At the African wildlife conservation hunting conference, the man from the UN Environment Programme was unequivocal with me: “if elephants are global ‘public goods’, then developed countries should also pay towards local communities having to ‘manage’ living alongside them”.
There have been plenty of conservation conflicts covered by mainstream news items this year. In Germany wolves may now be shot if they threaten livestock (not human life); monkeys in India bit and stoned two humans to death (culling has failed due to high breeding rate); in Scotland pigeon fanciers have been targeting birds of prey who threaten their racers (a welfare charity opined ‘unnatural amounts of pigeons attracts unnatural amounts of predators’); while on an island off Devon, the extermination of red-listed black rats from Lundy 10 years ago have enabled populations of seabirds to rebound.
Increasingly the clash of humans with wildlife is subtly, and not so subtly, being highlighted outside academia but with wider society continuing to avoid facing up to also being the protagonists within the tensions around conservation, recreation, resources and land use.
As Professor Georgina Mace said in her forward to ‘Conflicts in Conservation – navigating towards solutions’ (a gritty book I managed to slip into one of my few Nature Notebook columns for The Times), “the apparent conflicts between people and the environment are better tackled by appreciating that the conflicts are actually between different groups of people”.
How easily conversations on tough conservation issues fail to translate across different human interests, let alone continental cultural shifts
After three days working in Namibia, my notebook started to fill with crossover thoughts with how we in the UK rub up against wildlife and the environment when farming (managing hedgerows), on recreation (mountain bikers disturbing capercaillie), undertaking tourism (river users), making conservation choices (controlling foxes to save curlews), developing land (forestry tracks), extracting resources (irrigating lawns), harvesting reared meat (game shooting).
A rich picking of topics for anyone from an ecologically bored comfortable ‘love-wildlife-but-not-too-close-to-me’ urbanising UK, less so to one of the least densely populated countries, Namibia, where wildlife is prone to bite, headbutt or kick first.
This nuanced message was conveniently ignored by the recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecostyem Services (IPBES) with its high-media impact press release – ‘Dangerous decline, extinction ahead for wildlife’ – linked to a simple, short and engaging animated infographic on five main causes of decline in biodiversity way in advance of the main report actually being launched.
It’s no laughing matter as we cross planetary boundaries, but I fear ‘science-policy platforms’ are missing a trick by playing to ill-informed audiences, while ignoring complex issues around minority rural communties who live alongside pachyderms rampaging for water or manage garden-trashing wild boar.
Far removed from our doorsteps, we sometimes seek to govern other practices, put pressure ‘to conform in a censorious age’ – as Lord Sumption said in his recent Reith Lecture – and use law not to protect us from harm, but to “recruit us to moral conformity”.
When you next set a trap for a mouse or fence a fox out from a hen run, delve into Garth Owen-Smith’s book ‘An Arid Eden’ on examples of how community-led programmes, endorsed by WWF Namibia, seek to foster co-existence with dangerous ‘public good’ beasts some prefer to view on TV from the safety of the sofa.
First published as guest blog for Knight Frank June 2019 – light edit update