(Photo credit: Neal Armour-Chelu) Species re-introduction projects - where attempts are made to re-establish populations of animals and plants that have been lost from their natural haunts – were the focus of the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership’s annual forum on 3rd November. Some 120 delegates joined the event, including partners from Natural England, the Broads Authority, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, district councils, local community groups and landowners.
Re-introduction projects have brought red kites back to British skies, beavers back to Scottish wetlands and pool frogs back to Breckland. They are also increasingly seen as a way of helping species adapt to climate change through “assisted migration”. In certain areas, species re-introduction projects can help to stimulate tourism and can be a powerful boon to the local economy.
However, species re-introductions can also be costly and controversial and spark local concern. Many are technically difficult, and a significant number of re-introduction projects fail. If not properly planned and implemented, re-introduction projects can also have unintended impacts on local wildlife and ecosystems. An additional concern is that assisted migration carries with it the risk of introducing a species beyond its natural range, where it may become invasive.
The conference, entitled "Playing God: The Science, Art and Controversy of Species Re-introductions", heard from leading re-introduction experts working with IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Scottish Beaver Trial, RSPB, Plantlife, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the Norfolk Non-native Species Initiative.
Dr Scott Perkin, Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership Co-ordinator, said:
"There is something about species’ re-introduction projects which captures people's imagination…Perhaps it is the sense of being able to turn back the clock and repair some of the damage that we have done to the natural world. But as our speakers highlighted, the re-introduction of a species is a complex process and many factors - such as the reasons why extirpation occurred in the first place - must be understood and addressed first."
Mike Sutton-Croft, Co-ordinator of the NBP’s Non-native Species Initiative, told the conference about the creation of a crayfish “ark” site for Norfolk, where native crayfish were re-introduced to a north Norfolk river from the River Glaven. This project aims both to protect the species from the larger and more aggressive American signal crayfish which are prevalent in rivers throughout the county, and create a refuge population which can be used for future re-introductions. The project followed the IUCN guidelines, which have set the international standard for re-introduction efforts.