This Side of the Pond – Aug. 30

Deep in a cave, somewhere in the home counties in the south of England, a single bat with ears that make him look like a mouse is right now hanging upside down from a ceiling. If he knew that he was the only one left in the whole kingdom, I imagine he’d be feeling quite glum.
The fact that Britain is an island has been something of a boon over the years. We’re tough to invade, whether by armies or rabies, and the English Channel serves as a good fence to help make good neighbors.
But, on the other hand, it does pose a problem for the species that once lived by our sides. Once an animal has been hunted to extinction, it’s unlikely to make a comeback unless it’s good at swimming or flying.
Even so, when I’ve joked that I wouldn’t know what to do if I came across an apex predator in a dark alley because I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting one, I had no idea that Britain has lost more than just its top dogs. Human activity is busily wiping out the rest of our animals, too.
In terms of apex predators, the last record of a wolf kill took place in Sutherland, in the north, all the way back in 1621. I imagine that was cause for great celebration back when they could still huff and puff and blow your house down.
But things are different today, which made it all the more sad to discover that the Mammal Society has finished up its headcount and announced that one in five of our homegrown mammal species will have disappeared within the next decade.
It seems to be part of an overall trend that saw the World Wildlife Fund declare in 2014 that, thanks to human activity, there are less than half the number of animals left in the world than there were just 40 years ago. Things are growing steadily quieter, all across the planet.
Fortunately, Wyoming has already proven there’s a solution to this problem, and it seems like Britain is poised to follow your example. The wolves of Yellowstone have caught the attention of wiser eyes than belong to those of us who think they are extra fuzzy, oversized puppies. (I know better now, it’s true, but there’s still a small part of me that believes, given two hours and a squeaky toy, I could have one begging for belly rubs.)
Wyoming’s wolf reintroduction is one of a select few projects that inspired Rewilding Britain, a national organization that launched in 2015 in the hopes of reversing the damage of centuries by bringing back some of the species that have been absent for many lifetimes. The wolves of Wyoming are often described as the most famous example, but there are others.
The giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands, for instance, which had dwindled to a group of just 14 when they were rounded up and the pests that had been troubling them were wiped out. There were apparently 1500 of them again by 2010.
Or the Korean tiger, which turned out to be the same species as the Siberian tiger, allowing the country to open a “tiger forest” and set a goal of 6000 tigers in the wild by 2022. Or even the beaver, which was reintroduced in the UK to the Forest of Dean, which has already seen plentiful soil improvement and will presumably now experience an uptick in dynamite imports.
Rewilding Britain actually lists the grey wolf as one of the species it would like to reintroduce and believes there’s no ecological reason not to do so. It claims wolves are a low risk to people, although I’m aware there are a few living the other side of this state who might feel differently, but does acknowledge we’d have to manage our livestock differently and introduce compensation schemes.
They would also like to reintroduce the bison, which I’m excited about after trying a buffalo burger, and the wild boar, so I guess no more kings will be willing to go after the white hart in the woods. The lynx is also on the agenda, having been gone for over a millennia; even the moose is listed, despite not having graced British shores for up to 4000 years and the fact they are listed as a “particular hazard to traffic”.
According to the figures, there are only 200 of our beautiful Scottish wildcats left and our hedgehog population is falling. The latter upsets me the most, as I have fond memories of leaving out a bowl of milk (no longer recommended, sadly) and waiting to see a snuffly nose and a wobbly butt come wandering out of the hedgerow.
But it does cheer me to know that Wyoming has led the way and given hope to the animal lovers of this world. There is a way to save our squirrels and pine martens, it’s just going to take a little work to make it happen.
Now, I know a lot of Wyomingites don’t consider the wolf introduction to be this state’s crowning achievement when it comes to wildlife, but I’m still pleased it attracted attention. I’ve grown to deeply admire the perspective of my neighbors that we are the custodians of this land and I think the rest of the world ought to know it too.
Most people don’t understand how hunting can be used as a management tool, that logging keeps the forests healthy, that landowners can contribute to overall ecosystems and so much more. Imagine what they could do with that knowledge if they had it. In my humble opinion, the Wyoming way should one day become the human way.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, if we do introduce those unfamiliar species, I’m thinking they should rope in some of our park rangers to offer a little practical advice. Including but not limited to the negative consequences of taunting such an animal or creeping up on it for a selfie – we all know it’s going to happen.