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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4 thoughts on “Control and Contradictions.

  1. Perhaps it is time to find a new definition for “management” – or a new term for the handling of the land altogether.
    I agree fully that we mustn’t have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ species. Especially in the relation between predators and vulnerable (i.e. endangered) prey species a true management could reflect our social system (if this comparison can be made, as animals shouldn’t be humanized, of course): we could help a struggling species, be it predator or prey, **until** it found its footing again.
    And yes, this kind of managing should run under the banner of repairing what went wrong (because of us) instead of controlling (which, as we have seen, basically never works in a healthy way).
    Admittedly, I’m not fond of hunting and killing animals for sports, but my personal opinion notwithstanding, we need to offer a replacement for the income through grouse shooting for those who live and work in the area, both in matters of income as in meaningful work. I wonder, if the introduction of lost species, especially bigger predators, could help to turn the income generating activities from gun-shooting into photo-shooting – analogous to the change from shark-killing to shark-watching, making a switch to pine marten or even lynx-watching. Which, of course, probably would face the same problems these activities face in relation to the marine habitat.

    The most important task, IMHO, is to make it clear to the public that, as you put it, no species has a greater right to live than any other. And that includes our own.

  2. Here, here. Something I’ve long been saying myself, see my pinned Tweet @Landethics. I’ve been having this conversation with land managers at every available opportunity. As I said to Liam Stokes (Head of Shooting at Countryside Alliance)…

    “the model of the British countryside you describe [is] that shooting interests act as some kind of benevolent custodian; all seeing, all knowing, all powerful. You manage the landscape for the benefit of those species you like to shoot, accept those of no discernible economic value if they are otherwise benign, and control those that compete with you for your sport.”

    This is NOT a suitable model on which to build a sustainable world.

  3. I sort of agree…..ish. But what about those species from a bygone era that would not make it in the modern world? About half of our butterflies fall into this bracket. Most of the Blues for instance. Many of our orchids also. Micro managed small reserves of a habitat that was once widespread are all that keep some of them alive, they are almost open air zoos in a way. Collard Hill for the Large Blues for instance, a lovely place, but without intensive management it would be a scrubby hillside. And we have plenty of those. So I cant agree with you 100%….I do love butterflies.

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