More on the Bigger Picture ….

My post on the wildlife schemes of Paul Lister certainly got people going! In my post I said that I wasn’t sure about Cameron’s editorial. Most of you are pretty clear that they are sure!

There is an issue – I guess – as to whether this scheme is purely one driven by vanity. Or maybe this is about really developing tourism? Is this creating a new kind of zoo rather than being an experiment that has scientific value? (Of course, zoos are often scientific institutions). Following the thread of debate (which of course you can do on the net) raises questions of authority. Surely, the Scottish Parliament will have something to say?

I don’t know whether there is merit in this or not. But I am interested in fairness and objectivity. If what I was reading was just a campaigning piece then I want to know that.

So, questions remain. But what has really happened here?

In July this year the Highlands Council issued the project a Wild Animal License that will cover the first stage of the scheme’s development. This will cover a 500 acre portion of the estate that will be fenced off. The wild boar have arrived and – by now – a breading pair of elk should be appearing.(Source: The Scotsman)

The license that has been issued has been done following due process that involved a period of public consultation.

But what has been granted?

Well, the license that has been granted only covers 30 wild boar. The license last for a year and will run out at the end of July 2008. To add any new animals to the project Lister will require a new license – an application that would have to go through a completely new process.

The editorial does not provide this knowledge or balance. Nor does it direct readers to the organisation and authorities that are dealing with this.

People with concerns can, properly, address them to:

Chris is right that we are a long way from the introduction of Wolves or the building of a fence. But this was not reflected in the editorial. The debate here reflects concerns – and rightly so. But they’ve been given the impression that these things are about to happen.

It is easy to follow the public debate about these things on the Highland Council’s website which is here. You’ll see that there is a lot of proper discussion and debate, indeed, the Sutherland Local Access Forum discussed the issues at their meeting in August (minutes not yet posted).

It would seem to me that these plans are being properly considered and monitored by the correct authorities – and you can join in if you like.

Things are complicated, though, by Lister’s future plans. He intends (shortly I guess) to apply for a zoo license which will allow him to charge visitors to see his wild boar! He hasn’t been granted a license and, of course, due process will take place here.

Cameron may fear that Lister’s financial clout will allow him to railroad plans through the proper authorities. But he doesn’t say that. Maybe he has cause not to be confident in the ability of the authorities to be properly impartial. That’s a different issue – but an interesting one. Or maybe he fears that the existing Access Laws are not sufficiently robust enough? Now that would be a very interesting story. But this is all supposition. As things stands there are proper process, safeguards and procedures that are in train and appear to be working.

I’m all for bringing issues to people’s attentions. But I would like these things to be well informed even if they are not balanced. I have a great deal of respect for both TGO and Cameron – and I’m more than happy to shell out money for subscriptions, magazines and books. But I’m not happy with the editorial. I don’t think it reflects the issues and the arguments properly. It may have been un-intended but I feel that the piece demonises both the issues and the project.

Finally, I shall finally end this train of thought (thank God I hear you cry) with one more observation.

These licensing procedures do not guarantee that Lister’s plans won’t come to fruition. Yes, his money and PR campaigns will no doubt be high profile. But then the opposing voice will also be well articulated and not just by Cameron – one look around the net will show you that. A coalition of walkers, farmers, local businesses and authorities are not happy with the schemes.

But where there may be real cause for concern is in the scientific debate. Chris says that this is not about science. But there is a lot of scientific interest in this scheme and it is being backed by conservation scientists. For some of us this may be an abhorrent scheme but for other nature lovers it is a work of real inspiration.

This is why this debate needs to be informed and thoughtful. To attack these plans on the grounds of money, PR and ego is not only wrong it may be counter-productive, after all there are a lot of people around here with big egos – bloggers included 🙂

As for me – after all that – well, I’m still not sure !


  1. Chris Townsend says

    I agree the debate needs to be informed and thoughtful. I start from the principle that access to wild land is a right and that any reintroduction of wild animals – which I favour – has to be done without affecting that right.

    Nothing I’ve seen from Lister suggests this is a scientific endeavour – it seems a romantic one (and I share the romance of re-wilding, but it must be done in the interests of the wild life not people who like the idea of wolves or elk). However whether it is scientific or not is irrelevant. The proposal threatens hard-won access rights and that is the reason of opposing it.

    I don’t see any problems with Cameron’s editorial. I think it is necessary to counter the PR being put out by Lister and his supporters, as I said in my blog piece.

  2. You may be very right about the lack of scientific endeavour Chris. Indeed, my own suspicions point in that direction. But there is a world-wide movement to re-introduce animals that have been driven out of habitat. This project is getting a lot of attention and support from scientists and science projects.

    I’ve not looked at Lister’s website at all (I’m not interested in the PR). I have, now, read a number of articles and pieces about it – usually covered by Science correspondents or science editors.

    This scheme may not get any further but I doubt the bigger issue will have gone away. At some point the politicians (and maybe even judiciary) of Scotland may have some interesting decisions to make. But this is probably a long time away.

    Landscapes and their wildlife constantly change. There are changes that are obviously wrong but others will be controversial.

    In the meantime Mr Lister can play with his 30 wild boar, over the next twelve months,

    As for the editorial, I thought it was scaremongering – un-necessary and, perhaps, un-wise.

    But then that’s my opinion. On most everything else I agree with our ‘grand leader’!

  3. I hope the bigger issue won’t go away. I’ve also read a fair bit about the reintroduction of wild animals, something I’ve been in favour of for many years (and have written about in places). And of course there have been reintroductions of birds of prey – sea eagles, red kites. These have been fairly successful though there have been quite a few illegal poisonings this year. The Scottish Government is reconsidering the introduction of beavers – something the previous administration rejected due to landowner pressure despite it being recommended by Scottish Natural Heritage. Hopefully this time the reintroduction will go ahead.

    As to the editorial, I think it is necessary to counter Lister’s PR and the editorial is part of that.

  4. By the way Andy, there’s a debate on the TGO forum about this –

    You might find Eddy Meecham’s comments interesting!

  5. By the way Andy, there’s a debate on the TGO forum about this. The topic is “species re-introduction or just another zoo?” and it’s in the Conservation section.

    You might find Eddy Meecham’s comments interesting!


  1. Online Travel Guide…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…

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