Harrier (even if illegal persecution were halted) are most complex. Growing populations of other raptors, namely Buzzards, Merlins, Kestrels and also corvids, continually fight against each other over the same reproductive rights. The part of the Badger cull which unnerves me is the fact that both diseased and non-diseased animals are currently killed. This latter aspect surely needs addressing in the long-run.

    The final section I’m pleased to take from your blog post is this, and I beg others to take note of it. “As a scientist and a conservationist, I can’t give an opinion on something I don’t know enough about, as it would reduce my own integrity, and that of all those in my profession.” I simply don’t believe you can call yourself a conservationist or a conversationist without heeding those wise words. This is another reason why I believe in science-based outcomes and will listen to the less outspoken naturalists on such topics, above anybody else attempting to grab the limelight.

    Many Thanks, James Common for sharing David’s post.

    Tony

    Like

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