Cry wolf - the return of Britain's top predator


The myth that only urban people support the wolf in France

Opinion survey for Wolf

In something I expect to see repeated in London in the near future, Aesop's Fable of the child who repeatedly raised false alarms by “crying wolf”(1) was played out a couple of months ago in France when farmers brought around 250 sheep to central Paris in a protest demanding action from ministers to stop attacks on their flocks by wolves, which they argue are over-protected by the government (2). The Fédération Nationale Ovine (FNO) representing sheep farmers, claimed there were 4,800 attacks on sheep by wolves during 2014 – 1,000 more than in 2013. With the farmers growing increasingly angry over the rise in the wolf population, they wanted the right to shoot wolves immediately if their flock was attacked, and called for the quota in the number of wolves they were allowed to kill to be scrapped, or at least increased from the current quota under the National Plan of 24 wolves (3). Michele Boudoin, secretary general of FNO said (3):
"We are asking that wolves be removed from sheep breeding regions because they are incompatible with our work"

Wolves in France do have friends: there was a rival demonstration on the day by animal rights activists calling for the wolves to be protected (2); and on the eve of the protest France Nature Environnement (FNE) a federation of French nature associations, allowed that coexistence with predators was not an easy thing, but called for new solutions in dialogue with farmers (4):
“More than 20 years after the natural return of wolves in our country, it is time to cut out the posturing, the questioning of motives, the ready-made answers to define all possible conditions of a permanent presence of wolves in our country. FNE is available for sharing, reviewing and defining these conditions”

This was perhaps more conciliatory than a earlier reaction to the plight of sheep farmers from Patrick Boffy, head of Ferus, an organization that was set up to help protect wolves, bears, and lynx in the French border mountains of the Southern Alps. In answer to an accusation that Ferus sought the removal of farmers so that they can "re-wild" the mountains, Boffy denied it by explaining (5):
“There are some terrains - steep, rocky slopes for example - that are difficult to defend against the wolf. Here perhaps the farmers should leave, but in most places cohabitation is possible if the farmers adapt”

When asked why people should make these efforts for the wolf, Boffy replied (5):
"It's a bit like asking what is the point of an eagle, or a piece of music, or a painting? The wolf is part of life. It returned naturally to France - the only southern European country where it had disappeared. In all the others - from Spain to Turkey - there have always been wolves and not one of these countries envisaged eradicating it. The difficulty is one of mentality. In France, we need to learn, little by little, how to live alongside wild animals again"

Sheep are destined to die in more ways than one

I want to pick up on that natural return, but it’s important first to gauge the impact in France of these wolf depredations. Thus in 2013, compensation was paid for the alleged killing of 6,786 sheep by wolves (6) even though it is often the case that only 20% of killings presented for compensation are definitely characteristic of wolf attacks, the compensation also being paid for a further 60% where the wolf's liability is neither excluded nor proven, the farmers being given the benefit of the doubt (7). Taken at face value, the killing of sheep by wolves thus represents 0.11% of the 6 million sheep slaughtered at abattoirs each year in France out of a total population of 9 million sheep (8). There is however an estimate of 100,000 sheep a year killed by wild or stray dogs in France, plus another 300,000 from other causes, these animals not reaching the abattoirs (8). Thus even then, mortality from wolf predation is only 1.69% of the mortality from causes other than being slaughtered for the human food chain. As FNE says, the impact of this presence of wolves “must be qualified and must not be used to hide the main difficulties of sheep which, lest we forget, persist even without [the presence of] wolves” (8). FNE thus believes the wolf is a convenient scapegoat as a “political tool for certain agricultural unions, elected demagogues and opportunists”

If you were wondering about the fate of sheep in the UK, 14.5 million out of a total population of about 32.8 million are slaughtered each year (9,10) but it is estimated that 2.5 million sheep die, often from exposure, before they could be slaughtered for human consumption (11). You might think this is somewhat careless, and you would be right since an EC Directive on the protection of farm livestock requires that animals not kept in buildings must be given protection from adverse weather conditions (12). Nevertheless, this rate of production of carrion in our countryside is quite a bonus for our scavengers, such as the reinstated but often vilified white-tailed sea eagle (13) and red kite (14) that continue to be persecuted even after reinstatement (15). You might also think that wolves reinstated to Britain would serve a useful purpose in saving the cost of disposal of dead livestock, as the farmer is required to do by regulation (16). We should perhaps remind British farmers of this, and of their responsibility for their sheep when the inevitable bleating occurs on reinstatement of the wolf, because that responsibility also includes protection from predators (12) and which has been a key factor in the national approach to coexistence with the wolf since they naturally returned to France.

The return of the wolf to France

There were over 3,000 wolves in France at the end of the eighteenth century, occupying every region from coast to mountains (17). However, the fury of organised persecution from being heavily hunted and poisoned led to their eradication in the 1930s, the last wolves living in areas around the Dordogne and Vienne rivers in SW France. In that respect, the wolf hung on in France much longer than it did in Britain, the last reliable records in England date from around 1300, holding out longer in Scotland where it finally disappeared in the late seventeenth century (18). Unlike Britain, the wolf naturally returned to France when a pair of wolves were observed in November 1992, during the counting of ungulates in the Mercantour National Park, at the Franco-Italian border (17,19). Genetic analysis and subsequent studies clearly demonstrated that the wolf returned by hopping over the border from Italy (20). Since that return, and in spite of strong local opposition on the part of farmers and hunters, and the illegal heavy poaching (shooting and poisoning) the wolf has managed to gain ground gradually, spreading in the Alpine massif, the Jura and Vosges mountains, into the eastern part of the Pyrenees, and more recently in the mountain ranges of Lozère and the Massif Central (21, 22) the population now having reached around 300 (6).

Legal protection in France for the wolf came quite quickly after their return, as is expected of a member state of the EU that is subject to the provision for protection of these carnivores in the habitats directive (23). Thus a Ministerial Decree in October 1996 added the wolf, as well as the lynx and bear, to the list of species being given protection throughout the territory of France (24) this list being updated by another Ministerial Decree in April 2007 (25). Being on the list gives protection from destruction, mutilation, capture or removal, or intentional disturbance of animals in the wild, as well as from destruction, alteration or degradation of breeding sites and resting places. The habitats directive also requires that protected areas be designated for the wolf, and France responded to this by designating 16 Special Areas of Conservation for the wolf, where there are measures to maintain or restore long term populations to favourable status while preventing disturbances that may significantly affect them (26). These protected areas range in size from 10 to 68 sqkm, covering a total of 2,300 sqkm, and all being concentrated in the Southern alps where the highest density of wolves is currently found (27).

As seems always to be the case with measures to protect species, the Ministerial Decree does allow a range of exceptions to this strict protection, as is allowed under the habitats directive, if there is no satisfactory alternative and the derogation is not detrimental to the maintenance of the population. In that circumstance, the Minister responsible for the protection of nature may, after advice from the National Council for Protection of Nature (28) authorize the capture or destruction of individuals to prevent serious damage to livestock or in the interest of public safety, or to ensure the conservation of the species itself (29).

Successive national plans for the wolf have been published

France has taken seriously the return of the wolf, with monitoring since 1993 of the species population and its expansion by the national office for hunting and wildlife (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS)(29)). Using a range of indicators, such as tracks in the snow and genetic analysis of various biological samples (droppings, hairs) gathered by a network of around 1,200 trained field experts, clusters of permanently resident packs are identified (29) which now number 38, seven more than 2012-2013 (6) as well as areas of temporary residence as the wolf disperses further into France (17). ONCFS publishes a Wolf Network Bulletin twice a year that is a source of information on the monitoring of the species in France, including assessments of range expansion and damage to livestock (30). Decisions on management and conservation of wolf populations are made at national level. A national wolf advisory committee, appointed by the Ministry of Environment and with representatives of the administration, professional agricultural organizations, scientists and naturalists associations, was established to implement a national strategy for conservation of the wolf (31). Successive national plans have been published for 2004-2008, 2008-2012 and 2013-2017, and which have laid out the basis of scientific monitoring of the species, financial support for sustainable pastoralism founded on measures to reduce as much as possible the impact of the predator on sheep, as well as a mechanism for compensation (32). Since 1993, the protection of sheep has evolved in France and has demonstrated its effectiveness through close shepherding, the nocturnal gathering of flocks, if possible in pens (electrified fences) and the presence of protection dogs like the patous (Pyrenean Mountain Dog) (8). Attacks on flocks are constantly falling where prevention is properly used (31). In the geographical département of Savoie in the alps, 72% of sheep whose death is attributed to the wolf are from unprotected flocks, only 4% are from well-protected flocks (8).

A number of ministerial decrees in support of the current National Plan 2013-2017 (33) lay out the conditions and limits for exceptions from strict protection of the wolf that may be granted by the préfet (a prefect is the State's representative in a department) and which allows deterrence of predator attacks through an escalation of measures that each need approval: using a light or sound source to startle the wolf; non-lethal shots to scare the wolf; and resorting to lethal shooting (34, 35); the départements where these exceptions can be exercised (36); and requires that a maximum number that can be culled be set each year (34). Thus for 2014-2015, it is set at 24 animals, that number being subject to revision upwards by an additional 12 animals if the National Council for Protection of Nature so decide when the total killed during the year has reached 20 (37). It should be noted that the directive on exceptions requires the annual limit on killing to be reduced by the number of wolves “that have been subject to willful destruction” and so at least the destabilising effect on the population through illegal poaching is discouraged (34). There are at least some areas where there is a categorical exemption to the exceptions for strict protection of the wolf – there can be no exceptions to allow killing of wolves in the core areas of France’s national parks and national nature reserves (34). At present, this of course includes the core area of Mercantour National Park where the first wolves reinstated to France were found, as well as now the core area of Ecrins National Park.

The quota had no basis either in biological or scientific justification

There was criticism in the run up to the fixing of the quota for 2014-2015, and of the decree adding more départements where exceptions to protection may be granted. Animal rights group One Voice noted that the quota had no basis either in biological or scientific justification, and represented 10% of the French wolf population (38). They judged that number to be unacceptable for a protected species that could now be hunted all year round, day and night. They also pointed out that the inclusion of the new départements where wolves could be shot covered areas that were recently colonised by the wolf, and would put at risk that recolonization. They warned that the only effect of the new national plan would be to dangerously reduce the number of wolves at the expense of promoting a change in pastoral methods. FNE was equally critical after the current national plan was launched and the associated decrees were promulgated (see above) fearing that the rise in the quota coupled with expansion of the areas where exceptions could apply did little to "calm the ardour of the fiercest critics of the wolf", and only delayed the necessary coexistence with sheep rearing in France (39). They denounced the continuing rise in the quota, when the conditions applied to approval of exceptions were not rigorously applied, especially in the implementation of preventative measures; criticised the possible increase in the quota during the season, pointing to the difficulty in quantifying the precise conditions that would trigger the increase; and saw the expansion of shooting into new settlement areas as calling into question the commitment to the geographical spread of the wolf, which was very far from the adaptive management planned as part of the National Plan for the wolf. FNE pointed to the need to experiment with new measures in testing new ways of protecting flocks, since some of the commonly used measures may not be suitable for all types of livestock that would be encountered with the geographic expansion of the wolf. FNE regretted that the state appeared to favour a wolf management policy with the priority view being the destruction of individuals, without, at the same time, making every effort to ensure the presence of the species is recognised by its critics (39):
“Our associations will prove particularly vigilant as to the conditions for the protection of flocks where there are applications for lethal shots. They will not hesitate to initiate legal proceedings, including to supra-national bodies, if necessary. France must respect its international commitments and protection of the wolf is one”

It is worth noting that there were, over the years, attempts by agricultural organisations like FNO, Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d'Exploitants d'Agricoles, Confédération Paysanne, Chambre d’Agriculture des Alpes-Maritimes, as well as some local officials, to dismiss the natural reinstatement of wolves, variously claiming that they were illegally reintroduced by the staff of Mercantour National Park; that their origins were from amongst captive wolf populations in France, or those held privately as pets, and which were released in the Alps by clandestine volunteers; that there was no evidence of a wolf presence between the National Park and the border with Italy prior to wolves being observed in the Park; and that the road infrastructure in the border region would have acted as a barrier (20). All these claims have been systematically disproved, but a “deep divide between the agricultural world and the world of nature protection, is very much alive among some opponents of the presence of the great predator in France” (20). In considering why the return of the wolf poses so many problems in France, Ferus points out that traditional practices that keep a flock in the presence of large predators have been forgotten (or abandoned for reasons of economy) in contrast to countries like Italy or Spain, where the wolf never disappeared (8). They note that the species is still demonized, the wolf being the embodiment of evil, a depiction that is often irrational and disproportionate to reality (8):
“The return of this species exterminated by man seems perceived as a snub, especially as many opponents of the wolf continue to deny the reality and remain convinced that it is not a natural event, but of a presence imposed by the “urban environmentalists”"

The myth that it is only urban environmentalists (écolos citadins) that welcomed the return of the wolf to France was blown away by an opinion survey in 2013, commissioned by One Voice and the Association for the Protection of Wild Animals, and which found no significant difference in opinion between rural residents and urban areas (40). Amongst a sample of 1,000 people representative of the French population aged 18 and older, 76% believed that the wolf had a place in the wild nature of France, and 80% were against the total eradication of wolves. These findings were similar irrespective of the region in which they resided, and of the size of the town - urban or rural. The survey also revealed that 75% were not only opposed to the slaughter of the wolf but, more broadly, to the slaughter any of the protected species in France on the grounds that they were posing a risk.

That the vote in favour of the wolf in France is consistently high was shown by one of the monthly polls of site visitors to Our Planet, an environmental website (41). In June last year, the question was asked of readers whether they were in favour of hunting wolves. Out of 1,393 respondents, 77.6% were against hunting. A few months later, local radio network station France Bleu in Alsace posted a news article about the protest event by FNO before the European Parliament in Strasbourg that occurred a day before the event in Paris, and gave coverage to wolf specialist Thomas Pfeiffer whose aim is to set up a safe space for wolves in the Alsace as well as interpretive facilities to smooth their increasing presence there (42). To accompany the article, France Bleu asked readers to vote on whether the wolf has a place in their region - 95.9% said yes.

Reinstatement of former native species in Britain

It is perhaps fortunate that the wolf voluntarily reinstated itself to France, because any official reintroduction process would have had to have gone through a “cumbersome procedure” involving the Ministry of Environment, the Natural History Museum, decentralized departments of the state etc., a procedure that was put in place in France before 1992, the "official year" of the return of the wolf (20). As I have lamented before, the only way the wolf could voluntarily reinstate its presence in Britain is if a breeding pair swam across the English Channel (43). Thus, as was required by the official Scottish beaver trial in Knapdale (44) reinstatement of a former native species necessitates our active involvement, and this is regulated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the release into the wild being an offence under Section 14 that prohibits introduction of a new species that is “not ordinarily resident in Great Britain and is not a regular visitor in a wild state” unless a licence has been issued under Section 16 (45).

You may have read recently that Natural England has regularised the presence of beavers on the River Otter in Devon by granting a licence covering a five year trial period of managed release to Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT)(46). This is a bit of a stitched together face-saving exercise in response to much opposition to the original intention of recapturing and rehoming the beavers (47,48). You may wonder why the licence is for “managed release” when the beaver are already there? This is because the licence is said to be subject to a range of conditions, one of which is the requirement that all the beavers are trapped and tested for their being of Eurasian origin, and that they are free of a tapeworm parasite (Echinococcus multilocularis)(46). The “release” part is thus their return to the River Otter after this testing, with DWT monitoring them to gather evidence during the trial period on any impacts which the beavers may have. At a stroke, the release in returning the beavers makes it an officially sanctioned act, rather than the illegal act when the original pair of beavers first took up residence on the River Otter. Even so, Natural England has yet to announce the full details of the licence (49). Peter Burgess, Conservation Manager of DWT, and who led the licence application to Natural England, added (49):
“Although we’re very pleased to have been granted the licence we will need to consider its terms in full before the project can get under way. It needs to be a licence which will work for us and safeguard the needs of local communities, the economy, landowners and the beavers”

In granting the licence, Natural England said that DWT’s application had been thoroughly assessed against the internationally recognised Guidelines for reintroductions published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)(46,50). This is consistent with the information given on their webpage about the process involved in reinstating former native species in England that I chased up last year (45). There was some confusion about whether the application form I downloaded then was the right one for the release of former native species, but I was assured by Natural England’s Wildlife Licensing Team that the form was the correct one (45). The application form required a feasibility report on the proposal, an assessment of potential impacts, evidence that there was support amongst the public and stakeholders, and details of what steps were proposed should problems occur and/or the project have to be terminated. Given the range of information required of the applicant in that form, and by the comprehensive nature of the IUCN Guidelines (50) I am surprised that Natural England could assert this about the beaver licence (46):
“Under the terms of the licence, by September at the latest, Devon Wildlife Trust must develop a management strategy to deal quickly with any undesirable impacts which the beavers may have on the River Otter during the trial period, as well as a monitoring programme to study their impacts”

That DWT hadn’t seen the full details of the licence, and it would appear that Natural England had granted the licence without a complete set of information in the application, then this doesn’t augur well for the integrity of the licensing process when there will be an increasing impetus to reinstate former native species. It may lead to people taking their own action in unsanctioned releases, as may have been the case with the Devon beavers (51). The reinstatement of beaver to their natural range has always been regarded as the touchstone of whether we have the moral integrity to reinstate species that proved inconvenient to rural land users. Derided as “urban ecologists” the disenfranchised public understands more than at any other time that the loss of wild animals was as a result of their millennia of persecution in land use, that persecution continuing today under the guise of controlling “vermin” (52). For what we have left, such as the mesopredators like the pine marten and wildcat, but also the much maligned fox, weasel and stoat, there has to be essential safe refuge for wild animals, and which is removed from any undue influence from rural land users. We have the lessons from France that reinforce this, the resentment felt amongst farming interests against the return of the wolf, even though it occurred naturally, and which prefigures the opposition there will be to an application for a license to reinstate the wolf in Britain – and application there must be!

Meeting the requirements of the IUCN Guidelines

It may be galling that the existence of the English Channel creates the imposition on us of an application process for the reinstatement of former native species, but a more positive way to look at this burden is that it is an opportunity for a formal challenge to the power here of vested interest in the ever unquestioned domination of wild nature. Consider this - the IUCN Guidelines indicate that there should “generally be strong evidence that the threat(s) that caused any previous extinction have been correctly identified and removed or sufficiently reduced”. It goes on to say that there should be confidence that these past causes would not again be threats to any prospective translocated populations. As the Guidelines recognise, if extirpation in the proposed destination area occurred long ago, local communities “may have no connection to species unknown to them, and hence oppose their release”. I have no doubt in my mind that the experiences of those Mediterranean peninsula countries where the wolf was never lost (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Turkey (53)) as well as France and Germany (54) that have lived with the recent return of wolves, and of Denmark and the Netherlands who are just embarking on that experience (43) will prove the hollowness of the opposition that will be thrown up here to the reinstatement of the wolf.

Not for nothing do the Guidelines say they are a “response to the present era of accelerating ecological change” because they consider the primary objective of any proposed species translocation should be justified by identifying a “quantifiable conservation benefit”, which includes “restoring natural ecosystem functions or processes” (50). I wrote last year of the positive ecological relationships associated with top carnivores (55) and of the importance of large carnivores in natural processes through initiating trophic cascades (56) so that requirement in the Guidelines of a conservation benefit is easily met. I am also confident that for the wolf, the necessary knowledge of its “biotic and abiotic habitat needs, its interspecific relationships and critical dependencies, and its basic biology” are easily understood, and that there is suitable habitat that will meet those needs of the wolf “through space and time and for all life stages”.

There is much in the Guidelines about selecting release sites and having a release strategy in terms of individuals in natural sex ratios, age classes and social groupings, but recognising that success may be enhanced by deliberate bias in selection of founder animals, for example “either by increasing the proportion of individuals of breeding age, or by favouring the proportion of juveniles”. While there are captive populations of wolves in Britain (57-61) these are unlikely to be exclusively of European lineage, and they will certainly have lost their intrinsically wild behaviour patterns. Thus we will have to look to continental Europe for selection from wild populations (62,63). The Guidelines point to the risk of having little genetic variation in source material used for translocations in there being reduced vigour and inadequate genetic variation to enable survival and adaptation in the face of environmental change. Since the possibility of fresh genes arriving through dispersal is lost to us from being an island, we should consider the advice in the Guidelines of taking individuals from multiple populations, and perhaps consider later secondary releases to vary the gene pool, as has been recommended for the relatively small wolf population in Sweden (64,65). Having to import a wild species puts us in another paper trail, as the wolf is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is for species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. (CITES (66)). What this means is that export of wolves requires a permit granted on the conditions that export will not be detrimental to the species population; that the animals were not obtained in contravention of any national laws; and that the animal does not suffer during capture and transhipment (see Article IV in (67). You will, of course, have to have a licence from Natural England that allows you bring these animals into the country.

The release area can easily be chosen from land in the public domain to be “large enough”, and be “secure from incompatible land-use change… and, ideally, in perpetuity” for initial colonisation and pack establishment. After that, I am less sure how the Guidelines apply since it is in the nature of juvenile wolves to disperse, their territoriality and social behaviour being the intrinsic mechanisms regulating wolf density (55). This is acknowledged in France, where it is recognised that because of its large home range (150-300 sqkm) it is not feasible to think of its dispersal only at the level of individual protected areas – “A zoning system based on administrative boundaries of protected areas is biologically inconsistent”(31). There is no question that the wolf will, over time, disperse in Britain to wherever it finds something to eat. Let me remind you again, that the onus of protecting livestock from predators is on the farmer - it is their husbandry practices that owe a duty of responsibility to their animals (12).

The Guidelines stress that post-release monitoring is an essential part of a responsible translocation. Participation in monitoring is recommended as a practical means of engaging the interest and support of local communities, as is done in France by 1,200 trained field experts engaged with ONCFS (see above) and "can be used to assess attitudes towards the translocation". Monitoring information is used to report on progress, this information being disseminated to all parties involved, perhaps like the twice yearly Wolf Network Bulletins issued in France by ONCFS (see above). Thus after initial release, information from ongoing monitoring on survival, reproduction and dispersal can "define the optimum number and size of further releases through adaptive management". As per the Guidelines, ecological monitoring should be undertaken to record movement patterns, foraging behaviour and diet selection, social organisation, breeding season and success. Since the translocation of the wolf is designed to restore ecological function, the progress of ecological change can be assessed, and whether any other "ecological impacts arising are beneficial, benign or harmful". In a recent article, George Monbiot labelled the wolf and lynx as mesopredators in relation to the frighteningly fierce but now extinct lions, hyaenas, scimitar cats, sabretooths and bear dogs that the wolf and lynx existed alongside during the Pleistocene (68). This was not entirely helpful  since, in our depauperate British landscapes, we have a desperate need to reinstate the large carnivores that match the largest wild herbivores that we do have - and that makes the wolf and lynx our top predators. Consider that it is not just the trophic effect wrought on deer that will be the beneficial outcome, but it also means that we can take seriously the proper reinstatement of wild boar, and get less worked up about badgers, foxes etc.

It is in the issue of social feasibility that is covered in the Guidelines where subjectivity can rush in to crush what are principled motives in wanting to reinstate the wolf to its natural range in Britain. The Guidelines recognise that “interests will be varied, and community attitudes can be extreme and internally contradictory”. This argues for a structured process of civic engagement accompanying development of proposals, as was exemplified in the Netherlands where they prepared themselves for the inevitable return of the wolf (43). The Guidelines say that a reinstatement proposal should be “developed within national and regional conservation infrastructure, recognising the mandate of existing agencies, legal and policy frameworks, national biodiversity action plans or existing species recovery plans”. Well, in the case of the return of beaver to England, the licence granted to DWT has rather sidestepped any biodiversity action plans or species recovery plans that I am aware of. You would not anyway in the context of reinstatement of the wolf consider a wildlife trust in taking responsibility, lead on that civic engagement, as well as carry out the monitoring and dissemination of information because the implications of the return of the wolf are at a national scale, and not just at the local scale of a few beaver on a river in Devon. Thus in France, that responsibility post the voluntary reinstatement of wolf was taken by ONCFS, its national office for hunting and wildlife and which is a public administrative institution under the joint supervision of the ministries in charge of ecology and agriculture (69).

Getting reinstatement of the wolf onto the national agenda

Late last October, I was at a workshop on the future of protected areas organised by the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation. This wasn't a workshop for a game changing outcome, even though we were exhorted to be frank. The few impromptu conversations I had, revealed the usual limited horizons and the inability to shake off stolid preconceptions that plague British thought. What is infuriating about this is the presumption that these limited horizons should also govern elsewhere, in other countries, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. A case in point being the disbelief that the Netherlands has the capacity to accommodate the return of wolves when the opportunity mapping has been carried out, the civic engagement process completed and the legislative changes made (43). It is patently obvious, and was admitted, that the statutory agencies have no interest in developing the evidence base here for the return of the wolf or other large carnivores. Thus I am at a loss in recommending any statutory agency or Government department that would currently undertake the responsibility and diligently act on it.

When there was a report of a challenge to the legality of trapping to remove the Devon beavers from the River Otter last September, I left a comment that lamented that it is “no wonder that the frustration at the poor aspiration for reinstating these species results in people taking their own action. Surely we should be expecting this action from our own statutory nature agencies, supported by Government?”(70). It is a positive outcome to be welcomed that the unsanctioned release of beaver in Devon has now resulted in a sanctioned five year trial that most likely will lead to official acceptance of the return of beaver to England. An unsanctioned release of the wolf, however, will not get similar treatment, judging by the shooting of three of the wolves that escaped from Colchester zoo just over a year ago (71). It remains the task then, to get the reinstatement of the wolf onto the national agenda, to mainstream it not only in the environmental agenda, but also in the commonplace, every day narrative of people. It is a paradigm shift to our ecology to have large carnivores back here. Make it part of your personal agenda as well.

Mark Fisher 4 February 2015, 22 February 2015

(1) The tenth fable is of the child/whiche kepte the sheep. The fables of Aesop, as first printed by William Caxton in 1484, with those of Avian, Alfonso and Poggio, now again edited and induced by Joseph Jacobs. 1889 London: D. Nutt. Pg 205

(2) Sheep flock to Eiffel Tower as French farmers cry wolf. Yahoo! News 27 November 2014

(3) French farmers cry wolf over sheep killings. Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters PARIS 27 November 2014

(4) Quelles perspectives pour la coexistence avec le loup?, Sur Les Traces Des Prédateur, France Nature Environnement 27 November 2014

(5) France on alert for prowling wolves, BBC News Europe 9 April 2014

(6) La population de loups en France atteint plus de 300 individus. Audrey Garric, Le Monde 10 June 2014

(7) Responsabilité du loup dans les attaques de troupeaux, Sur Les Traces Des Prédateur, France Nature Environnement

(8) Argumentaire, Sur Les Traces Des Prédateur, France Nature Environnement

(9) United Kingdom Slaughter Statistics – December 2014

(10) Agriculture In the United Kingdom 2013. Produced by: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (Northern Ireland) Welsh Assembly Government, The Department for Rural Affairs and Heritage The Scottish Government, Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate

(11) The Uncounted Dead: Farming's unofficial victims. Ben Martin, Animal Aid December 2014

(12) Sec. 12, ANNEX, Council Directive 98/58/EC of 20 July 1998 concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes

(13) On the Menu, White-tailed Eagles on the Isle of Mull

(14) The Red Kite, Elfyn Pugh, Birds of Britain

(15) Illegal Persecution: a national disgrace, Scottish Raptor Study Group

(16) Fallen stock: safe disposal, DEFRA August 2012

(17) Le loup: biologie et présence en France, Ferus

(18) Yalden, D.H. (1999) The History of British Mammals. London: Academic Press

(19) 2012: 20 years have passed since the return of the wolf, Sur Les Traces Des Prédateur, France Nature Environnement

(20) Les loups : réintroduction ou retour naturel? Marie-Claire, 3 February 2005,422.html

(21) Évolution des populations de grands prédateurs: le loup, le lynx et l’ours. Indicateurs & Indices, Ministére de L'Écologie, du Développement Durable et de L'Énergie

(22) Présence des Grands Carnivores : Loup et Lynx, Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage

(23) COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora

(24) Arrêté du 10 octobre 1996 portant modification de l'arrêté du 17 avril 1981 modifié fixant les listes des mammifères protégés sur l'ensemble du territoire

(25) Arrêté du 23 avril 2007 fixant la liste des mammifères terrestres protégés sur l'ensemble du territoire et les modalités de leur protection

(26) Article L414-1, Section 1: Sites Natura 2000, Chapitre IV : Conservation des habitats naturels, de la faune et de la flore sauvages, Code de l'environnement

(27) Natura 2000 Network Viewer (search for Canis lupus in France)

(28) Présentation du Conseil National de la Protection de la Nature, EAU ET BIODIVERSITÉ, Ministére de L'Écologie, du Développement Durable et de L'Énergie

(29) Le Réseau Loup – Lynx, Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage

(30) Bulletin d’information du réseau Loup

(31) Le loup, Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage

(32) Le plan d’action national loup 2013-2017, Mission loup, 21 January 2015

(33) Plan d’action national loup 2013-2017, Ministére de L'Écologie, du Développement Durable et de L'Énergie

(34) Arrêté du 15 mai 2013 fixant les conditions et limites dans lesquelles des dérogations aux interdictions de destruction peuvent être accordées par les préfets concernant le loup (Canis lupus)

(35) Dérogations pour la chasse au loup, Protection de la faune et de la flore, Environnement,

(36) Arrêté du 30 juin 2014 fixant la liste des départements dans lesquels peuvent être délimitées les unités d'action prévues par l'arrêté du 15 mai 2013 fixant les conditions et limites dans lesquelles des dérogations aux interdictions de destruction peuvent être accordées par les préfets concernant le loup (Canis lupus)

(37) Arrêté du 30 juin 2014 fixant le nombre maximum de spécimens de loups (Canis lupus) dont la destruction pourra être autorisée pour la période 2014-2015

(38) Nouveau Protocole de Destruction des Loups : Réagissons! One Voice pour une éthique animale et planétaire, Avril 2013.

(39) Arrêtés ministériels « loup »: mauvais choix dans le processus pour la coexistence, Sur Les Traces Des Prédateur, France Nature Environnement 4 July 2014

(40) Les Français et le loup Résultats détaillés, Ifop pour l’ASPAS et One Voice Septembre 2013

(41) Sondage Juin 2014, notre-planete.inf

(42) Le loup a-t-il une place en Alsace? Aurélie Locquet, France Bleu Alsace November 26, 2014

(43) Ecological consequence of predator removal, Self-willed land July 2014

(44) Tay beavers to stay free and living wild, Self-willed land May 2012

(45) Misperceptions of the Infrastructure Bill - willful ignorance of the conservation industry? Self-willed land August 2014

(46) Natural England approves trial release of beavers. Natural England News Story 28 January 2015

(47) Beavers: Devon. Written Answers, Environment Food and Rural Affairs 26 June 2014

(48) Battle to stop capture of England's first wild beavers in 500 years, Steven Morris, Guardian 16 July 2014

(49) Its official, beavers are back, Devon Wildlife Trust News Release 28th January 2015

(50) IUCN/SSC (2013). Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations. Version 1.0. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN Species Survival Commission

(51) Devon's wild beavers, Devon Wildlife Trust

(52) They shoot foxes, don't they? Self-willed land January 2007

(53) Action Plan for the conservation of the wolves (Canis lupus) in Europe, Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), Luigi Boitani, Council of Europe 2000

(54) The Return of the Wolf to Germany – Administrative Preparedness and NGO Strategies, Dr. Eick von Ruschkowski, NABU, October 2014

(55) Large carnivores as the focal species for reinstatement of natural processes in Britain, Self-willed land November 2014

(56) Lack of natural control mechanisms - the missing lynx, Self-willed land June 2014

(57) UK Wolf Conservation Trust - Working to Keep Wolves in the Wild

(58) Wolf Watch UK

(59) Highland Wildlife Park, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

(60) Wildwood Trust Wildlife Park

(61) Port Lympne Reserve, The Aspinal Foundation

(62) Verbreitung des Wolfes, WWF Austria

(63) Conservation status of large carnivores, Nature and Biodiversity, European Commission

(64) Hansen, M.M., Andersen, W., Aspi, J. & Fredrickson, R. (2011) Evaluation of the conservation genetic basis of management of grey wolves in Sweden. Rovdjurens Bevarandestatus, Delbetänkande av Rovdjursutredningen, SOU 2011:37, Bilaga 3, Stockholm, Sweden

(65) Räikkönen J, Vucetich JA, Vucetich LM, Peterson RO, Nelson MP (2013) What the Inbred Scandinavian Wolf Population Tells Us about the Nature of Conservation. PLoS ONE 8(6): e67218.

(66) Appendices I, II and III valid from 14 September 2014, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

(67) Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Signed at Washington, D.C., on 3 March 1973. Amended at Bonn, on 22 June 1979

(68) Why whale poo matters, George Monbiot, Guardian 12 December 2014

(69) French national agency for wildlife, Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage

(70) Trapping wild beavers in Devon would be unlawful, ministers told, Steven Morris, Guardian 25 September 2014

(71) Three timber wolves shot dead after escape from Essex zoo, Josh Halliday, Guardian 26 November 2013