In hushed awe, the crowd at the Rose Theatre in Kingston listened attentively as Sir David Attenborough, legendary TV naturalist, led the way at the Environment Trust for Richmond’s annual lecture.
Titled ‘Wild Neighbours’, the event examined what happens when animals living wild in the UK collide head first with busy, urban environments. Sir David examined the issue of non-native species being introduced… and flourishing… on our shores (such as the now firmly established Canadian goose, the green parakeet and grey squirrel) and how they can impact the native species that claimed the land first. I was surprised to learn the long-accepted wives’ tale that red squirrels and grey squirrels are competing for food, is in fact incorrect. Instead, the red squirrel actually faces bigger threat from the pine martin (incidentally a nemesis of its grey counterpart, too) than the grey squirrel.
Often what happens when a non-native species is introduced to Britain (nearly always by the deliberate decision of humans) is that when its numbers climb too high, we take it upon ourselves to ‘control population’… through culling.
This is a fate that the afore mentioned green parakeet has faced on more than one occasion. When pressed, Attenborough conceded that he actually welcomes the parakeet to the UK.
Next to take the stand was renowned wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan.
Through real life anecdotes and humorous videos, Gordon relayed the plight of the urban fox. As well as talking the audience through the life cycle of a fox (born in March; first emerges from the den in April; weaned in May; leaves den in June; before being kicked out of the family unit in November), Buchanan spoke of why they find themselves living amongst our cities and towns: we ate into their habitat after WWII.
The two admissions that intrigued me most from Gordon, however, were slight tangents from his talk about foxes; his opinions on reintroduction and intervention. These two concepts seem to leave the nature world divided as to just how much we should ‘interfere’.
Given that people pay no mind to introducing non-native species to the UK, such as the parakeet (and then culling them for crisis control purposes), or taking away habitats, such as that of the fox; it intrigues me that whether or not we should reintroduce lynx and wolves to Scotland sparks such discussion (though for the record, it didn’t spark to much discussion at all from Gordon himself, who quickly declared himself as believing it will ‘pay off economically’).
The area that Buchanan did seem to struggle with having a definitive opinion on, however, was whether or not a wildlife filmmaker should ‘just let nature take its course’.
I’m sure we’ve all seen those heart-wrenching moments on BBC wildlife series’ where an animal becomes separated from its family unit and is left stranded/lost/alone with no food and no hope for survival – and have shouted at the screen: “help him! Why can’t you help him?!”
But when should a filmmaker intervene?
“I used to think; never” Gordon admits, ‘but over time my view has changed and softened a bit.”
“Now I think it sometimes can be ok. If you’re looking at something that is a direct results of humans (such as the clip he shows up of a fox cub with its head stuck in a Pringles can), I think it’s fine. I just wouldn’t go as far as stroking a wild animal, or treating it like a pet.”