Accepted paper:

Keeping ducks in rows: boundary maintenance and reality in the Ruddy Duck debate.


Sarah Batt (University of Wales, Trinity St David)

Paper short abstract:

This paper follows Kay Milton’s discussion of a UK conservation issue, the Ruddy Duck debate, and view of nature conservation as a ‘boundary maintaining’ exercise. I discuss the contrasting worldviews of those concerned and argue that, for nature conservationists, the preservation of culturally defined boundaries is paramount, continuing even when said boundaries may not correspond with ‘reality’.

Paper long abstract:

A little over a decade ago, Kay Milton wrote a short but comprehensive chapter for the edited volume "Natural Enemies: People-Wildlife Conflicts in Anthropological Perspective". Milton employed the 'Ruddy Duck debate' to examine nature conservation culture in the UK and discussed how the actions of nature conservationists can be interpreted as 'boundary maintenance'. The Ruddy Duck 'problem' is particularly useful for this discussion as the debate incorporates a number of key concepts: preservation of distinct species and biodiversity, the 'invasion' of 'alien' (non-native) species and the impact of human-introduced species (considered 'unnatural'). This paper also employs the Ruddy Duck debate to evaluate and expand upon the issues raised by Milton, with a particular focus on the concepts of species preservation and biodiversity. However, unlike Milton, I consider how far the categories and boundaries maintained by nature conservationists correspond with the 'realities' of the debate. I argue that, in the 'conservationist culture', concepts founded 'in reality' can become abstract and potentially applied indiscriminately. Action against the Ruddy Duck is an example of this: general conservation aims have arguably been applied in a 'one size fits all' fashion, rather than with regard for knowledge of the specific situation. This suggests that for some conservationists, adhering to the general aims of their culture takes precedence over evaluating whether their actions have 'real-world' correspondence with those aims. As the UK's Ruddy Duck population reaches less than 150 individuals, I also consider the perspective of the nonhumans central to this debate.

panel P29
Postgraduate forum