Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Are cattle an endangered species?

Lists of threatened species include things you can buy cheaply online for the garden.

There is a big push on to draw attention to species extinction in the run up to a Biodiversity Jamboree in Japan.

But something struck me as odd as I listened to the radio this morning. There was a lot of talk of `extinctions' of thousands of plants, as turned up by a new report from Kew Gardens. When I opened the newspapers (online), I found that actually the report was not about extinctions, but about threats of extinction. Then I looked at the list cited by the Times and Guardian. Right there at the top:

Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) - critically endangered

The wollemi pine was discovered in 1994 in Wollemi National Park, Australia, and there fewer than 50 mature individuals are known. Its long-term regeneration from seed is unknown but seems doubtful due to competition with other trees. Its small size and limited range means it is at risk from any chance event such as fire or the spread of disease.

Er, sorry. How can a species that you can buy in a garden centre or online for £61.25 possibly be described as in danger of extinction? I have one in my garden. It is thriving.

Whoever decied to include that species on the list just damaged my trust in the rest of the list.

Second on the list at the Guardian:

Common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) - near threatened

The common snowdrop was once widely distributed in the east Carpathian mountains in central and eastern Europe. Although it is widely naturalised, including in the UK, during the past decade its native distribution has been considerably reduced, due mainly to habitat loss through the increase in residential developments and recreational land use.

My faith in the list just dropped another notch. I thought this was a list of species in danger of extinction, not in danger of dying out in its native range but thriving as never before elsewhere.

Let's try No 3.

Rosewood (Dalbergia andapensis) - critically endangered

D. andapensis is a species of rosewood, a highly valued timber used in the production of fine furniture and musical instruments. It is estimated that 52,000 tonnes of rosewood and ebony were logged in north-east Madagascar in 2009, and this habitat is itself under threat from conversion to agriculture for a growing rural population.

Hmm. Maybe. But highly valued and critically endangered do not usually go together. Cattle are highly valued. Sounds like a candidate for commercial farming: jobs exporting the raw materials for violins probably pay better than subsistence peasantry.

I am not in favour of extinction. But I do like the truth, rather than the spin.