|The Fox - a top predator|
|A Leveret - very vulnerable to Fox predation|
I have just finished giving a number of talks around the country on various topics, including the Brown Hare, a much loved species that seems to hold a special place in people’s hearts and always seems to draw a good sized audience.
The talk on Hares is quite wide ranging and covers history, mythology, ecology and reasons for population declines where they have occurred and how we can go about restoring these low or lost populations.
As well as managing habitats on farmland to make sure that Hares have a good round the year food supply and cover for leverets to hide in, I also talk about the predation on Hares by, in particular, Foxes. Research by the GWCT has shown on numerous occasions that Fox predation plays a key part in holding back population growth, even where suitable habitat has been put in place. To support this I put up a graph which clearly shows the importance of reducing Fox numbers if you want Hare numbers to thrive.
It is interesting how people from all walks of life recognise the impact that one species may have on another and will often raise questions about the need for “predator control” and welcome the chance to have a discussion on the topic.
However, the other night almost the first “question” was “I’m an ecologist and I have come along this evening to learn more about the Brown Hare, not the “demonisation” of the Fox”. It was quite interesting that the audience immediately leapt to my defence (not that I needed them to but it was kind of them anyway!) I tried to start to answer his question rationally, because I certainly don’t expect everyone to understand the necessity to control one species to help preserve another; however he did not appear to be interested in my response, saying that all the figures I had displayed were GWCT figures and therefore they would show that wouldn’t they! (I pointed out that all the data had been peer reviewed by yes, “Ecologists” – but he just smirked.
Eventually, the Chairman asked him to continue his rant with me after the question session was over as other people also had things they wanted to ask about. As soon as the evening wound up, he came straight up to me to continue his outburst, literally shaking with anger and red in the face. He was completely past any sort of rational debate, so I gave him my card and suggested that he come to our headquarters in Fordingbridge to talk to the scientists who carried out the research. I haven’t heard a thing from him.
So, why am I telling you this! Well, it really is all about a question of balance I think. The countryside is a complicated place, with numerous different things impacting on wildlife and the habitats that they live in. There is also a plethora of opinions out there as to how we should go about managing this countryside of ours and I spend much of my time working with people from other organisations, finding common ground so that a clear message can go out to the land managers, who also of course have varied opinions on what is Ok and what is not!
GWCT research clearly shows that sometimes, but certainly not always, part of the problem behind the decline of a certain species, or the reason why it is not responding to good habitat management, is predation. The Brown Hare and Grey Partridge are two such species. This is however, not always the case. Take the RSPB’s excellent Cirl Bunting project in the West Country, which is a resounding success without even a passing mention of bashing a Magpie or Carrion Crow on the head.
This is why we need good, practical research science carried out by good practical ecologists BEFORE we know how to properly manage habitats and the species that rely on them.
The whole episode has left me wondering; Do you think that there are ecologists out there, who on finding something that helped the species they were studying, but that they disapproved of, would just sweep it under the carpet?