From Vermin to Protected Species: The Social Construction of Wildlife in England.
One of the points that becomes clear in studying the Politics of Wildlife is that human attitudes towards wildlife change radically through time. This point is reinforced by Roger Lovegrove and his book (Oxford University Press, 2007) titled “Silent Fields: The Long Decline of a Nation’s Wildlife.” He summarizes the changes in attitudes towards wildlife as going through 4 phases with the first 2 phases lasting up to World War II involving “vermin control” and “an indiscriminate war of attrition against predatory species.” As I show concerning the U.S. in my Wildlife Politics book, the last 70 years has engendered a complete reversal in general perceptions of many wildlife species. Loveridge states that “The 19th and early 20th century acceptance of UNRESTRICTED vermin killing has essentially been REVERSED to a new climate in which the predominating ethic is the recovery and return of lost or diminishing species” (p. 292). Of course, this change in attitude did not occur until many species were entirely eliminated (e.g., bears, wolves) and others were near extinction in England (e.g., otters). The turnaround was due in large part to the formation of interest groups that acted on behalf of wildlife—especially birds—Loveridge notes that The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more than 1 million members. Books, Videos and Media also have a big impact on changing attitudes—especially in the case of mammals like otters---he notes that books about Tarka the Otter and Ring of Bright Water, together with their film adaptations” had a big impact. I note in my book that similar impacts in Canada occurred due to books and films about wolves. His account of the control of “vermin” defined as “any animal of noxious or objectionable kind’ shows that two major human factors affected perceptions: (1) Loss of economic benefits such as agriculture to species (e.g., moles); (2) Interference with sports game-hunting such as fox hunts and shooting of pheasants. However, Loveridge begins the book by noting that the chief causes of decline lie in agriculture (cutting of forests, draining wetlands, introduction of livestock, cultivation of crops” and later after the Industrial Revolution with consequent pollution, population growth and urbanization of the country. The importance attached to sports and game-hunting is attested by the occupation of gameskeeper which dates back hundreds of years in England. He points out that some species such as fox engender a “schizophrenic attitude”—the fox was viewed as vermin and its population greatly declined so much so that rural countries in need of foxes for gaming purposes contributed to money to support their population. He notes that many species (e.g., moles) have positive as well as negative impacts on the environment but their positive effects are often ignored and thus they are viewed as vermin. He cites the role of religion that views humanity as to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowls of the air and over every living thing.” He thus notes how the 21 century attitude represents a big change in humanity’s values, with a “new climate in which the predominating ethic is the recovery and return of lost or diminishing species.” He provides some interesting examples of recent politics of wildlife concerning the sports of pigeon racers. Scottish groups representing the group have sought to be able to take sparrowhawks and peregrines that prey on pigeons but have so far failed—Loveridge notes that such groups has succeeded in passing such laws in Denmark. Likewise, Loveridge cites the many economic benefits to small rural communities obtained from the sport of fox hunting lost due to its banning. Loveridge argues that there is no urban-rural divide on the issue—that both pro and con (as to fox hunting) sides are fairly represented in both urban and rural areas. Based on my analysis of the U.S. wildlife history, I am sure that he is correct that overall attitudes may not differ so strongly. However, in the U.S., the big difference is that influential forces (ranchers and hunters” have dominated politically in western states and the wildlife policy differences between these and urban-dominated states is stark.
During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.