Monday, January 26, 2009

Are campaigns to protect native species racist?

There is no justification for conservationists to defend particular species because of their "ethnicity", Professor Christopher Smout writes in a new book, Exploring Environmental History. Campaigns against alien invaders – such as the cull of American ruddy ducks to prevent them from breeding with European duck species – have no basis in science, he argues. "Conservationists are up in arms because they fear the ducks will all get turned into some kind of mishmash," he said. "The conservationists would say: 'We're doing this because it's endangering the genetic integrity of the white-headed duck.' I don't think that's a scientifically valid point of view. The concern with genetic integrity seems almost quasi-racist. Our attitude to alien species is culturally determined and sometimes you end up with rather bizarre actions by scientists." Prof Smout, who is Scotland's Historiographer Royal and founder of the Institute for Environmental History at St Andrews University, said that conservationists should judge species based on whether or not they are pests, and ignore their origins. He claims that interbreeding between species could often bring evolutionary benefits, and dismissed fears that the genetic identity of red deer in Scotland is threatened by silka deer, which were brought to the UK from Asia in 1860. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds described the "quasi-racism" charge as outrageous, and said that conservationists give their lives to give beleaguered native fauna a chance.

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