UHI Inverness researcher leads landmark book by global experts on saving species

A UHI Inverness senior research associate is the lead editor of a new book that sets out the environmental benefits of relocating animals, plants and other organisms.

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Dr Martin Gaywood: We need to address the worsening biodiversity crisis now

The publication, entitled Conservation Translocations, was published this week by Cambridge University Press as governments came together to address the global biodiversity crisis in Montreal at COP15.

Dr Martin Gaywood of UHI Inverness, who is based in the Highlands, is lead editor of the book which offers a comprehensive guide for likely future conservation translocations – the practice of moving animals, plants and other organisms to benefit their conservation and our wider environment.  It is increasingly used to protect nature in the face of widescale environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

The publication features 61 experts from 17 countries who have come together to share the latest science and experiences on this complex subject.

In Britain there have been well-publicised projects such as the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver, white-tailed eagle and red kite, but also lesser-known examples such as pine hoverfly, pond mud snail and woolly willow reintroductions.

Elsewhere, some threatened species have been moved to places they have never occurred before, as climate change and disease make their current homes increasingly unsuitable.

The foreword to the book has been written by Razan Al Mubarak, President of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

She said: “Tackling big problems requires a diversity of knowledge and perspectives. As such, I am so pleased to present this first authoritative text on conservation translocations. Contributors from all around the world not only showcase lessons learned to date but also set the stage for future actions that will help species large and small, restore ecosystems from oceans to land, and yield benefits for humanity that transcend geography and culture.”

Dr Gaywood said: “We’re seeing more and more proposals for conservation translocations. They’re exciting projects that can engage the public, result in real benefits and help restore nature. But they can be complex, not just in biological terms but sometimes in the way they can affect local communities and livelihoods. Our hope is that we can help practitioners and decision makers design and carry out their projects in a way that maximises the benefits for species, wider ecosystems and people.”

He added that conservation translocation used to be viewed as a tool of last resort but is increasingly being deployed as we run out of time.

Dr Gaywood said: “We need to address the worsening biodiversity crisis now. Such actions have risks, but the risk of doing nothing is not acceptable – we hope the experiences and skills we have drawn together will help practitioners better design their projects and help save species and ecosystems cherished by people throughout the world.”

Co-editor Professor Peter Hollingsworth of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said: “Conservation translocations are a powerful tool for biodiversity recovery but require a range of skills to ensure they work effectively, so we’ve brought together expertise across a wide range of disciplines including ecology, animal welfare, biosecurity, genetics, decision-making techniques, legislation and engagement with people.”

Co-editor Dr John Ewen of the Zoological Society of London said that as well as looking at the reintroduction of species back into their original wild homes, the book also looks at more novel conservation solutions such as replacing extinct species with new, non-native, species that can perform similar, important ecological roles, such as Aldabra giant tortoises to islands in Mauritius that are now helping native plant species to return through their grazing effects.

Co-editor Dr Axel Moehrenschlager, Chair of the IUCN SSC Conservation Translocation Specialist Group, explained that conservation translocations have increased 30-fold in 30 years, ranging from corals in the ocean to elephants on land. 

He said: “Future projections signal even greater needs and opportunities. These science-based actions will play an increasing role in climate change adaptation to address the inextricable links between the biodiversity crisis and climate crisis.  Especially for those species that can neither disperse nor adapt in the face of emerging threats, conservation translocations will be among the most important tools to fight against extinction.  This in turn will yield benefits for ecosystems and associated economic, cultural, and spiritual benefits treasured by people.”