Conservation is too conservative in the UK

By Paul Robinson - 27 Aug 2014 6:8:13 GMT
Conservation is too conservative in the UK

The native and popular (even in fiction) dormouse is Muscardinus avellanarius , while the edible dormouse, Glis glis is a much larger beast that is well established in a small area where it escaped from a Rothschild collection in 1902! Would you know which dormouse is in your teacup, or would you even classify the 2 species as endangered - or common as an alien rabbit. Confusion reigns, but nowhere more so than in an unscientific and very badly-advised government; Hazel dormouse image; Credit: © Shutterstock

When we go on about invasive species, as in the two-part story here in - Invasive Ali+en Species, part 2, linked to part 1, we expect responsible organisation, scientific consultation and accredited "labour" to perform some minor surgery on the ecosystem. What we have in a new UK example (not the first) is a botched up and apparently right wing plot to shoot or destroy anything that takes shooters' fancy.

Pheasants, pigeons and several other familiar birds, along with the abundant Pere David and fallow deer were all introduced for sport at some time in history to the British Isles. Probably the British abroad took foxes and deer with them too, in the same "sporting" mode. Historical accuracy isn't really that important as long as the deer don't destroy the vegetation or bird aren't encouraged by gamekeepers to occupy artificial habitats to the exclusion of native fauna. If, however, we rant on about these destructive but traditional activities, we become as blinkered as the hunting set who don't see anything wrong with it.

Live and let live is the motto behind many people's attitude to these species and the people who make money from shooting. Long may that liberal approach apply to all sides the native and the introduced often reach an equilibrium in a region, but with care, they still have to (attempt to0 remove the American crayfish, the mink and the Japanese knotweed from the UK New controls announced in the UK parliament try to prevent invasive species but could easily damage native barn owl, red kite and even innocent climate-change newcomers.

The 300 or so non-natives cost £1.8m pa. Clearing up these organisms could reduce that, or create more need for conservation if native species are affected. The John Muir Trust and the RSPB, the Mammal Society and the National Trust believe an error has been made by using a 1981 list. In the last third of a century much has changed. The large blue butterfly and many mammals and birds such as the water vole or the magnificent white-tailed eagle have been re-introduced. Even though they are native, they are classed by this 1981 list as alien. The barn owl is a really obvious mistake, because of its role in the ecosystem. Placed on an antiquated list last century, it was regarded then as liable to uncontrolled introductions (to control rodents) but is now threatened by lack of suitable farm buildings. Nest boxes are built now for their occupation because they keep down the rodent population.

Narrow thinking and freedom for landowners to destroy vital conservation work are these major grouches. The government is very much at sea on this vital land issue. The Zoological Society of London believe the influx of birds (eg. the stork) and butterflies (eg. the milkweed, Danaus plexippus) as global warming affects the country is particularly valid. If they survive, these species will become virtually native, as they live across La Manche (otherwise known as the English Channel) in France quite equitably with similar niches.

The Observer have another side to the argument here, with their - Battle in the Countryside.