Saving habitats

Some write to me asking that we do more to save habitats and help species survive. As an animal lover I am all in favour of doing what we can to help, and certainly avoiding doing harm to the other species we share the planet with.

We need to understand that to succeed a species need protection from predators and a decent food supply. Species are adaptable, and will respond to human changes in the landscape. We should not seek to fossilise our lives for fear of disrupting the balances, but make sure as we change our lives there are answers for the species around us. Nor should we think that mankind is all powerful and is in some unique position, able to judge the struggle for life and determine all  the winners and losers under the process of natural selection.

Some species thrive because human conduct changes. Just look at the success of seagulls as birds now often living well away from the coast. Many of them have traded the hard work and uncertainty of fishing offshore for the easier pickings of a local tip, park or source of food from human contact. Urban foxes know the way to earn a living around the dustbins and discards of human society. Birds flourish in our gardens where many people offer them special meals, and where the human hunter/predator has been replaced by the bird watcher and lover.

Anyone worried about various insects or small mammals can create the kind of habitat they like in their own gardens. Many do. The advance of urban development will remove some natural habitats on the way, but there remains plenty of wild areas, woodlands and parklands where animals can thrive. Some interventions to protect a species requires tough action to reduce or harm a predator.

There is no golden age of animals to restore or some pre ordained balance to be struck. There used to be many more horses because people reared and fed them so they could work for the people who provided for them. Various species from cats and dogs to horses and farm animals have adapted to live  alongside humans, whilst more  so called wild species are now at one remove adapting to life close to people. Many summer cafes are much attended by small birds with a love of cake.


  1. Mark B
    August 2, 2019

    Good morning

    Well those hands have been well and truly washed.


    The concern for me is that of invasive species. Species that our local environment and species have not evolved and adapted to. From crayfish to paraquets (sp), all compete for limited food and space in which Darwin’s law rules supreme. But that said I draw the line at reintroducing former species such as wolves and bears. 😉

  2. Dominic
    August 2, 2019

    One would think you’re deliberately trying to bore your readers with articles of this nature. It’s working.

    1. sm
      August 2, 2019

      I actually enjoyed reading John’s very rational views on this subject, Dominic, and it is – after all – his blog, and we are but guests.

      1. L Jones
        August 2, 2019

        Spot on, sm. I think some people forget that we ARE the guests here, and we don’t have to read our host’s opinion if we don’t want to. He doesn’t set out to offend or bore us!
        I enjoyed today’s blog. Especially the last paragraph about pre-ordination. People do forget that life on earth isn’t ‘in stasis’ and we can’t save everything – but we can at least be mindful of those who are struggling alongside us in this moment of time.

    2. Narrow Shoulders
      August 2, 2019

      I disagree. An MP is required to minister across a broad range of topics.

      Getting feedback can only be a good thing. You are not mandated to read or comment.

    3. Glenn Vaughan
      August 2, 2019

      Dominic formerly known as Duncan

      Not everyone has shared your preposterous obsession regarding Theresa May as many of us knew she was useless before you voted for her in 2017.

      However, I’ve observed that after just one week or so in office you’ve already begun targeting Boris Johnson with your vitriol. What an unhappy character you must be.

    4. BillM
      August 2, 2019

      You can bore all of the people some of the time, you can bore some of the people all of the time but you cannot bore all of the people all of time. However, there is an exception for you and your thoughts in the latter case.

    5. Fedupsoutherner
      August 2, 2019

      Our natural world and all that live in it play a big part in many peoples lives and it makes a pleasant change from politics. Thank you John.

  3. Nigl
    August 2, 2019

    So. Let’s have legislation to protect the bird life from cats. They are not indigenous and many kill for fun. A young family of bullfinches wiped out only yesterday

    I have nothing against neighbours enjoying them but why should I, who prefer the bird life, have to,put up with them killing the birds and using my garden as a toilet on the basis of ‘thats What they do?.

    On the bigger picture if you must tax people and make dementia sufferers pay to give to countries abroad, how about spending it effectively rather than shovelling it out to NGOs by re wilding those countries devastated by deforestation, often to meet the West’s needs for items such as palm oil.

    Ps you keep quoting democracy being the reading to pursue Brexit. Where is your democratic authority for overseas aid? Let’s have a referendum!

    1. J Bush
      August 2, 2019

      Re: cats in the garden. May I suggest very cheap powdery white pepper. Put it down liberally where the cats use your garden. If they select another part of your garden, pepper that. They eventually they get the message. Another place to liberally dose, is where they enter your garden. i.e. along the fence top etc.

    2. jerry
      August 2, 2019

      @Nigl; Stop the world, I want to get off!

      Cats do what cats do, just as larger birds do what they do, seagulls for example are quite capable of killing a small dog, whilst only the other day someone posited about how crows kill lambs – and the resultant cost the farmer.

      The biggest problem nature has is man, not those who farm or otherwise car for the natural habit but those who think they know all about the country side and its issues because they watch the BBC’s Country File programme or what ever!

      1. Fedupsoutherner
        August 2, 2019

        Townies infiltrating the countryside and not understanding nature.

        1. jerry
          August 3, 2019

          @Fedupsoutherner; Indeed, but even worse, those Townies who remain in the Towns but then demand to tell farmers etc. how to farm.

    3. Narrow Shoulders
      August 2, 2019

      I would be interested to follow a parliamentary debate banning cats messing on any property but their owners’.

      Difficult legislation to create without being overly authoritative but worthwhile nonetheless. Enforcing the clean up could be problematic.

      1. agricola
        August 2, 2019

        You cannot herd cats. They are a law only unto cats.

        1. sm
          August 2, 2019

          Dogs have masters, cats have servants.

          Having had and loved both, how true that is!

    4. Fred H
      August 2, 2019

      Cats are a modern day pest. I don’t object to people who train them to be indoor pets. They have evolved to do their toilet in neighbouring territory, and often fight other cats for the same reason. The urge to hunt and kill, birds particularly, is distressing. Cats must have a bell on a collar and males neutered. The population has grown to ridiculous proportions and must be reduced. The pest element is not the same case for dogs, but their walkers do not always clean up, and fines must be made not just threatened for fouling. Breeders are often cruel and encourage the misery caused for the ‘flat-faced’ breeds, which are now so popular.
      Crows, magpies and pigeons have become a victorious species and steps should be taken to cull significant numbers.

  4. Mick
    August 2, 2019
    It’s the Tory habitat you should be worried about, now the news channels will have wall to wall coverage of lib/dims Swinson and Davey spouting there bile for another referendum vote not as though they would except it, looks increasingly like Mr Johnson will soon be forced into a General Election then will see the chickens coming home to rooste

  5. /IKH
    August 2, 2019

    Hi Sir John,

    I fully agree with the thrust of your post and would like to add some examples of my own.

    I do agree with some subsidies for farmers who preserve some hedgerows by extending the width of field margins leading to a better environment at very little extra cost.

    However, as part of the E.U. C.A.P. policy, and in order to prevent over production, such as grain mountains, the E.U. instigated a policy of substantial ‘set aside’ so that large areas of agricultural land were subsidised to lay fallow.

    Once we leave the EU we should reverse this policy allowing our farmers to be much more productive and reducing the cost of subsidies.


  6. J Bush
    August 2, 2019

    I too enjoy watching wildlife. Where I live we occasionally see otters swimming and basking in a local lake before they set off for the sea along the river Ehen.

    But I make two exceptions.

    Wasps and this year there seems to be a larger glut of them and, as usual, they are aggressive. All through my childhood I was told by dinner ladies etc, keep still and it won’t sting you. Guess who invariably got stung by standing still. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been stung by the blighters.

    I also take exception to moles making my garden feel as though I am walking on sponge.

  7. agricola
    August 2, 2019

    Many species will adapt to the presence of humans because our discards feed them or because we deliberately set out to encourage them by feeding. Remember, before you get all sentimental about wildlife, that it is one long food chain/menu. They all predate on each other. Always have done, always will do.

    Having been realistic, we humans have a responsibility towards wildlife. If for no other reason that we are dependant for our existence on wildlife. The fertilization of much of our food is carried out unwitingly by bees and other insects as they feed. They in turn are food for birds.

    Do not allow short sited activists to add to the predator species we already have. Remember the disaster of the grey squirrel, the zander, the mink, the US crayfish to mention but a few. I have my doubts about the beaver and particularly the wolf. Fun in the suburbs when they discover our dustbins.

    Treat our.landscape and environment with respect. The greatest threat to it is over population of humans, and our unwillingness to control same. Humans are the ultimate threat to humans.

    1. L Jones
      August 2, 2019

      You’re right about the beavers, Agricola. Wonderful and fascinating creatures they are. We’ve lived in Alberta for several years and enjoyed watching them – but the idea of introducing them wholesale into the UK fills me with horror. We simply don’t have the habitat for them any more – they need wide open spaces, very wide and very open – not farmland where they will need to do what beavers do, flooding fields and felling trees. Their food is trees and foliage after all. And when they multiply there will be a public outcry about culling.
      Bears and wolves would soon begin to predate livestock because of the lack of adequate territory and food. What do people think they eat? More culling. More outcries.
      Why can’t people accept that our countryside has moved on from the time of the beaver and the bear? As you rightly say, treat our landscape with respect, but acknowledge that it’s constantly changing, whether we like it or not, and some species won’t fit into it any more.

      1. L Jones
        August 2, 2019

        (PS Well, that was a welcome relief from agonizing about Brexit!)

  8. Lifelogic
    August 2, 2019

    Exactly as you say:- There is no golden age of animals to restore or some pre ordained balance to be struck.

    The good news is that the increased atmospheric C02 concentrations and a slightly warmer (and wetter) climate is greening the planet wonderfully and increasing plant and tree growth and food supply for all animals and insects. Better technology in many areas is producing more from less land, fewer resources and less energy use. Predators do sometime need to be controlled.

    This despite an idiotic government agenda. Things like premature, very expensive and unreliable “renewable” energy, carbon taxes and battery/electric cars pushed by idiotic governments into the market by tax payer grants prematurely. R&D is good but roll out technology only when it works and is economic (without subsidy and rigging markets) please.

    Spend money making sure the bridges & damns are safe and monitored rather than saving totally trivial amounts of CO2 with so called “renewables”. The Toddbrook Reservoir could have easily have been a very major tragedy – who was responsible to maintaining the damns structural integrity?

    1. James Bertram
      August 2, 2019

      Lifelogic – see my post at 11.02.

      The deduction you might make from that argument is that, instead of adopting May’s expensive Climate Change CO2 strategy (on which the jury is out?), it would be far more environmentally effective if this Government put money into reducing the human population (tax incentives, education and access to birth control), both here and abroad.

      Very few politicians have the wit or balls to propose this.

      We can stop overpopulation by dramatically reducing births around the world. Increasing numbers of resource experts agree that in order to stop global overconsumption, depletion of resources and unprecedented loss of species – and significantly reduce dire human poverty – total world population needs to be between 1 and 3 billion people.

      1. James Bertram
        August 2, 2019

        Perhaps a suggestion for an article in this series, Sir John?
        (touches on population, environment priorities, poverty, overseas aid, development, education, human health, women’s rights, cultural differences, resource shortages, war, famine, disease, migration)

  9. margaret
    August 2, 2019

    Cake! let them eat bread…. seagulls love fish and chips and are becoming more aggressive..I have a few pear trees and apple trees , strawberries, Blackcurrants , cherries, plums,and more ..the problem is the only decent fruiter is a James Grieve and so sour …. Expertise is also required.

    Out of context.. Anyone any opinions on Bitcoin

  10. A.Sedgwick
    August 2, 2019

    Another article yesterday on the increasing deer population unbalancing natural habitats and the need for control which would of course provide unfarmed meat and cut imports. Another no brainer – won’t hold my breath this suggestion has been around for years.

  11. Dan Earley
    August 2, 2019

    It’s ironic that humans can be the biggest threat and the biggest help to our wildlife. Grouse moors are just one example where nature, properly managed, can help local wildlife thrive. Environmental groups wouldn’t have you believing that though. At the same time, construction of large amount of wind turbines have destroyed large populations of birds and bats. Environmental groups would not have you believing that either. The escape of boar from farmed herds has led to their expansion from the Forest of Dean, down the M4 passed Swindon. They have been sighted in Chippenham and towards Salisbury. Mink is an example of other animals released that can devastate local wildlife. For us to have the best impact on conservation, we must proactively manage the wildlife, any re-introduction of previously extinct animals should only happen in carefully controlled environments. As for cat legislation, does anybody really thinks that the cat will sign up to that or that it would be in any way enforceable? There are long rotating barriers that can be installed on top of fencing that will prevent a cat from crossing it. That would prevent your own cat getting out and other cats getting in. If you do not want your cat messing in your garden or others, do not get one or do not let it out. As for the death of birds by cats, you cannot change the nature of cats and nature is red in tooth and claw. I do not believe the common sparrow is an endangered species. I would be quite happy to see seagulls and town pigeons classed as vermin and have pest control deal with them. I do not think they are endangered either, they are just a very adaptable, very successful species.

    1. James Bertram
      August 2, 2019

      Dan – Grouse moors are very damaging to our environment. I suggest you read ‘Inglorious’ by Mark Avery (It’s a bit turgid, but will leave you in no doubt that the wealthy landowners and ‘shooting lobby’ has this badly wrong, that sheep and fir plantations equally cause wastelands, and that for species diversity and better employment opportunities the British Uplands need to be rewilded.)

  12. Les
    August 2, 2019

    All this begs the question!
    You will find many academic references to *massive* reduction in species. NB this is totally the opposite of what would be expected in the theory of evolution. It is also blamed ridiculously on human climate effects.
    I recommend a book “Genetic Entropy…” or youtube videos by a true expert: Dr. J C Sanford ex Cornell professor – inventor of the so-called gene gun – but be prepared to be shocked out of complacency … and occupation with current transient trivial politics. :- ) Alas, of which I am too guilty myself.

  13. Gareth Warren
    August 2, 2019

    Britain certainly is an animsl lover, lthough I often wonder if we don’t like humans with our policies.

    The drive to lower costs has always encouraged cheap labour, and it has always been unpopular.

    Today new houses are small and often even lack gardens, with lower immigration we could mandate a larger minimum size house with a garden that can be enjoyed. Here we also eventually need to reach a balance with cars, too often I see the from garden tarmaced or with plastic grass, a tax benefit should be rewarded to those who improve their enviroment.

    Personally I have a love of frogs hence a pond, I have found feeding a clump of around 100 tadpoles so they all metamorphise has a good effect too on the local slug population, but just observing them is enough.

  14. The Prangwizard
    August 2, 2019

    I don’t believe there are many wild areas where our natural wildlife can thrive, not in England anyway. People – with their dogs – are encouraged to visit all sorts of areas. Those who encourage this action, and who do it to promote their own influence, conveniently delude themselves about the disturbance. They even build footpaths to help.

    There is just such an area near where I live. There were many skylarks 12 years ago when only one or two people visited but the National Trust now promote it and there area is walked all over. They have even started roping off areas and complain about erosion.

    Endless and increasing monitoring and observation, by those who claim to be doing good are part of the problem and wild walking and camping are all encroachments that should stop.

    We should designate large no-go areas. No people, no dogs, no entry. That is how we should show respect for nature – leave it alone. Wildlife will thrive then but not otherwise.

  15. BillM
    August 2, 2019

    It has become an obsession to some, to save the planet and all that live on it, regardless of Mother nature.
    From blocking fracking research to protecting the Badger from a culling. No matter that the country needs more local energy sources so that we are less reliant on imports. No matter that Badgers do carry TB and kill off cattle and eat poor Hedgehogs because of their increased numbers there is no longer enough natural Badger food to go around!
    Ditto with Climate Change. They believe that it is mankind causing the change in weather patterns that create these cyclic Changes not solar activity nor Earth’s wobbling Orbit.
    What arrogance to believe that man is so powerful he can change the weather and tamper with nature. Man changes weather! If only that were true!

  16. Mark
    August 2, 2019

    There is a balance to be struck between the position of various animal extremists in favour of rewilding, and killing off pets and stopping animal husbandry and generally against humans, and support for animals and opposition to animal cruelty.

    Extremists seem to be getting increasing favourable attention from parts of the media and some MPs, as well as securing positions in quangos.

    It was perhaps no surprise that the claims of Chris Packham concerning puffin hunting in Iceland turn out to be completely false.

  17. Lear's Fool
    August 2, 2019

    You’re only looking at England. What about other countries? So many beautiful animals on the verge of extinction due to development activities

  18. James Bertram
    August 2, 2019

    John – your heart is in the right place, but I don’t know where to start. There is much muddled thinking here, and a sharp shift in perspective needed. We are part of Nature, and not separate from it, and ‘much of the diversity and complexity of nature can be sustained only if levels of disturbance are low’. (George Monbiot).

    All species are adaptable, but your emphasis is very much on other species having to adapt to Man rather than us adapting to, or considering, them. The examples you give of wild species adapting to living closely to people is largely the result of man having destroyed their wild habitat. (It is not unlike saying refugees do okay once in Britain, so everything is all right in the wider world and little needs changing).

    Man is the most dangerous animal on the planet, the population of this top predator is out of control, verminous even, and his actions wreak havoc on the natural world. But Proud Man is not all powerful, it is Nature itself (in many cultures synonymous with God), and so Man’s disruption and pestilence sows the seeds of his own extinction. Meanwhile, other species need protection from this top predator; and need a decent habitat that provides the complex food-supply, etcetera. Thus man very much needs to work with Nature and natural processes, and have much concern and a deep understanding of disrupting the balances of this highly-complex, self-regulating, system. This does not mean ‘fossilising our lives’ – far from it; it means radical changes to the way we live now, and to drastically lower our population and impact.

    The idea that there remains plenty of wild areas, woodlands and parklands where animals can thrive is to completely close your eyes to the loss of habitat that has been going on in this country, and in the world, due to the actions of man. (Strangely, you recognise the need to restore our fishing grounds and the problems in our Marine environment, but you seem ‘blind’ to the trashing of our Land environment – it is the same thing.)

    Nature is not static so there is no Golden Age of Animals (an anthropomorphic concept). And many UK conservation programmes suffer from that stasis, from a ‘shifting-baseline syndrome’ (often seeing the ‘Golden’ time as that of their grandfathers, or youth), and from ‘over-intervention’. And note: rewilding is not about a return to such ‘Golden Age’ ( a popular misconception); it’s more about restoring diversity and complexity of natural systems, and reviving ‘trophic cascades’.

    There is so much more to add it would take a book. So I recommend as popular introductions ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot (chapters 6-13) and ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree. Once read, I guess you may have a very different perspective on what you have written today. Good luck.

  19. Yorkie
    August 2, 2019

    Despite ourselves, our childish arrogances and possible spiteful feelings,if we genuinely respect Greens and their ardent devout beliefs we should recognise humbly as human beings where they are coming from and rejoice that years even decades before us they will perish by flood, famine, fire, or simply freeze to death.

  20. BR
    August 2, 2019

    Creating a habitat in a garden is difficult when the neighbours all have cats – lazy, indulged predators that kill for fun.

    The last estimate I saw was that cats kill c. 23 million birds per year and are the main reason for declining populations in wild birds.

    They also poo in gardens and do other damage.

    Surely it is long past time to treat cats the same as other animals in that they are not allowed into other people’s property and can be treated the same way one would treat a dog found on someone else’s property.

    I hear some say that if people insist on having cats they should be de-clawed and kept indoors, however that seems cruel to the cat itself. It’s not the cat’s fault that it is as it is, but the answer is not to mistreat cats, the answer is to have fewer cats.

    1. Fred H
      August 2, 2019

      Enforce cat licencing, £10 per year, laws to ensure they must wear a collar with licence number & bell.

  21. Alpha Male
    August 2, 2019

    Species have always become extinct.
    The ant has stayed put. Not changed for tens of millions of years.Nature thinks it perfect.
    But the Ant has never taken upon itself to repair or alter the scope of the bi-products of its behaviour.
    Other successful animals have not cared a jot either for there was no need.
    Nematodes in all their species are the most accomplished on the planet. They adapt to all environments nematode-influenced and survive from century-long deep freeze to dormancy in outer space.
    All humans will succeed on our planet if they adapt to their environment. As with the Ant, cutting down a plant, a virtual tree, in its path is just the right thing to do. If it does not use the plant, some other animals will, one way another.
    Green people should stop being green people and adapt to being normal people in present and ongoing conditions. Such failure to adapt will bring them depression, despair, anxiety ,lack of or increase of appetite of certain normal foods,and social isolation from normal adults. It is all ready happening to them.

    1. Alpha Male
      August 2, 2019

      Oh, dogs and cats are a Masterclass in instinctual-native-natural-intelligence driven adaptation. They number by way of symbiosis and synchronicity as many as humans on these islands and unlike their cousins in the wilds are not becoming extinct by natural selection. Sheep too, and many species of slow-moving cattle. Green sheep and green cattle are dead long ago. We do not love these two nor do they love us. But we both survive together as is Nature’s Way.

    2. margaret howard
      August 3, 2019

      Alpha Male

      “Green people should stop being green people and adapt to being normal people in present and ongoing conditions. Such failure to adapt will bring them depression, despair, anxiety ,lack of or increase of appetite of certain normal foods,and social isolation from normal adults. It is all ready happening to them”

      By Green do you mean vegetarians? Because in India 400 000 000 people are vegetarian (over 30% although I have had figures of over 70% mentioned).

      Are you saying that these people suffer from the terrible conditions you describe above? I personally thrive on the vegetarian diet I follow with no health problems other than the disadvantages of approaching old age.

      We vegetarians have millions of adherents in the rest of the world with numbers growing daily as people become aware of the suffering carnivores inflict on the animals they eat. Eating the flesh of fellow mammals is barbarous in our opinion and will die out in the near future.

  22. Andrea Polden
    August 2, 2019

    Unfortunately this opinion omits the factor of habitat corridors. Many species are in decline because they are reduced to an ever-shrinking gene pool. Their habitat connections have been interrupted and the result is isolated pockets of species which become more and more interbred. Good examples of these sorts of disruptions are major highways and HS2, and many modern farming practices. If we want a flourishing flara and fauna we have to do something to correct this problem. This is what the various Wildlife Trusts have been working hard to do, but frequently thier efforts are overruled by Government.

  23. Sue Doughty
    August 2, 2019

    To my mind the front garden or forecourt of any building must have at least one tree, or a shrub if they cannot have or want a stretch of grass. Worms and beetles are not available to urban wildlife through weed supressant material and concrete – leave them a bit, give them a fair go at surviving.

  24. Frances Truscott
    August 2, 2019

    Protection for foxes and badgers have decimated the hedgehog. Hedgehogs are a good thing
    a badger is decimating the veggies I am attempting to grow.

  25. Richard
    August 2, 2019

    Scientists repeatedly warn that around 50% to 60% of deer need to be culled to achieve the right or a favourable density.
    2013: Dr Paul Dolman, ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author, said: “We know deer are eating out the… vegetation of important woodlands, including ancient woodlands. Deer are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration. There is evidence that deer reduce the number of woodland birds – especially some of our much loved migrant birds”
    Yet the record deer population continues to increase. Also making reforestation (eg Northern forest) unnecessarily difficult.

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