Despite only being April, 2015 has already been an important year in Scottish Conservation. As the Knapdale beaver trials draw to a close and ministers begin deliberating the success of the programme, conservation group Lynx UK is also waiting for the outcome of their public consultation regarding the release of wild Lynx in the UK.
Scotland has a mixed history with wildlife re-introductions. Successes over the last 10 years include Red Kites, Northern Goshawk as well as Reindeer and based on early reports, Beaver are soon likely to be added to this list. Less successful, Scotland’s infamous Capercaillie population has decreased so rapidly that, despite significant investment in their protection, these iconic birds are facing extinction for the second time.
Ideally, the concept of returning an animal to its native environment should be fairly simple, however the world is a very different place today than it was 500 years ago. The relationship between humans and wildlife is more distant than ever. As a result, the possibility of returning large mammals to the Scottish countryside is fraught with complications and controversy. To ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of human and animal, Its imperative that the correct foundations are in place. This means, that not only do we need to ensure the science and environmental factors are appropriately considered but that a sustained, consistent and measurable education process is undertaken to alleviate public concerns and provide accurate and practical advice for those likely to be affected by this change to their surroundings.
Currently there are a number of actors for and against these projects, and it could be argued that both sides are more concerned with dismissing their counterparts without consideration rather than making serious attempts to understand or appreciate the quality information that is generated as a result of a debate born of differing perspectives. This may well be a result of what has become commonly known as confirmation bias – or the tendency to dismiss any information that does not align with your preferred agenda – or it may simply be, the result of major communication challenges between the motivations of the diverse stakeholder base involved. Whatever the cause, the time has come for everyone to stop talking and start listening when it comes to rewilding.
While I generally support the concept of returning animals to their native lands, I can not condone the release of animals into an environment that is sociologically unprepared to accept them, for this is little more than animal abuse as a result of human intervention. We need to understand the full implications, opportunities and benefits that these projects present to ensure that any actions we take are in the best interests of animals and the local community and to do that, we need everyone’s input. Here I give you a platform to ask your questions, state your concerns, have your say – and then listen to the responses you get back, weigh it up and respond until you are satisfied. Ultimately, animals are design to adapt to changing conditions and the primary threat to their successful re-establishment comes primarily from people and human intervention. Many of these animals are extinct as a result of our meddling in the past, we have an obligation to learn from our mistakes, take our time and do this right – or maybe not at all? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.