Rewilding, Where are the mammals

The global ecosystem is intrinsically connected, one way or another, having evolved together in partnership throughout the millennia. The breath-taking relationships, the direct result of evolution between, for example the smallest of dung beetles and the camel which the beetles relies on for food to the largest animal, the blue whale that survive eating the tiniest creatures, plankton. These complete opposites of size and evolutionary path seen throughout the animal kingdom and are important for life as we know it. That is why rewilding is so important.

Mammals in Africa

Large mammals are important on every continent, because they consume significant amounts of nutrients from trees; berries etc. and transport them away from the higher concentrations in dense nutrient forests to nutrient poor areas such as grasslands. This natural transportation provides a source of fertilisation of new pastures and grasslands. In Africa for example elephants manage the landscape naturally, preventing large woodland taking hold, which in turn creates new habitat for big cats, birds and lizards in the bark and trees brought down. Rhino’s and hippo’s fulfil a similar role by keeping grassland levels low as well as transporting greater concentrations of nutrients away from rivers. This simple dispersal of dung is vital in moving nutrients from the rivers the surrounding Savannah.

The Southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) (Photo Credit: Save The Rhino)

The Southern white rhino is important in maintaining habitat and moving nutrients but is hunted for its horns. They will eventually become extinct affecting the surrounding habitat as well.

Mammals in the UK

This principal of retaining larger mammals or attempting to replace them for habitat diversification is also a relevant conservation topic in the UK and has had significant press in recent years. The function they give in Africa by moving nutrients, clearing forest, and maintaining path ways is important for a variety of wildlife. Here in the UK this cycle of tree’s self-seeding and growing is not interrupted by large herbivores, because there simply isn’t any remaining. This natural cycle now only includes that of the trees. We used to have brown bears, wild ox, wild horse, beavers, wild boar and greater populations of deer, which would naturally coppice and manage the habitats across the UK instinctively. There have been re-introductions of many deer species, and wild boar for example in the New Forest; beavers also, but has had a number of problems or it simply hasn’t worked. The beavers have only just been allowed back in the wild and their limited number means they are incapable of significant woodland modification. The smaller deer species such as Roe and Muntjac have a similar problem, being non-native, they are not large enough to affect woodland development and in fact destroy heathland, wild flowers and other important ecosystems. Yes, they keep grasslands short in places, but the damage caused to woodlands far exceeds the positives in many places.

Throughout the globe the dynamic environments are changing usually as a result of man’s interaction. Wolves, lynx and other larger species have been extinct in the UK for several hundred years, with the impacts of their extinction only just turning up now. Only now is the lack of these larger predators clear with deer populations exploding whom feast on smaller plants, flowers and heather. This combined with the lack of wild boar, bear, wild horses and other large herbivores that once roamed these shores means there is minimal natural woodland management. Woodlands now need management and intervention from man to maintain a balance. Deer maintain grasslands levels, creating habitats for birds, but now with no predators they are thriving to the point that they are a pest and damage the habitat. To control numbers we have to shoot them to keep the numbers down. We are fulfilling a role that nature has done for thousands of years.

Grey Wolf

Wolves were a common predator but are now extinct in the UK because of hunting

Adding herbivores must also mean that predators such as Lynx and Wolves are added as well. We cannot fix just one piece of the puzzle. To create thriving habitats with a good variety of life all the elements need to fit together in one way. We need wide scale understanding to conserve and protect all species. Everything requires moderation; predators and prey in an equal balance will create a healthy ecosystem. It has taken millions of years to create a wildlife dynamic that works, the plankton and the whale such as, yet to protect it we need to conserve the entire cycle. It isn’t just a subject of rewilding but resetting nature to what it was and where it was to have a complete cycle of prey and predator.


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I am a trained geologist who has a passion for conservation and working with wildlife. I write articles that interest me and that I am passionate about using skills and knowledge to highlight issues related to climate change. I don’t write articles for views, I write them to change views.

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1 Response

  1. 22nd December 2015

    […] many of these mammals no longer exist / lack the freedom they once had (as discussed before Where are the mammals? ). Years ago larger animals would naturally fell trees, eat specific varieties of tree and […]

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