Control and Contradictions.

Management. That word really gets me going. Land managers of all creeds are obsessed with it. Managing nature – that is selectively controlling which bits we want and which bits we don’t – has become an industry; careers and reputations are built on it. ‘Management’ is of course, a polite euphemism for ‘control’ and there are endless organisations that have at their heart, a constitutional objective to control; to exercise their dominion over nature.

Take the example of a respected and professional ‘conservation’ charity that is founded on the objective of ‘controlling’ certain species to benefit others – primarily those that can be shot for sport. I haven’t got an axe to grind with the principle of hunting but this organisation amongst many others, are symptomatic of an industry wedded to the idea of control.

Here in the Cairngorms there’s a developing dilemma. Of course it’s only a dilemma if you buy into the philosophy of one species deserving life over another. For millennia pine martens have lived alongside capercaillie. Now, capercaillie are up against it and predation by martens is one of the alleged contributory factors. Predictably then, the aforementioned conservation body is suggesting ‘managing’ legally protected martens to conserve the beleaguered capercaillie, also legally protected. So which species deserves to live?

Perhaps if caper conservation is indeed a priority, some of the intensively-managed treeless grouse moors that are held up as a reservoirs of biodiversity – true if you like red grouse – should be restored to the woodland upon which caper depend?

For those who enjoyed Springwatch recently, you might have noticed a slightly contradictory approach to the predator-prey interactions at RSPB Minsmere. Stoats hunting rabbits – that’s good. Barn owls hunting voles – that’s good. Even adders stalking nesting birds – these are all part of the natural cycle of birth, death, decay and regeneration. But badgers eating wader chicks? No, that’s not good at all. Solution: a fence around the wader wetland, which wouldn’t look out of place at Guantanamo Bay.

The complex ecological relationship between predators and prey is far from being fully understood but what is now widely accepted is that picking out individual strands of nature and ‘managing’ them in isolation, is both unwise and unsustainable.

To be fair, I have some sympathy for Land Managers that are bound to certain actions by the expectations of their employers who in turn, are dictated to by the aspirations of visitors or customers. That said, rebuilding our portfolio of native species – both those that predate and those that are predated – is surely a more desirable barometer of an informed and compassionate society than one that perpetuates the bankrupt idea of killing, or ‘managing’, anything that challenges our control of the natural world.

Call me a cynic but without the business of ‘control’ to attend to, there would be less need for the countless organisations and careers founded upon it.


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