How has management become a dirty word in conservation?

Written by Henrietta Appleton, Policy Officer

2 Minute Read

The recent debate on driven grouse shooting (relating to the Wild Justice e-petition on 21st June) revealed two very different attitudes to management.  On the one hand, those opposed to the banning of grouse shooting regarded the management of grouse moors as a constructive action supporting biodiversity and other public goods and services; on the other hand, those supporting its banning saw the management as artificial and destructive.  So who is right?

As is often the case, the answer is not black and white as it is about “balance”.  It is no coincidence that two GWCT publications by our former Director of Policy, Dr Steve Tapper, were called “A Question of Balance” and “Restoring the Balance”. 

Ecosystem and wildlife recovery is increasingly being promoted as an approach in which man is not part of nature but is separate from it; for example, rewilding encourages the restoration of our natural ecosystem processes through minimal intervention.   Antoine Dussault wrote an interesting paper[i] in which he concluded that the concept of ecological naturalness was better suited than the wilderness concept to enabling humans to inhabit the earth's ecosystems in ecologically sustainable ways, as it embraces human agency as part of the nature we see around us.

Given that almost the entirety of our island nation has been managed at some point in its history, our landscapes are no longer ‘natural’ and ‘wildernesses’ but reflect the interaction between man and nature, sometimes over millennia.  It is only in the more recent decades where intensive management in response to, for example, the demand for affordable food to feed a growing global population, has led to “management” being regarded as creating negative externalities such as species declines, pollution and carbon emissions. 

Humans have been integrated into our natural ecosystems for so long that just stepping back through rewilding is simply not an option – in this country at least.  Our land is finite and the pressures on it to deliver the multitude of economic, cultural, regulatory and supporting public goods and services are constant and real.  This will involve trade-offs and the only way these can be ‘balanced’ is through management.  Such as grouse moor management where the controlled burning of heather, blanket bog restoration and predator management supports not only economic goods and services (as the debate widely discussed) but also net-zero policy ambitions (through peatland restoration and wildfire mitigation), nature recovery (through supporting red-listed species) and cultural landscapes usually in designated National Parks or AONBs (thereby ironically reinforcing the value of historic management).

As Dussault ended “…it is only if we stop seeing ourselves and our cultural products as hopelessly alien and injurious to nature that we can start reflecting on the kind of cultural shift that could help us live better in ... the ecological world”.  Amen.

[i] Antoine C. Dussault  Ecological Nature: A Non-Dualistic Concept for Rethinking Humankind's Place in the World Ethics and the Environment  Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring 2016)

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at 6:20 on 05/07/2021 by P Jennings you

Rewilding is only done by land management any species that are not seen as part of someone’s vision are eliminated. The biggest worry is that people promoting rewilding won’t know when to stop. There are already people with over inflated egos planning real life Jurassic Parks.


at 14:38 on 02/07/2021 by Mike Kettlewell

An excellent article that argues management of our environment is inescapable considering the numbers of humans already in the British Isles and many other parts of the planet. The 'rewilding' of the Knepp Estate is managed with specific aims and with a light touch. Small derelict pockets around defunct industries left to natural regeneration have produced interesting and productive habitats and ecosystems. Allowing parts of the upland to regenerate naturally alongside restoration of blanket bog is entirely appropriate management. One might also hope that predator control becomes unnecessary once natural balances are restored but in the early stages of are justified when 'prey' species are few in numbers and therefore very vulnerable

Rewilding a human construct

at 11:34 on 02/07/2021 by Nick van Zwanenberg

This ecellent blog about a really thoughtful article from 2016 is excellent. How do we get across that re-wilding is not recognised by nature or any natural systems? The concept as it stands is just a series of slightly different management decisions. It means nothing.:- Do you put in a fence or not Do you put out a fire or not Do you remove or introduce new species. Do you allow the area to become impnetrable and totally unmanaged. What do you do about disease or starvation This list is almost endless. Re-wilding only exists in the minds of those who have never had to look after a peice of ground for a long time (over say 20 years). 99% of our countryside is managed. Essentially none of it is wild and anyway what does the word wild mean?

Article feedback

at 8:10 on 01/07/2021 by James Gray

This is exceptional - well written and well reasoned. This needs broader distribution by yourselves and by making it easier for others to do so…

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