All about forests, rivers, oceans
Australia orders Japanese whalers to stay away
Esther Woolfson's urban nature diary
Ladbrokes is gambling with fish extinction and so is the government
US wildlife officials propose endangered status for wolverines
The hare's death-scream tells of a history soon over
The ethics of keeping a killer cat
It's as if the landscape and stream are caught amid their own owl dreams
Many more seabirds may be affected by Channel pollution, RSPB says
Leading paper firm pledges to halt Indonesian deforestation
Fishing campaigners urge MEPs to vote for discards reform
Dog attack law to be extended to cover incidents on private property
The return of grey wolves 'not enough to restore Yellowstone's ecosystem'
Oil additive polymer PIB may be responsible for seabird deaths
MEPs vote to ban discards in historic reform of fishing policy
All dogs in England to be microchipped by 2016
Some of nature's mysteries are all the better for going unsolved
First the internet, now Monopoly cats have got our attention
Polar bears 'may need to be fed by humans to survive'
Invasive mussel poses ecological and economic threat to island community
Ancestor of humans and other mammals was small furry insect eater
Conflict in DRC Congo threatens chimpanzee tourism programme
The intruder, a raven, passed through the treetops into view
The horsemeat scandal: could there be much more to come?
Circuses remove last of the big cats from UK's big tops
  In the British countryside, alien species are not always undesirables
Imagine this autumn scene: you're off to the woods to hunt for a basket of sweet chestnuts. Across the intervening fields where green spikes of barley already break the earth, you flush pheasants and red-legged partridges as you walk. A trio of hares jinks away, their awkward limbs and fantastical ears all dancing on the horizon. Rabbits bolt for cover every 10 paces, and at one particularly fine old sweet chestnut you're caught in the searchlight beam of a little owl's piercing yellow glare.

When the bird bounds away it draws your eye to the white scuts of a dozen fallow deer trotting for the anonymity of the deep wood. A few metres more and there is your sweet chestnut harvest scattered over the earth like tiny green sputniks that have just showered down from outer space.

Could you think of a scene more intrinsically rural, more quintessentially English, than this? And if you cannot, think again. All the constituents of that imaginary landscape are there because of us. They are what environmentalists call non-native species. Barley came with our Neolithic forebears; hares and chestnuts were iron age imports; the Normans gave us deer, rabbits and pheasants; the partridges arrived at the time of Charles II; while the owl had to wait for a few sympathetic Victorians to make its entree. Yet all are deeply embedded in our sense of the countryside.

The affections that such plants and animals awaken comment obliquely on the present orthodox environmental position, which disallows the introduction of all non-native species. The release of aliens is even illegal, their presence is invariably condemned and now the price of their invasion has been economically quantified, with a report earlier this week that alien wildlife in Europe wreaks 12bn of damage a year.

There are undoubtedly strong reasons for the current position on aliens. Our introduction of non-native plants and animals has had some devastating consequences. The classic locus for this mayhem is isolated islands, of which Hawaii is the perfect example. Biologically unique, this Pacific archipelago once held perhaps 145 bird species found nowhere else on Earth. Today only 35 still exist, and 24 of those are endangered. Of a grand Hawaiian total of 22,000 animals and plants found in the islands, 4,373 are aliens. Yet the true villains among this invading horde to Hawaii's paradisiacal ecosystem are relatively few. They include domestic pigs, rats, mosquitoes, the avian malaria protozoa and the appropriately named big-headed ant.

The problem with such undeniable evidence of aliens' baleful impact is that it can lead to a kneejerk response to all non-native species. It reinforces a binary moral vision of nature indigenous/good and alien/bad that oversimplifies an often complex picture.

My earlier chestnut-hunting scenario makes that case nicely. Who would ever argue now that sweet chestnut trees are undesirable aliens? A wood such as Felbrigg, in Norfolk, owned by the National Trust, where 300-year-old veterans reach out to the heavens with vast gnarled arthritic limbs, is one of the most beautiful woodland environments in the country. Rabbits may have played hell with the Australian outback but they are fundamental to the maintenance and ecology of Britain's lastgrassland environments, cropping the sward with their relentless incisors, creating perfect conditions for ground-nesting birds and maintaining floral diversity.

As for the hare, could we even think of spring arriving at all without that creature's madcap capering antics? Yet there is a mammal that argues more strongly for a nuanced approach to non-native invaders. The Chinese water deer is a primitive labrador-sized species with strange vampire canines that escaped into the East Anglian landscape in the mid-20th century. Exotic though it may sound, this endearing creature with teddy bear's ears is now integral to the Broads environment. Where I live the winter nights are filled with the wild music of its courtship calls. Today this alien mammal population may be fundamental to the species' existence, given the parlous condition of the deer in its native Asian range. Britain's Chinese water deer may yet become its last best hope for survival.

So we should continue to bless the hare as a bringer of spring and learn to love the Chinese water deer as a permanent resident in our midst. Ultimately, though, we should avoid a blanket condemnation of "aliens" and take each case each non-native species on its individual merits.
In the British countryside, alien species are not always undesirables
Pandas keep Scotland guessing over mating game
US plan to control Guam's snake population with toxic mice angers Peta
African lions the killer kings in mortal danger from man and sham medicine
EU fish discards deal welcomed by UK
Pilot badger culls set to go ahead
Scientist calls Hugh's Fish Fight 'a tawdry piece of hack journalism'
A couple of interesting visitors have arrived at the lakes in the past week
Sea Shepherd conservation group declared 'pirates' in US court ruling
Schmallenberg virus found in farm animals in almost all of Britain
Gardens: wildlife surveys
Tackling the illegal trade in wild animals is a matter of global urgency
100 million sharks killed each year, say scientists
The snipe's 'drumming' sound is perfectly evocative of Welsh hill country
Sharks at risk of extinction from overfishing, say scientists
Thailand's prime minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade
Humans are not the only animals to enjoy alcohol
China must send a clear message to consumers on ivory trade
Google shopping adverts fuel ivory trade, conservation group warns
Two-thirds of forest elephants killed by ivory poachers in past decade
US and Russia unite in bid to strengthen protection for polar bear
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Above the loch, the scene was dominated by the abundant birch trees
Lion kills intern at California animal sanctuary
Bid to halt polar bear trade fails
Deer culling on massive scale backed by expert
Scores on the paws: how one man changed the shape of dogs to come
Cites: bid to curb sale of ivory and rhino horn voted down
Geoffrey Matthews obituary
World's largest captive crocodile dies in Philippines
Urban foxes: the facts and the fiction
Albatross astonishes scientists by producing chick at age of 62
Knut the polar bear lifesize model to go on show in Berlin
Horsemeat scandal: Owner of Yorkshire abattoir denies wrongdoing
Foxes' friends and foes say an urban cull is not the answer
Golfer pierces leg with tee to remove spider venom then finishes round
Chinese appetite for shark fin soup devastating Mozambique coastline
A peregrine stands on one foot and imperiously looks out from her ledge
Action on dangerous dogs has been 'woefully inadequate', MPs warn
Why Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight is still necessary
What the horsemeat scandal and fish quotas tell us about Europe
New to nature No 99: Phagocata flamenca
We can overlook the aesthetics of gulls, but they make grey beautiful again
Birdwatch: Stonechat
Environment Pollution Pollution that killed seabirds cannot be traced, rules investigation
Communities of voices the link between birdsong and spoken language
Bid to solve mystery of 50,000 red-breasted geese lost in migration
How a ferret took me on a journey to a saner world
Panda eyes focused as Yang Guang and Tian Tian seek each other out
So entrancing are the clouds that the deer are unnoticed until I shift my gaze
Anyone for camelcino? Camel milk set to be big business for east Africa
Red squirrel finds pine marten a fearsome ally in its fight for survival
Visit Statistics