Naturalist in 'ecological fascist' claim

A TOP naturalist has accused some of his fellow conservationists of being "ecological fascists" for trying to eradicate foreign plants and animals that threaten native species.

A TOP naturalist has accused some of his fellow conservationists of being "ecological fascists" for trying to eradicate foreign plants and animals that threaten native species.

Richard Mabey, who lives at Roydon, near Diss, claims attempts to kill off a range of species - including the mink and ruddy duck which both originate from North America - are akin to attempts by the Nazis to "purify" Germany in the 1930s.

The language used in the debate, such as the words "alien" and "invasive", was also a reminder of the Nazi eugenics programme, Mr Mabey claimed.

His views, expressed in his regular column for BBC Wildlife Magazine, have upset leading naturalists who said their actions are aimed at ensuring that a variety of species, often small and weak, can survive.

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Bitter rows have broken out in recent years over plans to eradicate or "control" species which are seen as a threat to native plants or animals.

One decision, backed by the RSPB, is to go ahead with a cull of the entire UK ruddy duck population in order to help protect the purity of the rare Spanish white-headed duck. Another was a campaign to eradicate hedgehogs from a Hebridean island, to which they had been introduced by humans after the creatures were blamed for eating the eggs of rare breeding birds.

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Mr Mabey, who is the author of the plant encyclopaedia Flora Britannica, said that he was not against isolated control measures if they were carried out with understanding to solve local problems.

However, he was appalled by national eradication programmes because they conflicted with the evolution of change in nature.

"Nature hasn't the slightest respect for species and racial barriers. I am totally against the principle that if something has been introduced into this country from abroad it is dangerous and not in keeping," he said.

Mr Mabey said he was appalled by the campaigns to eradicate the Spanish bluebell and Japanese knotweed.

"I understand that people don't want the knotweed taking over the countryside but when it comes up on a bare parking lot in Ipswich it is a bonus because of its flowers and its use by indigenous insects," he said.

Concern about the Spanish bluebell was misplaced because it enhanced areas where there were no native bluebell populations.

Many species now regarded as native, including the pheasant, had been introduced to this country from abroad, he added.

Julian Roughton, director of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said the majority of species "introduced" to the UK were welcome additions to wildlife diversity.

Some species had caused problems and had to be controlled to prevent them driving native species to extinction. These included the Australian swamp weed – now choking the nation's waterways and ponds – and mink, crayfish and grey squirrel, all imports from North America.

"These animals have spread everywhere and eradication campaigns would not work but there is a case for culling programmes to control numbers," Mr Roughton added.

Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman in East Anglia, said: "After habitat destruction, the introduction of non-native species is the main reason for the extinction of native species. All conservationists should be aware of the dangers in increasing the number of non-native species."

He added: "Where humans have allowed destructive, non-native species to escape into the environment we should try to put it right, if we can."

Plantlife, a leading UK conservation charity, said Mr Mabey's argument was confused because humans deliberately importing plants was not evolution but "interference".

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