The Alien Species in Twentieth-Century Britain: Inventing a New Vermin<sup>*</sup>

T. C. Smout

in Exploring Environmental History

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780748635139
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651375 | DOI:
The Alien Species in Twentieth-Century Britain: Inventing a New Vermin*

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Much recent conservation management in the United Kingdom (and indeed throughout the world) is concerned, implicitly or explicitly, with the distinction between a native and a non-native species. The most generally accepted definition in Britain of an alien or non-native species is one introduced by human action since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. Alien species are generally denied statutory protection, usually regarded by conservationists with deep suspicion and certainly as second-class citizens, and often has a most serious threat to the natural heritage. At the start of the twentieth century, the overriding category was not whether a species was alien or not, but whether it was ‘vermin’ or not. Vermin were species that for one reason or another were regarded as undesirable, usually because they were considered pests of agriculture or horticulture, or enemies to game preservation. Vermin in Great Britain included virtually everything with a hooked bill, mammals such as grey and common seals, otters and badgers as well as foxes and moles, and small birds with a liking for buds and fruit, like bullfinches and blackbirds, sometimes even blue tits.

Keywords: non-native species; conservation management; vermin; game preservation; pests

Chapter.  6257 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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