The Sunday Post (Newcastle)
There are always roadblocks but eventually they will be promoted, retire or die and then you must push forward
– Taken from the introduction to Restoring The Wild by Roy Dennis
In 1995 I was invited by Professor Wolf Schröder and Christoph Promberger, large mammal specialists at Munich University, to join them on a summer expedition to the Upper Porcupine River in Canada to study bears and wolves.
In Whitehorse, we met one of their friends at the wildlife division. “Roy has a dream of restoring wolves to the Scottish Highlands,” said Christoph. His response? “Do you work with any other species?”
I told him about my projects on ospreys, eagles and red kites. “That’s good,” he replied. “Because if you work with only one species you will come to a roadblock from a person in authority, maybe even a senior colleague, and then you will have to put your project on the back burner. One day he or she will be promoted, will retire or die – and that may take years. When it happens, you must immediately push forward. So it’s important to have a variety of projects moving at different speeds.”
It turned out to be very pertinent advice.
Looking back now, I realise that great things have happened but
I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that we have not had more success, especially with large mammals. The return of the red kite has been incredible, but this was because of a determined programme of rolling releases from north and south, and the strength of the long-term project team members from the RSPB, Nature Conservancy (and its subsequent national agencies) and enthusiastic individuals and groups. Compare this to the failure, so far, to get the sea eagle breeding again in England and Wales; and the incredible opposition by farmers, politicians and even some conservationists to the return of the lynx.
Yet remember: there’s always change. I think now that if we had really worked hard we could have restored beaver, lynx, crane and eagle owl to Scotland in the 1960s and ’70s. There would have been opposition from some of our colleagues because, in their view, that would not have been “natural”, but in those days there was much less organised opposition from vested interests. A few really enthusiastic people with large landholdings and sufficient funds could have forged new and exciting ecological pathways. I guess our horizons and hopes were not broad enough.
Since that time, the idea of the reintroduction of charismatic species has become more formalised, more difficult and attracted greater opposition, not just from parts of the land-owning, farming, forestry and fisheries communities who see their own interests threatened, but also from individuals and bodies within nature conservation. Guidelines which were intended to help became ever more restrictive and bureaucratic.
One needs to learn, often by painful processes, that the early stages of a bold idea will attract the attention of doubters and opponents to change, as well as supporters. Once a project gets started there is a shift and opposition lessens, and finally – when it is successful – the early naysayers claim ownership. But that matters little to you if your principal aim is to restore nature.