Sunday, January 04, 2009
In The Observer Catherine Bennett muses on 'rewilding' - the process of reintroducing animal species to places from which they have previously been ejected by the activities of humans. Not liking humans much and feeling a deep desire to see wolves and bears chasing bankers through the streets and alleys of the City, I'm a bit of a rewilder myself. But it's tricky. There are plans to reintroduce the sea eagle - more properly called the white-tailed eagle - to the area of the North Norfolk coast where I currently languish. Over Christmas, I was harangued by a local about the folly of this project. The sea eagle is a big and, for other animals, alarming bird. Just by circling over the vast tern nesting sites, it would scare birds off their nests and cause eggs to chill and die. Other predators - we have plenty of marsh harriers - would be threatened. Indeed, other reintroductions might also be jeopardised. Avocets, exquisite creatures, are just regaining their foothold. Would they survive the attentions of hungry sea eagles?
The point is that, especially in Britain, what we mean by nature is always modified by human activity. Some nature thrives on the presence of humans, some does not. Rewilders assume they can get back to an initial condition of nature. But it is not clear what that means and, anyway, it certainly cannot be achieved by the random introduction of species which, as Bennett points out, are simply those admired by the rewilders. Personally, I'd quite like to lie in a field watching a sea eagle circling over Burnham Market, considering its chances with a few braying City types. But if the price is the destruction of terns, marsh harriers and avocets, then probably not.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 9:50 am