Nature is Red in Tooth and Claw

Magpie

Magpie

Badger by Jon Hawkins

Badger by Jon Hawkins

A piece by Rose Revera, People and Wildlife Officer for WTSWW;

‘Tho Nature’, red in tooth and claw’

Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850

In this edition of e-news, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about a bugbear of mine. Fairly often, I will be talking to someone, or reading an article in a magazine or newspaper, and notice a tendency emerging to favour one species of wildlife over another.

Even wildlife lovers have told me how they don’t like Magpies because they raid other birds’ nests. Magpies and the rest of the corvid family are brilliant birds, no doubt about it. Intelligent, resourceful and stunning to watch, yet often damned for doing what comes naturally to them. Yes, they raid the nests of other birds, but I’m afraid that’s nature for you! It can be hard to watch, but the Magpies are wildlife as well as the small birds they sometimes prey on.

Another example is Badgers. They don’t need any more ammunition against them, yet I have recently read an article claiming that they should be culled because they eat Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are much loved across the UK as garden visitors, but why do Hedgehogs have more right to life than Badgers, just because they are not top predators?

Worryingly, there is even a ‘wildlife conservation’ charity that lists corvids, Foxes, Badgers, Buzzards and Sparrowhawks, all native wildlife just doing what they should be, as a problem because they can predate on small birds.

There can be a moral dilemma for ecologists in some cases, where human activity has caused an imbalance. For example, a Lapwing breeding site in South Wales was experiencing high levels of predation by gulls due to the presence of a nearby rubbish tip, leading to an artificial boom in the population of gulls. In this case, conservationists made the difficult decision to cull the gulls to correct the imbalance and give the Lapwings a fighting chance.

Now I’m not including non-native species in this argument. In all cases, if the presence of a non-native species in a habitat threatens the health of a population of a native species e.g. in the case of the American Mink and the Water Vole, then all efforts should be made to remove the non-native species from the habitat to prevent the extinction of the native species.

But the biggest challenge we come up against time and time again is humanity’s ability to place ourselves at the top of the pile, above all other species. Beavers were present in the UK up until about 500 years ago when human activity led to their extinction in the UK. We are now trying to right this wrong and re-introduce Beavers to Wales, but when we were out promoting this recently with our Beaver mascot Nora, I had some uncomfortable conversations.

One person told me that they didn’t want Beavers back in Wales because they were a hobby angler and Beavers will be bad for fish stocks. Their main argument was that Beaver dams will block fish passage. While this can occur occasionally, Beavers have an overall positive effect on fish stocks due to increased habitat for spawning, rearing and overwintering, higher invertebrate production and refuges during high water flows [1, 2]. This particular person refused to accept the scientific evidence presented to him. But the main thing that grates on me is that this is an animal that should be present in the British countryside, yet there are people resisting its restoration back to its rightful home because it could occasionally get in the way of their part-time hobby. That’s just not fair.

So to conclude, all native UK species have their place in the habitats of Wales. Losing even one species from a habitat can have a significant effect on the health and ecology of the habitat. We need to remember this and know that however hard it is to watch a predator successfully catch its prey, that’s just nature and without it, the world would not function. Instead, let’s focus on how we can reduce our impact on the environment and make life a bit easier for the wildlife struggling to survive in Wales.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4931505/

[2] http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/commissioned_reports/349.pdf