If you haven’t read Feral by George Monbiot, I would certainly recommend it as a pretty easy introduction to the topic of rewilding. Do, however, take its messages at more than face value it is a very pro-rewilding piece of work and I’d expect no less from Monbiot. Despite this, it does offer a fairly good insight into some of the complexities surrounding the topic and discusses some of the less obvious reasoning behind the desire to reintroduce (or as I prefer re-establish) some species. For this post I will probably utilise some of the reasoning in chapter 7 which is focussed on the reintroduction of the Gray wolf. So why am I going to start a post about the possibility of reintroducing the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) with the reintroduction of the Gray wolf (Canis lupus)? To put it in its simplest terms, Monbiot focuses on the reintroduction of the Gray wolf in more detail than he does on the Eurasian Lynx but the majority of the positive arguments are situated around the same reasons.
The UK is a country wildly different to the majority of its neighbours on the continent in its ecology for one major reason, it has none of its large carnivores. Every large predatory mammal has been eradicated from every corner of this island nation. Sure enough the loss of these species has in many ways thrown ecosystems, especially our forests, well away from the norm. The Caledonian forest of Scotland currently occupies 1% of its original extent across the highlands. In the few places where the forest persists the youngest tress are 150 years old. There is little or no replenishment of the forest because the survival of saplings is unlikely as a result of a deer population that has grown in numbers explosively. Between 1965 and today the population of Red Deer has more than doubled at a rate that culling seems to impact only marginally. The population is literally eating itself out of house and home, it is only a matter of time before the fragments of forest and the communities of birds, lichen and insects they support degrade beyond repair. Admittedly such a large population of deer is in part favourable to the Scottish hunting industry which according to Monbiot’s book generates £550 per ten square kilometres being worked.
The question therefore is: how do you manage such a large population of deer effectively to allow the Caledonian forest to recover? The options on the table are fairly simple, you either cull the population extensively or you introduce a natural control method. Monbiot favours the latter option as the solution and puts forward the idea that the Gray wolf, a species that once roamed the country freely, is an appropriate predator to reintroduce. He artfully explains that the Gray wolf is being allowed to regain its territories in Europe and there are as many as 200 individual’s now located in France. He uses the data from Europe to back up his argument suggesting the numbers of sheep taken by wolves in Italy is 0.35% of the total numbers and in the United States less than 0.1%. He also argues that wolves predating deer would reduce the need for a hind cull and promote larger stags due to higher food availability increasing profits to £800 per ten square kilometres being worked. In terms of the threat to humans posed by wolves he argues that of the 20,000 wolves in Europe there have been only 8 attacks in the last 20 years with no fatalities being recorded.
Whilst this all seems great it is still unlikely that the UK would introduce a predator that has been used to strike fear into children for centuries. The fear of the wolf is an innate part of being human, from an early age we are warned of their cunning, conniving and evilness. It is going to be difficult for people to shake such deep seated unease at the prospect of facing their childhood nightmares. So what do we do as an alternative?
Feral By George Monbiot