Protection is our privilege not a burden - Wildlife in our changing world

OUR relationship with the natural world around us is never seamless, it is always complex and more often than not exploitative. 

It is always agenda driven and usually self serving. Our stewardship of nature’s gifts is shaped by contradictory ambitions and obligations. Our awareness of our obligations, much less our understanding and acceptance that we do have obligations, is shaped ever more by television’s celebrity naturalists and huge commercial interests. Our understanding, and our essential empathy, is now almost exclusively virtual rather than natural. If we choose to become involved in even the most peripheral way we are far more likely to “adopt” a Himalayan snow leopard via television rather than make an effort to preserve a barn owl’s local nesting site.

As our world becomes ever more urbanised and populous, that trend will accelerate and probably dominate decision making around wildlife and wildlife habitats in the longer term. It is unfortunate too that a profound ignorance driven by an unshakeable indifference has facilitated the kind of exploitation that should make us blush with shame. The worst excesses of international and often unregulated commercial fishing fall into this category, excesses that destroyed once abundant populations of species that sustained sea life and mankind since the dawn of time.

The other side of that coin is any suggestion that populations of seals or, say, dolphins be culled because they have, in some areas, reached levels that represent not only a threat to the fish populations but to the seals and dolphins themselves is greeted with the kind of outrage usually reserved for paedophiles. And all the while the diminishing wild populations, are the meat in an ever-more pressing sandwich.

This dilemma — it is something far, far more pressing for the flora and fauna involved — was given animated attention at a recent meeting of Kerry County Council where councillors described how the county’s “out of control” deer population is making Kerry’s roads dangerous for motorists. Kerry’s deer population has, in line with the rest of the country’s, grown significantly in recent decades to the point that there have been suggestions that Ireland’s deer population is at a record level. This is confirmed by regular sightings of deer less than 15km from Cork City centre.

This urbanisation of deer has led to contentious night-time culls in some Scottish towns and cities. We should take particular note of this as Scotland has a policy of extensive and effective deer fencing almost unknown in this country, a policy that reflects land owners’ obligations to the wildlife using their land and the safety of road users. It is likely that any suggestion that our national parks should be fenced to contain and protect deer would be met with the eternal ‘we-have-no-funds’ rebuttal thereby leading, eventually, to a far more destructive and probably unnecessary response.

Our responsibilities to the wildlife clinging to the fringes of our world are not without cost. Some measures are in place recognising this but as man’s dominance becomes ever more complete we will have to do much more. We should regard it as a privilege not a burden.


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