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Why are some people vehemently against reintroductions? (1 Viewer)

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
Willow tit (I only know of one site, maybe pollution is wiping them out?)
What??? Willow tits are in trouble in UK (and arguably more important in a global biodiversity sense than ospreys or white storks, given that ssp. kleinschmidti is confined to Britain).
But they are holding up reasonably well in parts of NE England, they're on both mine and my partner's garden lists in NW Durham / north of Newcastle; what our locations have in common is wet woodland in reasonably close proximity with rotten bark for excavating nesting holes. I'm struggling to see how pollution is wiping them out, I thought GSW predation might be more of an issue?
Surely the answer to this incredibly emotive thread is that some re-introductions have more value than others. Red kites have IMHO been really positive and worth the effort, if our scavenger fauna is confined to corvids and gulls then we would indeed have a very diminished avifauna. But the reintroduction range in NE England is constrained by shooters in the surrounding rural areas, and hasn't been as successful as places such as the M40 corridor.
I'm not sure why efforts have to be made for common cranes when they seem to be recolonising naturally anyway, there are plenty other crane species in far more trouble worldwide that need conservation $$$
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
What??? Willow tits are in trouble in UK (and arguably more important in a global biodiversity sense than ospreys or white storks, given that ssp. kleinschmidti is confined to Britain).
But they are holding up reasonably well in parts of NE England, they're on both mine and my partner's garden lists in NW Durham / north of Newcastle; what our locations have in common is wet woodland in reasonably close proximity with rotten bark for excavating nesting holes. I'm struggling to see how pollution is wiping them out, I thought GSW predation might be more of an issue?

My personal impressions of factors affecting Willow Tits (not all confirmed by published studies [yet]):
1 Competition from populations of Great & Blue Tits, enhanced due to bird feeders; these two are better adapted to exploit concentrated food sources like feeders, and then evict Willows from newly dug nests
2 In southern England, excessive browsing by exotic small deer reducing shrub layer density, with a lot of Willow Tit feeding is in the lowest metre or two above ground
Surely the answer to this incredibly emotive thread is that some re-introductions have more value than others. Red kites have IMHO been really positive and worth the effort, if our scavenger fauna is confined to corvids and gulls then we would indeed have a very diminished avifauna. But the reintroduction range in NE England is constrained by shooters in the surrounding rural areas, and hasn't been as successful as places such as the M40 corridor.
I'm not sure why efforts have to be made for common cranes when they seem to be recolonising naturally anyway, there are plenty other crane species in far more trouble worldwide that need conservation $$$
Agree on both Kites and Cranes points. The Gateshead Kites are doing shockingly badly :cry:
 

kb57

Well-known member
Europe
My personal impressions of factors affecting Willow Tits (not all confirmed by published studies [yet]):
1 Competition from populations of Great & Blue Tits, enhanced due to bird feeders; these two are better adapted to exploit concentrated food sources like feeders, and then evict Willows from newly dug nests
2 In southern England, excessive browsing by exotic small deer reducing shrub layer density, with a lot of Willow Tit feeding is in the lowest metre or two above ground

Agree on both Kites and Cranes points. The Gateshead Kites are doing shockingly badly :cry:
I would never have thought of willow tits as a bird which would go anywhere near a garden, but they are occasional visitors to my partner's sunflower seed feeders and my neighbours seed feeder - so maybe they are learning to exploit this additional food source now too. Agree it's all for nothing if great and blue tit numbers have indeed increased in recent decades - I mentioned GSW numbers because they have undoubtedly increased in NE England, in my youth they were much more confined to continuous broadleaved woodland. Agree down south muntjac are likely culprits.
I still see red kites in the Rowland's Gill / Burnopfield areas, where I drive through quite regularly, but this is pretty much the core reintroduction site. They should've colonised the Tyne and Allen valleys by now, not hard to work out why they haven't...
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
I would never have thought of willow tits as a bird which would go anywhere near a garden, but they are occasional visitors to my partner's sunflower seed feeders and my neighbours seed feeder - so maybe they are learning to exploit this additional food source now too. Agree
It‘s not a recent thing - I remember Willow Tits coming to feeders on my local reserve 20 years ago and they readily come to feeders on the continent and where there are localised populations in the UK. I am not sure what the impact of supplementary feeding is on population dynamics, clearly it is helping some species, but Willow Tit populations have crashed by about 80% in 20 years, so it’s not lack of food driving the decline, more a lack of habitat likely, particularly competition for nesting habitat combined with over-managed woodlands.
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
Highlands of Scotland are wilder and less developed
I'm pretty sure that most ecologists familiar with the history of the Scottish landscape would take great exception to that statement, probably these people most of all: https://www.rewild.scot/
The "wilderness" landscape you refer to is made exclusively for the rearing and shooting of grouse, and a wholly anthropogenic landscape. Again, this is largely down to land ownership, with a minority of wealth landowners controlling huge swathes of the countryside.
It is an ecological desert, much like most of the British upland areas.
Regarding white storks and eagle owls, there are five wrong statements in one sentence. First, white storks certainly bred in Britain.
Yes they did, with absolute (or near) certainty they bred in 1416. There seems to be little to no evidence of breeding away from this single event.
Second, in historic not prehistoric times.
Again, yes, on a single occasion. However there isn't clear evidence to suggest they were anything other than an occasional vagrant, never mind having bred in pre-historic periods. Given the frequency with which sea crossings are made (Gibraltar straights and Bosphorus, as well as regular route over Malta - a much more geographically isolated and longer sea-crossing than the UK) surely the species would have colonised the UK?
See https://britishbirds.co.uk/content/bb-eye bird-reintroductions and the BB response to Gow and Edgcumbe's 2016 paper - now discredited?
Fourth, eagle owls in Britain were not introduced, but escaped falconry birds with possibly some natural migrants from France.
Again, would be interested in your sources for this assertion - Eagle owl has yet to have knowingly occurred in the UK in a wild state, and that there are no acceptable sightings during spring/autumn, nor any records from (for example) North Sea oil platforms would indicate that the species doesn't occur in a wild state in the UK. Evidence suggests that the species was present 10,000 years ago, with a single fossil record dated approximately 2000 years ago.

I'm all in favour of rewilding, but I'd like to pose a three ideas for discussion;

  • What is the temporal "ideal" ecosystem in terms of rewilding, and how can this determined? 50 years/100 years/500 years/1000 years
  • Why not invest in ecosystem scale conservation projects (in UK Great Fen project or Somerset Levels for example) rather than singular species vanity projects
  • If species are going to be (re)introduced, ensure that a EIA has been undertaken showing no detrimental impact to other species
 

Nutcracker

Stop Brexit!
I would never have thought of willow tits as a bird which would go anywhere near a garden, but they are occasional visitors to my partner's sunflower seed feeders and my neighbours seed feeder - so maybe they are learning to exploit this additional food source now too. Agree it's all for nothing if great and blue tit numbers have indeed increased in recent decades - I mentioned GSW numbers because they have undoubtedly increased in NE England, in my youth they were much more confined to continuous broadleaved woodland. Agree down south muntjac are likely culprits.
I still see red kites in the Rowland's Gill / Burnopfield areas, where I drive through quite regularly, but this is pretty much the core reintroduction site. They should've colonised the Tyne and Allen valleys by now, not hard to work out why they haven't...
Yep - I never said that Willows don't visit bird tables (they do, frequently), just that they are less efficient at exploiting them than Great & Blue Tits. The result is increased populations of Great & Blue Tits, looking for nest sites in spring, and one very easy source for them is evicting Willow Tits from newly dug nests. Since it takes a pair of Willow Tits about a month to excavate a nest, loss of a nest site just dug means no breeding for that pair that year, which inevitably means a sharp drop in population.
 
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Telephoto Paul

Well-known member
  • Why not invest in ecosystem scale conservation projects (in UK Great Fen project or Somerset Levels for example) rather than singular species vanity projects
Some species are useful keystones that have massive knock-on effects. The best example for the UK is beaver; their 'ecosystem engineering' makes them worth a million times their weight. A beaver is cheaper than human labour for modifying the landscape! Wolves, bears and lynx would help our problem with too many deer....

Ecosystem scale conservation costs a lot of money and sexy species have the potential to be a fund raiser beyond the cost. While this won't always be true, I suspect somewhere like Mull has received more tourist pounds from people seeking WTEs than was spent on re-introducing them.

Squatters rights. It's easier to argue for maintaining or developing ecosystems when there's one or more existing priority or headline species that needs it. A population of bustards becomes the driver to maintain or expand a certain type of habitat that ends up benefiting lots of species. Cranes becomes a useful headline in why the Great Fen and Somerset Levels should be protected and expanded. Specialist species are a stronger argument than benefitting species with a wider distribution.

Personally I think humans have a moral duty to reintroduce every species who's extinction we caused. It's only a question when and how, not if. Sadly I don't expect wolves or bears in my lifetime, but I think it's important to frame the debate as a case of when. If you don't start making the argument today, you probably won't tomorrow...
 

jurek

Well-known member
Yes they did, with absolute (or near) certainty they bred in 1416. There seems to be little to no evidence of breeding away from this single event.

There is also at least a place-name in the Knepp area. Given general scarcity of bird observation in the 15. century, two surviving records should be taken as regular occurrence. It is improbable that two isolated records both made it through public memory towards today. This is how historical records (not only birds and wildlife) are interpreted.

Your suggestion is against laws of probability, and against accepted methods of history.

  • What is the temporal "ideal" ecosystem in terms of rewilding, and how can this determined? 50 years/100 years/500 years/1000 years

This question is not very relevant to reintroductions of single species, especially ones which have rather broad habitat requirements, like many birds. They would generally live in the 21. century landscape. Elsewhere, it would be interesting, if academic.

There is also, I suppose, a false dichotomy either-or, and an impossible assertion that all conservationists could and should agree on only one vision and one project.

  • Why not invest in ecosystem scale conservation projects (in UK Great Fen project or Somerset Levels for example) rather than singular species vanity projects

You keep repeating the false argument there is some fixed pot of conservation money, and funds for reintroduction could be freely switched to other possible projects. Which is usually not the case, certainly not in case of White Storks, for example.

In addition to what Telephoto Paul written, charismatic species, especially big birds and mammals have special benefit of raising public interest. One could see reintroduction as an alternative to e.g. building yet another visitor center, explanation tables or boardwalks aimed at general public. Nobody questions spending money on these.

  • If species are going to be (re)introduced, ensure that a EIA has been undertaken showing no detrimental impact to other species
You are asking for impossible and unscientific. In an ecosystem, any animal by definition has negative impact on its food species, and a plant at least on other competing plants. And you seem to be suggesting, that it is possible e.g. for a rare insect-eating bird to eat only common insects and never rare ones.

Besides, in absence of said species, checking or proving impact or no impact is normally not realistic. This is normally not considered relevant in rare European species, where it is assumed that since they coexisted in the past, and currently coexist elsewhere, they would fit together.

To add something: there is a well known tactic of delaying events by never-ending asking for more assessment, evidence, study etc. It fits your argument on proper spending funds - should one spend money on actual reintroduction, or waste on endless EIAs and paperwork, which often have little evidence to work with?

I would argue that for many reintroductions, it is better spending funds to try reintroducing species in many areas, even if they would fail in some of them. It would also mimic the natural dispersal and colonization, where most of colonizing individuals fail.
 
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Sangahyando

Well-known member
I think you are imagining a straw man, something no conservationist takes seriously.
I don't know what you mean by that. Also, I would humbly posit that you don't know every conservationist.

Regarding wolves and bears, they live in human-transformed landscape with fields, farms, villages, towns, roads, tourist resorts etc. in many places in Europe. Highlands of Scotland are wilder and less developed and populated than many wolf and bear habitats.
Again, you're dodging the issue of genetic sustainability of such isolated populations.

Agreed - they've got Wolves in the Netherlands and Denmark now. If they can live with them, so can England, let alone Scotland or Wales.
Hardly self-sustaining populations, and there's enough issues with wolves vis-à-vis dense human populations over here.

Personally I think humans have a moral duty to reintroduce every species who's extinction we caused. It's only a question when and how, not if. Sadly I don't expect wolves or bears in my lifetime, but I think it's important to frame the debate as a case of when. If you don't start making the argument today, you probably won't tomorrow...
I think you've raised some valid points, but the last two sentences don't make sense to me. How do you expect to a genetically self-sustaining population of wolves or bears in Britain to be possible? I know they occurred centuries ago, under totally different conditions.

Your suggestion is against laws of probability, and against accepted methods of history.
Which accepted methods of history would that be?

You keep repeating the false argument there is some fixed pot of conservation money, and funds for reintroduction could be freely switched to other possible projects. Which is usually not the case, certainly not in case of White Storks, for example.
I think it's a valid way of seeing things when it comes to state funds/efforts, and total resources we as a species have.
 
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jurek

Well-known member
Again, you're dodging the issue of genetic sustainability of such isolated populations.

Because it is difficult to estimate without knowing future population in Britain. Which would depend on rather not obvious issues - like size of deer population to feed lynxes or wolves, or ability of lynxes to live near motorways without being run over, for example. Or ability of large birds to disperse to the Continent, which was underestimated.

In a hypothetical case only 100 or few 100s of individuals, the species situation in Britain would be much like many big animals in large national parks of Africa. These are often isolated by farmland. In such case, translocation of few individuals every 1-3 generations could be done, as it is practiced in some places in Africa.

there's enough issues with wolves vis-à-vis dense human populations over here.

Not to my knowledge.

Which accepted methods of history would that be?

Repeating myself - generalization from individual historical sources.

I think it's a valid way of seeing things when it comes to state funds/efforts, and total resources we as a species have.

I am not sure about your species. Reintroductions in Britain are largely funded from private or non-governmental funds. They also usually raise funds which would otherwise not be raised for conservation. And you omit that reintroductions generate additional monetary and non-monetary gains: local tourism, support for other conservation etc.

21. century in developed countries is becoming more and more friendly towards big animals. Farming of lower quality land is abandoned anyway, rural flight, and switch of economy towards tourism and remote work, to which wildlife is not in competition but benign or profitable.
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
You are asking for impossible and unscientific. In an ecosystem, any animal by definition has negative impact on its food species, and a plant at least on other competing plants. And you seem to be suggesting, that it is possible e.g. for a rare insect-eating bird to eat only common insects and never rare ones.

Besides, in absence of said species, checking or proving impact or no impact is normally not realistic. This is normally not considered relevant in rare European species, where it is assumed that since they coexisted in the past, and currently coexist elsewhere, they would fit together.
Hi Jurek,

Some interesting points (also thanks to Paul) for discussion.

Briefly regarding funding - although enigmatic species may bring in additional funds (putting aside the notion that some of these projects are privately funded), conservation organisations will respond (to a degree) to what the public value. With insurmountable evidence highlighting the affects that human activities are having on the climate and habitats, it is my opinion that habitats should be conserved over species, and that conservation organisations should respond accordingly. Pure conjecture I'll admit, but without large areas of interconnected high quality habitat present, how can reintroductions become self-sustaining? The UK government has just overturned legislation to allow the use of neonicotinoids in the UK for example, a regressive decision that will seriously impact the entire ecosystem, having ramifications up the trophic levels.

Just a quick comment on the above, my suggestion regard an EIA is more down to geographical placement of WS (re)introduction in relation to the known distribution of our rarest reptiles (smooth snake and sand lizard) as well as metapopulations for a European Protected Species (GCN). I think it is accepted that WS will likely take individuals of the three species outlined above, but the issue is that this is simply adding additional pressure to these species. This is less of a concern on the continent where there is a greater genetic diversity, but on an isolated island such additional pressure could result in decreased fecundity.
Can greater value be placed on a species which has an arguably tenuous place in the UK's avifauna over three species which are known to be native? I'm not making a judgement, just asking a question.

Cheers,
 

Mono

Hi!
Staff member
Supporter
Europe
I once had an interesting chat with a whale researcher. She had been studying the recovery of Right Whale numbers after whaling. Her conclusion was that they would never get to previous levels because the ecosystem had "moved on". With the Right Whales absence other animals had expanded their niches and a new equilibrium had formed. The whales simply can't muscle back into their previous position.

Something similar may very well happen in "rewilded" zones, the new equilibrium maybe be highly biodiverse but not necessarily in the same mix as before. Parachuted in reintroductions may not flourish as they did in the past as the new "wild" balance is different to the old "wild" balance. Are we seeking to create a facsimile of some putative past ecosystem (albeit within the limit of our knowledge of what was actually there 100s of years ago)? Or are we seeking to create a highly biodiverse ecosystem that has what it has?

On a separate note I was rather taken aback by the delight that some of the nature stars on Twitter were responding to this story.
'Who doesn't love a turtle?' The teenage boys on a mission – to rewild Britain with reptiles | Reptiles | The Guardian

The main reasons for the decline in British herps is destruction and fragmentation of habitat not a lack of breeding stock. They are also driven by the rewilding equals reintroduction model (I view them as two separate things). Their main aim is to introduce animals that have been extirpated from Britain for thousands of years, seemingly just because they like herps!
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I once had an interesting chat with a whale researcher. She had been studying the recovery of Right Whale numbers after whaling. Her conclusion was that they would never get to previous levels because the ecosystem had "moved on". With the Right Whales absence other animals had expanded their niches and a new equilibrium had formed. The whales simply can't muscle back into their previous position.

Something similar may very well happen in "rewilded" zones, the new equilibrium maybe be highly biodiverse but not necessarily in the same mix as before. Parachuted in reintroductions may not flourish as they did in the past as the new "wild" balance is different to the old "wild" balance. Are we seeking to create a facsimile of some putative past ecosystem (albeit within the limit of our knowledge of what was actually there 100s of years ago)? Or are we seeking to create a highly biodiverse ecosystem that has what it has?

On a separate note I was rather taken aback by the delight that some of the nature stars on Twitter were responding to this story.
'Who doesn't love a turtle?' The teenage boys on a mission – to rewild Britain with reptiles | Reptiles | The Guardian

The main reasons for the decline in British herps is destruction and fragmentation of habitat not a lack of breeding stock. They are also driven by the rewilding equals reintroduction model (I view them as two separate things). Their main aim is to introduce animals that have been extirpated from Britain for thousands of years, seemingly just because they like herps!
Herps don't need enormous home ranges, and indeed many species have patchy distributions that require specific environments. You don't need the land area to establish a healthy population of most herps that you would need for some mammals and birds, such as herps. So I see no reason why such introductions should be prevented, as long as it is species that are native, and not simply popular foreign species.
 

Welsh Peregrine

Well-known member
As far as I know there is little if any evidence for the British status of almost all of the species listed; only Pool Frog and Pond Tortoise Are the exceptions.
 

dantheman

Bah humbug
There is also at least a place-name in the Knepp area. Given general scarcity of bird observation in the 15. century, two surviving records should be taken as regular occurrence. It is improbable that two isolated records both made it through public memory towards today. This is how historical records (not only birds and wildlife) are interpreted.
The parallel in modern life is complaints against eg tv programs eg if 3 people complain about a particular program it is taken seriously even if 100,000s watched it - the assumption is they represent a much larger number of people who didn't get around to it (apathy or whatever). So 2 reasonable records could well indicate the tip of an iceberg. However if the storks were not revered/rejoiced in as a matter of course in England (as would be the case in Europe) they may just well have occurred at a low frequency/infrequently as they usually got eaten and so never made it into folklore ...

(Of course this has changed in the last few years with social media campaigns etc)
 

dwatsonbirder

Well-known member
The parallel in modern life is complaints against eg tv programs eg if 3 people complain about a particular program it is taken seriously even if 100,000s watched it - the assumption is they represent a much larger number of people who didn't get around to it (apathy or whatever). So 2 reasonable records could well indicate the tip of an iceberg. However if the storks were not revered/rejoiced in as a matter of course in England (as would be the case in Europe) they may just well have occurred at a low frequency/infrequently as they usually got eaten and so never made it into folklore ...

(Of course this has changed in the last few years with social media campaigns etc)
...or alternatively the two occurrences of nesting were so unusual they were recorded for historical prosperity. ;)

Can history repeat itself if something has only been recorded once (without human intervention)?
 

Sterngucker

Well-known member
Just reintroducing wildlife into areas where it had lived before being either hunted to extinction or disappearing involuntarily due to man-made destruction of or changes in its ecosystem is bound to fail as stated above.
Humans cannot undo what they did just by trying to force an animal to live somewhere again.
The only way this could be achieved is by making areas, large areas, into wildlife refuges - basically completely natural wilderness. Without human intervention maybe the ecosystem there would once again (d)evolve into one to which the respective animals would be drawn naturally.
One can only asume that those reintroductors have little understanding of the holistic nature of the system we live in - and are so busy destroying.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Just reintroducing wildlife into areas where it had lived before being either hunted to extinction or disappearing involuntarily due to man-made destruction of or changes in its ecosystem is bound to fail as stated above.
Humans cannot undo what they did just by trying to force an animal to live somewhere again.
The only way this could be achieved is by making areas, large areas, into wildlife refuges - basically completely natural wilderness. Without human intervention maybe the ecosystem there would once again (d)evolve into one to which the respective animals would be drawn naturally.
One can only asume that those reintroductors have little understanding of the holistic nature of the system we live in - and are so busy destroying.
But there are plenty of examples of taxa getting reintroduced and the introductions succeeding. As long as the original problem was dealt with and the habitat/food is there, I don't see an issue.
 

aeshna5

Well-known member
This is true. Red Kite in parts of England would be a classic example of this. I now see these birds daily over my west London garden & have increased by a phenomenal amount.
 

jurek

Well-known member
Briefly regarding funding - although enigmatic species may bring in additional funds (putting aside the notion that some of these projects are privately funded), conservation organisations will respond (to a degree) to what the public value.

This is an additional argument to reintroduce charismatic, large, colorful species. Purely for the pleasure of people. Sounds still much better for me, than building more visitor centers, paved paths, boardwalks, flower beds and suchlike, which are done purely for people not animals.

it is my opinion that habitats should be conserved over species,

You are at some point conserving empty habitats.

Pure conjecture I'll admit, but without large areas of interconnected high quality habitat present, how can reintroductions become self-sustaining?
Translocations and reintroductions between reserves can be exactly a remedy to destroying connections between habitat patches.

The UK government has just overturned legislation to allow the use of neonicotinoids in the UK for example, a regressive decision that will seriously impact the entire ecosystem, having ramifications up the trophic levels.
There are many other worthy issues, but whataboutism. What about some other issue?
Just a quick comment on the above, my suggestion regard an EIA is more down to geographical placement of WS (re)introduction in relation to the known distribution of our rarest reptiles (smooth snake and sand lizard) as well as metapopulations for a European Protected Species (GCN). I think it is accepted that WS will likely take individuals of the three species outlined above, but the issue is that this is simply adding additional pressure to these species. This is less of a concern on the continent where there is a greater genetic diversity, but on an isolated island such additional pressure could result in decreased fecundity.
You are implying without evidence that taking surplus individuals from a reserve will harm it. More likely, populations in reserves produce excess of young which have nowhere to go. They should emigrate (or be helped to emigrate by transporting them) and start new populations.

This is a theory of metapopulations, that in patchy habitats, many species constantly, naturally, die out in some patches and colonize new patches. This is how populations persist. Translocations are simply humans replacing other humans which broke migration routes.
Can greater value be placed on a species which has an arguably tenuous place in the UK's avifauna over three species which are known to be native? I'm not making a judgement, just asking a question.
This is a question of value, which has no objective answer, or no one answer to all people. That is why reintroductions should not be blocked because some people only want habitat protection.

Actually, for me, species are more important than a habitat. A habitat reconstitutes itself wherever these species are present and suitable non-living conditions exist, but you must have all species. One can replant oak trees and regrow an oak forest, but one cannot recreate an extinct species this way.
 

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