Conservation Paradoxes

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? goes Gaga on Greening?
30 Sep 2023

The UK leads Europe in off-shore wind development but has failed to give new contracts. Electric cars rose from 0.4% of new vehicles in 2016 to 23% (a third hybrids) in 2022 but UK has added five years to the date by which all new cars must be electric. Government has also decided not yet to enhance Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards and to delay the requirement for heat pumps to be installed instead of new fossil-fuel boilers. Has gone mad? Just maybe, no.


There are more way to decarbonise than offshore windfarms, electric cars and using less energy. Onshore wind is cheaper and now widely supported. Roof-top solar is cheaper than heat pumps and adds energy to the grid, whereas heat pumps use energy. Britain has installed little solar compared with much of Europe. Thus, thanks to panels becoming twice as efficient, with lower cost also for home or community storage to reduce pressure on the grid, there is greater gain for people and grid from installing SolarPV than a decade ago. There is now terrific scope to boost solarPV and local energy storage! A big commercial prize is cheap production and local storage of green hydrogen, which is already most economic for large vehicles. The government has just signed cooperation with Germany on green hydrogen. Will there also be funds to help cut cost of green hydrogen? Maybe a Tesla-like charger network with hydrogen for travellers?

Leadership against Lead

Hunters suffer from a paradox concerning a switch away from lead ammunition. There is no dispute that lead shot and fragments from rifle bullets are unhealthy. These get eaten by wild birds seeking grit or food, and also by hunters and those getting food from them, including children, friends and dogs. In simple terms, the solution is obvious: to replace lead by less toxic alternatives. The problem is that alternatives are more expensive, less safe for hunters to use and less likely than lead to kill animals instantly. Thus, hunting organisations wish to see lead replaced where possible, but hunters are concerned about costs and welfare considerations. In a rational society the answer should be for government to aid research into alternatives and, if necessary, for these to be subsidised during a transition until cost differences are minimal. However, pressure from those who do not like management of animals hinders this solution. 

Consider Covid 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.

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.


We have killed our wild grazers except deer in some areas, so in order to maintain rare and important grassland ecosystems, we use farm animals to graze or mowing machines which are often run on diesel and therefore produce greenhouse gases. There are many species of worm-eating birds and mammals, and insect-eating bats, which are dependent on cattle-grazed pasture for part of their life cycle. The National Trust uses sheep, cattle and horse breeds as grassland management tools, but farmers require an income from them other than a small sum for conservation grazing. Rewilding can work where ecotourism – and sale of meat – pays it way. We must remember too that adopting a plant-based life style can have impacts on rare habitats in other ways, such as felling rainforest to plant oil palms  that replace animal products.



Habitat Heros


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.


Livelihoods too


For more about livelihoods that conserve nature, visit the site of IUCN's group for Sustainable Use and Livelihoods