How to reintroduce carnivores and alienate people: A word of caution

European lynx, this one a captive animal at the New Forest Wildlife Park.

It’s become a regular occurrence: a press release from the UK Lynx Trust (UKLT) about how reintroduction of this animal is imminent in Britain, and they’ll be getting a licence through very soon. The ironic reality is that with each successive news story, their progress behind-the-scenes in Kielder becomes increasingly battered in terms of local reception, while those on the outside duly share and retweet – keeping them going, almost entirely, on PR alone.

I wrote about the impractical route they have gone through of media first community consultation later, two years ago, but things definitely haven’t got better since.

From a meeting at the village hall turning into a scene that would make a House of Commons debate look mature in comparison, to last week’s news that most of the people behind UKLT have jumped ship because of their somewhat cold reception, it’s not been a model of sound conservation management.

With their chief Paul O’Donoghue still closing his ears and saying they’ll be applying for a license in two months, this leaves a team you could probably all fit in my Peugeot 107. So what went wrong? Continue reading

Cornwall Beaver Project Blogs – Part 2

Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) stands, captive, Devon.Well the beavers are out now, and so comes the conclusion of my short blog series for Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Blogs are likely to be a bit quiet for a few weeks while my Masters project takes priority, so why not while away the time with the complete ‘box-set’:

Return of the Lostledan: Time for the Beaver to come home to Cornwall

An introduction to the Cornwall Beaver Project’s aims.

Working together for Cornish beavers

How partnerships between farming and wildlife conservation pave the way for this animal’s return.

A look into how beavers in Cornwall could reduce the impact of local flooding.

A whimsical piece of nature writing.

The Day the Beavers Returned to Cornwall

An even more whimsical piece of nature writing.

Guest Blog – Derek Gow: A statement to the next generation of conservationists

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Today’s guest post comes from Derek Gow. Derek is an ecologist, farmer and specialist in reintroducing native species; he pioneered the captive breeding and reintroduction of water voles almost 20 years ago, is a key player in the return of beavers to Britain, and is currently working on projects to reinstate white storks to our countryside.

I have been lucky to work on Derek’s farm and field projects over the last few years, and recently he wrote the below speech for a Wildlife Trusts event. Keen to spread the message to a wider audience, I was happy to post it on his behalf.

Me and so many other young people are at a crossroads as we seek to spend the rest of our lives in nature conservation. How can we attempt to haul up the boat if it is already sinking? What follows is a plea to do better, think better, and to never give in. Continue reading

Cornwall Beaver Project: Blogs 1 & 2

Recently I’ve been proud to be involved in the online presence of the Cornwall Beaver Project – a fenced beaver trial managed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Woodland Valley Farm, that will not only build on existing work in demonstrating the animals’ effect on ecology and hydrology, but showcase them to rural communities and exemplify the benefit they can bring to our landscapes.

You can read my first two blogs for the project here:

More struggles to define rewilding, and a relevant announcement.

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“Why should I join twitter?” Ask a decreasing number of vaguely internet-literate wildlife conservationists. Well, for one you can get involved in rather lively twitter discussions, and nothing’s surer to hit off a reaction like a magnesium-burning demonstration in a school teaching lab then a rewilding debate.

One such event happened this weekend gone, and it was a cracker. It was cracked off with this tweet from Miles King, itself in response to a statement from the Countryside Alliance: Continue reading

Nature Diary: College Reservoir, 5th April

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Bullfinch male. Photo by Ben Porter – visit his website here.

The April shift is well under way, and what begun as a gentle segueing of the season in from the winter – the first snowdrop, the first trill of a chiffchaff – has now descended into a full blown rush to get the important business of the propagation of genes underway.

The normally skulking, introverted wren is now singing as loud as he can from exposed perches, zipping from each one in a chocolate flash. In defence of his nesting territory, he zips out a high-pitch rant with his stumpy wings flapping vehemently by his side, like a tiny man trying to egg on someone clearly too big for him. A pair of long-tailed tits preen lichen-encrusted branches for nesting material with the air of browsing weekend shoppers, daintily selecting suitable clumps of green fluff while twittering away to each other contentedly.

The blackthorn blossom is in riot. Branches that appeared foreboding all winter, seen only by dagger-like thorns and worn bark, have now, like Tom Waits transforming into Marilyn Monroe, exploded into a glorious white bouquet. Continue reading

My Wildife Champions (2/2): Auntie Barbara

This year, the UK youth nature network A Focus on Nature are launching our second major campaign, #NowForNature, celebrating young people acting now for conservation. This was launched with the splendid AFON advent, in which blogs from different members each day in the festive run-up reflected on the heroes that inspired them to do what they are doing.

My first blog on Martin Noble can be read here. The second piece took longer than planned to write, as I realised how difficult it would be to surmise just how great an effect this woman had on my life at a very early age, and the circumstances that later followed. But I owe her so much, and knew I had to get this down in words.

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Barbara and me, circa 1995

There are three knocks on the door; it’s the sound I’ve been waiting for all day. For the next week, this four year-old boy will be temporarily putting his mother’s attention aside for an upgraded model, who’s now stepping through the porch with a battered leather suitcase and an infectious smile. I eagerly accept the plastic tub, a lemon drizzle cake and dozens of beaming gingerbread men inside. But an even greater gift are the stories she brings.

The next morning, I wake to see if the sky contains but the slightest grey hint of daylight in the dawn gloom. If I can clearly distinguish the canopy of the woods that looms over the garden fence from the skyline, it’s good enough. I swim through a throng of soft animal toys, bounce onto the bedroom floor, and pitter-patter along the corridor, down the stairs and across the ground floor to a bedroom directly below my own. I knock twice, and wait. Continue reading

Good Zoos: Please don’t let one bad egg tarnish the greats

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Black Rhino at Paignton Zoo. Just one endangered species managed in captivity.

It’s a horrific story. 486 animals had died at South Lakes zoo in the space of over four years, frequently as a result of poor husbandry practices, and sometimes found still decaying in the enclosure. The owner, David Gill (whose attitude has been of concern for the zoo community for a while now), has been refused the licence and it all seems likely the place will, rightly, be closed.

South Lakes is a bad zoo; it is not, however some press opinions have already starting hinting, an example typical of zoos. These articles range from suggesting that live animals on public display is a bygone that should be replaced by virtual reality, to saying that all zoos should be outright banned. Continue reading

Trees are the enemy: Making mountains out of molehills in Scotland

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View of Ben Macdui in 2015 – won’t get trees here.

Tree planting ‘threatening’ Scotland’s grand vistas

 After hearing some good news for once this morning (the fact that Philip Pullman’s writing a follow-up to ‘His Dark Materials’, should you want to know), I was brought back down into a huff by this piece. Take a look, and absorb its content.

Read it? Right, where to begin. How about some key points?

Mountaineering Scotland and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association have jointly written to Scotland’s environment secretary – Doesn’t take a genius to see the vested interests here. Mountaineers want mountains to climb, fair enough. But the highest and best peaks in Scotland, such as Cairn Gorm, Ben Macdui and Ben Nevis, are in the alpine zone where any tree attempting to grow is on a suicide mission. It’s practically a tundra habitat, where the occasional scots pine is no longer high and mighty but resembles a tumbleweed, so the laws of ecology will ensure there will still be plenty of bare peaks. And anyway, surely not all their membership are adverse to trees? It’s not like you can’t hike through them. And of course, the gamekeepers require plenty of heavily managed heather for their bounties of beyond carrying-capacity grouse populations – trees are as welcome as dog faeces (although I bet there are gamekeepers who’d like to see more trees too). But it’s a bit strange to protest because… Continue reading

Nature Diary: A Cornish Wood, 5th February

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Image: George H Higginbotham/BTO

The classic Cornish wooded valley, so steeply sloped that my footsteps slide horizontally into a porridge of treacle-like soil and it’s soaking oak-leaf carpet, the seemingly solid looking ground behaving more like wet snow. It’s one of those bright late-winter days with the first hints of warmth, and in the oaks, hollies and sycamores that root themselves precariously on the near 60-degree hillside, the long-tailed tits, robins and goldcrests are singing jubilantly and, I like to think, with an impatience to get nesting akin to children pleading for dinner to be ready.

These well-drained slopes are the ideal resting spot for a far more mysterious bird. Secretive, nocturnal and enigmatic in its ecology – as a mammal specialist, this instantly puts it near the top of my favourite bird list. There are clusters of bramble here, the kind that jeer threateningly at any humans who might foolishly bluster through them and receive snags in their clothes and cuts on their skin in response. But to the woodcock, this makes them an ideal fort in the day, a place of solitude before it flies to the swampy valley bottom of the wood or the mucky fields beyond at night to feed. Sure enough as I continue my way past these bramble islands, I send up one bird from its haven, and another some way on. Continue reading