Monday, 10 December 2012

A mammoth choice

Wildlife conservation is a choice, too often portrayed as a clash between some short term goal for our benefit versus the inconvenient natural world, exemplified in the common place the glib dismissal of nature standing in the way of development. However the choice may be between competing wildlife. There is no commandment that demands the Northumberland coast must remain as it is. The peat seams at Hauxley (see 5th December blog)are witness to the woodlands and swamps that once stretched out to a more distant shore now submerged. Before the Alder carr and Birch entombed in the of 4000 years old peat came an even more elusive landscape joining England to the continent; Doggerland, named after the Dogger Bank which remained as an island as the North Sea Basin filled from 7500 years ago. Occasional antler or mammoth teeth, or rarer still, a Neanderthal skull fragment hint at a lost world. Before Doggerland the North sea plains had been tundra, akin to Verner Hanke’s glacial world from Kai Peterson’s 1957 “Prehistoric Life on Earth”. Approach the problem of managing Druridge Bay from the perspective of a Martian in a time travelling space ship. Which habitat would you conserve? The ice fields and glacial tundra or the Doggerland steppes with mammoths and rhino? Perhaps you would prefer the wet woodland with its fleeting hunters who have left all too human footprints in the peat layers. All of these might justifiably be better choices than restored open cast lagoons or parks. Mammoths are an unlikely addition for some years, even taking the most optimistic mammoth cloning projects at face value. This should not stop us from thinking big, working with the landscape as a whole rather than hunkering down in isolated pockets of heavily managed unnatural nature.

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