Authors note: This piece has absolutely nothing to do with immigration or racism. If you find something in it that endorses or opposes your view on these subjects, you have misread it.
Invasive species have been getting a rough deal recently. And not from where you might expect. Ecologists and Conservationists have long known about the danger of invasive species, not just their effect on native habitats and species but the homogenisation of the landscape that can result from their unchecked advance. Recently though, a number of other people have started getting in on the act, and for all the wrong reasons.
As the issue of invasive species and the detrimental effect they can have on ‘balanced’ ecosystems has increased, there are those who have sought to profit by putting forward their own cultural and social spin on a scientific problem. It bears repeating, the issue of invasive species is not analogous to any human social equivalent, and to say otherwise betrays only scientific ignorance or a wilful misrepresentation for ones one pernicious means (Farage, I’m looking at you and your ilk). It’s an issue all ecologists must be versed in and vocal about on every opportunity, lest we be tarnished by association with right wing rhetoric.
As an example of this tarnishing, proposed culls of grey squirrel have frequently been discussed in connection with words such as fascism and racism. This piece, as just one instance, makes the assumption that one animal is being hunted ‘based solely on the colour of its fur’ (it most certainly isn’t). It also goes on to state “have the three hundred people who joined in the hunt not yet made the connection between this cull and a little thing called racism?” I would hope that they haven’t, because there is no connection and I should not need to expand on why there is no connection. Throwing out the word racism in these situations is lazy, irresponsible sensationalism.
But it’s not just fringe bloggers who are guilty. Oh no. Take Chris Packham for example, who here voices concern that we might be ‘distracted by a small band of lunatics who are insidiously bogged down and blinded by sentimental racism’ when discussing well meaning efforts to eradicate invasives. For someone whom for many a layman is the face of the wildlife sector in the UK to start throwing this word around where it might stick by association to his fellow professional conservationists and ecologists is downright reckless. But then articles like this are probably the reason Packham is getting worked up (it is not surprisingly from the Mail). Lets look at the opening paragraph to this piece of work: ‘If there was a band of illegal immigrants that cost our economy an estimated £14m per annum, carried a fatal disease that killed off most of the indigenous population and threatened our wildlife and woodlands too, wouldn’t you be keen to go to war with them?’ And there it is, right on the first line – the conflation of illegal immigrants with an invasive species. I also admire the wonderfully inflammatory use of the phrase ‘go to war’ in this paragraph. Sorry, admire isn’t the right word is it? Abhor. I think that’s the one I was looking for. It is both insidious and as subtle as half-a-brick in a sock in its underlying meaning, but that is another issue.
So it seems we get it from both sides. It is curious that the misrepresentation of the invasive species issue as an analogue for immigration and racism sees conservationists allied to perennial foes and vilified by our traditional supporters. Suddenly we find that politicians and certain sections of society who would normally be against our aims and objectives, lest they stand in the way of ‘progress’ are siding with us while those who would normally be our supporters (the left-leaning, the liberal) find themselves in the opposite camp. This may be an overgeneralisation, but it is certainly galling to be referred to as a racist by someone like Packham. It is unfortunate, as I understand that the aim of his piece is to express a similar view to mine (namely, that there is no place for racist thought in invasive policy), he goes too far and by discounting a viable and scientifically driven project like grey squirrel removal, he risks the public similarly discounting and vilifying other such measures.
Some of this stems from a poor versing in scientific thinking in our mainstream media (all the more reason why Packham getting caught up in this is unforgiveable). And there is unquestionably a larger overarching issue here of the misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise, of scientific principals to drive social and cultural policies. The trickledown and take-up of these themes by the general public is a real problem. I have myself been accused of setting a poor example for children when discussing the differences and problems caused by invasive species for their native equivalent. It’s certainly a sensitive topic, but unfortunately one we will have to deal with increasingly as these cultural issues gain a wider audience. On that occasion I explained exactly what the problem was and I hope it clarified things. So please, if you hear anyone make a comparison between invasive species and immigration or racism, take the time to correct them. It’s not big and it’s certainly not clever.