7 January 2010
Species re-introductions are widely regarded as an essential conservation technique and are employed worldwide with increasing frequency.
A large number of governments – including those in Britain - are now legally obliged (under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Habitats and Birds Directive), to consider the restoration of native species to their former range, and in some cases, re-introduction is the only way to re-establish populations of native species in a reasonable timescale. In addition, well organised re-introduction projects can have a range of wider conservation benefits, which help to justify the substantial resources required to implement them.
Natural England has a regulatory role in species re-introductions in England. We are responsible for licensing the taking of protected species from the wild for release elsewhere, consenting the collection of donor stock and releases on SSSIs, and, for certain listed species, licensing the release of animals into the wild.
International (IUCN) guidelines on re-introductions provide a comprehensive and widely respected basis for assessing the appropriateness of projects, and for informing their development and implementation. Whilst they are not legally binding, they are followed by all statutory agencies and most conservation NGOs in Britain. Natural England follows these guidelines in the planning and implementation of projects and uses them to help assess licence applications to release animals into the wild. See the IUCN re-introduction guidelines.
In the last twenty years, six animals which had previously become extinct in England have been re-introduced: the red kite, corncrake, pool frog, large blue butterfly (all projects in which Natural England and its predecessors have been involved in), the osprey and great bustard. A number of other animal species (some birds and mammals but mostly invertebrates) which have become locally extinct have been re-introduced in order to help sustain England’s existing populations. These local re-introductions are listed below.
Natural England is currently considering the re-introduction of three species: white-tailed eagle, hen harrier and short-haired bumblebee. White-tailed eagles (sometimes referred to as sea eagles)and hen harriers were once widely distributed across England – white-tailed eagles have been extinct from England for 200 years, whilst hen harriers are now restricted to isolated uplands where they are struggling to maintain small populations. Short-haired bumblebees are extinct in the UK and there is an opportunity to bring back the UK genotype of this species from remaining colonies in New Zealand. It is hoped that a release may be possible in 2010.
A number of other species could potentially be considered for re-introduction - including European beaver and the pine marten – but at this stage, Natural England has no plans to re-introduce any of these species.
In the case of white-tailed eagles, Suffolk has been identified as an area likely to provide suitable habitat. Preliminary consultation on the general principle of re-introducing white-tailed eagles has been positive and we will continue to compile research and evidence during 2010. Depending on the results and the availability of funding, we would look to begin formal consultation in the second half of 2010. It is important to state that no decision has yet been made on whether or not to re-introduce sea eagles to Suffolk and a project of this type would only go ahead if it were right for the area as well as for the ecological needs of the birds themselves. It would also need to be accompanied by substantive consultation with both the public and any stakeholders potentially affected.