Monday, 19 May 2014

Can Brian May do it better?

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

Brian May wishes to purchase the 665 acre Chargot Estate on Exmoor in an apparent attempt to halt the Somerset badger cull. The estate, which employs a reported 100 people, is famous for its game shoot. May’s spokeswoman, Anne Brummer, said that the dream was to seek “…better ways of husbandry of the woodland…” with “…no culling, no pesticides, no herbicides...“. It remains unclear if this new approach will still provide as much local employment.

The history of UK nature conservation contains many examples of philanthropic individuals that have been prepared to be focused.

We could do with more of them.

Those willing and able to personally invest in large scale conservation initiatives have often struck pure gold in terms of conservation. Examples include the work on the Norfolk Estate which has seen the remarkable recovery of the local grey partridge population. To illustrate, through personal commitment from the Duke of Norfolk, the population has exploded to around 1,000 pairs, from just 3 pairs in 2003. The motive was sport but it does not have to be.

The lapwing population at the UK’s only farmer-managed National Nature Reserve (NNR) at Elmley on the Romney Marshes is inspirational. Philip Merricks and his staff love wildlife, and have driven up their lapwing breeding success to such an extent that it is now 12 times that of a neighbouring reserve run by a large national conservation charity. Astonishing.

The challenge in all cases is to monitor your populations before you start and then keep monitoring the change. If you seek to demonstrate a ‘better way’ you need evidence to show that it is better.

Chargot could be a fascinating study site. Is it possible to have a healthy badger population and a healthy hedgehog population? And foxes? A recent study published by the universities of Exeter and Southampton and the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories (AHVLA) found badgers do have some impact on hedgehog and fox populations. Chargot could inform that discussion. It would also be interesting to track any success and how it can be achieved without controlling other populations. How can you control deer numbers to avoid them overgrazing the woodland to the detriment of other species? Tough one. If the purchase goes ahead, fascinating times ahead.

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  1. It still wont employ as many people or bring as much money into a rural community!

  2. Richard Austen-Baker24 May 2014, 19:29:00

    I'm pretty astonished that an "estate" of 665 acres (a decent sized farm really) can be employing 100 people. Are we sure that's right? Otherwise, obviously, I agree that sporting estates inevitably bring more rural employment than bunny-hugging pop stars.