The wolves will come…

…whether we like it or not.

These are the words of Frans Vera, a highly respected Dutch ecologist, and of course he is right. For anyone with any knowledge of wolf ecology, it should come as no surprise that these entrepreneurial predators have recently found their way into both Belgium and The Netherlands – two highly urbanised countries which on the face of it, seem completely unsuitable for wolves.

So what do these wolf wanderings mean for under-the-table discussions on their return to Britain? Well perhaps not much in the short term – wolves will never reach these shores unaided. But politically, each time a wolf is sighted in a new European country, the legislative pressure is cranked up a notch. Why should France, Italy and Spain – and now Holland and Belgium – put up with wolves and not us? Is it fair that we subscribe to EU legislation on the restoration of native species but we’re conspicuous by not conforming to it? No sensible EU politician with an eye on re-election would ever suggest wolves are eliminated from mainland Europe, so what makes the UK different?

There are myriad answers to that question but our island status is perhaps the most significant. Wolves from eastern Europe have been expanding their range for a couple of decades now, so it’s inevitable that they will find new niches. From Poland to Germany, from Germany to Belgium – administrative boundaries are of no concern to a pioneering wolf looking for somewhere to raise a new generation. But don’t panic, the UK is ‘protected’ thanks to 22 miles of open sea. For wolves to come here – and lets assume the political will for a moment – they’d need to be caught, crated, transported and released. Aside from the cost and the socio-political furore, there is another factor which will ultimately determine whether wild wolves are ever seen back in Britain: the media. Wolves that slip across an unseen border can avoid drawing attention to themselves, but that’s simply not possible here.

For wolf advocates the media could be their greatest ally; it’s a powerful platform for education, but considering their historic treatment of large predator stories, don’t count your chickens – or should that be sheep? If I was a hungry young journalist I can think of only one story that would spit on foxes sneaking into suburban houses, sea eagles having the potential to snatch babies, or even polar bears killing undeserving expedition students: Wolves coming back to Britain. It’s a journalistic wet dream and could pitch neighbour against neighbour for months.

My guess is that 20 years from now, wolves will be an accepted part of the landscape across most of Western Europe, but unless there’s a fundamental shift in the definition of responsible media, the English Channel will be one step too far for Canis lupus.

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6 thoughts on “The wolves will come…

  1. Putting the head to one side for a minute and speaking straight from the heart, all I can say is find me some shipping crates!! I’d love to have the opportunity to see these wonderful creatures in the wild over here. Yes, there will be instances where the “wrong” animal is taken as a meal from time to time, but life will go on. As for the media, well…… a fully paid up cynic, where they are concerned, I won’t be wasting much time listening to their views on the matter. Anything to sell a story sums them up in my opinion – does it have to be accurate or factully true? Does it hell!!

  2. Hello Peter

    You make some very valid points IMHO and on the day I’ve been photographing the local Iberian population in the forest where Fee and I live here in Andalucia, Spain. With so much suitable habitat in the north of Scotland it really warrants a concerted attempt to reintroduce the species. Though the the pen pushers at government level will undoubtedly side with an ill informed general public opinion. Beyond that I have no knowledge of Northern European Wolf and as they say if one man in Britain certainly knows his subject on wolves then that man is you.


    PS. The habitat image is top drawer.

  3. Hi, Pete.
    Journalism and media again, right? Well, as you know, we do have wolves in Portugal. I recently had the opportunity to see one in a slight look just after the sunset in plain wildlife, in Peneda-Gerês National Park (our only NP).
    As a matter of fact, shepherds are afraid of them. What they do not seem to know is that wolves are also afraid (sometimes more) of people as a result of a total misunderstanding of what is the usual behavior of such animals and mainly why they do have such behavior.
    What I am trying to say is that (this time) there is a total lack of knowledge which allows and stimulates bad story-telling. Not because they don’t like wolves. Here and many other places, to be honest. But as we must try to fight it, we also must educate people and that is the most difficult part, I believe.
    Take this for an example: in Portugal, there is a proposal to extinguish ICN, which is our Nature Conservation Institute. Assuming that I do not have the right answers for everything, I honestly believe this is not one of the best.

    Rúben Neves

  4. On a slightly more serious note to my previous comments, I do find it slightly amusing that whenever the subject of a re-introduction is mentioned it is always, always discussed on a species level. Surely, when anything like this is even thought about, then it has to be considered on a complete eco-system / food chain level – no one species operates in isolation (except perhaps me on a bad day!).

  5. Personally I would like to see the reintroduction of Lynx as well as Wolf. As I have said before education is the way forward, unfortunately you cannot rely on a significant proportion of the British media to help provide a balanced discussion. I remember a conversation I had with a member of the public over the reintroduction of the Beaver some time ago. He had read about it in the papers and was worried about the amount of fish they would eat and that they would cause flooding. The fact they are herbivores seemed lost on him.

    In the age of money before any other consideration the economical benefits to the locals through tourism would certainly need emphasising. Perhaps if the Wolf does indeed become integrated into the Western Europe ecosystem the UK may be under greater pressure to reintroduce them here. Sadly I fear it is more likely that there will be calls to start culling them in Western Europe in 20 years time instead. That said I always doubted the Beaver would get a chance and it has happened so what do I know:-)


  6. Interesting news re the wolves. Maybe they could take to long distance, open water swimming or hitch a ride on Eurostar!!

    As you know I’m one of those “ordinary” (well you may think differently) members of the public who would agree with re-introduction of our once native species, but think that perhaps you’re right – the media and those who don’t really understand the total picture would never let it happen.

    I know you don’t watch much TV but a similar sort of question was asked on Autumn Watch last week. The question was following an item on Wild Boar and basically they wanted to know how the viewers felt about re-introduction of boar and other large predators. I almost dropped you in it – hee hee – by putting something on their blog but thought better of it! Maybe you should speak to Chris Packham next week to stir things up a bit:-)


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