Here’s how to save the Scottish Highlands . . . unleash the aristos!
Patriotic Scots should look away now. So, too, all who love roaming in the Highlands, where the majestic sight of a red deer stag could thrill an unsentimental Sassenach heart.
the Scottish wilds are a ‘downgraded ecosystem’, according to biologists on Unlocking Nature’s Secrets: The Serengeti Rules (BBc4), a laboured explanation of how to make conservation work better.
the windswept moorlands of the cairngorms ought to be covered in thick forest, apparently. they used to be, until the deer became too abundant and started stripping the saplings and devouring the shoots.
and why the epidemic of deer? Because, in the 18th century, wolves became extinct. With no apex predator to keep the herds in check, they bred uncontrollably and ate all the vegetation.
i find this theory a little simplistic. if there are too many deer, and we don’t want the wolves back, why not simply release more aristocrats into the wild? a couple of dozen dukes and earls armed with Purdey shotguns would soon restore the natural balance.
the pattern of imbalance was repeated all over the world, with different species. Wipe out the sea otters of the North Pacific, for example, and there’s nothing to stop urchins from spreading like
REVERSAL OF THE WEEK: BBC bosses are rumoured to be planning a bid for the jewel in the Dave channel’s crown, the daft panel-cum-party game Taskmaster. That’s a turn-up — usually, we see Beeb comedies reappearing endlessly on Dave.
crazy. Urchins eat all the kelp and soon there’s nowhere for fish to live. all that’s left is an ‘urchin desert’.
Sea otters have been hunted to near-extinction once before, by furriers who found their thick pelts made excellent coats. But the crash in their numbers in recent years has not been caused by human hunting — not directly, at least.
Killer whales (orcas) are gobbling up the sea otters. to an orca, an otter is a pretty poor meal, but they’ve already eaten all the seals and sealions: otters are what’s left.
orcas used to feast on the great whales — until humans slaughtered almost all of them during the last century.
Humpback and fin whale numbers are slowly beginning to recover, but in the meantime killer whales must eat what they can get . . . sea otters.
this theory was propounded very slowly, with examples from the work of five veteran scientists. their stories were told with a mix of re-enactment and archive footage, which simply didn’t work: one minute we were watching an actor on high-definition video, the next a sliver of grainy footage showing the real scientist as an enthusiastic youngster.
it was confusing and distracting, and wasted the historic home movies.
We saw far too many shots of science labs and writing desks, too. though the central theme was interesting, this 80-minute programme was a trudge, the sort where you keep pausing to make another pot of tea.
More absorbing animal antics were provided by The Secret Life Of The Zoo (c4), a brisk diary of life among chester’s menagerie. Narrated by actress tamsin Greig and smartly edited into a flurry of glimpses from around the park’s enclosures, this show delivers non-stop entertainment with lots of humour.
Blink and you’ll miss clips of chimps giving each other thick ears as they swat flies, or camels falling over their own hooves as they dodge a braying donkey.
Subtle behaviours are highlighted by the knowledgable and articulate keepers. this time, we followed baby asian elephant anjan, who was grieving the loss of two playmates that died after contracting a virus.
anjan took out his distress on the rest of the herd, until his father aung Bo took the bereaved baby under his trunk. the adult elephant appeared to love behaving like a big kid — just like a good human dad.