I’ve been involved in a line of discussion this week that has provoked a few questions. Questions to which I don’t really have any answers. Feel free to offer up your thoughts, I suspect there’s no ‘right’ answer.
When does an initiative stop being conservation and start being interference? (Yes, I know by its very definition, conservation is interfering. Even the trendy George Monbiot brand of conservation). But my thoughts in this instance are mainly in relation to Red Kites. Marvellous things, aren’t they? I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of watching them soar overhead on stilly wings and forked tail. The novelty may never wear off. As an example of rapid species recovery through conservation efforts, they’re about as good a poster-bird as you could want.
So what am I getting in a huff about? Well if you want to see a large congregation of the birds, there are a few places you can be certain to spot them. Feeding stations have been set up, such as Gigrin Farm and Llanddeusant in Wales. Here, great volumes of carrion are served up on a daily basis attracting kites in the hundreds.
These feeding stations have undoubtedly helped with the recovery of the Red Kite and should be congratulated for this. They also provide a spectacle for nature-lovers everywhere, and anything that captures the attention and informs the public about issues such as species decline should be encouraged. But could feeding kites like this be having knock on ecological effects? Does this mass feeding artificially prop-up the local red kite (and buzzard) populations, and would this likely have an impact on other species? Do they reduce the natural dispersal of individuals, therefore impacting on the robustness of the national population? Most of all, can this still be classed as conservation?
The existence of feeding stations mean that the handbrake has not been removed. The Red Kite population should continue to thrive as long as the feeding stations exist, but is it ‘natural’? And who cares if it isn’t?