An insight into conservation translocations

An article recently published by British Wildlife gives us an interesting insight into conservation translocations - the movement of species for conservation benefit. Translocating organisms to a location where their species is struggling, has already been lost, or has never been present, is one of the most high-profile approaches to nature restoration in Britain.

Our collective knowledge and understanding of translocating species has increased significantly over the last few decades, so any prospective projects are now able to access an array of research and expertise. The large blue butterfly, crinkled snow lichen, and the red squirrel are just some of the many species that have benefitted. Now, Saving Wildcats is the first translocation project for the only remaining native cat in Britain, with national and international experts providing invaluable guidance throughout.

Unfortunately, there has been conflict between some groups regarding particular introductions, for example, unregulated/escaped beaver releases on Tayside. To address this, the National Species Reintroduction Forum (NSRF) was established in Scotland, providing conservationists, environmentalists and land-manager communities with the opportunity to develop more strategic approaches.

One of the forum’s outputs was the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations. The code utilises the IUCN’s Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations best practice guidelines, but with a strong Scottish focus and emphasis on socio-economic and cultural considerations. Also, there is different legislation in Scotland from the rest of Britain, which means a significant proportion of conservation translocation projects need to obtain a licence from NatureScot, and demonstrate they are applying the Scottish Code approach. In 2022, the Saving Wildcats project applied for a translocation licence, and was successfully granted the licence in 2023, prior to the first releases of wildcats into the Cairngorms National Park.

There is much to consider before a conservation translocation of any kind takes place. For example, the project aims; how will success be measured; the costs involved; any disease risks and animal welfare, where applicable. Genetics may also be an important consideration. This was the case for Saving Wildcats, where genetics informed the breeding management of a healthy, viable population of animals for release.

Often forgotten is the crucial need to engage with key stakeholders at the earliest opportunity. Ultimately, it is local champions and affected land-users who must coexist with translocated wildlife. Involving the local community not only increases the likelihood of the long-term success of the translocation, it often provides opportunities and builds trust, enabling further conservation interventions to be carried out in the same areas in future. The establishment of the NSRF and the Scottish Code have not eliminated conflicts entirely, but they have helped to provide opportunities for collaborative discussion. Saving Wildcats has been engaging with schools and community groups, local residents, land-owners and neighbouring businesses, as well as national and international stakeholders, to further increase the chance of successfully restoring the wildcat to the Cairngorms National Park.

Conservation translocations are no longer a tool of last resort but are increasingly being used in creative, effective ways to improve biodiversity. By using best practice, mitigating risks and working closely with local communities, they are likely to become an increasingly important tool to help us restore nature.

For more information, read the fascinating article in full >

Authors: Martin Gaywood, David Bavin, Sarah Dalrymple, Aline Finger, Jim Foster and Delphine Pouget

Martin Gaywood, NatureScot Species Projects Manager, is also part of Saving Wildcats’ Project Management Group.

Author: Gemma Shooter

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