Episode 92: Upland Ecology with Cathy Mayne

In recent episodes, I have presented a whole host of views and opinions regarding rewilding, land management, and the need to change the way we coexist with nature. In this episode, we continue on that path, but with a guest, Dr Cathy Mayne, who has a particularly interesting perspective. That perspective might not be entirely aligned with the usual rewilding approach, but it is very well thought out, balanced and realistic.

Cathy is an ecologist with vast experience in environmental management. She has a deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities in land management. She also has a strong background in deer management and is a hunter herself. Currently, she is the Principal Ecologist at the Mountain Environment Services consultancy.

This episode is an absolute must for anyone interested in nature conservation, rewilding, and sustainable living. Cathy, without a doubt, is one of a kind and I am sure that our conversation will be as fascinating and informative for you as it was for me.

Episode 89: Camera Trapping and Large Mammal Monitoring with Adam Francis Smith

In this instalment of the podcast, our guest is a young scientist, Adam Francis Smith, who lives in the Bavarian Forest National Park. Adam specializes in large terrestrial mammal monitoring and predator-prey interactions. He also works for the Frankfurt Zoological Society where he focuses on specific project areas in Ukraine and Belarus and where, with a team of ecologists, he tries to protect large wilderness areas.

During our conversation, Adam took us on a fascinating journey to, among other places, the Chernobyl Radiation and Ecological Biosphere Reserve where he and his team set camera traps to monitor predator and prey species. Of course, there was no way to avoid mentioning rewilding, a topic that is prominently featured in recent podcasts.

Episode 88: Rewilding Scotland with Peter Cairns

Peter Cairns is the executive director of the environmental charity Scotland: The Big Picture, the first organisation in Scotland wholly dedicated to championing rewilding. We started our conversation by discussing the controversy surrounding the term rewilding. Since rewilding (for want of a better, less controversial, term) is of great interest to me, the discussion started to flow from there.

After that, we discussed a wide range of related socio-economic and environmental issues. Finally, we ended up examining individual species that had been extirpated. Some of them, like beavers, have since been reintroduced. Others, like lynx, could be reintroduced in the future. And wolves… yes we talked about wolves too. But don’t worry, this conversation wasn’t about some fantasies. I feel like we had a very reasonable and balanced discussion. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Episode 75: Rewilding Ireland with David Smyth

This is yet another episode where my guest and I take on the subject of rewilding. This time our guest is the host of the discussion platform called Rewilding Ireland

During the podcast, we talk in length about various aspects of rewilding but we also talk about the future of the Rewilding Ireland platform. And towards the end of the podcast, we spend some time discussing whether or not megafauna should be a part of our rewilding efforts.

Episode 68: Rewilding, Wolves and Biodiversity with Pádraic Fogarty

Pádraic is well known to my podcast listeners. He was our guest in episodes 20 and 35. And in episode 62 I talked with Patrick Cross about his work inspired by Pádraic’s book.

There have been many things I have wanted to talk to Pádraic about since our last podcast, which was a year and a half ago. So today I am pleased to bring you another conversation with Pádraic. We talk about rewilding, reintroduction of wolves and lynx and, last but not least, if there is a connection between the coronavirus and biodiversity loss.

Wolves and foxes

I want to add a few comments to a recently published blog post about fox hunting with hounds. The issue has to do with opposition to fox hunting. I hit on this briefly in that previous post because there is no way to talk about fox hunting without mentioning its opponents. I have had a few interactions online with folks who are wholeheartedly opposed to fox hunting and I have come to an interesting conclusion about their motivations.

I started it all by wondering aloud about how many opponents of fox hunting with hounds are also advocates for the re-introduction of wolves into the landscape. I was thinking that wolves inevitably kill foxes in the same way as hounds do. It is called intra-guild predation, or IGP. It is the killing of potential competitors within an ecosystem. IGP is a combination of competition and predation, i.e., both species rely on the same prey resources and one benefits from preying on the other. For example, the reintroduction of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the United States caused a significant drop in the coyote population through intra-guild predation.

Since foxes and coyotes are different I wanted to find out what the interaction between wolves and foxes really looks like. So, I spent several hours trying to find relevant articles and papers. Unfortunately, most of the materials I was able to find were related to ecosystems in the United States. There the IGP looked like this. The greater number of wolves drove down the population of coyotes, which released the pressure on foxes, whose population then went up [1]. Obviously, I am grossly oversimplifying. But, this seemed to challenge my original theory that the reintroduction of wolves into an ecosystem would drive down the fox population.

Then I found a paper in Nature magazine that described the European ecosystem. In Scandinavia, the lynx occupies the place between wolves and foxes. The dynamics between species were fairly similar with the exception that in places with no lynx, indeed, the presence of wolves caused a permanent decrease in the fox population [2]. So this article supported my initial thoughts.

I thought that people who oppose hunting with hounds have foxes’ welfare first and foremost on their minds. To my surprise, it turned out they are completely okay with a fox being killed by a lynx or a pack of wolves. They claim that this is natural, contrary to the “unnatural” killing by humans hunting with dogs. In my opinion, this reasoning is flawed in a couple of ways.

Firstly, a natural killing by wolves isn’t any less painful than an “unnatural” killing by dogs. A fox, which is just about to be torn apart alive, is not any more at peace with its fate because it’s a pack of wolves, rather than hounds, that does the killing.

Secondly, hunting by humans is as natural as hunting by wolves. We are a part of nature. Unless, of course, someone thinks that we were dropped here by aliens. Mainstream science tells us that first stone tools and butchering marks on animal bones were found as early as 2 million years ago [3]. Roughly the same time as the dating of the first fossil specimen of a modern fox, that was discovered in Hungary [4]. So, human hunters have been here as long as these other species!

In the end, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that wildlife welfare does not matter to some who oppose fox hunting. They are just interested in imposing their own moral and ethical choices on others. “I don’t give a damn about the foxes, I just don’t want those blokes to go hunting”. This attitude is not productive. If we want to implement effective policies to protect wildlife and its habitat, we need to throw away emotional arguments and personal dislikes. The only way to get positive results is by looking at the scientific data and working with all stakeholders like sportsmen, ecologists and farmers.