TT Newsletter Series 5

We hope you have been enjoying our newsletter! The bad news is that as we come to the end of term, we are in discussion over whether the newsletter should go forward. The good news is, this newsletter is a particularly interesting one! Find out about the controversies surrounding the “invasive species” concept, how the protected status of pangolins in China has changed, and some of the unexpected benefits of sea otter recovery. If this is not enough to satiate your conservation curiosity, Taras has some podcast recommendations for you.

~ The OUNCS Committee

Article Spotlight: The Protected Status of Pangolins

China’s State Forestry and Grassland Administration has raised pangolins to a national level 1 protected species, meaning that these animals are now of the highest protected status.Pangolins are illegally hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy, and also for their scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine and, at present, are the world’s most trafficked mammals as a result of this. However, the change in their protection status has involved the removal of pangolins from the list of approved ingredients for traditional Chinese medicines and it is hoped that this will lead to a reduction in the demand for these animals in wildlife trade.

 You can find the news article here.

Article Spotlights are brought to you by Ayla Webb

Nature From Your Sofa: Learn About Desertification and Drought

Today is Desertification and Drought Day, a day for raising awareness of the rapid degradation of land and its impacts on agriculture, biodiversity, and human wellbeing. You can learn more about desertification and drought on the UNCCD website together with a series of short films produced to highlight issues relating to this year’s theme: Food, Feed and Fibre.

Desertification has a profound impact on the natural world and a range of solutions have been suggested. In a controversial TED talk from 2014, Allan Savory makes the case for an “unthinkable” option to combat desertification: increasing the grazing of livestock. If you watch the talk, be sure to also read George Monbiot’s criticism of the talk as well as a follow-up article responding to Monbiot before making your own mind up.

Brought to you by Philip Fernandes

Book Recommendation: Feral by George Monbiot

As with Isabella Tree’s Wilding, Feral spurred the popularisation of the rewilding concept. In this book, Monbiot, a renowned Guardian columnist, environmentalist and Oxford Zoology graduate, vividly recounts his journey to reconnect with the natural world. He argues passionately for the case of a planet diseased with extinctions and large-scale land transformation, by providing past success stories of reintroductions and restored ecosytems while discussing the potential traps of the rewilding concept.

This book has found the perfect balance between recognising our exploitative past, while demonstrating how we can reconcile this at present, giving us reason to be hopeful in the future, both for the state of the planet and also humankind. Feral is a piece of environmental pragmatism that you will not forget.

Book recommendations are brought to you by Hannah King

Habitat Conservation: Bog Imagination

Last week I suggested that to protect peatlands, and the planetary benefits they bring, a shift in policy and agricultural thinking is needed. This week I would like to suggest that we need a concurrent shift in our cultural perception of peatlands – a reminding of their capability to enchant.Robert MacFarlane begins his book Landmarks by recounting a moment when he was flying over the Brindled Moor on the Isle of Lewis and he heard some co-passengers remark “We’re flying over nothing!” He acknowledges that, “seen for the first time, and especially when seen from altitude, the moor of Lewis resembles a terra nullius, a nothing-place, distinguished only by its self-similarity. Peat, moor and more moor.” The implication of seeing peatlands and moors as a “nothing-place” is that use of the land for farming or construction is considered ‘improvement’. MacFarlane argues in the book that through the particularising intimacy of landscape-language we can better see the diversity lying all around us.Our relation to natural landscapes like peatlands can also be deepened non-linguistically. This is the focus of Kathy Hinde’s work, which uses hydrophones to pick up sounds that the human ear cannot grasp. When you hear the bog like this, in all its shifting scrapings and gurgles, it is difficult to describe it as a ‘nothing-place’. Hinde had science experts accompany her ‘deep-listening walk’, and through this combination of biological learning and sonic experience participants could truly deepen their understanding and care for the peatland.We quickly see a paradox arisign of peatlands as both expansively barren and intricately vivacious. And as you look closer, more contradictions appear. Peatlands are both deeply terrestrial and fundamentally aquatic. They are hostile to human life and yet preserve dead bodies so well that a 2200-year-old man looks like he is asleep. They are both an archive of ancient humanity and a developing record of how we are changing our environment.For Seamus Heaney, “The ground itself is kind, black butter/ Melting and opening underfoot,/ Missing its last definition/ By millions of years.” If we can appreciate the value of peatlands to our imagination, be enchanted by the mysteries lying beneath their surface and celebrate their biological diversity then we might adequately care for them.

Click here for more on interdisciplinary approaches to peatlands.

Habitat conservation news and views are brought to you by Jamie Walker

The Language of Invasive Species

Invasive species are currently the 2nd biggest global threat to biodiversity after habitat loss. But what exactly counts as an invasive species? An article in the latest edition of The Biologist (link above) highlights the need to exercise caution when branding a non-native species as “invasive” and common species as “pests” or “weeds”. Often used by the press, Rebecca Nesbit argues that this language is almost militant and hinders our ability to adapt to the situation we are facing. It frames conservation as protecting nature at all costs and in doing so draws concerning parallels to social issues such as xenophobia.

We are in the middle of what may be a 6th mass extinction and spending billions trying to eradicate invasive species without always evaluating the ecological need for this action will lead to the wider community viewing conservation as archaic, not progressive. This is not to say that eradication is always bad policy, but we should re-evaluate how we determine the invasion status of a species. Most of all, why is a given species invasive- could it be that our ecosystems are not as resilient as before? We might then ask ourselves; how can we improve this and prevent the undue globalisation of more species?

Want more food for thought? Check out “Inheritors of the Earth” by Chris D Thomas for his thought-provoking (and perhaps controversial) views on the biodiversity crisis.

Brought to you by Elizabeth Tatham

The Benefits Sea Otter Recovery for the Pacific Coast

Within the Pacific Coast, sea otters co-existed with and were managed by the Indigenous Peoples of this region for millennia before they were hunted to near extinction by the maritime fur trade. Since being reintroduced to the Pacific Coast in the 1970s, their appetite for tasty shellfish such as sea urchins, clams and crabs has worried local fisheries who rely on the same valuable fisheries for food and income. However, researchers at the University of British Colombia and the University of California San Diego have instead identified the long-term benefits of sea otter recovery—such as healthier kelp forests, higher fish catches, carbon storage and tourism— which could be worth as much as $53 million per year. If well-managed, these economic benefits could offset commercial losses to shellfish fisheries of $7 million per year. Sea otters eat grazers like sea urchins, and by keeping urchin populations in check they allow kelp forests to recover. Healthy kelp forests, in turn, sequester carbon and support abundant marine life, from salmon and lingcod to seals and whales.
 The research still has ways to go in identifying the true consequences of this keystone predator increase in numbers as the effects are not homogenous across the entire area- different regions of the Pacific coast respond to the change in biodiversity in different ways. However, what has been seen so far illustrates the importance of top predator conservation and recovery for the ecosystem as a whole. “It’s clear that humanity must reverse the decline in biodiversity if we want to achieve a sustainable future,” said co-author Kai Chan, a professor at IRES and the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC. “This study demonstrates that restoring key species to ecosystems can also have great benefits for people, and could serve as a useful framework for evaluating top predator recovery elsewhere.”

Read more here and here!

Brought to you by Suli Scatchard

 Podcast Recommendations

So, I was scrolling through my Facebook the other day and I came across this website, Species Unite which looked pretty interesting. The species unite website has a whole range of podcasts, totaling nearly 40 different ones and they explore loads of different topics regarding conservation and wider animal ethics and welfare issues. The speakers and topics range greatly from business executives talking about plant-based diets and journalists undercover in the illegal wildlife trade to on the ground conservationists talking about wildlife tourism and the benefits it brings to the preservation of wildlife.

What seems to be nice about this set of podcasts is that it’s not just focused on scientists but highlights the huge range of people working for animals and wildlife. And I hope those of you who find the time to take a break enjoy listening to them.

You can find all the podcasts here.

Ways to get involved in conservation are brought to you by Taras Bains

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