A weed is a plant in the wrong place

... and pests are misplaced animals. We are all too familiar with the stories of mayhem caused by urban foxes released into the countryside, and the collapse in property value where Japanese knotweed is found to have invaded. The perpetrators of such damage are rarely identified and brought to account. So it is with a level of glee that the prosecution of two “Buddhist activists” has been reported in the media after they released nearly a thousand alien crustaceans off the coast of Brighton.

“Banker” Ni Li and “estate agent” Zhixong Li bought the live American lobsters and Dungeness crabs from a London fish merchant, hired three boats from Brighton Marina and cast the animals adrift as part of a religious ceremony, fangsheng, which is understood to be the cause of many ecosystem disruptions in Asia.

This short story is so replete with topical issues it is hard to know where to begin.

The reporting, for a start: the reference to the devotees’ day jobs drives off any possible sympathy we may have for their cause. No eco-pilgrims they, but grasping suits in a material world. The headline picture of a lab-coated technician clutching one of the offending crustaceans suggests disease and contamination. The fleet which discovered these foreign invaders are described as “Brighton fishers”, summoning up images of fisherfolk in sou’westers and dinghies, plying their trade amongst native flounders and sole.

What this story does not refer to are much greater plagues, such as the blight of zebra mussels in the lakes of midwest America, brought in their millions on the hulls of transoceanic ships, the decimation of native woodland in northwest Spain and Portugal by eucalyptus plantations, the collapse of native bee colonies under the viral load of introduced pollinators.

The substantive issues are more significant than the reporting suggests. We have learned the lesson, too late, of the catastrophic consequences of moving life forms about to suit our convenience. But it is debatable whether the efforts of government agencies should be dedicated to the prosecution of a few animal liberationists, however misguided. True it is that released mink ravage the French countryside, but their presence in Western Europe was the fault of the fashion trade, not a few eco-warriors. The American crustaceans didn’t swim to London. They probably arrived in a container ship whose hull was thick with zebra mussels.

The provision under which this banker and estate agent were convicted was Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This prevents

the release or escape into the wild of any animal that is not an ordinary resident or a visitor.

Given that the “wild” in this case was a local industrial fishery and shipping lane (the English Channel), and that the animals introduced to it had been lawfully imported to another form of fish containment, a tank in a fish merchants’, it seems illogical to blame the invasion on a small crackpot enterprise. The industry that the fangsheng tradition has triggered in the far east – of capturing wild animals in order that Buddhists may earn karma by releasing them – is no nastier than industrial farming.

Perhaps a price tag on foreign lobster meat would be more effective in protecting local populations from alien invasion.

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3 thoughts on “A weed is a plant in the wrong place

  1. So if my parrot escapes, I can be prosecuted?.
    Years ago, living near the coast, there was a fishmonger who displayed Live lobsters in his shop window, it was a scorching hot day, and the sun was beating down on the glass mercilessly, I’m sure they would have loved to be liberated, and put back in the sea.

  2. That such creatures are sold live is appalling. 37 years ago I decided to go vegetarian. I have never ever regretted it.

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