THERE’S SO MUCH going on in the news these days: an election campaign in Britain, Muslim terrorists (sorry, a Somali “militant group”) massacring Christians in Kenya, the Americans thinking they’ve got an historical agreement with the Iranians over nuclear enrichment, the European media having an orgy of speculation over the deliberate crashing of a plane by its co-pilot, and the wet left wondering what’s going to happen to Top Gear now they’ve managed to remove Jeremy Clarkson from its helm.
That’s all tremendously important but I want to mention the campaign by the Lynx UK Trust to reintroduce the lynx into the British Isles. This particular cat is reckoned to have died out in Britain 1,300 years ago. That was clearly a Bad Thing which needs to be rectified, so the Trust want to set some of them loose in Norfolk, Cumbria and Aberdeenshire in order to re-establish them in “the ecosystem”. This will be a Good Thing because not only are lynx original natives, but they’ll also keep down the numbers of deer, rabbits and hares.
Now the lynx may have originally been denizens of the British forest (like the bear and the wolf) but after an absence of 1,300 years I don’t think we can call them a native species any more. Things have moved on since then and there’s no point trying to turn back the clock. The landscape has changed dramatically and the human population increased. There’s nowhere in Britain now that can truthfully be called wild or wilderness, not even the barren far uplands of Scotland (and Scotland doesn’t matter because it will soon be ploughing its own independent furrow through the wastelands of national socialism).
The idea that allowing the species to reestablish itself will some how help the “ecosystem” is tentative, to say the least. No one really knows if it will have any effect on the deer population or whether it will reduce the numbers of rabbits. I know farmers hate rabbits because they’re destructive little breeders, but hares? Who’s to say that if they breed successfully they won’t adapt to their surroundings and start predating lambs and pet pooches? Just as introducing species that have never been native can cause unintended consequences, so reintroducing animals absent for centuries may have similar effects.
SO MUCH HANGS on this dubious concept, the “ecosystem”, which now sits alongside the “environment” as its rather sciencey sister. Talking about the ecosystem makes it sound as if you’re dealing with carefully calibrated actions with measurable results, as opposed to making things up in a dreamy green haze of nostalgia and hoping for the best. It’s part of a growing fashion for the concept of “rewilding”, as preached by its arch-priest George Monbiot, who defines it as the “massive restoration of ecosystems”:
Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the Biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.
There’s something rather touching about this vision in its yearning for a lost Eden (minus the religious bit), something childish and naive, too, in its desire for a playground wilderness. Perhaps we can all become like Doctor Dolittle and learn to speak with the lynx, bears and bison that will appear at the bottom of our gardens once the dream has come true. On our days off we can hack our way through uncoppiced woods and kayak over lakes that were once fertile farmland…
But back to the current reality: reintroducing the lynx may or not not happen and it may or may not be important in the long run if it does. To get a historical perspective I just looked to see what state Britain was in 1,300 years ago, in 715 AD, when there was decidedly more wilderness than there is now. The big news that year was the battle at Woden’s Burg involving the Anglo-Saxon kings Ine of Wessex and Ceolred of Mercia. Nobody noticed the last lynx had slipped into oblivion. Still, we’ve managed without it since then. I daresay we can manage another 1,300 years.