Conservationists accused of racism

In his new book, leading Scottish historian Professor Christopher Smout calls attempts to preserve the genetic identity of British wildlife ‘quasi-racist’, and says that we should conserve all species regardless of ‘ethnicity’.

In Exploring Environmental History, Professor Smout, Scotland’s Historiographer Royal and the founder of the Institute for Environmental History at St Andrews University, also argues that the
introduction of non-native species can have a positive effect.

This contradicts the opinions of many conservationists, who cite threats to native species as reasons for controlling or culling what many term ‘alien species’. The Country Life Manifesto 2008 pointed out that non-native species, such as the grey squirrel, can seriously threaten the survival of species native to the UK such as the red squirrel and have a devastating—and costly—effect on the countryside.

However, Professor Smout disagrees: ‘The preoccupation with alien species isn’t something that worried scientists and ecologists 50 years ago. In recent times, the emphasis has been on the fact that certain pests are aliens, and it has tended to a blanket condemnation of all species not classed as natives.’

One non-native species which Professor Smout thinks could benefit UK breeds is the sika deer, which was brought over from Asia in 1860. Some scientists claim that the sika deer threatens the famous ‘Monarch of the Glen’, or native red deer. Professor Smout suggests that, in fact, mating between the sika and red deer ‘might assist the survival [of the red deer] in evolutionary terms. If it’s a failure, the hybrid will die out’.

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Andre Farrar, of the RSPB , is outraged by Professor Smout’s ‘racist’ description of conservationists: ‘These are dedicated people who have given their lives to give beleaguered native fauna a chance,’ he said.

For more information on the RSPB’s conservation projects, visit