TICKETS FOR THE ARK
From Wasps to Whales – How do we Choose What to Save? by Rebecca Nesbit Profile Books
Biologist and writer Rebecca Nesbit asks all the hard questions. Not for her are easy visions of a return to ecological paradise or simplistic notions of leaving half the Earth to wildlife. Conservation, she says, always involves trade offs. There are winners, and there are losers. Often tilting into the philosophical, she asks if it’s fair to cull cats and rats on the island of Floreana if it means protecting ‘native’ wildlife? Is it fair to let land ‘rewild’ if there are humans living on that land who would rather tame it? If we move an animal, should we prioritise the habitat it favoured in the past? Is a rare bird more important than the rare parasite living within it? If so, why? In asking these questions Nesbit challenges some widely held assumptions, many I held myself, and is skillful in doing so. In short, this is a thought-provoking book.
If it can feel a bit dispiriting – even the most wellmeaning seem destined to have to kill, maim or uproot in the name of saving rare species – but this is tempered by Nesbit’s overall message, which is really a call for honesty and greater thought. When we look at an ecosystem and decide what to prioritise, be it a particular species or carbon sequestration potential, we should be honest about the consequences and honest about what we want to achieve. There are no correct options, but there are fairer ones and we can chose those fairer options if we want. In making this argument she rehashes some well-known but important points. Too much conservation has been done under a colonial system, and national parks and
MPAs simply won’t work without local people and Indigenous people on board.
There are few concrete answers here, though Nesbit’s own views are fairly apparent. She has little truck with the idea that removing humans from a landscape is the answer to ecological purity and is therefore unconvinced by conservation that only focuses on building wilderness. Patches of rewilding though may be useful in certain contexts. Elsewhere she simply puts the questions and dilemmas to us, and that’s really the point. These are questions that we will all have to grapple with if we are to avoid making significant mistakes.
Nesbit provides a wealth of examples from across the globe to back up her points, creating a varied set of conservation success and failure stories. The approach is a welcome antidote to the simplistic and divisive thinking that can sometimes taint the well-meaning world of conservation.