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?