Busy looking through memory sticks looking for a paper & found this. This was a short paper, I wrote looking at reintroductions, more of a summary. Hadn't seen it for a while, I think I still Agree????? A large Estate owner wanted a run down/opinion, he has not gone forward with any re introductions, yet?
Bringing back extinct species? Stewart Blair 2008
In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit brought the concept of biodiversity into the mainstream political arena. Since then, EU legislation - and funding - has played a major part in shaping UK conservation policy. Scotland has received its fair share of the money with funding targeted to Capercaillie, Antlantic Salmon and Bog woodland to name a few. However, a crucial part of the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/Article 22) goes further than preserving what we already have, in that it requires member states to examine the desirability of re-introducing extinct native species.
The subject of species re-introduction in the Highlands of Scotland is a highly contentious subject and evokes very strong and emotional views on both sides.
The subject raises not only ecological debates as one would expect, but raises many social and emotional responses too, which if nothing else, highlights the many fears and prejudices that led to the demise of many of the species that are now being considered for re-introduction.
Lets begin by looking at a number of factors which might affect any re-introduction project within the Highlands.
- Choosing a species
- Past re-introductions
- Trial re-introductions
- Future re-introductions
- Feasibility of species choice
Choosing a species
One of the first questions to be answered is “what species and why? Taxonomical bias [Seddon 2005] features highly in many re-introduction projects throughout the world and is very evident in Scotland, where most of the species being considered are very iconic. Species such as Grey wolves [ Lupos lupos], Lynx [ Lynx lynx ] , Beaver [Castor fiber] and Brown bear[Ursus arctos arctos] are routinely mentioned within the press and conservation circles as species that would be ideal for re-introduction, yet there is little or no mention of insect, rodent or even plant species. How often do we here about the plight of the Mud snail [Omphiscos glabra] compared to that of the Capercaillie [Tetrao urogallus]? These species are very iconic, paint a picture of a once wild and rugged Scotland and are very much used as flagship species for organisations looking to gain public support and funds.
“While a focus on charismatic species may serve to garner public support for conservation efforts, it may also divert scarce conservation resources away from taxa more in need of attention.” [Seddon, 2005]
Over the last 30 years there have been some very successful re - introductions within the Highlands, most notably the White tailed Sea Eagle [Haliaeetus albicilla] [WTE] and the Red Kite[Milvus milvus]. However re-introductions have not been plain sailing and still encounter many problems, the majority of them linked to man.
The WTE has brought many benefits to the Highlands not only biological, but also financial and the Island of Mull which is now a stronghold of the birds has been christened Eagle island and has a booming Eco - tourism industry. Not all of the inhabitants however enjoy living alongside these birds and there has been a longstanding feud between sheep farming interests and Scottish Natural Heritage [SNH] over the predation of lambs by WTE’s.
A study commissioned by SNH to look at the effects of livestock predation noted that
there are generic lessons to be learned from the WTE re-introduction programme:
• Re-introductions not only enhance biodiversity but can give added value
for Wildlife tourism if facilities are provided for viewing and information.
• The process of re-introduction can be quicker and cheaper by releasing
many individuals in a short time into the best quality habitat available.
• Re-introductions should involve wide consultation among potential
stakeholders and rational fears should be incorporated into a risk assessment.
• The risk assessment should anticipate problems and have mechanisms in
place for monitoring, evaluation and remedial management if necessary.
[Marquiss et al 2004, p.4]
It is important that the above lessons should be taken on board for any planned re – introduction, especially that of a large predator whether it be a bird or mammal. Scottish society has shown over many hundreds of years that it has been intolerant of large predators and does not want to share the role of the apex predator, to the point that we have very few left and those prized species are always under the threat of persecution. This poses the question that after 250 years of not living with another apex predatory mammal how would we, not the animal react to its presence? I feel that the impact on sheep by WTE on Mull could be caused by some other factors;
- There are no foxes on Mull, could it be that the WTE is filling a niche within the ecosystem and is scavenging / predating a food source normally exploited by the fox.
- On a trip to Norway I questioned local farmers and conservationists on whether they had experienced sheep losses due to WTE’s. They have quite high predation due to Golden Eagles [Aquila chrysaetos] but had never heard of WTE’s predating on sheep. Could this be due to a lack of feeding at sea or possibly that the original birds being introduced were partly hand reared and were not given the training by the parent birds to allow them to feed on a predominantly fish diet as found in Norway and have now been self - trained to feed on sheep.
In 2009 after many years of research and consultation the Scottish Government granted a licence for a trial re-introduction for the European Beaver [Castor fiber]. This solitary herbivore has created many heated debates and there is still a very strong opposition towards its re-introduction.
On the positive side beavers [Castor fiber] are a crucial component of healthy, functioning wetlands and riparian woodlands because of their ability to create wetland habitat, and also because of the opportunities they create for other species.
Other mammals benefit as otters [Lutra lutra] hunt in the beaver ponds and use abandoned burrows, while water shrews [Neomys fodiens] and the rapidly decreasing water vole [Arvicola amphibius] also share beaver burrows.
Dead wood in flooded woodland attracts invertebrates while providing feeding and nesting opportunities for birds. As well as creating a range of new wildlife habitats, damming has a significant impact on water quality throughout the river system. For example, sediments are slowed down and pollutants are oxidised when water seeping through the dam from the pond is aerated.
Taking on board these factors it is hard to argue that ecologically the presence of beavers is a bad thing, however those opposed to their re-introduction argue that they will flood farmland and forest as well as predate salmon stocks despite the creatures being completely vegetarian.
Having visited Norway and seen for myself how farmers, foresters and fishermen live quite happily alongside beavers I am in no doubt that they would be a very positive addition to our ecosystem and if anything the lack off well managed riparian woodlands in Scotland might be the defining factor of their success.
The evolution of Sporting Estates within the Highlands since Victorian times not only rid the area of many of the natural predators who were seen as a threat to game stocks but also by the promotion of high deer numbers destroyed much of our native woodland. With much support from conservation bodies the Scottish Government has set targets for the woodland cover of Scotland to increase by around 7.5% to achieve these targets the already high populations of deer must be culled down to a level that will promote tree regeneration. This is a costly operation and many argue that the role of man as the apex predator could be replaced by the Grey wolf or the Lynx.
The re-introduction of large predators raises many questions, the most obvious one is why would wolves predate on wild deer when the highlands have abundant domestic livestock already penned for their consumption? Evidence from Norway shows us that without large Government compensation schemes there is little chance of wolves surviving alongside agriculture. Lynx however do seem to be a more likely candidate for reintroduction [Hetherington, 2005] and although there could be some impact on agriculture, there is not the same cultural hatred or distrust for the animal as there is for the wolf [Forbes et al.,1996]
Would the reintroduction of such species rebalance the ecological scale? It could be argued that the re-introduction process would have to address all the missing components of our ancient forest, the most important of all being the forest itself, would this mean that animals like the Wild boar and horse be considered? Would the human population have to be reduced too? The Scottish Highlands are unrecognisable since the last wolf was killed in the 1700s and it is very unlikely that the Wolf could exist in our now fragmented landscape, not because the Wolf could not cope, but its human neighbours are unable or unwilling to support its release.
Feasibility of species choice
Another question we must pose before any introduction should be is; where do we source the animals? Although we may know the animals are coming from a sustainable population, what evidence do we have that they are of the same type or form as the ones they are replacing? Bringing wolves from an area where they may be bigger or smaller than the original Scottish Wolf could cause negative effects on either the wolf or its prey species, since its size difference could prove it to be too or less efficient as a hunter.
One of the big questions asked on whether Wolf or Lynx re-introduction would be feasible is, whether modern day Scotland has enough “wild” space for these animals to survive in without having too much impact on man and his activities…as we know, both species need large expanses of land. Some argue that Scotland could support a viable Lynx population [Hetherington 2005] but it is difficult to find any definitive work on the viability of a wolf re-introduction.
Without adequate space and habitat the re-introduction of any species could be quite false and in a sense no more than creating a romantic ideal of what we would like to see and ultimately turn the Highlands into a giant wildlife park. It is vital that before the return of any species takes place, we are quite sure what the cause of their demise was. Many species have been absent for over 200 years and we do not possess enough credible data to confirm that it was solely down to the actions of man. Climate change could be a factor, although exploitation by man, combined with the loss or fragmentation of habitat, might also have been the cause of the extinction.
We should be able to manage the human exploitation although we have seen much persecution towards re-introduced raptor species [RSPB 2008]. The governing factor is the reinstatement of habitat and the defragmentation. Fragmentation of habitat is not only an issue for proposed re-introductory species but also for species present within the Highlands, such as the Capercaillie, one of the most high profile ones. [Segelbacher 2003].
As discussed, the choice and feasibility of species, past and trial re-introductions are all factors affecting any future reintroductions in Scotland. Many people and organisations are passionate about the re-wilding of the Scottish Highlands, however we should not forget that he process is about a lot more than planting a few trees or releasing some once present birds or mammals back into the environment, no matter how good it may make us feel. The ecology of the Highlands is wide and varied and unless we can put together all the pieces of the ecological jigsaw, from the smallest, unseen insect to the largest tree or iconic animal we will not achieve the end product of a native natural landscape.
Stephen H. Forbes and Diane K. Boyd.Genetic Variation of Naturally Colonizing Wolves in the Central Rocky Mountains. Conservation Biology Vol. 10, No. 4 (Aug., 1996), pp. 1082-1090 (article consists of 9 pages). Published by: Blackwell Publishing for Society for Conservation Biology
Hetherington, D A  The feasibility of reintroducing the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) to Scotland. PhD thesis. University of Aberdeen
M. Marquiss, M. Madders*, J. Irvine & D.N. Carss . The Impact of White-tailed Eagles on Sheep Farming on Mull. Final Report. Page 4. Scottish Natural Heritage
Philip J. Seddon, Pritpal S. Soorae and Frédéric Launay (2005). Taxonomic bias in reintroduction projects. Animal Conservation, 8, pp 51-58 doi:10.1017/S1367943004001799
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds . A review of the illegal killing of birds of prey in Scotland in 2007
G. SEGELBACHER, J . HÖGLUND and I . STORCH. From connectivity to isolation: genetic consequences of population fragmentation in capercaillie across Europe
*Max Planck Research Centre for Ornithology, Vogelwarte Radolfzell, Radolfzell, Germany, †Wildlife Research and Management Unit, Weihenstephan Centre of Life and Food Science, TU Munich, Freising, Germany, ‡Population Biology/EBC, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden