Many conservationists regard invasive species as nasty interlopers driven by a determination to disrupt natural ecosystems, though our tiny blue planet has always been dynamic and ever-changing where, at the end of the day, everyone needs to make friends with one another. But many supposedly malign invaders are simply taking advantage of environments that have suffered at the hands of man and Pearce shows that some seem to be carrying out natural regeneration which the natives might struggle to achieve.
There are now approximately 2,300 aliens in Britain and Japanese knotweed is generally regarded as the pariah. There is even a full-time officer leading the fight in Swansea, but back in 1870 a famous gardening guide said it was ‘undoubtedly one of the finest herbaceous plants in cultivation’. It may be invasive, but otters now hide in Sheffield’s riverside clumps, honeybees use it for nectar and the young shoots might yet become a useful vegetable. Back in the 1970s an American nuisance called purple nut sedge was awarded top spot in an inventory of the world’s worst weeds. Today it doesn’t even make the hot 100.
After extensive travel, Pearce concludes that the demonisation of alien species says much about man’s inherent fear of change. But don’t birdwatchers now enjoy all those egrets and spoonbills? Charles Darwin said natural selection should allow species to adapt and survive and the author shows how some of them are now busy creating a brave new wild.
THE NEW WILD: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature’s Salvation by Fred Pearce, Icon Books, £16.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine