Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Chris Packham and controversial conservation

17 February, 2013 - 11:55 -- John Burton
Chris Packham

Earlier in the week I met Chris Packham in Kew Gardens, where he was filming. When he’d finished we had lunch together.

It was our first meeting since he became a Patron of World Land Trust (WLT) at the start of the year. We talked about his future involvement with the Trust, and we shared our views on conservation.

The opinions he expressed over lunch confirmed everything I hoped about him and his role with WLT.

Chris is a committed conservationist, and he also thinks about the underlying principles.

On occasion he has been criticised for speaking out about issues that some consider unmentionable. He is outspoken on the subject of bird lovers who have pet cats, the threat of Toxoplasmosis, and - when it comes to big cats - giving money to save-the-tiger appeals that do little or nothing actually to help tigers. I could go on.

But the great thing about Chris is that he is prepared to discuss the issues. And most of his views fit very closely with the ethos that WLT has developed over the years. And like Sir David Attenborough, another of WLT's Patrons, he is also very clear that the issue of human population is now the single greatest threat to wildlife.

One outcome of our meeting is that we are now planning to stage an event later in the year to explore Controversial Conservation issues.

Should we be spending vast amounts of money saving post-pleistocene relict species that are only going to survive in isolated reserves and zoos? Should we be exterminating rabbits and cats on islands? Should domestic cats be allowed to roam the countryside and gardens slaughtering wildlife?

I can almost hear cyber-space crackling at some of these suggestions, but it is important that the topics are aired, and that the public really do understand the implications.

WLT is not a campaigning organisation but nor should we sweep major issues under the carpet. So we are very pleased to have Chris as another Patron who is willing to voice his opinions in a scientific and reasoned way.

If you have opinions or suggested topics on Controversial Conservation issues do let us know – we will be gathering a panel of experts together to debate these issues and the event will be open to WLT supporters and the general public.


Submitted by andrew on

Surely conservation charities should campaign. I realise your core business is saving areas of land but misguided projects like biofule are laying waste to what is left at an alarming rate. It might have gone for food but at a slower rate as not everyone can afford to pay for it.I see now that the remaining American prairie grasslands are being gobbled up for biofule.
On Mark Avery’s blog they were discussing this and the fact that if the members of the charities themselves campaigned (wrote to their MP) there are ,two million of them, they could have an effect rather than just paying their membership dues and sitting back and letting the experts do the work on their behalf.

Submitted by andrew on

I should have mentioned which is a campaigning/lobbying charity.

Submitted by andrew on

Regarding raising issues on TV: You recently had a blog about wildlife programmes being /having to be pretty entertainment or at least upbeat at the end. Some like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s about sea fishing by catch waste were just campaigning. Did this work because as a “personality” (another of your blog issues) he had a different following (including politicians?) to wildlife programmes ? The scandalous situation had been known about for ages in some circles.

Submitted by andrew on

Talking about expensive projects and I know one is not supposed to do this but I think it is allowed as a nice piece of irony. New scientist magazine in a recent article mention that UK Natural Environment Research Council is funding a £400,000 drilling project near the River Tweed to sample the geological strata to look for a missing piece of the paleontological record to see what happened to the flora/fauna after one of the great extinction events at the end of the Devonian period.

Submitted by Mandi on

In regards to the point made about saving species kept in zoos or isolated reserves, it's our duty if not obligation to save these species, as - with pretty much all things that have been decimated on this planet- its our fault.
They've had no issue over the last tens of thousands of years and evolved accordingly, yet humans come along destroy their habitat and moved in to create agricultural land, housing; they build on it, get bored and move out, leaving a wasted, polluted land that nothing can survive on.

An increase in human population has a direct correlation to a reduction in habitat and biodiversity. However, putting something in the water would be deemed unethical (despite many humans having too many rights!).

If you were to let a species die out, how can you decide which ones to let go?
The panda? Surely it's the only species that has captured the worlds attention, to a point where it actually prevents the Chinese from destroying all forests and habitats in the country; the sheer number of other species that rely on the pandas survival - not because it's any type of keystone species or ecosystem engineer, but purely for its charismatic appeal in the eyes of humans.
Amphibians? Which frog population that has been decimated by chytrid fungus would you let go first? if that's even possible as many species do play a role as a keystone species.

What does need to change is the attitudes of zoos - they should focus on education and conservation rather than being a glorified play area for kids.
NGOs should openly talk about saving habitats rather than specific species, it may evoke people to donate more if they knew so many thousands of hectares needs saving in order to protect all species from the charismatic megafauna to the armies of ants.
I think bringing back an updated version of Captain Planet will influence kids and reinforce the ideas of conservation and sustainability with parents.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

The signing on of Chris Packham is undoubtedly Good News. He is, unquestionably, A Good Man. Anyone who knows his way round The Smiths' song titles and is prepared to integrate them, craftily, into Springwatch segways has got to be 'on the case'. Well done, it speaks highly of WLT.

But please, make him WORK!

High profile types are all very well but often one wonders how much more charities end up 'doing' for celebs (massaging up their PR images) - rather than the other way round. Royalty would be nowhere without their charidee work, they know how thin the line is 'twixt guillotine and good cause.

And I like the discussing of controversial issues. Again, more power to your elbows. But ususally, discussions end up generating more heat than light, and leave the stage to those who shout the loudest or expound the more extreme positions.

I want to see our Chris get stuck in to raising hard cash for real projects. Like the fabulous Blue Macaw Bolivian Plano reserve being acquired (?) , or equally fabulous Mexican forest/canyon sites complete with Fer-de-Lance snakes and ancient cycads! I'm sure he is all for such fundraising schemes but just finds it hard to spare the time.

Come on, Mr P. Find that time!

Submitted by John A Burton on

Thanks for all the feedback. I am in discussion with Chris Packham about organising a meeting -- probably somewhere in London, where some of these opposing views can be discussed. Letting species go extinct; bans on ivory; what to keep in zoos; domestic cat predation of wildlife; the spread of toxoplasmosis.

All these subjects need to be discussed much more openly. Keep the comments flowing on my blogs. At least I now know that there are at least half a dozen, well informed readers out there in cyber space. And email me with any other topics you think need airing. My contact addresses are on the website.

Submitted by john on

Date fixed for 14 October, in lecture theatre of the Royal Society. Tickets and times to be announced in due course. Also speaking will be Vivek Menon, from Wildlife Trust of India.

Submitted by MrGruin on

Save me a seat.

Submitted by Jo Leverett on

Tickets are now on sale for this event. It will be at the Royal Society in London on 14 October 2013.

Please go to WLT events and you can buy tickets direct from the website.

Only £20 or £10 concessions.

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