Monday, 24 March 2008

Diversity and the Dodo

I walked through a park the other day, and was passing a large area of thick and tangled woodland when I noticed a sign stating “This area is set aside for biodiversity” indeed it was certainly a diverse mixture of different types of native British vegetation and wild flowers which, doubtless was home to a variety of insect and animal life. As I walked on I passed a school, where I am sure that politically correct teachers would point to such biodiversity and tell their students that this was natures proof of the benefits, and indeed naturalness, of the sort of multicultural diversity they promote.

However, of course such a comparison would be false, an English wood is an area of natural biodiversity, a balanced and mutually supporting ecosystem created over millions of years, with its own food chain, seasonal rotation and pollination. However, despite having been there since long before man walked the Earth, it is now an environment so fragile we have to set areas aside in order to preserve it. It would certainly not survive for long were we to introduce locusts, bison or soldier ants to it.

Nature has survived though a thousand millennia because it has its own balance and its own structure, however, as we see all around us, it can be damaged irreparably when alien species are unnaturally introduced. There are thousands of examples where terrible damage has been caused when unnatural biodiversity has been inflicted on an ecosystem, Japanese Knotweed and the Chinese Mitten Crab to mention but two in Britain, and let us not forget the damage done to the Australian environment by the unwise decision to introduce rabbits there.

However, the damage caused by the introduction of foreign species goes beyond the ecology, history is littered with species devastated when alien species invade their territory. One of the most famous victims is the dodo, a flightless bird, odd looking, but perfectly adapted to its, predator free, Mauritius environment, but then came the ships bringing the rats, and then the pigs, both of which loved the easily accessible Dodo eggs, and, in the case of the rats, Dodo chicks. Within less than a century the poor old dodo became extinct, becoming one of the first and most high profile casualties of unnatural biodiversity.

In Britain various species are currently suffering a similar fate, thirty years ago the water vole was amongst the most common of English fauna, thriving on the river banks, as it had when Boadicea ruled the Iceni and for thousands of years before that. However, then some members of the Animal Liberation movement had the bright idea of attacking mink farms and liberating the farmed mink. This was not good news for the our little friend the water vole, whom the exceptionally vicious and predatory mink view as a particular delicacy.The water vole has now been brought to brink of extinction, whilst the mink work their blood thirsty way through vast swathes of British wildlife, and claiming their new role of one of the top UK predators.

Of course, Mink and water voles are slightly different species, as are dodos and rats however, red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and grey squirrels (Sciurus Carolinensis) are not, they are merely varieties (different races?) of the same species, yet again we see that the indigenous group suffers at the hand of the imported one.

Beatrix Potter's iconic Squirrel Nutkin was famously a red squirrel, being one of Britain's oldest indigenous natural species, it was native to our land (long before the now widespread rabbit, which was introduced in the middle ages. At the end of the 18th Century red squirrels ranged widely across Britain and were one of the most visible of our wildlife. However, then the bigger and more aggressive grey immigrants arrived, and since then have all but decimated the indigenous reds, dwindling numbers of which are now restricted to ever shrinking areas mostly in Scotland and Wales. Elsewhere the new arrivals have taken over.

Red squirrels still thrive elsewhere in Europe, where the greys have not yet reached, and indeed one of the pleasures of of a visit to the beautiful Czech capital Prague, is to watch the red squirrels play on any of the tree islands in the Vltava. This is a pleasure denied to most in Britain, indeed I doubt that majority of Britons have ever seen a red squirrel in real life, whereas as we all know the pushy little grey variety are everywhere in increasing numbers.

Nature thrives on natural diversity, but as we see across the planet, unnatural, imported, diversity tends to destroy. Those who keep insisting that imported diversity enhances and enriches the host community, should tell that to the embattled red squirrel, after all, they can no longer tell it to the Dodo.

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