When it comes to wildlife, I feel really sorry for the British. All the great beasties of the past have been wiped out (or never reached the island in the first place). No wolves, no bison, no big predatory cats. Nada.
Scotland prides itself on still being home to a big population of red deer and some pretty huge birds, but the English have to deal with the fact that their ancestors left them with a beautiful but very lonely country.
I find it really sad. I come from the land of cougars, moose, wolverines, lynx, seals, and all kinds of bears, from cuddly black ones to big bad-ass white ones. At my highschool sweetheart’s family farm in southern Quebec, you could occasionally hear wolves howling at night – and that wasn’t very far from Montreal.
So when English people do silly things in a vain attempt to conserve the megafauna they have left, I find it really endearing.
Last week a couple of beavers made a return to rural Scotland, where the animals have been absent for about 250 years (save for on a couple of private highland estates and in wildlife parks). But the beavers didn’t find their way into the countryside on their own – they were almost certainly introduced by a couple of enthusiastic beaver fans.
However, not everyone shares this love for the rodents – beavers are not popular with farmers and the like, because they wreak havoc on waterways and create huge, inconvenient lakes, killing all the trees in the area.
According to the head zookeeper at Edinburgh Zoo,
“Frankly releasing them was just stupidity as well as being illegal. If you are going to release these animals then it has to be part of a properly controlled and monitored experiment. These would be captive animals and it’s not fair to dump them in the countryside.”
So the beavers are going to be re-captured as soon as possible – to the great disappointment of their liberators and (most certainly) the beavers themselves.
If you thought re-introducing beavers to the UK sounds controversial, check out this group, Wolftrust, who want to re-introduce wolves into Scotland (along with lynx and bears).
Wolves were wiped out from Britain in the 17th century – as they were from the rest of Europe in the ensuing years. Supposedly wolves are starting to recolonize central Europe (although I am extremely skeptical about that), and this organization wants Britain to welcome the predators back as well.
The idea sounds great to me – predators are necessary to keep herbivore numbers in check, and to maintain the ecological health of an area. But I really doubt the scheme could work – they’d have to make sure that the animals aren’t just wiped out again by resentful farmers wanting to protect their livestock. Also, where are they going to get the wolves? Any large population that they could siphon animals off from would probably be found in Canada – I doubt Canadian wolves would appreciate being moved to Scotland, with far fewer prey animals to enjoy. Still, I really applaud the idea – I would love to think of wolves roaming the highlands once more.
If the lack of beavers and the complete absence of wolves wasn’t sad enough however, the case of the golden eagle in England is just tragic: there is only one bird left, in the entire country. Golden eagles were proudly displayed on English shields and standards for centuries – they still grace the emblem of the RAF.
Poor Golden Boy. His female companion has just died, and he now may spend the rest of his life – probably another twenty years – roaming the Lake District all by his lonesome self. There are still more than 400 pairs of the birds up in Scotland, but it’s unlikely that any of those birds will fly south to team up with Golden Boy. Wildlife managers could try and introduce a new female from another location – but there’s no guarantee that she’ll take to Golden Boy or to England.
Man, it’s just all bad news for English wildlife it seems. I’d like to be optimistic – but it really doesn’t seem like this nation will be home to any more big birds or mammals anytime soon.
England is however still home to one group of fantastic animals: songbirds. As I’ve pointed out before, I really haven’t heard birdsong anywhere on earth as beautiful as the dawn chorus in this country. Check out www.garden-birds.co.uk, BBC Radio and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for audio files.
Unfortunately, the small, harmless songbirds of England are also disappearing: skylarks have fallen by about half, corn buntings have declined by more than 80 per cent, and tree sparrows are almost entirely gone, according to the Wildlife Trusts. Partially due to habitat loss, and probably due in part to the effects of climate change, which is altering bird populations all over Europe.
To try and draw attention to the loss of songbirds in the UK, the Wildlife Trusts launched the International Dawn Chorus Day back in 1984, which is today, May 6.
So try and get up early (or stay out late) sometime and pay attention to the music outside your window. They aren’t the flashiest looking creatures, but plain little brown songbirds can really amaze you, if you just listen.