Sunday, January 04, 2009

Wolves, Bears and Bankers

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.

13 comments:

  1. On reading your first line at speed, going Huh, and then back with a questioning tilt to my head. Wondering what rewinding had the do with wild animals. But all in all, rewinding was not to far off the mark, as with you I like the idea of seeing some exotic animals. Still you have the wonder where the tape should be stopped. What with the way things are going, it will not be long before the debate on Mammoth rewilding will be on some agenda.

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  2. The bit about beaver damage up the Tamar is especially harrowing. I suggest releasing Bengal tigers in shopping malls and watching the fun as they spit out the Visa cards.

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  3. The best example of recent rewilding is the accidental reintroduction of wild boar in southern England since the 1980s after various escapes from farms. They seem to be doing fine. If they start to become a nuisance then that will indicate that the "experiment" has gone too well and the boar need culling to keep their numbers down. It's also just possible that eagle owls - also probably escapes - are re-establishing themselves.

    As they say, death is nature's way of telling you that you've just failed the course. So my vote would go to "suck it and see". If the experiment works, great; and if not, well it was probably never going to. The chances of a dozen sea eagles wiping out the entire population of terns in East Anglia is surely rather remote.

    The main problem is taking money out of the equation. On one side there are those who think it's all about boosting income from tourists. And on the other there are the farmers, game-keepers and single-issue nutters always on the look-out for a new grievance and government handouts. If it all ends up being an argument about money then it will never work.

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  4. I am told by the Urban dwellers that the Govts love for recycling is resulting in the reintroduction of the Brown Rat to towns and cities, maybe we can get the sea eagles to eat the brown rats? personally anything that comes near my goose gets shot, and usually the cats get to it first so I don't have to bother.

    Or If brown rat is not to Norfolk's and Sea Eagles taste, we could send you some of our wild peak district Wallabies? They taste good, as I am sure you know from recent road kill culinary tour of Ozland?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A786477

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  5. 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.

    One can only dream.

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  6. There was no "initial condition" of nature. It has always been in flux.

    Rewilders forget one other important point: we are a condition of nature. We are products of nature. Nature is in perfect balance, it is doing what it always intended to do, letting the winners flourish. It doesn't much care for the losers.

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  7. I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain. He was looking for the place called Lee Ho Kwok, for to get a big dish of beef chow mein.

    Little old lady got mutilated last night, owooo, werewolves of London.

    Enough of this rewilding already.

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  8. There's an article in the sunday times magazine about seagulls attacking people in London. The author thinks there's going to be a kind of seagull armageddon because gulls are becoming more and more agressive towards us.

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  9. We humans have an ego problem. We think that we can solve all problems in the universe. Rewilding is an interesting concept on paper or species slowly moving into another area. Example; deer moving into Alaska from Canada as it slowly warms and the foliage changes. There is more to consider in rewilding than flying a few eagles to a new location. Perhaps someone could do some DNA work and cross a gorilla with a porcupine. It wouldn't have a problem getting a seat on the bus!

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  10. Duck has it - the idea of recreating a pre-human 'natural state' is philosophically incoherent.

    If we re-introduce sea eagles because we like sea eagles, that is justification enough.

    Also, Bryan, for someone who 'doesn't like humans much', you don't half spend a lot of time writing about them.

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  11. What Brit said. I'm all for helping species out, but one must realize that we're doing so from our own motives, not out of some misguided notion to set nature right. Nature is never wrong. When the ice caps melt and 90% of the species, including us, die off, Nature will be just as content as she ever was. Nature doesn't take roll call.

    When people lived closer to Nature, they held her in much lower regard. Here in Minnesota the wild turkey is abundant once again, but it was almost wiped out in the late 19th century, when people relied on wild game much more than they do now. The saving grace of the factory farm is that it allows us the luxury of letting the wild, what of it is left, be.

    Which brings me to another rant. Eco-tourism is an oxymoron. The best thing you can do to save some faraway spot of natural beauty is to stay the hell away from it. Once the locals see eco-tourist dollar signs in their eyes, they'll build roads and hotels and gift shops. Save the planet by staying the hell home.

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