Native or Invasive?


On Monday, 14th March, a group of us braved the sunshine and headed down to Fisherman’s Haven beach in Berwick. Our mission: to identify native and invasive species. Working with Aurelie Bohan, Living Seas Officer at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, we investigated the local rock pools, searching for intertidal species.

Although researchers and scientists will use specific criteria for judging a species as ‘native’ or ‘invasive,’ I am interested in the cultural aspects of these classifications. The language itself implies a form of xenophobia. Just as globalisation is nothing new, the migration of species isn’t either. But how and when do species become localised or native? How does this impact the way we see them? Treat them? Potentially care for them? How are these notions challenged in an era of changing climates and changing cultural responses?

During this citizen science beach walk, we spent a good portion of our time just becoming acquainted with the species we were discovering – hermit crabs, shore crabs, and loads of different seaweed. We were retraining our eyes to see the diversity in these rock pools. Although many of the participants frequent these beaches, many expressed that this was the first time they were really looking. Perhaps that’s the first step.

After becoming acquainted with what we were finding, the next step was to track and survey portions of the beach, identifying the plant life, animal life and non-organic environment. I added the task of using survey flags to mark where native (white flags) and invasive (orange flags) species were found, and to create an individual, subjective scale of how native or how invasive each participant felt that particular species was.

Because few invasive species were discovered that day, we focused the scale on how familiar people were with the species, or how wary they were of it.

We ended the excursion with some tea and shortbread, and a discussion of how the environment and climate shape our cultures, and vice versa.

This is the first step to considering how global challenges, such as climate change, might be experienced at the local level, and how it might provide an opportunity to reimagine our relationships to our environment. Or not! What do you think?

Here are a few interesting texts on biodiversity and culture. Please feel free to add suggestions!

Carruthers, J., L. Robin, J. P. Hattingh, C. A. Kull, H. Rangan, and B. W. van Wilgen. 2011. A native at home and abroad: the history, politics, ethics and aesthetics of Acacia. Diversity and Distributions 17 (5):810-821.

Pfeiffer, J.M., R.A. Voeks. 2008. Biological invasions and biocultural diversity: linking ecological and cultural systems. Environmental Conservation 35 (4): 281–293.

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