ECOS 39(2)

‘It has come to my attention’, the heavy-set man in the green pullover paused for effect ‘that there have been intruders in the wood’. He glared at the group around the table.

‘Who?’ said the youth opposite. ‘Fly tippers?  BMXers?’

‘Badger watchers, John.’

‘Oh not again!  The bloody camera club, George?’

‘Scouts, I think, Harry’.

‘Oh God, little boys!  That’s even worse’.

‘And girls, these days’. George grimaced. ‘Anyway, this is really a matter for the community liaison group and not us. So I suggest we just note the problem and leave it to them to deal with. You OK with that, Pamela?’

‘Well, yes, George. If you like. But I really don’t see the problem with a few badger watchers.’

‘As we have discussed before, Pamela, this is the conservation committee. We do wildlife, not people. It is all a matter of keeping things in their right places’. He paused.

‘But visitors are not a problem, George. It is our stated policy to welcome visitors’.

‘Well, lets not go into it here. It’s your department, Pamela, so over to you. Just see if you can stop them coming’. The woman’s round face looked pained. ‘Wouldn’t want to impose on your preserve, so to speak.’  George laughed.

‘Isn’t badger watching an ecosystem service?’  The question was reflective, and unwelcome.

‘Not now, John! You’ve got a one track mind these days’. George’s voice betrayed his irritation. ‘To answer your question, badgers are not providing a service to anybody. They’re just badgers. Being harassed by noisy kids with torches who don’t know a nature reserve when they see one’.

‘That’s not fair, George’. Pamela Strong now looked quite fierce. ‘We need to encourage young people. They’re visitors too, and we need visitors’.

‘Not sure what for’, said Harry. ‘Just get in the way’.

‘Because that’s what the nature reserve is for’, said Pamela, firmly.


‘Badgers can be an ecosystem service’, said John doggedly. ‘If people come to watch them, they‘re a cultural ecosystem service.’

‘John, we’ve been through this before. This is the conservation committee, not an economic think tank’. George spoke slowly and firmly: ‘A badger’s a badger. For our purposes, it's a protected species, and it’s our job to conserve them, not try to wrap them up in economic mumbo-jumbo’.

‘Surely its our job to enable people to see them?’ Pamela said sharply.

‘No, Pamela. As I said earlier, that’s the job of the community liaison group, ably led by your good self. Now let’s get on shall we?  We’ve done monitoring.’

‘And badgers’.

‘Thank you Harry, let’s not go back if you please. Now, where were we?’

‘What about water?’ asked John.

‘Water?’ said George sharply.

‘Yes, water. How much water did the wood supply to the Spit Brook last year?’

‘Why do you want to know? It’s not as if we measured it, John’.

‘Maybe we should – stream flow’s important’.

‘Not to the reserve, it’s not. It's a woodland, not a wetland.’

‘But it’s important to the wider ecosystem. The brook’s summer flow depends on it. The water’s an ecosystem service’.

‘Good God, not again!  John, how many times do I have to tell you, this woodland is not a bloody Soviet tractor factory, it's a nature reserve!  It doesn’t do services. It does species and ecosystems.’

‘Not sure who it's a service too, really’ said Stanley.

‘Not the visitors, anyway’ said Pamela. ‘The main path in from the village was like a mud-wrestling pit last Spring’.

‘I didn’t know you liked mud-wrestling Pamela’, said Stanley, his head gleaming like a cricket ball.

She tossed her head and glared at him. ‘Fat lot you know about anything except insects, Stanley Ambrose’.

‘Water’s still an ecosystem service, even if you don’t measure it’, said John steadily.

‘Well not here it isn’t’ said George, rather sharply. He took a deep breath. ‘Please, colleagues, let’s not get bogged down’. He waved his hands like a man waving flies off a sandwich. ‘Look, it’s been a long evening. I think we’ll have to hold the other items over to the next meeting’.

‘We really need a special meeting on ecosystem services’.

‘And visitors’.

‘Meeting closed’, said George with finality. ‘Now, who fancies a pint?’


Bill Adams is Professor of Conservation and Development at the University of Cambridge. 

He blogs at

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