Nature Conservation and Nature Reserves

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1944
Journal:Journal of Ecology
Date Published:1944
ISBN Number:00220477
Keywords:Columba, Columba palumbus, Columbidae, Phasianidae, Phasianus, Phasianus colchicus
Abstract:1. Despite the immense change in the face of the country from its original condition there remain considerable tracts covered by wild vegetation with the multitudes of lower animals it harbours. Though the larger carnivorous mammals have disappeared and the larger predatory birds are greatly reduced, many smaller mammals and a great bird population still exist. The whole of this wild life is part of the national heritage, valuable to the nation in many different ways, and it is threatened with serious and widespread destruction in the immediate future. The means of preserving as much as is compatible with other objects of paramount national importance require careful consideration. The only method of preserving wild vegetation with its population of lower animals is to set aside areas as nature reserves. The higher animals and birds require separate treatment. 2. The first object of nature preservation, which has the widest support, is maintenance of the beauty and interest of characteristic British scenery. In the past this was largely preserved by the existence of large private estates which are probably destined to disappear. Public action is the only alternative means of preventing destructive change. In future `country planning' rival claims to the use of land, both between different possible economic uses and between these and the preservation of natural scenery, will have to be decided, and give-and-take will be necessary. The scientific claim to the preservation of wild life depends very largely on the modern science of ecology which has important economic as well as purely scientific value, and the ecological interest coincides very largely with the aesthetic and sentimental, because both demand the preservation of considerable tracts of unspoiled vegetation with its accompanying animal life. Education in natural history is not only important in itself, but it enhances appreciation of the natural beauty of landscape, and good education of this sort depends on the advance of ecology. Thus each of these three interests reinforces the others. 3. The problems of nature conservation must be viewed against the human background. The increase of motor transport and the great effectiveness of modern means of destruction press hardly on all kinds of wild life. Such means are largely used to further sectional interests and are constantly `upsetting the balance of nature.' Just what should be destroyed and what preserved should be a matter of public policy, and the balance aimed at should be the ecological expression of the resultants of the different human desires. The increased attention to forestry with its inevitable replacement of much natural and semi-natural woodland (too often derelict) by economically managed forests and plantations of conifers is discussed at some length as an example of the pursuit, under national authority, of an economic interest which has wide repercussions on nature conservation. It is suggested that a wider policy would enable the Commission to play an important part in the conservation of nature as well as to develop great new forests, provided the whole land surface were available for inclusion in a comprehensive scheme. Game preservation has two opposite effects on wild life. It preserves much natural vegetation (such as deciduous woods and copses for pheasants, heath, moor and mountain for grouse and red deer), with the animals which inhabit it, so far as these are not inimical to the game itself: on the other hand, predators are ruthlessly destroyed, and this has led to great increases in the numbers of small rodents, which do serious damage to crops and young trees. If all game preserving were to cease and no alternative protection put in its place, we should soon lose most of our existing wild-life habitats, at least below an altitude of 1000 or 1500 ft. Love of nature has probably become more widespread in recent years (though natural history as such has been losing its hold on parts of the population), and a notable instance is the attachment to wild birds. Such sentiments cannot be ignored in country planning but must be considered along with economic interests. 4. (i) The establishment of National Parks and `Scheduled Areas', though they would safeguard much natural vegetation, cannot meet the whole of the scientific needs. Many smaller areas (Nature Reserves) under management primarily designed to meet these needs are required. It is proposed by the semi-official Nature Reserves Investigation Committee that National Nature Reserves, to be acquired by the State and administered by a State authority, representing all the important British types of natural habitat and natural plant community, should be distinguished from Local Nature Reserves acquired or held locally under various arrangements with their present owners and used for scientific, educational or `amenity' purposes. Informed and careful scientific management is necessary for nearly all reserves. Most areas which would be reserved depend for part of their character on human activity in the past and present, and it is necessary that this activity should be continued or replaced by other means if their character, on which the whole value of the areas depend, is to be retained. Areas which have always been immune or nearly immune from human interference are few, but naturally of great ecological importance. In general they require less active management than the semi-natural areas. But the great majority of reserves require expert management. Though the primary functions of National Parks are different, are different, and their administration will properly be entrusted to a separate authority, yet the maintenance of their natural vegetation must always be a primary object if their beauty is to be preserved, and to achieve this expert advice will constantly be necessary. Much of the knowledge required has been gained through the ecological work of recent years, and this will be constantly added to as fresh research is undertaken. National and Local Nature Reserves will afford exceptionally good opportunities for such research. (ii) Invertebrate animals such as molluscs, insects and other groups are automatically protected if the vegetation they inhabit remains undisturbed. Particular tracts of vegetation known to harbour rare species should be reserved and the activities of collectors restricted. (iii) The further diminution of fresh-water pollution is the most important measure that can be taken for the conservation of fish populations, and this is already strongly supported by the powerful angling interests. Reservation of particular ponds and small lakes for the sake of their plant life, water birds, etc., may no doubt reduce or destroy the water as a habitat for fish, but the number of reserves required for such purposes is quite limited, and in some cases appropriate management could provide for both interests. (iv) Most of the twelve native species of amphibia and reptiles are of widespread distribution and in no serious danger, but three species are very local and the areas in which they occur contain in fact very suitable sites for nature reserves (probably National) on several different grounds. (v) Birds and mammals, both because of their great powers of movement and because certain species directly involve human interests, cannot be conserved simply by reserving particular areas. The problem of conservation involves that of control and always becomes one of attaining and preserving a certain optimum density and distribution of individual species in different parts of the country. This necessitates the application of the results of research to the field problem. (a) Proper balancing of various material and cultural claims is a necessary preliminary to a decision on the precise goals of control (in the sense of `regulation'). Adequate publicity and increase of public knowledge and interest are necessary to obtain popular support for the measures taken. Sectional interests give rise to very different attitudes to different species of animal. Shooting men wish to increase the populations of certain native and introduced game birds and to see those birds and mammals which prey upon them diminished or wiped out. This desire has led to a great scarcity of predators. The fox stands in an exceptional position because it is both a predator and itself an object of sport. The introduced rabbit throughout its long history in this country illustrates the fluctuations and conflicts of human interests. There is a case for allowing the continued existence of moderate and controlled rabbit populations in some areas. There is also a case for maintaining a moderate (rather low) population of the common vole in hill regions, though in excessive numbers it does serious damage to young plantations. The two squirrels (red and grey), endemic races of Hebridean mice, seals on the Cornish coast, and the proposed abolition of hedgerows and small copses in agricultural country provide examples, among many others, of conflicts between real or supposed interests which can only be resolved by control based on a just balancing of the reality and importance of the different interests. (b) Many different animals have been introduced into this country at various times and with various objects. Some of them have done a lot of harm, unconsidered by the introducers. (c) The main uses of reserves for vertebrate animals are to protect localized breeding stocks, roosting aggregations of bats, and very local species which have no great powers of movement. Many birds and the larger mammals, which have such powers, cannot be safeguarded in reserves. General control is required and this must be based on accurate knowledge of the habits of the different species, knowledge which can only be obtained by research. (vi) All naturalists have an interest in prevention of the extinction of rare species. `Sanctuaries' or--better--`Species Reserves' for this purpose must, however, be examples of the particular community in which the species naturally occurs, and while the occurrence of the particular species adds to its interest the choice of sample communities for preservation cannot be limited on that ground. 5. Haphazard procedure in nature reservation, valuable as it has been in the past, now requires to be replaced by a systematic and comprehensive plan of national scope. (i) The N.R.I.C. propose that a series of National Nature Reserves should be made, selected and managed so as to ensure the survival of all the main natural and seminatural communities of plants and animals for the purpose of serious study. The location of these must depend on the natural distribution of the communities in question, their management must be expert and subjected to unified direction with full responsibility at the centre. This proposal has the complete support of your Committee. (ii) The type of reserve described in (i) is called by the N.R.I.C. a `Habitat Reserve'. Besides this they propose the establishment of `Species Reserves', some of which would be National Reserves and which are intended to secure the survival of rare or very local species. Since it is admitted that a Species Reserves would really be a Habitat Reserve which contained one or more rare species, and would require exactly the same kind of management, it would seem unnecessary to draw a sharp distinction between the two. It would seem sufficient to select certain Habitat Reserves not only because they contained good examples of natural communities but also because they contained rare species--a course all naturalists would desire. A reserve made on these grounds should always be much larger than the area occupied by the rare species, to allow room for possible expansion of occupied area, or shift of the species. It is always the habitat, as the essential condition of the continued existence of the species, which it is important to safeguard. (iii) The `Amenity' and `Educational' Reserves contemplated by the N.R.I.C. since they `subserve local rather than national needs' are placed under the category of Local Nature Reserves. Your Committee wishes to stress the point that most, though not quite all, nature reserves, national as well as local, can fulfil all three functions of a reserve--scientific, educational, and `amenity'--without damage to any, and that it is most desirable that all which can should be made to do so, because in this way they will serve the widest range of interest and obtain the greatest measure of public support. The general conclusion seems to be that all nature reserves must really be `habitat reserves', and that the maintenance of their threefold value depends essentially on ecologically instructed management, which is alone competent to decide what can be permitted and what disallowed in the conditions of particular reserves. (iv) Scattered through the country there is already a considerable number of reserves which have been made for diverse purposes, and many of them are vested in the National Trust. Most of these have been made with the object of securing to the public the use and enjoyment of areas of natural beauty, but in some of them conditions permit of scientific work within the reserve. A few belong to the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, and these are selected because they are of interest to naturalists. Besides these there are others belonging to local societies, trusts or private individuals. Such reservations will no doubt continue to be made whether a national scheme is adopted or not, and since they will usually be made mainly by local effort their ownership and administration must naturally be determined by local wishes. As in the case of National Reserves, it seems unnecessary to divide Local Reserves into rigid categories, since many of them can be so well employed for more than one purpose, and where possible it is highly desirable that the different functions should be carried on side by side. An exception must be made in the case of those reserves intended to promote the interests of naturalists and in fact unsuitable for the enjoyment of public amenities. But usually the various interests can be harmonized by enlightened management, sometimes by setting aside part of the reserve for scientific work and allowing the public free access to the rest. (v) The proposal by the N.R.I.C. to schedule certain areas in which further development would be prohibited or drastically restricted, without interfering in any way with the present use of the land or the existing free movement of the public, is warmly welcomed by your Committee. If an adequate number of well-selected areas are thus scheduled, a large part of our national heritage of beauty will be maintained, both that which depends on natural landscape and that which owes its character to rural settlement and agriculture. Incidentally, as it were, many sites of great interest and importance to the ecologist will be preserved, apart from the formation of specific nature reserves. It is suggested that in southern and eastern England there are five main types of country of which large areas should be scheduled: (1) parts of the coastline that are still unspoiled, with their sand dunes, salt marshes and cliffs, (2) the chalk country with its downland and beechwood, (3) heathland, (4) clayland bearing coppices with oak standards and grassland, and (5) the river valleys of East Norfolk with their rivers, broads and still unspoiled fenland. (vi) (a) The N.R.I.C. recommends the establishment of a central National Reserves Authority having full executive responsibility over the control and management of all National Nature Reserves and composed of persons having expert knowledge of plants and animals and their natural communities. It should be available to act in an advisory capacity to the National Parks Authority as well as to those concerned with the control and management of Local Reserves, Scheduled Areas, and lands owned by public bodies. With these recommendations your Committee is in general agreement. The N.R.I.C. further recommends that the National Reserves should be administered by Conservators (with Wardens under them), and one or more Senior Conservators who would be the link between the Conservators and the National Reserves Authority. The qualifications of the Conservators and Senior Conservators would have to combine the specialized knowledge of competent field naturalists with practical ability in the management of land. Some such machinery as that proposed would certainly be necessary, but your Committee is of opinion that it should form part of a wider scheme of the nature of a `Wild Life Service' (see Section 7). (b) The N.R.I.C. makes a number of detailed recommendations about the selection and classification of Local Nature Reserves, their tenure, management by local committees, the representation of various interests on these committees, and the necessity of advice from the National Reserves Authority. With these your Committee is in general agreement, but would suggest that since many nature reserves can and should be used for all three purposes--scientific, educational and public enjoyment--it is desirable that the local committees of all such reserves should include representatives of the three interests, who would be their association on the committee learn to understand one another's interests and the ways in which each interest could be helpful to the others. Wherever possible members of the biological staffs of local Universities and University Colleges should be included, as these would combine scientific and educational interests. Your Committee is of opinion that the National Reserves Authority or other central authority charged with the conservation of wild life should keep records with full particulars of all reserves, local as well as national, which included among their objects the preservation of any kind of wild life, and should make them available to naturalists and the interested public by appropriate publications. 6. It seems to your Committee that there is now a greater potential field for the development of appreciation of the character and beauty of unspoiled country and of interest in natural history than ever before. A more widespread knowledge and understanding of the different natural types of country, of their physical features and their vegetation, is just what is required to build up a discriminating appreciation of rural beauty and enthusiasm for its preservation, and an educational campaign is necessary. The repercussions should contribute in an important degree to the success of schemes for nature conservation. Such an educational campaign could be promoted in several ways, e.g. by the preparation of a series of attractive popular illustrated booklets dealing with the physical features, geology, soils, natural vegetation and agricultural uses of the country on popular motor routes from centres of population; by making suitable Nature Reserves, both National and Local, centres of education in field natural history, thus stimulating local interest in local country and its vegetation and animal life; by publishing untechnical but thorough descriptions of the different reserves in pamphlet form to be purchasable at the reserve; by organizing lectures and field trips conducted by competent naturalists in connexion with the different reserves. 7. `The Government should take formal responsibility for the conservation of native wild life, both plant and animal.' These concluding words of the N.R.I.C. Report are warmly welcomed by your Committee, which believes that they contain the key to the success of any comprehensive scheme of conservation. In such a scheme the establishment of a series of National Nature Reserves is an indispensable and invaluable step, but by itself it is not enough. Nature Reserves are not sufficient to conserve our native birds and mammals. What is wanted is continuous study of the distribution, density and habits of each species and of the relationships between them. Such study is both a scientific and an economic interest. What can be done in this field is shown by the work of the Bureau of Animal Population, especially on small rodents, and of the Edward Grey Institute of Ornithology at Oxford. Control of pests is the mirror image of conservation. Exactly the same kind of knowledge is required for one as for the other. In order to gain such knowledge on a sufficiently comprehensive scale a national service is required. It is not only the problems of birds and mammals which are involved. Invertebrate animals and plants present a host of problems, all of great scientific interest and many of economic importance as well. We need only refer to insect and fungal pests and their host plants and animals. There is a great deal to be said for establishing a National Wild Life Service to embrace the whole flora and fauna, and such a service we believe is necessary if we are to have a really effective organ of nature conservation. In such a service the National Nature Reserves would play an important part, for they would be natural centres of observation and experiment, and these need in no way interfere with their conservational functions, since experiments calculated to change their aspect would be restricted to small parts of the reserve. The educational function would actually gain by such work. Conservators and Wardens of the National Reserves would be officers of the proposed Service. But whether they themselves could undertake it or not, continuous scientific research on the problems underlying practical conservation and control would be an essential function of the Service. It is suggested that it might be preferable to constitute the central authority of a Wild Life Service as an independent body under the Privy Council, with a status similar to that of the Medical Research Council, rather than assign it to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning or any other existing Ministry.
Short Title:Journal of Ecology
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