Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Harmonization of Red Lists for threatened species in Europe

Harmonization of Red Lists for threatened species in Europe

Proceedings of an International Seminar in Leiden 27 and 28 November 2002

Edited by Hans de Iongh et al.
Published by The Netherlands Commission for International Nature Protection, Mededelingen No. 38, 2003, Leiden.

As one of the contributors to two of the papers in this volume, I am not in a position to write a critical review. It is the result of a two-day symposium held in November 2002, and the organisers are to be congratulated on managing to publish it before the end of 2003.

The impetus for the meeting was the publication of the criteria for red listing endangered species which have been produced by IUCN, and suggestions that these should be more widely adopted. While an obvious and attractive idea, it became apparent at the symposium that it is not really feasible, as the criteria fail to take into account the political and cultural realities of the world. The definitions and criteria used for evaluating red lists of threatened species often relate to legal instruments under national legislation, and consequently changes in definitions have legal implications. Very few sovereign states wish to derogate responsibilities to bodies such as IUCN, so while they will make reference to the IUCN criteria, those used nationally, are likely to continue to be developed nationally. And even if consensus could have been reached in Europe, it is very unlikely that the US would fall into line. That said, the papers in this volume offer some very interesting insights into the current knowledge of Europe's endangered wildlife, and this will be a very useful book for anyone with an interest in conserving endangered species.

As a personal thought, I was concerned at the 'industry' that has grown up around red listing. When it was first developed in its modern form, in the 1960s, most of the decisions were based on the opinions of a few well-informed naturalists or field biologist; it was rough and ready, but pretty cheap, and seemed to do the job. There now appear to be dozens, if not hundreds, of scientists and bureaucrats involved. But there is little evidence to show that this is saving any more wildlife than the earlier system. Is it a wise use of scarce resources?

Review by John Burton

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