Thursday, 10 September 2009

A Conservation Conversation

Is this Sifaka worth protecting?

A conversation I had yesterday got me thinking about the nature of my work. Someone told me they thought that capercaillie (very rare birds that I’m involved in trying to conserve) were a mixed blessing. It took me a while to work out what they meant. Surely, the presence of one of Britain’s rarest and most charismatic birds anywhere is a good thing. We should be protecting them, shouldn’t we? Like me, the people I was talking to are outdoorsy types – runners and climbers - but to them the presence of capercaillie means restricted access to land, paranoid land-owners and, potentially, millions of pounds thrown away just trying to save a bird. It got me thinking about motives, and ultimately, about my personal view of the importance of nature conservation, and it struck me how it’s really a very personal issue.

As a professional tree-hugger I try to question the work I’m involved in and the motives behind it. I’ve thought long and hard about the hows, whys and wherefores and am still unsure of lots of the answers. Here are a few thoughts to mull over:

Why should humans bother protecting other species or habitats at all?

To what extent should humans intervene with nature in order to bring about our own goals, and by what ‘right’ do we intervene?

Is it acceptable to protect a species or habitat at the cost of human development?

If one rare and protected species survives by eating another rare, protected species, what are you supposed to do?

Are some species more worthy of protection than others?

In trying to answer these seemingly basic questions you very rapidly go from biology and ecology to much bigger issues of morality and philosophy, and people from different cultural backgrounds or points of view will give wildly differing answers. So, how do we decide who’s right, and how do we decide how to go about saving this planet that we’re single-handedly ruining?

Stormy times ahead

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