Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Controversy of Ecological Cleansing

Chris Packham - Ecological cleansing

Chris Packham writes about exterminating invasive species - or not.

Perfection is beautiful, but extremely rare, and the ever increasing scrutiny of anything tending to it invariably reveals a flaw. Maybe definite perfection doesn't actually exist at all; maybe attempting to find it, own it or create it is the eternal fuel for idealists who imagine that it can be theirs. That quest is laudable of course, without such energies and their results the mediocre would reign supreme and the whole world would be a poorer place.

But at what point does one stop and accept that, within reason ‘that's as perfect as can be'? It's difficult because the sort of people who pursue perfection are typically immensely driven and easily lost in a fog of determination or their ego. They actually struggle to see anything but their goal which becomes increasingly critical and ‘unsatisfiable'.

I'm like that about taking photographs, I set my standards far beyond reach and as such have never taken a decent picture yet. Indeed, I'm resigned to the fact that I never will. That's a bit sad, but definitely not as dangerous as some other perfectionist's objectives; those who sincerely believe that perfection can be sculpted on a grand scale, on the scale of life itself. Mr A. Hitler was one; Mr Pol Pot another, and tragically there are plenty in the historical list of eugenicists who cross the line between reason and horrible madness. Now, I'm not going to compare anyone here to these evil miscreants or suggest a desire for comparable crimes, but there are some ‘conservationists' who have clearly lost the plot when it comes to purity and perfection.

Imperfect nature

Nature is not perfect either of course. If it was then things would have evolved to a point where everything worked in complete harmony and the actual process of evolution would be redundant. This is clearly impossible; the climate changes, meteors collide with earth, ice caps melt and refreeze and so on, and without imperfection being constantly generated then the necessary new forms wouldn't be there to survive the changes.

Invasive species

I like it that life itself is flawed, it helps me when I look at our ruined landscapes, it excuses my need to ache to try and make them totally perfect again - because they never were! Thus when I look out of my window and see an invader, a non-native such as a Grey Squirrel I don't run for my air rifle, I just think that the ruins of paradise are still a pretty good place to be.

Grey squirrels - Live and let live

I know that we couldn't kill all the Grey Squirrels in the UK, we missed that chance long ago, and because where I live that Grey offers no threat to any native Reds I'll let him nibble my nuts. It's not that I'm against controlling Greys, far from it. In certain places more resources should be available to assist with this as they present a very real threat to our fluffty tufty Great British Red boys. And such measures can still work so they are currently still worth pursuing. But if they couldn't or wouldn't work then my attitude changes, I'm for a more laid back approach, ‘let it happen, let it go, wave goodbye with a tearful eye if you like, bid farewell to the old Reds and get used to the Greys'.

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  1. Fascinating viewpoint Chris Packham has taken on his view of invasive species Peter. Sadly I have to take an opposite view in the case of the Australian Brushtailed possum of which we have here in New Zealand 71,000,000 of them eating through our native forests, our bird life and carrying Bovine TB. Fascinating marsupials at that. These animals live in a hierarchy structure with a dominant female and subserviant males. Very territorial as well. They mark trees with their claws and can cause some serious damage to gardens and fruit trees. At present I'm using Timms Traps which are a humane kill trap. I'd prefer they son't suffer in anyway. Unfortunately in the case of females they also may have a joey in the pouch. I've put down more than one. On these marsuapials, stoats, weasels, Ferrets and feral cats I have no hesitation in destroying these pests. If it means our own endemic species of flora and fauna survive that's more important in my eyes.

    Great post thanks Peter I found this very very interesting and thought provoking.

  2. I agree Liz, it is an extremely interesting article. To be honest though I believe that if he had wanted that Chris could have made an equally eloquent arguement from the other side. I played my small part in grey squirrel eradication in hand with red reintroduction and whereas I like the greys I would prefer them back in North America. The Grey are already becoming a major problem in Italy of all places and in spite of damage to the economy have their own protection group. I am none too sure how much of a pest they are in the Cape of South Africa.
    New Zealand, as you say as been a bit of an experimental alien species dumping ground. If I were there I would be doing exactly the same as you. Providing the endemics with a bit of a lifeline to hang on to...though I fear it is too late for many.

  3. Red squirrels or grey squirrels who really cares? From a biodiversity point of view it hardly matters, the UK is hardly pristine wilderness, and as I understand the red squirrel is still a common species across a vast range. So Chris Packham has chosen a soft target.

    But come down south of the Wallace line, and the argument is very different. You have heard from some New Zealanders, a similar argument is made in Australia regarding red foxes, cane toads, various hollow-nesting bird species, and many others. And we are not talking about two very similar species, we are talking about huge range of taxa many with close relatives no-where else in the world.