There are many paradoxes in the management of nature. Should conservation favour only species which are rare, and hence most exciting to see, or focus just as much on those common enough to become food from the wild? Or perhaps we should only eat crops and stock which are cultivated, even if intensive cultivation removes other riches of nature from our seas and countryside? Sometimes one can have nature-rich landscapes, but only if managing iconic wild species makes this worthwhile. If wildlife damages crops and stock, and maybe even endangers humans, should local people be able to harvest that wildlife too for food and income? Perhaps we should eat less meat to reduce global warming, but could eating no meat have the opposite effect?
Consider Covid-19 carefully
25 May 2020
Some people want to ban all trade in wildlife to prevent pandemics. This is because Covid-19 was transferred to humans from live wild mammals, probably at a market. However, there’s no need to forgo sea-food, venison and game pie, nor to harm millions of livelihoods which depend on wild animals and therefore preserve wild ecosystems. An adequate and easily enforced measure is to ban live wild mammals from markets. This would also benefit animal welfare in the few countries concerned. Wise governance, based on sound science, is needed to support rural life and nature conservation. In the meantime, stay safe by learning to recognise and avoid this disease, remembering that rural people in some countries may not even have soap.
Invasive Non-Native Squirrels
02 Dec 2019
Grey Squirrels, which were introduced to the UK from North America more than a century ago, have proved a serious conservation problem. Not only have these invasive animals replaced the Red Squirrel which so thrills readers of Beatrix Potter, but they also kill young native trees that are important for nature, for timber and for taking carbon from the air. Worst affected are Beech trees. It is possible to grow Beech with little loss to Grey Squirrels, but as a monoculture crop which does not support much other wildlife. However, young Oaks, which support more other species than any other British tree, also risk being devastated. Damage can be minimised by removing Grey squirrels while mixed woodlands are young enough to be damaged (or by swapping Greys for Reds). Which is better? Monoculture woodland or managing squirrels?
Predators on Farms and Hills
02 Dec 2019
Wild populations of species such as Grey Partridge and Red Grouse can be sustained through improving farmland and moorland habitats with revenues from hunting. This also benefits rarer ground-nesting birds, notably Lapwing and Curlew. However, rebuilding nature-rich ecosystems requires management of egg-eating corvids, of which several species draw special advantage from modern farming. Use of live traps is the best management because it is safe for other species. Licensing to manage corvids in this way was followed by return in numbers of Buzzards and Kites. Which is better? Legal management of corvids or loss of habitats and rare species?
Less meat, yes!
01 Dec 2019
How much of our food should come from livestock? Currently, Britain grows about 60% of the food it needs, and might improve that a bit if more crops were used to feed humans rather than livestock. Growing crops instead of some pasture might also feed a few percent more, but much grassland is too wet or hilly. We can grow trees on some of that land, and reforest moorland too, albeit at a cost to the species that depend on those habitats, such as many ground-nesting birds. Growing trees for building or furniture is a way to store carbon, but fewer livestock for meat or dairy means less food for us – unless we use more meat from deer and livestock on re-wilded areas. Otherwise they will damage the vegetation too. So, less meat, yes. No meat, no.
There is a crucial truth behind all these issues. Provided that large enough areas of suitable habitats can be maintained through benefits for humans, including the joy of wild landscapes, species that have not become totally extinct can be restored to good numbers. It is the conservation of habitats that is critical. People who manage habitats sustainably, whether foresters, farmers or moorland interests, need to be encouraged and cherished rather than pilloried and hindered. Who are the other Habitat Heros?
Wherever you live, please contact us with your conservation paradoxes for inclusion.
For more about livelihoods that conserve nature, visit the site of IUCN's group for Sustainable Use and Livelihoods.