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It is recommended that government officials refrain from engaging in cultural conflicts over the reintroduction of species in England.
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It is recommended that government officials refrain from engaging in cultural conflicts over the reintroduction of species in England.

The leader of the government’s taskforce has stated that ministers need to stop fighting over the return of animals like the beaver and lynx in order for nature to be restored in England.

Dr. Andy Clements is an expert in birds and played a key role in creating the organization Natural England. He leads the taskforce for reintroducing species and is qualified for the job. He was involved in the highly effective reintroduction of red kites in England.

He expressed his frustration with the discussion surrounding the reintroduction of species, as it relies on personal stories rather than solid proof. However, the fact remains that releasing these rare and locally extinct species into their natural habitats can aid in the restoration of nature.

The taskforce, which was created to advise the government on re-establishing species from the slipper orchid to the wolf, met for the first time last year and has been providing officials with evidence on how to reintroduce species.

Clements stated that our primary objective is to enhance the effectiveness and number of species reintroductions that aid in the restoration of nature. This must be achieved in a manner that is widely accepted and even celebrated by society. However, this is currently not always the situation, as there is considerable debate surrounding species reintroduction.

Until now, their advice has been disregarded. In the past year, Thérèse Coffey, who was the secretary for the environment, stated that a Conservative administration would not bring back animals like the lynx or wolf into the wild.

An adult female Eurasian lynx in Norway

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He expressed that it was fascinating to hear from the taskforce’s point of view. Combining wolves and lynx in the same statement is peculiar based on the evidence, as these species have distinct roles if they were to be reintroduced.

He made the decision to remain silent at the moment, but is optimistic that future discussions will rely more on evidence. “Although the taskforce has not explicitly addressed this, one of our ongoing projects is to examine the potential social and ecological consequences of reintroducing a diverse predator community in England.”

Some animals that used to live in this area, such as pine martens, wildcats, lynxes, wolves, white-tailed eagles, and possibly eagle owls, are no longer present due to being hunted.

The National Farmers’ Union, representing the farming industry, has been the main voice against reintroducing species like the beaver and white-tailed eagle. Clements pointed out that previous ministers have favored farming over nature, disregarding the positive impact of bringing back these species.

Last week, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which serves as the government’s oversight for nature, discovered that officials were not meeting the majority of their legally-binding goals for restoring nature in England.

A white-tailed eagle, the UK’s largest bird of prey

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Clements expressed frustration with the NFU’s objections regarding the white-tailed eagle, stating that their concerns were based on anecdotal evidence rather than factual evidence. The NFU claimed that white-tailed eagles were responsible for taking numerous lambs, but recent scientific research suggests that this is unlikely to be a significant threat.

He stated that instead of considering scientific evidence, the government is giving more weight to personal stories. He also mentioned that during Michael Gove’s time as the secretary of Defra, there was a better balance between addressing environmental concerns and the interests of land managers and farmers. However, he believes that the balance has been skewed towards favoring farming for an extended period.

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During his tenure from 2017 to 2019, Gove appeared to support the release of beavers and even participated in events celebrating their reintroduction from captivity. However, Coffey has stated that beaver reintroductions are not a top concern and her replacement, Steve Barclay, has chosen not to share his stance on the matter.

In 2020, a thorough investigation concluded that the presence of beavers in rural areas can aid in managing drought and flooding, as well as promoting biodiversity. Based on this finding, Natural England has given their support for reintroducing beavers into the wild. A licensing system has been established for conservation organizations to release beavers into their natural habitat, but government officials have not yet approved it.

Clements stated that the reintroduction of beavers has been pushed underground, leading to an increase in illegal releases. He also mentioned the National Trust’s project in Purbeck, Dorset, which aims to reintroduce beavers and create a suitable environment for their population to expand without any dispute.

The inclusion of beavers would improve the scenery and restore nature, but the project is on hold due to the government not approving Natural England’s plans for reintroducing and regulating the beavers.

Barclay has yet to met the taskforce, and it is unclear if he plans to. Clements said he was disappointed by ministers so far and hoped the new environment secretary took a more evidence-based approach.

The taskforce is disappointed that species reintroductions are not making a bigger impact on the government’s goals for nature’s recovery. Two particular targets, preventing extinctions and increasing biodiversity, could greatly benefit from these efforts.

“It is disappointing to me that politicians have not fully addressed the targets of species reintroductions. I would like to discuss this with Steve Barclay if given the opportunity.”

Source: theguardian.com