It’s not often that The Rangers gets to say ‘I told you so’. But you can be sure that when those opportunities come along, he’ll not be too reluctant to do it. Back in November 2005 one of the very first posts on this blog analysed the massive spend on red squirrel conservation in mainland England, and contrasted it unfavourably with the amounts spent on the thriving population on the Isle of Wight.
Now it seems that BBC Wildlife magazine has woken up to this debate – in the August 2006 issue Prof Stephen Harris from the University of Bristol writes an article which is bound to court controversy, in which he says:
“Conserving rare or vulnerable species on islands is not a new concept… [The UK] is not short of large, accessible islands where it would be simpler and cheaper to conserve red squirrels. It would be more effective in the long term to establish these as red squirrel reserves.”
BBC News goes even further and actually mentions the Isle of Wight – a welcome change, as often media coverage suggests that the only chance for Tufty is Formby or the wilds of Northumberland or whatever. It’s more dramatic that way, and conveniently ignores the large and stable population on the Isle of Wight. It’s also about spending money and doing something – people hate to just stand by and do nothing as those pesky grey squirrels advance. But advance they will. News reports of the latest hi-tech developments in red squirrel preservation make good headlines, but what then? Most of the expensive projects and proposals will no doubt have short-term benefits, but what of the longer term? A natural population of reds, given suitable habitat, needs nothing in the way of extra food, innoculations, breeding programmes, road crossings, viewing areas, exclusion zones or whatever. All they need is a suitable supply of habitat and some monitoring… and no greys. The Ranger is glad that this idea is being discussed. It’s a shame that we might have to choose between big, impressive but ultimately ineffectual schemes that gain plenty of media coverage and public support, and more or less unknown ones which actually benefit rare species. It would be great to take the beneficial elements from both these scenarios, because even the most successful conservation scheme on the ground is ultimately likely to fail if the public do not understand or want it.