A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hooptedoodle #196 – Donkey Award – Rewilding

It seems Anthony Fremont is alive and well.

If you are unfamiliar with Anthony, he is the central character from Jerome Bixby’s marvellous short sci-fi story, It’s a Good Life, dating from 1953, which I read when I was about 12 and which made such a profound impression on me that I have never forgotten it.

If you haven’t read the story, you should – or if you have 50 minutes to spare a nice man can read it to you.

[Very brief spoiler – Anthony is about 4 years old, and was born with supernatural powers which allow him to control the universe and read people’s minds. In the story, his village has been physically separated (by Anthony) from the rest of the Earth – no-one knows how or where – and exists in isolation, in a nightmare world surrounded by a four-year-old’s idea of a perfect environment – anyway, you should read the story, if you haven’t.]

The relevance is that it seems to me that the spirit of Anthony lives on in many present day conservationists – they mean well, but mostly they don’t have a clue. One of the difficulties surrounding environmental topics is that it is hard to find anyone talking sense about them – most of the enthusiasts are banging a personal drum, or quoting a half-article they read in the Daily Mail, or just letting their bellies rumble. Yes, we should be concerned, but we should try to keep a sense of proportion.

It makes me nervous, for example, that discussion of endangered species seems to be distorted by what is cuddly – bush babies and giant pandas get many more votes (and are better on TV) than disappearing strains of bacteria or cockroaches. It seems unlikely that the phone-in audience, unaided, are going spontaneously to come up with a balanced formula for a new, sustainable ecological system [you can help here – join Max Foy’s adopt-a-cockroach scheme – only 15 euros will secure you your very own specimen – yours is in Sumatra, by the way – here’s a picture of it].

The amateurs are mostly harmless, since they are unlikely to have an impact beyond their own Facebook timeline, and would not have the knowledge or the influence to take any real initiative. The professionals are much more scary, since they actually believe they understand what is going on, and what we should do about it.

One such is a chap – to be perverse, let us call him Anthony – who is proposing that we should reintroduce the wolf to the Highlands of Scotland. Yes – that’s right – not some kind of obscure wildflower, but that big, hairy dog-like creature with bloody big teeth. This gentleman manages a large forest estate, so he knows what he is talking about. He and his colleagues plant a great many trees, which are extensively destroyed by herds of wild deer, multiplying out of control, and thus requiring to be culled each year to keep things in some kind of balance.

The problem is that the deer have had no natural enemies (apart from men with guns) since wolves died out in Scotland around 1700. Our hero proposes to reintroduce wolves on the estate and – bingo – we shall be back in a better age. His vision is of a fenced nature park, along African lines, in which the wolves and bears (did I forget to mention the bears?) will keep the deer under control, the forest will prosper, and visitors (don’t tell me I forgot to mention the visitors?) will be able to enjoy the Highlands as they once were.

Monument to the last wolf killed in Sutherland
Ah yes – as they once were – and this will be Anthony’s own favoured snapshot, so they will not be under several hundred metres of ice, neither will they be swimming in lava – it will be just as things might have been on, say, 24th May 1684 – or some other convenient date when there were still wolves.

As ever, I am disappointed to find that I am reverting to type and distancing myself from this grand scheme. I admit that I never was any fun at all, but I am concerned about the following:

(1) Wolves reappeared in France recently – in the 1990s – and things are not going well there – here’s a BBC article about the topic, and about our Scottish enthusiast, which sets some kind of factual context.

(2) If you were a betting man, how would you rate the chances of a fenced nature park containing the experiment indefinitely, without becoming some kind of Jurassic Park? When I used to live in Edinburgh, there were not-infrequent excitements in the Corstorphine area caused by wolves escaping from the zoo – cunning fellows, wolves – it is said that on one occasion they disguised themselves as cleaning staff.

(3) If the wolves escape (as they eventually must), how would things look for Scottish sheep farmers? – to say nothing of tourism…

(4) How did the rabbit get on in Australia, by the way?


  1. A wonderfully entertaining post with, nevertheless, a number of valid points worth considering.

    Best Regards,


    1. We are all doomed, I fear. The worst thing of all is Good Ideas - if someone comes up with a Good Idea, be on your guard.

  2. Wolves let loose in the Highlands? The man has clearly not seen Dog Soldiers.

    This passage in the Beeb article caused me to smile: '"What we would like to do is create one big area, like an African-style game reserve and allow the wolves and bears to help manage the habitat for us," he explained.'

    I have visions of two furry creatures hunched over a desk in a small office, wondering what grants they could claim from the EU, and wondering if it's time to thin out the copse and dredge the pond.

  3. Ahh the benefits of being sn island rather than a peninsula. We got rid of out wolves a while back, the result was that Coyotes migrated north, across the border without bothering with immigration procedures, interbred with the local wolf girls in middle and then pushed east. until they reached the sea.

    So it is now that some nights when the moon is full one can lie inbed and let one's inner primeval man listen to the cacophonous yipping and howling of large man-eating coyotes in the woods across the road by the sheep pasture and their mates in the woods by the river, behind the house.

    OK so, on average they only eat about 1 person per decade but still, does make one wonder if the cat is in or out.

    1. Too primeval for me, man. I've never seen a man eating coyote, though I have seen a man eating apple pie.

  4. To be fair, rabbits are not native to Australia, so some pea-wit Hooray Henry letting a pair loose down here, you know to have something to hunt, was bound to have the odd down side. Not that we learned our lesson. We also have foxes, pigs, camels, donkeys and cane toads. I read about this guy, sounds like a clown. I take it he's not planning on handing the highlands back to the thousands of people who used to live there. Of course, in a vast place like Yellowstone reintroducing apex predators is a good idea, but you need, you know, something a bit bigger and closer to its original state than some Plonker's country estate. Might re-balance the eco-system in Glasgow though.

    1. Wolves would stand no chance in Glasgow, and they already have bears there - I've seen them at the Rangers games.

      I've had some hostile email in response to this post, as you might expect, pointing out that we have had safari parks with lions and stuff for decades, and we have survived without any serious escapes. I'm not sure about that. There are many folk tales of large cats in the highland forests, and I was once at a picnic in Perthshire where the tongue-and-cranberry sandwiches vanished in a way which has never been fully explained.

      I was going to restrain from observing that European humans are not native to Australia either, but I would be guilty of Anthony's favoured snapshot technique - if we go back far enough, the same is also true of - well, Europe. You are getting a bit of your own back - I read (in the Daily Wail) that some Australian spiders are now common in Southern England - personally I can't think of a downside there, though.

      Choose your snapshot, but be careful what you wish for. I have been tipped off about a scary tale of the Edible Dormouse plague in England, and I am bracing myself to check if it is true.

    2. Ah - I fear the Edible Dormouse is, in fact, bad news. I checked - have a look at


      for details of the species, and (if you can bear the idea) the Daily Mail gives the lowdown on what the Glis Glis (it's proper name) can do if it gets into your loft...


      Strangely, it seems to have a very narrowly-defined habitat in the UK. Naturally, and this will not surprise those whose lives are already compromised by bats etc, the Glis Glis is protected by law. As mentioned above, we are doomed. Choose how you would like to go.

  5. An excellent post - well done... don't even get me started on Chris Packham and the endless news stories on seahorses...

  6. I got an email from Chris Grice, which I very much appreciate:

    Hello Tony,

    I just wanted to say that I work for a Wildlife Trust and can confirm that the vast majority of wildlife/conservation ‘professionals’ agree with every word you said. There is just a small but very vociferous minority of nut jobs who are on some personal crusade.

    We have one loony locally who writes a very entertaining blog, writes regularly to the papers, MPs, etc, (rumour is David Attenborough has an injunction out on him) all on the subject of our corporate vandalism in the way we manage his favourite moor. (We are in league with big business, grouse shoots, the fracking industry, Attilla the Hun, the martians, etc). He seems to be under the impression that if we just leave the moor alone, it will be covered in herds of woolly rhino in no time.

    Fact is, there is no, repeat, no natural countryside in the UK. At all. It is all man-made in some form or another - maybe over thousands of years of grazing, burning off or woodland industry, but man-made nonetheless. Conservation organisations like ours are trying to keep it like it is, for the wildlife that lives there now, it can’t go back to how it was before.

    Ok, rant over.

    Great blog, by the way. Keep up the good work!