First they came for the ducks. Now they are gunning for the beavers. Hot on the heels of reports that a colony of these animals has been spotted frolicking in the wilds of Devon, a minister in the environment department, Defra, George Eustice, says Defra intends to nab and “re-home” them. Many local people are appalled, and a petition to save them has gathered several thousand signatures.
Whether it will have the slightest effect is doubtful. According to Defra, there is a risk that the beavers harbour some kind of parasitical disease. What disease, we don’t know, and almost certainly it won’t matter. If it wasn’t for the disease another excuse would be provided: a danger to fish, farmers, children perhaps?
Why is this nation of professed animal and bird lovers so keen on eradicating its own wildlife? Some years back it was the turn of the ruddy duck. An inoffensive, ornamental-looking bird, escapees had colonised these islands successfully – too successfully, it turns out. A rare triumph for birdlife in Britain, one might have thought - against a background of steep, relentless decline on the part so many other species.
But no. It turned out that some of the ducks were migrating from Britain to Spain and interbreeding with rare white-headed ducks, endangering the purity of the stock of the latter. One might have thought, so what? Alternatively, shouldn’t have the Spanish have dealt with these migrants, if they deemed it so important.
All such considerations were pushed aside, however, as an order went out to kill the lot, which has been executed with efficiency. A few years ago, ruddy ducks could be spotted on ponds all over London and other places. Now they have gone.
The planned assault on the beaver is even more curious. Ruddy ducks were done way with partly on the grounds that they were an invasive, non-native species. The beaver is a native and only died out in the Middle Ages as a result of persecution. But that fact doesn’t seem to count. Our authorities can always change the goal posts if they need to.
National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
1/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Great migration in Masai Mara National Reserve. Location: Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Photo and caption by Chenggang Zhou / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
2/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Sunset in longji: Taken end of afternoon in the wonderful place call Longji rice field terrace in Guangxi Province. Location: Longji , Guangxi china
Photo and caption by Thierry Bornieror / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
3/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Kilauea Rules: The most extreme place we put ours kayakers to paddle till now. Location: Big Island – HI
Photo and caption by Alexandre Socci / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
4/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Don't Leave Any Food On Your Plate: The giraffes at Nairobi's Giraffe Manor are totally at home with humans. They will eat out of your hand, or even off your plate. Location: Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya
Photo and caption by Gavin Werbeloff / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
5/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Small squale: Nikon D3100 Obj : tokina 10-17 fish eye Housing : liquid eye + Big dome Location: French polynesia, Moorea, Tiahura
Photo and caption by bru gregory / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
6/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Happy Camping: Camping beneath the beauty of the Aurora Borealis in Southern Iceland in the Fall of 2013. An odd sort of reflection with the tent and the sky happening. Location: Southern Iceland
Photo and caption by David Whyte / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
7/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
A Love for Nature: On my trip up north to Washington, we discovered a very unique location in the Olympic National Park. I couldn't believe my eyes when we first arrived. This was something so out of this world, and nothing I'd expect to find in the USA. We only had an hour to explore before sundown. We immediatly fell in love with this Rain Forest and the feeling we got being inside. Shot using a Canon 5Dmk3 with a Canon 24-70 2.8 Location: Hoh Rainforest
Photo and caption by Justin Jung / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
8/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
A Love Mysterious: The sun sets as the majestic fog of the Pacific coast glides under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The long exposure of the fog reveals a silky texture as the low clouds rise and fall over San Francisco's trademark hills. All the while, tourists and locals alike make their drive along the mountainside, to try and capture the moment for themselves. Location: San Francisco, CA
Photo and caption by Michael Perry / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
9/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Sunrise at Seoraksan, South Korea: After hiking for twelve hours out of a nineteen hour trek, it was time to watch the sunrise at Dinosaur Ridge. When we first looked out, the mountains were completely covered by clouds, but within an hour the clouds dropped and this was what we saw. It felt like heaven, and you could hear everyone present for this moment screaming and shouting for joy! I'd never seen something so incredible, I had to meditate and have gratitude to have experienced this. Some locals said that they'd never seen the mountains like this, even in their 40+ years of hiking there. Location: Seoraksan National Park, South
Photo and caption by Ka Shim / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
10/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
An Alien World: Hang Son Doong is located in central Vietnam and is the world's largest cave. It was only explored for the first time in 2009 and is just now opening up to very limited tourism. This photo shows some members of our party beginning the climb up one of the two collapsed roof sections or dolines that are prominent features in the cave. The vegetation that can be seen is entirely inside the cave, with the real jungle floor some 150m further above. Two-way radios and a laser pointer were used to get people in position and to ensure their headlamps provided just the right amount of illumination. Location: Hang Son Doong, Quang Binh, Vietnam
Photo and caption by Chris Miller / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
11/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Are you here for the Winery Tour?: This is a Western Grey Kangaroo caught lounging in the wineries of the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. This past Autumn has been a spectacular time for wildlife viewing and I got lucky to spot this guy while mountain biking in the hills. Such a funny stance it just begs the question... Have you been drinking? ...and or... Are you here for the Winery Tour? Such a spontaneous moment I figured it would be perfect for an entry. I hope you like it! Cheers. Location: Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia
Photo and caption by Greg Snell / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
12/12 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
The Flying Ball: Children of the streets Location: Barakoa, Cuba
Photo and caption by Dana Caspi / National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest
Of course, no one seriously challenges the idea that some invasive species need to be controlled, or even eliminated, when they pose an existential threat to others. Over a decade ago, hedgehogs were removed from parts of the Hebrides to the Scottish mainland, after it was shown that they were devouring almost all the eggs of nesting sea birds. Grey squirrels have been removed from some forests to give struggling reds a chance to recolonise former territory.
But Defra’s recent - and planned - wars of extermination cannot be justified on those grounds. The ruddy duck was not a predator or competitor. It posed no threat to mallards or any other duck. Beavers are another addition. We should welcome their return to the wild.
Meanwhile, plans are afoot for more wars of extermination, against wild boar in the New Forest, for starters. Again, the wild boar is a native species. However, pregnant sows could potentially attack children, we read, so it looks like they are for the high jump. There is talk of a mass killing of the parakeets that have colonized London and the southeast.
What is odd is that the numerous wildlife organisations operating in Britain maintain silence concerning the ideology behind these eradication programmes. Surely they could promote a more genuine debate about whether this shoot-it, kill-it, approach to non-native “invaders” - and to native returnees - is absolutely necessary. In many ways it is a nonsensical idea; Britain is awash already with non-native species, starting with rabbits, pheasants and most types of deer.
The UK is becoming like Stalin’s Russia when it comes to wildlife. One moment a bird or animal is there. Then, following a hasty show trial - at which it is pronounced guilty of some vague crime - it just disappears. Why do we allow this? Why isn’t the community in Devon being consulted about the impending “re-homing” of their beavers, for example?
We should insist on clearer criteria for these eradication programmes, starting with the establishment of a principle that they should only go ahead if it is absolutely plain that they pose an immediate, dire, threat, either to other species or to ourselves. Otherwise, it seems the “disappearances” will continue.