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'Eco-zealots' risk destroying delicate balance of nature in rural Britain through reintroductions

In last week's Telegraph an article appeared referencing the new favoured technique of some eco-zealots - 'beaver-bombing', referring to the illegal release of beavers across the UK's rivers.

Ben Goldsmith, a leading light, calls their campaign: “One of the most successful conservation interventions that we have seen in Europe, ever.”

The author, acclaimed writer Jamie Blackett, states: "Their arguments are not without merit. In the right circumstances, beavers are unrivalled eco-engineers, braiding streams with their dams, mitigating flooding by slowing down water flow, and creating habitats for spawning salmon, kingfishers, dragonflies and other species. They do kill trees, even very large ones, and they don’t care how special they are. But this can be an ecological good as we lack standing deadwood in the British countryside, which is a vital habitat for certain birds and many insects.

So it is easy to see why, if you were a single-issue fanatic with no self-awareness or regard for other people’s property, you would get carried away and release them everywhere. But after a decade of illegal beaver releases there is enough empirical evidence – I hesitate to call it science, only because that word has been thoroughly debased in arguments about the environment – to show that, in certain settings, beavers can be disastrous."

Ironically, beavers might have fared better without the baleful help of the environmentalists. Landowners are not anti-nature ogres. Many are quietly getting on with rewilding schemes of varying sizes, normally alongside – but sometimes instead of – their farming operations. Indeed, Britain is experiencing a boom in habitat creation. I would be eager to experiment with beavers in the burn on my farm. What stops me is the thought that I might not easily be allowed to cull them or even eradicate them, as I could any other rodent or, for example, deer, if the damage proved to outweigh the benefits."

The author raises an important point about the impact of reintroductions. What can start as well-intentioned support can rapidly have disastrous consequences on the local habitat when there are strict protections on the animal being reintroduced. One of the clearest examples of this is in the Chilterns, where Red Kites now dominate the sky at the expense of song-birds and many other smaller mammals.

Although the RSPB claims that red kites feed "mainly on carrion and earthworms and, as opportunists, the occasional small mammal". While it is true they eat roadkill, earthworms and livestock afterbirth, they also destroy a great deal more than just the ‘occasional’ mammal.

Red kites predate all livestock of a weight they can carry away. This includes field voles and dormice, but also the chicks of ground nesting birds such as skylarks, lapwings, grey partridges and curlews, all of which are on the RSPB’s Red List of great conservation concern.

This is entirely counter-intuitive and ends up creating a greater conservation problem than it was intended to solve. The question that those supporting such introductions must answer is why reintroduce another predator and yet more competition for dwindling resources of those endangered species already suffering so greatly ?

By surrendering the conservation narrative to “environmentalists”, most of whom are armchair land managers with no need to take a holistic view, we have stymied progress on this and many other issues. If we love wildlife and want to see it flourishing in the countryside, we have also to be prepared to cull it to preserve a balance.


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