Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
This week the Mammal Society published ‘A Review of the Population and Conservation Status of British Mammals’ which contained quite a lot of good news. Otters are back in decent numbers, polecats and pine martens are increasing in range. Beavers and wild boar have been reintroduced. Populations of all the deer species are growing and badger numbers have doubled in the last 20 years. There are losers as well, but interestingly most suffer from predation or competition from other mammal species. The red squirrel is threatened by the grey, water voles are predated by mink, wildcats are close to extinction because of illicit affairs and hybridisation with domestic cats, hedgehogs suffer at the claws of the burgeoning badger population, whilst the black rat has been out competed by its brown cousin and eradicated by man.
What was very notable in the coverage of this report, however, was the relentless negativity with which the research was reported. The Mammal Society, like so many conservation charities, seems desperately keen to promote scare stories about wildlife. This led to reports not about the positive status of so many mammal species, but that a fifth of British mammal species were at risk of extinction, which is just nonsense.
There are undoubtedly concerns about parts of the natural world. Many woodland and farmland bird species are in decline, insect numbers have dropped and many of our rivers are suffering from pollution. As this study shows, however, not all the news is bad and there are reasons for optimism. Many species of mammals are thriving, as are most raptors. Iconic species like badgers and buzzards which were absent from much of the country only a few decades ago are now abundant nearly everywhere. Otters have recolonised nearly every part of the country, whilst red kites have spread rapidly from county to county.
Even with some species that are not doing well on a national basis there are reasons to be positive. Water voles may still be under huge pressure, but practical conservationists have shown that with mink eradication and habitat restoration their decline can be reversed. Lapwing are breeding successfully with the right habitat and predator control. Black grouse thrive on the fringe of well managed grouse moors. These successful models, and many others, can be rolled out across the country. It is rational to be optimistic when there are such positive examples of conservation success.
Follow me at @CA_TimB