BY LINUS WOODS
There are those days that life deals you a curve ball and you just do not know how to respond. You are simply struck square between the eyes and remain there, frozen in disbelief as to what has just happened. Thanks to social media, this is a pretty common occurrence for many of us.
Apparently, conservation (the conservation that has kept the countryside beautiful, green and full of wildlife) is wrong and is to be replaced by a new process. Today I am going to be assessing the concept of “Rewilding”or, more specifically, reintroducing apex predators to the UK. But I am going to ask the question that so few people seem to be asking.
I will start off by saying that in the light of the recent push for reintroducing long lost predators and the ‘information’ coming our way, rewilding apex predators does seem to be a fantastic idea. If you pop online and have a look at wolves in Yellowstone national park in the US, you will come across an amazing YouTube video into how wonderful their reintroduction has been. The deer species were breeding beyond what was sustainable. There were no systems in the ecosystem (like what I did there?) to account for population control due to lack of predators. Once the wolves were reintroduced, they had a knock on effect (trophic cascade) that went all the way from controlling the deer, to reshaping the rivers. A true success of conservation…if it were true.
So we should do the same everywhere, right?
Firstly this video was created by a well known animal rights obsessed (but not fact obsessed) author and thus should be questioned as to its validity. After questioning the video and checking out the sources, you should be convinced that the video is little more than propaganda. If you’re unsure where to check real world data pertaining to the information reported on the video you may want to start off your voyage by reading Emma Marris, David Cooper and Arthur Middleton.
Secondly I would like to apologise to you after you have learned the truth behind the video, because the lie is so lovely and such a romantic notion that the truth really does feel like it is stealing away a fairy-tale and replacing it with harsh reality. That’s because it is doing exactly that.
We now know Yellowstone should not hold the title of “Poster Child” to the rewilding fraternity…but it still does, because people are unwilling to research things themselves. However for more information on rewilding, look to Italy, more specifically look to the Dolomites. There were 10 bears introduced there a little over a decade ago and today the population is over 50 bears. Which seems to be a good thing. Yet somehow the Dolomites have had almost no ecological benefits from the reintroduction. The plants are the same as before. The trees the same. Rivers running the same. Why has Yellowstone National Park done so well but the Dolomites stagnated? We need to take into account the reason why the bears are doing so well and yet the natural order is pretty much unchanged. This seems to be against the ‘truth/facts’ told in the Yellowstone video. There is a simple answer; because they are eating a diet based largely on animals outside the native deer making up the natural landscape. The reason the bears are thriving up there is because they are eating farmer’s flocks. So they are not feeding only on the wildlife. They are not properly hunting their prey as they were expected to. Instead of spending days hunting in the mountains the bears are coming down to a human inhabited area and eating sheep, donkeys, goats, and other livestock owned by the local population. I’m not sure about you but I would not be a massive fan of letting my children play outside unsupervised in an area where wild carnivores come to find food.
Further to the risk to life there is the risk to livelihood. Although not yet a problem here, in many countries like India, livestock taken by wild animals are compensated for by the taxpayer. Problem solved. Reintroduce apex carnivores and the taxpayer can pay for the damage. The NHS is being hit hard as is military spending, schools, and everything else. The rewilder’s plan cannot be to add a greater financial burden onto the government, can it? The plan surely is not to bring big predators to the UK as a way of increasing government spending needlessly?
Tourism! That’s it. If in doubt, it must be tourism.
However lynx and wolves are pretty secretive animals and would generally try to shy away from large groups of people, unless on the search for food. If the Yellowstone video or any of the rewilders online saying these animals are scared of people are to be believed, then it cannot be tourism as spotting these elusive animals would be near impossible, if they are that timid. I would imagine a tour of animal tracks and droppings would not see a surge in tourism. So clearly the reason for reintroducing apex predators could not really be tourism.
Maybe it’s historical? Historically these species were nuisance species. Unless these species will be hunted, as history dictated they were, I see no benefit. Reintroduced for our children? Same as tourism. You cannot say ‘It’s so that our children will see them in the wild.’ No, your children would not. Our children would never see them unless the predators were killing farm animals or trying to take the child itself as a source of food. So it cannot logically be for historical reasons. I must be missing the obvious reasons for wanting them brought back.
So reintroducing the apex species is not only dangerous but also economically irresponsible. There must be a good reason they are so keen to bring these animals back. Now I remember; poster-child Yellowstone. That’s right, it must be the ecological reason. There is no other argument for them being brought into the UK again. But we already have very efficient culling systems in place. We have a large hunting community and highly effective conservation programmes to keep things under control. We even have active roadways that kill many deer everyday. All of this combined means that there is not the need for bringing back the top-of-the-food-chain predators, as we fill that need ourselves. Moreover if deer control was the primary concern then surely the rewilders would instead be supporting culling programmes and would be out themselves with a rifle working towards a managed deer population. Since many seem to be anti-cull, it really cannot be ecological activism at the core of the rewilding movement.
(On the point of ecology, the reintroduction efforts are nearly always planned in Northern Scotland, by rewilders hundreds of miles away from Northern Scotland. Why would people of no first hand knowledge of the Scottish ecosystem be so intent on adding a predator to the mix? It is almost as if they have a romanticised ideological view of rewilding – a place that would have no effect on them. Rewilders never seem to want to rewild areas closer to home. If someone wants to rewild, why not do so in their own back garden e.g. the county they live in, or the local park where their children play? It’s okay to rewild somewhere that affects other people, but it’s not okay if it affects you and where you live? Sorry, this whole paragraph is not a point being made in this discussion, just an elephant in the room I’d like to address.
Maybe it’s the deer welfare they are looking after? Because many of the people who say unfounded statements like fox hunting is bad and grouse shooting is cruel are harping on about animal welfare…albeit with incomplete data/understanding. So it MUST be deer welfare they are thinking about. Anyone who says being killed by wolves or lynx is a less painful way to go than a .308 is clearly not capable of remembering programmes from the Discovery Channel or anything from any wildlife programme on TV. A controlled culling system is a better way to keep deer welfare standards as high as possible. So animal welfare is not their reason either.
There is the possibility that the entire reason for the reintroduction of wolves and other large carnivores is as a way to raise funding for their causes. People love animals, especially in Britain, and people will happily donate to a charity. So if you ran the charity you’d be sitting pretty on a pile of cash. But that is a really negative view of these people involved in rewilding. I am unwilling to say they are manipulating a cause entirely to line their own pockets. So clearly that cannot be the answer for working so hard to bring these species back to UK shores.
The more I think about it the more it seems unreasonable to bring these species back into the UK. If they were brought back it would cost the taxpayer more money, risk lives and livelihood, do nothing for tourism and do nothing for the ecology of the British Isles, furthermore it would not benefit the welfare of the deer population.
The question which should be obvious to anyone is WHY? Why is there this push to bring back predators our ancestors worked so hard to remove?
My feeling is that reintroducing these species could simply be one of two things. Firstly an attack on the country lifestyle. Country folk going out, shooting quarry, bringing it home, cooking it up with friends and family would continue…but we could not hunt an animal in an area where our quarry would be considered prey for the new predators (one predator has to make way for another. Very rarely do two apex predators co-hunt the same area). Legislation would need to be brought in, to make sure the neo-native predators had enough food. This would run alongside the obvious risk of predator attack on the local farming industry. Both of these seem like entirely illogical reasons for such action.
All of this, in my opinion, can lead to only one other conclusion. The reintroduction of apex predators is a “We did it” activity. A shoulder slapping, high-five and “Cheers! Here’s to us” at the pub sort of activity. There is no financial, economic, ecologic, social or environmental benefit, so the only other benefit must be mere self-gratification. Based on the obvious discourse above, the whole rewilding activity seems to be an ego trip and a pointless one at that.