To mark World Wetlands Day 2024, Sarah Pinnell explains what makes wetland habitats so special and highlights some of the work carried out to protect them.
Species reintroduction in England
Back in the pandemic Boris Johnson announced a raft of actions for nature recovery. We had the Environment Act 2021 which enshrined new biodiversity duties as part of planning applications. It also provided or paved the way for 13 legally-binding environmental targets, and created a new institution, the Office for Environmental Protection, to hold the government and some of its agencies to account.
More recently, making a media splash this time around was the evocatively named England Species Reintroduction Taskforce. Cue media speculation of an action-orientated crack team of conservation commandos chucking out new species left, right and centre.
The name perhaps is a misnomer. It’s not a taskforce, nor is it solely interested in reintroducing species. It is interested in looking at translocations of species for conservation purposes. So, releasing gamebirds for shooting or rainbow trout for fishing is not in scope, but a grey partridge reintroduction project whose intention, in part, is improving the conservation status of grey partridge, would be.
The Defra-sponsored group is primarily interested in providing evidence-led technical advice and guidance to enable projects to work to a much better standard. The taskforce members are led by Dr Andy Clements, ex-BTO chair and Natural England board member. He’s keen that the committee is evidence-led, be that peer reviewed evidence or practitioner evidence, and that it engages with all those with an interest or concern about reintroductions.
Concerns to address
There are certainly concerns to address. Many projects work to very good standards. Some do not and some are straightforward illegal releases, the latter need to become socially unacceptable, with the very real risk prosecution. The common criticisms with projects are a failure to engage stakeholders well and thoroughly, a lack of monitoring post release and poor management planning to address genuine conflicts once the species is established.
The chair and several members of the England Species Reintroduction Taskforce have started a series of stakeholder meetings to start a conversation about what needs to be done to improve reintroductions to contribute to nature recovery. BASC, along with other landowning and land management organisations, met with them in October. Other meetings with different stakeholder groups are planned.
The meeting was very positive with the taskforce, with them expressing their wish to listen to our experiences, thoughts and concerns around reintroductions and to learn how we want to engage as part of future stakeholder input.
If you heard of Therese Coffey’s recent comments about reintroductions not being a government priority, in part in response to recent EFRA committee report on the topic, then the wind has not been taken from the taskforce’s sales.
The group are undeterred because reintroductions are very much in the conservation tool-box. Most happen quietly because they are small-scale and low risk species, like plants and insects. It is the high-profile birds and mammals that grab the headlines and the media attention; the tip of the reintroduction iceberg.
BASC will remain engaged with the taskforce, providing our experience, expertise and evidence on reintroductions and conservation translocations.
Long-term management is the hardest to achieve
To be clear, BASC is supportive of reintroductions if they are needed, if they comply with IUCN and home-country codes, if they have landowner and land manger support, and if they have long-term monitoring and management plans to trigger interventions should conflicts occur. Those interventions could include non-lethal and lethal management options, depending on the species and issues.
This question of long-term management is often the hardest to answer, especially because projects to reintroduce species are typically time-limited. However it is one of the most important issues to resolve to secure support from local people, landowners and land managers.
The taskforce has a webpage where they post minutes of meetings and key information. They aspire to develop this further to provide much better access to good information to make reintroductions work for nature recovery, the economy and people. Find more here.