Carrie Symonds is to join the Aspinall Foundation as its new head of communications, in a move very much on-brand for the Prime Minister’s squeeze. Symonds has been credited with Boris Johnson's metamorphosis from pro-liberty, free market Brexiteer to environmentalist — a strategy that she may have spotted as working rather well for disgraced former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi, who changed his image from that of a love rat to rat lover, frequently sharing snaps of himself with adorable animals on Instagram.
So what will Carrie's call to the wild entail? The Aspinall Foundation works with conserving and rewilding endangered animals, and runs two centres in the UK, whilst also collaborating with others in Europe, with the intention of helping and releasing enough animals to be able to close the centres within 25 years. A noble ambition with so much of the world’s wildlife in danger from loss of habitat, climate change, or finding itself as an entrée on the menu of London’s latest pop up restaurant.
Conservation work for endangered species has become something of a cause celebre for, well, celebs, and rewilding in particular certainly interests a section of the UK’s urban population for whom seeing a cow constitutes a brush with nature. The sort of people who get up in arms about hunting foxes on horseback in red coats, and would prefer it done with blunt objects in culturally-diverse loungewear, long to see the reintroduction of wild animals (just not in central London) and very often don’t stop to take local views into account.
There has been talk for years now about the possibility of reintroducing animals like wild boars, wolves and lynx to rebalance our ecology. Never mind that swathes of the UK can no longer support such animals — there is an assumption that human populations, usually in the north, will simply adapt to accommodate carnivores and scavengers. The North, after all, is basically a desolate wasteland, and these people should either move south or be glad of the eco tourism it will drive.
But humanity has already adapted to cope with many of these animals — usually by warding them off. In parts of the world where predators are still numerous, humans adapt by breeding powerful, intelligent dogs for protection. Perhaps before jumping on the rewilding bandwagon, we should pause to consider why we were so keen to get shot of these species in the first place. In Kenya, the Maasai enter manhood by killing lions. It’s not just a ceremony, but a necessity; for millennia, if you didn’t kill the lions, they would kill you, your livestock, and outcompete your relatives who survived. Just because wolves aren’t keen on the idea of urban centres doesn’t mean the Yorkshire Dales should be treated to a live action role-play of An American Werewolf in London. And has anyone actually asked them, anyway? Or do they not get a say as to whether their farms, family pets and even children should have to take extra care when putting on their wellies for a day out?
It’s a shame that politically astute Carrie doesn’t turn her many talents towards saving some more of the UK’s critically endangered political big beasts. There are now just eleven known Lib Dem MPs left in the wild, whilst the Scottish Labour MP, preyed on by packs of roaming Scottish Nationalists, is now functionally extinct. And sooner or later, as an act of basic humanity towards Westminster, Chris Grayling should really be returned to the snowy wilderness of the Himalayas. There is much good work to be done.
But perhaps most of all, the rewilders should take a look at the millions of beings that are currently kept locked up against their will in the UK, and think about their needs, too. Stuck inside during this, our third national lockdown, we’re all pining after nature, and the chance to get back outside. Of course, even if there wasn’t the possibility of Derbyshire Police pouncing from behind a hedge at you, the snow and flooding have added to a thoroughly miserable — and perilous — year.
If, or when, we are let out again, we want less fear in our lives. Wild wolves may sound like a fun idea on paper, but they can’t vote, and are rarely associated with safety. If there's one thing I'd like to stay socially distanced from it's a lynx. Never mind the animals - it's time to rewild the British people.