The continuing destruction of our native trophic pyramid


The ever-long delayed 25 Year Environment Plan for England was finally published last month (1). It was supposed to be a Green Paper, a consultative document that would give a rare chance for any individual citizen to have a view/rant irrespective of whether it had any effect on the final plan (2,3). When a year ago, a consultative framework for the Plan was considered imminent, I thought it unlikely that it would enunciate a fundamental principle for the existence and protection of wild nature. I urged back then that we owed it to the lives of the thousands of dead birds and animals that suffer from routine persecution in agricultural landscapes, to demand through the consultation that the fundamental principle of the existence and protection of wild nature becomes a policy of natural justice for that wild nature (2). It had not seen the light of day by May last year, but I urged again that we should all reclaim our wild heritage by ensuring that the political will hears our public will for wild nature (3). However, I began to hear noises when Gove took over at DEFRA that the Plan was going to be a done deal, not a Green Paper, stitched up by NGOs and organisations that Gove invited in. Unsurprisingly, Gove went to a meeting of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) last July where he set out his vision and priorities, and sought the NCCs “rapid advice on how to deliver the best possible Plan” (4). The NCC’s main role is to advise Government on the development of the 25 Environment Year Plan and had previously made a number of specific recommendations in its 4th Annual Report in January last year on what the plan should have contained (3) It had some pretty stern strictures in how the plan should be implemented and operated. Gove followed up his visit to the NCC by writing a letter where he said he had been considering the recommendations in the Committee’s annual report, and that he agreed with the main conclusion that “as we leave the European Union, an overarching plan is vital to secure the greatest dividend for our environment” (5). He reiterated his call for the Committee’s advice on “what the Plan should aim to achieve, focusing on those areas where improvements are most urgent and where the benefits are greatest; how it should seek to do so; and the necessary conditions for success” requesting that he receive this advice by September.

Are you rewriting it?

Just before that advice would land on his desk, Gove was quizzed on the work of DEFRA by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (6). He was asked “if the previous 25-year environment plan gone up in flames if you are drawing up a completely new one? That is the rumour that is circulating…. When will we get this plan and are you rewriting it?”. Gove was equivocal, saying that he was waiting on the NCC to lay out some principles (again!) that he was “augmenting it”, adding some “additional material to it to reflect some of the new and emerging concerns that have been expressed”, and when he was pressed on whether he was rewriting the Plan, Gove said he was “fine tuning” it. The NCC advice came in five parts: that it should have a vision, ambition and goals for the next 25 years; that the type and scale of activities and investments in natural capital assets to deliver the ambition should be laid out in the Plan; that milestones are incorporated into the Plan; that the delivery of the Plan is supported by appropriate governance, accountability and implementation structures; and that public funding of agricultural subsidies should be closely targeted to the delivery of public goods (7). I noted two of the specific recommendations from the NCC, to Increase woodland by at least 250,000ha by 2040, and to develop and implement a national network of conservation areas to provide bigger, better and more joined up habitats, including more nature reserves.

Two aspects of the Plan had already been trailed in the Northern national forest and the independent, statutory body (8,9). Because this plan was a done deal when it came out - it was not a consultation document - I was reluctant to launch in, to see what it contained, especially when Imogen, a friend who can root out anything to do with heathland dogma, found the example of the restoration of lowland heath from plantation forest at Tidenham Chase, Gloucestershire, in the Annex of supplementary evidence. It was given as being an indication of the benefits that come from restoration of species and ecological communities (10):
“The very existence of species and ecological communities is valued by many people, especially those that are rare, threatened or otherwise iconic or culturally significant. They also deliver a range of benefits directly and indirectly because they underpin almost all other ecosystem services through which benefits are derived from natural capital”

One of those benefits attributed to heathland in the evidence is “contributions to public access”, which you would disagree with if you have any perspective on the turmoil and anger felt in local communities about heathland restoration destroying their often publically-owned, uplifting space (11). Imogen could read no further, having found this on heathland, but I was struck by the reference to ecosystem services. So often, this rings warning bells about how wild nature is perceived, and so I had to check the Plan itself. There were two references to intrinsic value, the first in “Respecting nature’s intrinsic value” and the second in “we should instead be recognising the intrinsic value of the wildlife and plants that are our fellow inhabitants of this planet” (12). However, the first reference loses its value when it is followed by “But we also draw from the planet all the raw materials we need to live – food, water, air and energy for growth. So protecting and enhancing the environment, as this Plan lays out, is about more than respecting nature. It is critical if the next generation is to flourish, with abundant natural resources to draw on, that we look after our and their inheritance wisely” and the second when it is followed by “our stewardship today can lead to a healthier and culturally richer planet tomorrow”. My sensitivity warns that this lack of definition or clear meaning of intrinsic value is a continuation of the enforced coexistence of wild nature within a cultural landscape.

Ecosystem services and captive beaver

Gove has prior form in misunderstanding the sentiments of free and unfettered living linked to intrinsic value, with those of ecosystem services where wild nature is treated as the tool to provide services that are primarily of benefit to us. Late last year, a fanfare was made about Gove being enthusiastic about a scheme to release beaver in the Forestry Commission’s Forest of Dean, a quote from Gove was taken by many to imply that he was keen on more releases (13):
“The project is an example of the wider approach we are taking to enhance biodiversity, become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state for future generations and deliver on our plans for a Green Brexit”

That this isn’t to be a release to free living was absolutely evident from the fact that the beavers were to be “released into a 6.5ha secure enclosure”, that the Forestry Commission would be “designing a robust fence to keep the beaver enclosed” and that “a management plan will be put in place to make sure the enclosure remains secure” (13). Despite this, many less attentive people lauded this as some triumph for the return of beaver, as they did also for the captive beaver in Cornwall (14). Instead, the beaver release in the Forest of Dean will be used as enfenced, slave labour, a tool to provide an ecosystem service by being able to “hold back enough water to help with flood alleviation for Lydbrook” (13) in the same way as the beaver in Cornwall are being used to provide flood mitigation for the people in Ladock (14). Is this enhancing biodiversity? Is there any difference in captive beaver and the captive cattle that are used as a conservation grazing tool by the conservation industry? There was also a concomitant announcement about a change of licensing that would require in future that beaver to be released in to a captive enclosure would now likely need to be licenced, which had previously - like the Cornwall beaver - not been needed (15). There was a certain ambiguity about this change, but only for the majority of us who hadn’t received a briefing note issued by Natural England in the month before the announcement of the change (16).

The fact that “ecosystem services” appears 50 times in the supplementary evidence to the Plan is pretty damning when again there is no definition associated with the reference to intrinsic value (10). In truth it is devalued again by its linking to the benefits for humans (10): “Our species and ecological communities are intrinsically valued for their conservation and also contribute to other benefits such as clean air and water, food, timber and soil”. Consider that a recent paper contrasted the environmental ethics of an anthropocentric conservation focus, as exemplified by an ecosystem services approach, to biocentric and ecocentric values that recognise the welfare of all nonhuman form in maintaining holistic ecosystems (17). The authors concluded that anthropocentric motivations can only make a positive contribution to the environment in situations where humans are conscious of a direct benefit to themselves. However, they believe this is a “rejection of intrinsic value of nature” that has dire consequences for wild nature(17):
“By rejecting intrinsic value, environmental protection is enacted only to the extent needed for human well-being, and a human environmental right subjugates all other needs, interests and values of nature to those of humanity”

The big idea for nature in the Plan

The DEFRA blog about its impact in the media the day after the launch was typically bullish on the Press coverage of the Plan (18). However, a more measured Research briefing from the House of Commons Library a few days afterwards gave a summary of stakeholder reaction, and was honest in saying that the “Overall reaction to the Plan has been mixed” (19). I’m just not up to delving through and commenting on the minutiae of the Plan, especially after coming across the ubiquitous and habitual reference to Knepp where Charlie Burrell has “allowed free-roaming animals to shape the land into a mixture of habitats from grassland and scrub to open-grown trees and wood pasture” (12). Well the half-truths in that need unravelling, but that is for another day. The two recommendations from the NCC that I noted above are reflected in the Plan: the aspiration for increasing woodland in England is though lower at planting only 180,000 hectares by end of 2042, whereas the national network of conservation areas was in the Plan under the label of a Nature Recovery Network (12). The target for this Network “will provide an additional 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitat building on other plans for landscape-scale recovery for peatland, woodlands and natural flood management”. This would be through creation or restoration of “wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site network, focusing on priority habitats as part of a wider set of land management changes providing extensive benefits”

The latter are described elsewhere as a “range of other outcomes such as carbon capture and natural flood management” both symptomatic of the need to overcome human over-consumption and degradation of wild nature, so that it is pretty much the case in this Plan that "environmental protection is enacted only to the extent needed for human well-being" (see above). There is an admission in a footnote that there are no detailed targets for this action, but that there will be development of “more detailed targets as part of our post 2020 strategy for nature. We will focus restoration and creation on protected or priority habitats (habitats of principal importance under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act)” (see Footnote 5 on page 26 (12)). Apart from the footnote confusingly now adding in protected areas, this shows how the Plan has, even without it being a consultation document, closed down any debate about what form the outcome of that recovery could take by fixing the Network to the habitats of principal importance under the NERC Act 2006 (12). You won’t find these habitats of principal importance in the legislation - it just notes that they will be drawn up in consultation with Natural England, and not with you (20). In any event, the 56 habitats that are listed by Natural England (21) were all taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) and which was pretty much the wish list of the conservation industry, and again not you (22).

So, this is the big idea for nature in the Plan? You will find this statement - “A new Nature Recovery Network will require input from a range of stakeholders” (12). Why stakeholders – why not citizens? Don’t we get a say about our wild heritage? As you know, it will be the usual “stakeholders” – those that got to have a privileged say on the Plan, but also in all other issues of nature conservation over many years, including the UKBAP, and who will bring their slavish self-interested mainstream conservation dogma with them to its delivery. How do we brake this VICIOUS cycle, how do we get citizen engagement with the determination of environmental priorities, as there was in France with its Grenelle Environment Forum (23) and in its implementation of ecological networks through the Green and Blue Grid (24)? I wish more people would take the initiative in setting up their own citizen’s panels, pre-empting the bogus processes of consultation, because this issue of consultation is just an oozing sore.

The nature conservation value of scrub

My local authority initiated a Biodiversity Scrutiny Review that had a call for information, but I only heard about it after the event (25). It seems the usual suspects had been contacted, as listed in the Terms of Reference for the Review. These were mostly the type of people who fail to recognise that they are just unthinking adherents to a slavish dogma of a conservation industry. It is the saviour complex. When told by Natural England that heath, ground nesting birds like skylark and curlew, and historical artefacts on my local, publicly-owned moor are conservation priorities, then they will get the warm glow of having done their bit in supporting the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with Natural England, and not had to be bothered with the detail. So now, one of these usual suspects is saying that they don’t want the trees that have spread on the moor, and it may be that NE will be demanding their removal under the HLS, backed by the birdists who say that this open moorland is important for visiting, migrating and nesting birds, many species of which they allege are under threat. This is the broken record of the birdists, that anything other than a landscape totally denuded of shrubs and trees is safe for these birds, as that structural vegetation will harbour predators (26).

Other realities exist, as I belatedly responded to the call for information, that changes in vegetation on the moor since grazing ceased after Foot and Mouth Disease in 2003 have given rise to a different diversity, and which is exceptionally more abundant - not just in species diversity but in total numbers – there are far more living things (27). These will be dismissed by Natural England as being common species and, yes, they are common in having a more abundant presence than the conservation priorities. The grouse shooters complained after the recent decision not to renew the shooting lease on Ilkley Moor (28) another of our publicly-owned moors, that the 62 curlews there were a success of management for grouse shooting – predator control and heath management - but that is 0.08 curlews per hectare, or 12.5 hectares per curlew (29). So much degraded land for one bird species. I have never seen a curlew on my moor. I noted, however, that I was certain that the moor was benefitting by the known nature conservation value of the developing scrub and trees. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee has a report on that value (30) and I explained that I had witnessed the phenomenon described in the report of natural tree seed dispersal by birds and factors such as proximity to seed sources, availability of perches and quality of the receptor site for dispersers, played out on the moor. I tied this burgeoning structural diversity to an increasing microclimate, microhabitat structure that would suit the phytophagous insects that feed on woody plants, noting that willows, which are spreading on the moor, have at 752 the most insect species associated with them. While I had no figures for the moor, I suggested that, like South House Moor and Carrifran, upland areas where grazing had ceased and where trees are regenerating, over 50 bird species are likely to migrate in to my local moor as its vegetational changes continued, including the increasing height of the now ungrazed dwarf shrubs and moorland grasses (31). The latter will have been accompanied by an influx of small mammals. All this will massively expand the size of the trophic pyramid that could be on the moor, as well as increasing the interaction between the trophic levels - it will be good hunting for the kestrels that I see hovering over the moor (31). It will have abundant but different wild life.

I allowed that the threat to skylarks on the moor was the only real threat that had any credibility, but that there was a deeper time element to it. Skylarks have gradually moved up the hill after grazing ceased. This was nothing to do with trees, but that the acid grasses on the lower slopes grow higher there in the absence of grazing because of the greater moisture. This had left the summit of the hill with its much lower moisture continuing to have shorter acid grassland. I didn’t see the moisture content on the top of the hill changing any time soon, it also being the most resistant area to natural tree establishment. If trees did eventually establish, it would be through their leaf drop that would eventually increase moisture capacity, but then the skylarks wouldn’t like the trees anyway.

So – was my local moor just to be about a few skylarks versus a massive abundance of other wild nature? I would rather sell both moors. The public would still have access (if we would want it!) because they are registered urban commons. However, their sale would remove the endless frustration and anger I feel that public ownership means nothing in terms of the public will for what should happen on the moors. The new owners can trash them up all they want, because what they will do will fit within the regime. It’s the layers of that regime that cut across the determination that should come from public ownership: firstly, the rights of the commoners (but with no responsibility); the SSSI designation on Ilkley; the HLS on both; and finally the duties under the NERC Act 2000 on local authorities. If the shooters are so concerned about the "biodiversity" of Ilkley Moor, then let them buy the moor and pay for its "management"! I doubt there will be any potential buyers as the reason often that commons came into public ownership in the early 20th century is that they are such poor farming land for a private farmer when their usage is already going to other people who don't even pay any rent.

Disdain for real National Parks

My life has become a single ongoing revelation that I haven’t been cynical enough about the stupidity of those with the saviour complex, but the more I thought about the frustration I had at the stitch up of the 25 year Environmental Plan for England and its underwhelming content, and at the situation with my local moor, the more I got angry about what I had found out about the denial of real National Parks in Britain, areas where wild nature could be free to live in its own space. I wrote last time that the Addison Committee, the first Parliamentary Committee on National Parks in Britain in the early 1930s, had repudiated evidence on National Parks from N. America and continental Europe that gave free, unfettered space to wild nature, indicating that it wasn’t needed because our “fauna is practically limited to birds, insects and the smaller mammals” (31). This flatly condemned us to a continuing incomplete trophic ecology because of the resistance to an opportunity to reinstate large areas of our native vegetation, along with reinstatement of our large carnivores, in the face of a predominantly cultural landscape. There is more to be disdainful about the Report from this Committee in the seeming prejudice that it regarded National Parks, preferring instead to use the phrase “National Reserve” when the witness evidence had used National Park (32). The Committee scoffed at National Parks in N. America like Jasper and Yellowstone, implying that they were on an “heroic scale” a term usually applied to epic scenery, and which it thought did not apply to Britain. However, the Lake District was one of the tentative locations given in the Report, put forward by The Lake District National Reserve Committee and the Fell and Rock Climbing Club that had “24 reasons in support of their claims that the whole of the Lake District should be as a National Park” one of those being the “physical and geological conformation of the District”. I think most people would regard the latter as having an “heroic scale”

I am very angry that the Committee pretty much ignored the exceptional evidence they had about existing National Parks in Europe, and which they had referenced in Appendix 4 to the Report. This was mostly from a journal article by American botanist Harvey Hall, who had been tasked by the Carnegie Institution to spend a year in Europe in order to investigate European approaches to National Parks and nature reserves. Halls article had been an important source for when I wrote about the Swiss National Park in a review of the ecological values of wilderness in Europe (33). Hall visited that Park in the company of Swiss phyto-geographer Carl Schröter in 1928 (34). It was Schröter who had noted the botanical value of the proposed park area and its likelihood in providing good conditions for scientific study of a natural community with numerous rare plants (35). The Park had been enacted in 1913 by a Federal Decree that stated “a Swiss National Park is being established, in which the entire flora and fauna is left entirely to their free natural development and protected from any human influence not in the purpose of the National Park. The whole reserve is subject to scientific observation” (35). Writing a few years later in 1920, Schröter, who had originally been tasked with laying out a strategy for the long term research in Park, wrote in his history of the Park as a total reservation and of the organization of its scientific investigation (36):
“For the science, the National Park is an invaluable field of observation, unique in its kind by the absolute elimination of disturbances of natural balance by humans. All previous changes in the original state through the centuries-long influence of the hunters, fishermen, foresters, farmers, shepherds and haymen, by fertilizer, ground breaking, mowing and pasture will disappear again in time and the old original community will be restored. A great “wilderness experiment” will be carried out there. It is a major task of scientific observation, which of course has to extend to a very long period of time, to trace all stages of this wilderness, this return to its original state, to this "retrograde succession" (in this case retrograde succession means the replacement of the existing vegetational community with the original, as in restoration)

Unlike America, Hall observed that Europe “no longer [had] any extensive natural areas to protect. They must first re-create natural conditions through long periods of protection, sometimes accompanied by replanting and by reintroduction of the indigenous fauna” (34). He noted that hunting, fishing, tree felling, agriculture, haying, and grazing were prohibited in the Swiss National Park, and determined to take back the lessons of "complete reserves" for the National Parks and National Forests of America. The complete reserve of the Swiss National Park was noted but not defined in Appendix 4 of the Report, but then there was a complete misunderstanding of the point of contrast in approach described by Hall for two National Parks in Italy. For Gran Paradiso National Park, Hall observed that the “herbage is too closely cropped and the flora is modified by the presence of weedy species characteristic of overgrazed areas in this region” He concluded that “Grazing is the worst enemy of the park at present. It is permitted over about 90 per cent of the area, the excluded portion consisting chiefly of high peak”. In contrast, the upper zone of 250sqkm of Abruzzi National Park is a “complete reserve where hunting, agriculture, and similar activities are prohibited, but it is open to the public” it is “protected from modification by man “in order that the natural state may be preserved or returned to." This is to permit students and amateurs to evaluate and enjoy the results of a natural development, of a return to primitive condition”

This detail on the Italian National Parks from Hall is not in Appendix 4, nor was there any explanation of what defined the “complete reserve” in the Swiss National Park, nor was the example of either of these countries given in the body of the Report (32). In fact Sweden was the only country covered by Hall that was both in Appendix 4 and in the main body of the Report, but the strictures on activity in these National Parks described in the Appendix did not appear in the Report:
“In Sweden an Ordinance passed by the Riksdag in 1909 secured for the Nation 10 National Parks of which the largest extends to 700 miles. The Ordinance makes it unlawful to interfere with the soil, or with the flora and fauna, or to put up buildings”

It is as if the Committee were deliberately sidestepping any consideration on restriction of human exploitative activity in any putative parks in Britain, without even recognising that our diminished fauna that the Committee described as “practically limited to birds, insects and the smaller mammals” (see above) was still at threat then, as it is today (see later). At least one of the witnesses had alluded to that in its evidence. The Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales was concerned about the fate of its fauna, noting that the pine marten and polecat still survived in the Snowdon region, and that ravens and peregrine falcons bred on inland, as well as on seashore, cliffs. In what must seem a painful irony, now that pine martens are having to be translocated to Wales (37) that its recommendation had no impact on the Committee:
“If the animal life of Snowdonia is to be preserved, certain sanctuaries of fair size for birds and mammals must be created, some of which must, be closed to the public all the year round, whilst others should be closed for regular or occasional periods. The introduction of exotic animals should be strictly discouraged”

The influences on the Addison Committee

Based on the witness evidence, it was those same organisations that today have an overweening and self-interested influence on nature conservation policy, which were the major influence on the Committee. It was their evidence that was parroted in the Report. Thus the National Trust made the usual excuse of “Our island is too small and too thickly populated” and here is where it closed the door on real National Parks in what was a very patronising way (33):
“Preservation is the primary need: access, however important, only comes second….. Preservation is consistent with private occupation……For us it cannot mean a vast area in which cultivation has never begun and is never to be allowed, where all is to be wild nature open for the enjoyment and instruction of the people”

The other came from the Correlating Committee for the Protection of Nature, set up in 1924 as an umbrella organisation to encourage co-operation and liaison in preserving all forms of wildlife (38). Among its 10 constituent societies was the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, the latter being the forerunner to the Wildlife Trusts (39). It also played the population card by saying that National Parks in other parts of the world “obviously cannot be provided in a small and densely populated country” (33). Then it asserted that areas where “the public have free access” would be incompatible with an aim to “preserve, unaltered as far as possible, the animals and plants of the district” that it’s “utility for the preservation of fauna and flora is limited” and that “these conditions would be unfavourable to the increase of shy animals and possibly certain plants”. More self-interested patronisation of the public that completely ignored the threat that continuing agriculture would pose to those “shy mammals”.

I should be surprised that other commentators on the Addison Report did not get the significance of this shutting down of the potential for wild nature to live unfettered in its own space in a real National Park, because just like the often cited paper by Mair and Delafons, they have all approached it on the basis of it being the first “important stepping stone” to the eventual passage of the National Parks and Countryside Act in 1949 (40). As with Mair and Delafons, the admission of a diminished ecology in the Report, and the consequence of disdaining real National Parks for any reversal of that, was not picked up by any of the others, including Bill Adams, the doyen of nature conservation history (eg. 41-43). At least David Evans, while he also missed the ecological consequences of the Addison Report, recognised the inevitability of the wicked issue of the outcome of the 1949 Act that nature conservation was tied to agriculture (44):
“In effect, the vast majority of land in these areas was in the safe hands of agriculture and forestry and was expected to remain there for the foreseeable future. The possibility that such land uses could conflict with nature conservation was never entertained”

There is more to be said about the Addison Report and its collusion with the status quo that kept our landscapes degraded. Many other Reports on National Parks were to follow, but the London Conference on African Wildlife, which marked the first international agreement on protected areas as the primary means for achieving wildlife preservation, came two years after the Addison Report, and should have been cause for a rethink on the dead hand approach that the Addison Report had set in motion. In short, the London Convention was an agreement that wildlife preservation could best be achieved by the “constitution of national parks, strict natural reserves” (45). The latter are defined in Article 2: a national park is publicly controlled and set aside for the propagation, protection and preservation of wild animal life and wild vegetation, and in which the hunting, killing or capturing of fauna and the destruction or collection of flora is prohibited; a strict natural reserve is publicly controlled, and where any form of hunting or fishing, forestry, agriculture, mining, excavations or prospecting, drilling, levelling of the ground, or construction, any work involving the alteration of the configuration of the soil or the character of the vegetation, any act likely to harm or disturb the fauna and flora and the introduction of any species of fauna and flora, whether indigenous or imported, wild or domesticated, was strictly forbidden. While these protected areas were to be set up by the Contracting Government’s that had territories in the continent of Africa, the definition of the "strict natural reserve" went on to have ramifications for the American continent when the definition of a “strict wilderness area” in the Western Hemisphere Convention of 1940 owed much to it, the latter then probably feeding into the drafting of the U.S. Wilderness Act in 1964, the first ever Act of its kind (46,47).

The ever-downward spiral of destruction from using predator control in nature conservation

We continue to diminish our bird and small mammal population from the continual holding of landscapes in a degraded state. Thus the damage to habitat on Ilkley Moor (see above) arising from its use for grouse shooting has been the main driver behind a “wildlife crash” when over half of the protected breeding bird species there have declined or become locally extinct, in particular with the negative impact on merlin, dunlin and short eared owl (48). However, it is more than just land management, as it also comes from the determined slaughter of so-called pest species in the cause of a few favoured birds. There is a dreadful catalogue of this in a report from 2016 on Understanding Predation, commissioned by Scotland’s Moorland Forum (49). It is a litany of justifications of predator control in Scotland in the cause of six ground-nesting birds, with detailed profiles and management actions for their common predators and others, all illustrated by little twee icons. This is about the slaughter of foxes, corvids (crows, hooded crows, magpies) mustelids (stoats, weasels, ferrets) and gulls, the illegal control of raptors (buzzards, eagles, harriers, sparrowhawk) and mammals in the pine marten, polecat and badger – “Unless explicitly stated, consideration of predator removal in this report focuses exclusively on (lethal) predator control. This involves removing predators by killing them, and is one of the commonest forms of predator management practiced and studied” (report link is on (49)). I would add to that the slaughter of mountain hares in Scotland, our only native mountain herbivorous mammal, the reason given by the slaughterers being “If unmanaged there can be problems with grazing pressure with resulting impact on upland flora” (50). So why not remove sheep instead, or don’t remove the predators that would control the numbers of hares? It is really about gamekeepers managing land for red grouse shooting because they fear the mountain hare will spread disease, reducing the amount of grouse they can shoot (51).

I wrote some years ago about the ever-downward spiral of destruction of wild nature from using predator control in nature conservation when reviewing a book on ecological restoration - “There is also exposure of the hard choice often inherent when it comes to utilizing predator control in achieving successful restoration - that predator control perhaps having no endpoint. Predator control has too many bad associations for me with the sport shooting estates of upland Britain where conservation of priority upland bird species is linked to the profitability from shooting gamebird species through control of native predators”(52). Take out the top predators, as we did with the wolf, lynx and bear, plus the larger birds of prey, and you end up losing the natural restraint on middle predators, like the fox, pine martin, badger, stoat, polecat, and the smaller birds of prey. The latter then become the target of predator control from the likes especially in Britain of game keeping, but also by the conservation industry (in particular the RSPB) and so by chopping away at the trophic levels, we go down and down the spiral of landscapes empty of fauna, except a few birds and lots of livestock, the latter maintaining the degradation of natural vegetation – we destroy the structure of our natural trophic pyramid.

Just think, though, if the Addison Committee had learnt from the wisdom of Hall, and from his examples of National Parks in Europe, and that we had secured at least one, large publicly-controlled area some 80 years ago where we “first re-create natural conditions through long periods of protection, sometimes accompanied by replanting and by reintroduction of the indigenous fauna” (see above). If only we had determined to watch the “results of a natural development, of a return to primitive condition” and to “trace all stages of this wilderness, this return to its original state”. We would by now have a large area where the natural vegetation would have restored, and where we would have rebuilt the native trophic pyramid by translocating in the full complement of small and middle mammals to their former native range, as well as by now reinstating at least two of the three of our extirpated large carnivores.

Does this make you feel angry that it did not happen?

Mark Fisher 21 February 2018

(1) 25 Year Environment Plan: 'A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment', sets out what we will do to improve the environment, within a generation. Policy paper, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and The Rt Hon Michael Gove, 11 January 2018
(2) Giving natural justice to wild nature, Self-willed land January 2017
(3) Reclaiming our wild heritage, Self-willed land May 2017
(4) NATURAL CAPITAL COMMITTEE: Actions from NCC meeting 13 July 2017
(5) Letter of 14 July 2017 from Michael Gove to Professor Dieter Helm
(6) Witness I: Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Oral evidence: The work of Defra, HC 321, Wednesday 13 September 2017
(7) Natural Capital Committee Advice to Government on the 25 Year Environment Plan September 2017
(8) New Northern Forest gets Government backing, DEFRA News story 7 January 2018
(9) New environmental protections to deliver a Green Brexit, Press Release, DEFRA 12 November 2017
(10) A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment Annex 1: Supplementary evidence report
(11) Heathland MADNESS - the juggernaut of nature conservation, Self-willed land
(12) A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment 2018

(13) Environment Secretary backs release of Beavers in Forest of Dean, News story, DEFRA, Forestry Commission, Natural England 8 December 2017
(14) Addressing ecological and legislative issues, Self-willed land July 2017
(15) Releasing beavers into secured enclosures, Non-native species: apply for a licence to release them, Natural England 8 December
(16) Beavers: advice on releasing beavers into fenced enclosures
(17) Kopnina, H., Washington, H., Taylor, B., & Piccolo, J. J. (2018) Anthropocentrism: More than Just a Misunderstood Problem. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics  31: 109–127
(18) Coverage of the 25 Year Environment Plan, Defra in the media, Defra Press Office 12 January 2018
(19) 25-year environment plan House of Commons Library Research Briefing, 17 January 2018
(20) Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006
(21) Habitats and species of principal importance in England, Natural England

(22) UK BAP priority species and habitats, JNCC

(23) Grenelle Environment Forum (France) Pilot database on stakeholder engagement practices in regulatory policy, Measuring Regulatory Performance, OECD 2016
(24) Centre de ressources Trame verte et bleue
(25) BIODIVERSITY SCRUTINY REVIEW - DRAFT TERMS OF REFERENCE, Agenda item 37, Environment and Waste Management Overview & Scrutiny Committee, CBMDC 21st November, 2017
(26) Douglas, D. J., Bellamy, P. E., Stephen, L. S., Pearce–Higgins, J. W., Wilson, J. D., & Grant, M. C. (2014). Upland land use predicts population decline in a globally near-threatened wader. Journal of applied ecology, 51(1), 194-203
(27) The moral corruptness of Higher Level Stewardship, Self-willed land August 2013  
(28) UPDATED: Bradford councillors vote to end grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor
(29) An open letter to Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Countryside Alliance 16 January 2018
(30) The nature conservation value of scrub in Britain, Report 308, JNCC 2000
(31) Rewiring an emptied food web, Self-willed land January 2018
(32) Report of the National Park Committee. Parliamentary Papers April 1931, Cmd 3851, XVI, 283-414
(33) Fisher, M. (2016). Ecological values of wilderness in Europe. In K. Bastmeijer (Ed.), Wilderness Protection in Europe: The Role of International, European and National Law (pp. 67-93). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
(34) H.M. Hall, ‘European Reservations for the Protection of Natural Conditions’, Journal of Forestry, 27 (1929), 667-68
(35) W. Bissegger, ‘Über die Gründung des schweizerischen Nationalparkes. Die Rede Dr. Bisseggers vom 25. März 1914 im Nationalrat. Unser Nationalpark und die ausserschweizerischen alpinen Reservationen’, Neujahrsblatt Naturforschende Gesellschaft Zürich, Stück 130 (1928) Article 1, pg. 8
(36) Schröter, C. (1920) “Der Werdegang des schweizerischen Nationalparks als Total-Reservation und die Organisation seiner wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung,” Ergebnisse der wissenschaftlichen untersuchung des Schweizerischen Nationalparks. Denkschriften der Schweizerischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft Band LV, pg. V
(37) Pine Marten, The Vincent Wildlife Trust
(38) A brief history of the British Correlating Committee for the Protection of Nature, A list of the historical records of the Society for the promotion of Nature Conservation, Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, University of Birmingham & Institute of Agricultural History, University Of Reading August 1980
(39) Working together, The Wildlife Trusts, The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts,
(40) Mair, J., & Delafons, J. (2001). The policy origins of Britain's national parks: The Addison Committee 1929–31. Planning Perspectives, 16(3): 293-309
(41) Adams, W.M. (1996) Future Nature: A Vision for Conservation, Earthscan, pg.14
(42) Smith, G.F.H. (1947) Nature protection in Great Britain. Nature 160: 457-459
(43) Kelly, M. (2017) Conventional thinking and the fragile birth of the nature state in post-war Britain . In von Hardenberg, W. G., Kelly, M., Leal, C., & Wakild, E. (Eds.). (2017). The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation, Routledge. Ch 6
(44) Evans, D (2002) A History of Nature Conservation in Britain. Routledge, pg 59, 61, 74
(45) Convention relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural, London 1933 State
(46) Convention on Nature Protection and Wild Life Preservation in the Western Hemisphere, Washington 1940
(47) Carver, S., McCool, S., Krenova, Z., Fisher, M., & Woodley, S. (2014). Fifty years of wilderness science: An international perspective. International Journal of Wilderness. 20 (2): 36-42., 20(2), 36-42
(48) UPDATED: Campaigners reveal grouse shoot damage on Ilkley Moor, Claire Lomax, Ilkley Gazzette 14th December 2017
(49) Understanding Predation Report - a review bringing together natural science and local knowledge of recent wild bird population changes and their drivers in Scotland, Scotland’s Moorland Forum 8th February 2016
(50) Response to Sunday Herald article on mountain hare cull, Scottish Land & Estates,13 March 2016
(51) Stop the Mountain Hare slaughter, OneKind campaign
(52) Fisher, M. (2011). Book Review: Restoring Wildlife: Ecological Concepts and Practical Applications. Restoration Ecology, 19(2): 292-293