A study was published in December which basically claimed to debunk the logic of crow control for conservation. At the risk of paraphrasing too much, the paper explained that crows don’t have much of an impact on their prey species, and the only real benefits of crow control were in increased prey for sportsmen and shooting folk. As expected, this document is currently being weaponised by some anti-shooting enthusiasts to argue that the logic behind crow control is essentially flawed and that General Licences should be withheld on the back of the idea that crows are being killed for zero gain.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with this specific controversy, it opens up a discussion about how we turn science into practice, particularly in a scenario where new information contradicts well-established perceptions.
If we pretend for a second that this new study totally exonerated crows once and for all, how would we get that information out there to best effect? Would we use the study to introduce an instant ban on crow control at the risk of it being ignored or flouted, or would we engage with the people who kill crows and involve them in a process that takes their views and concerns into account? Many in the countryside would regard the exoneration of crows as directly contrary to their own experience, and the definitive findings would have to reach the people on the ground with delicacy and balance as part of a drive that takes into consideration generations of experience and received wisdom.
After all, what is more important? That science finds expression in practical, progressive outcomes or that it is wielded as righteous weapon of fury, custom-built to confound our enemies? We are all entitled to disagree with science, but we have to engage with it – and using it to score points is a sure fire way of making people turn their backs. There are some interesting things in this new study, but they risk being lost altogether if it is hijacked by point-scoring and politics.
Science can be almost meaningless unless it has a strong bridge into policy and practice. The breakdown in communication between the cloistered egg-head and the straw-chewing yokel is a critical failure in conservation policy, and it will continue to hamper progress until a dialogue opens up. If there is one thing we must learn, it’s that using science as a stick to flog your opponents doesn’t make them agree with you –
So it is with some interest that the new Moorland Forum project Understanding Predation has appeared. The project is specifically designed to integrate science and theory with direct, practical situations on the ground. Sociologists will be involved, and there will be a meaningful attempt to grasp the human roots of conflict. It will be fascinating to see how this project progresses, if only because it recognises the fact that progress rests in a balance between theory and practice.