Species reintroduction ‘not a priority’ for Government

There is no plan to manage the reintroduction of species in the UK as it is not a priority for the Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said.

Experts called this “absurd” with a parliamentary committee describing the lack of a plan as “concerning” and “disappointing”.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra), spent months hearing evidence from scientists, farmers, conservationists and Government officials before recommending ministers publish a list of priority species for reintroduction and create an online hub with advice and best practices.

In its response, the Government said it will not create such a list “given that reintroduction is not a priority”, and said it prefers to focus on habitats.

Defra said: “Our priority in achieving our ambitious targets on biodiversity is our focus on habitat restoration and creation, and improved connectivity of biodiversity corridors to tackle pressures on species including pollution, unsustainable use of resources and climate change, with targeted action to recover specific species.”

A spokesperson added that Defra has supported reintroductions “when it has been appropriate to do so”.

Director of Rewilding Britain Professor Alastair Driver, who gave evidence to the committee, said the Government’s approach is “environmentally naive” and “illiterate” and that the Secretary of State for Defra Therese Coffey is not interested in the natural environment.

He said: “To say it’s not a priority is absurd. It is a priority. That’s why all this dedicated time was put into it for the last couple of years.

“The Government will not achieve its nature recovery targets without species reintroductions being part of that. It’s an essential piece of the jigsaw.”

Beavers released at Paradise Fields
Beavers have been described as essential to improving the UK’s wetland ecosystems (James Manning/PA)

Beavers, bison, dormice, wild cats and water voles are just some of the species that have been reintroduced in Britain this year.

After centuries of industrialisation, expansion of agriculture and persecution, the UK has one of the most decimated populations of wildlife anywhere in the world, according to the Natural History Museum.

Wolves, lynx and eagles have long since disappeared along with the critical role they play in ecosystems, leading land managers to actively hunt animals like deer to stop them from overpopulating.

Joan Edwards, director of policy at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Reintroducing wildlife must be part of the UK Government’s arsenal for tackling nature loss and climate change – it is astonishing there is no strategy for doing so.

“The return of wild beavers can help to recreate lost wetlands, with a knock-on effect that benefits other wildlife including, insects, invertebrates, and birds.

“Beavers also slow the flow of water, which can reduce flood risks to towns and villages.

“Endlessly delaying the return of this native species goes against commitments made by the UK Government in its 25-year Environment Plan.”

Prof Driver said reintroductions of larger, more charismatic creatures help spark the imagination of nature recovery in the public and that without a plan, even those land owners opposed to reintroductions may see it happen anyway but without regulation.

Herd of wild bison
A herd of bison released by Kent Wildlife Trust has been attracting visitors to the area over the last year (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“In the absence of a clear strategy and plan, there are risks around it happening in an unauthorised and undesirable way,” he said.

“It’s far more important to have a plan and a strategy with clear guidance than it is to just bury our heads in the sand and hope it’ll go away because it won’t.”

Sir Robert Goodwill, the committee’s chairman, said: “The Government have in the past played a role in supporting the reintroduction of lost native species, including the red kite and pool frog.

“However, given the important potential benefits of species reintroduction and considering the Government’s own targets on biodiversity, it is concerning that they do not have a plan on species reintroduction and disappointing that they have not responded positively to our report and taken more steps to manage the reintroductions taking place as we speak.”