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In the most basic of terms ‘rewilding’ is the practice of returning vast swathes of countryside and natural habitat to how nature intended; including the reintroduction of long lost species that would have once called that landscape home.
Rewilding is returning the countryside back to how it would have been before intensive farming, forestry and any manmade habitat modification took place. Rewilding allows lost species to thrive once more and also provides the raw experience of which we have been deprived following centuries of deterioration of wildlife and wild spaces.
The stats speak for themselves; in the UK we have lost more of our large mammals than almost any other European country and as I have discussed in other blogs the average forest/ woodland cover in the rest of Europe is 37%, the UK has only 12%.
In Britain’s almost all land is managed - even in most conservation areas - natural spaces are ‘managed’ and ‘maintained’ by conservationists and organisations. Conservation initiatives have ensured that the biodiversity of our wild spaces has not been completely lost. However, most conservation in action in Britain today tends to protect a narrow range of creatures and habitats rather than reverting to what was the natural state of the land before human intervention.
Most people assume that a natural state for wild spaces is that of their childhood or the recent past. One of the predominant difficulties of rewilding is that it is hard for us to envisage what habitat would have been like if left to nature. Our national parks are dominated by sheep farms and grouse or deer estates, leaving almost all our hills bare. There are few large areas of land which in nature has been allowed to find its own way. In this respect Britain is highly unusual; unlike almost any other country, there is nowhere, beyond tiny patches, in which we may escape obvious human impact.
There are a number of pilot projects within the rewilding arena, most notably and the largest of which is the “Summit To Sea” project which stretches from the highest point in Mid Wales as far as Cardigan Bay, encompassing at least 100,000ha of land and nearly 30,000ha of sea. This pilot project has its roots in local communities and will not only be of benefit to wildlife but also to encourage opportunities in eco-tourism and have further reaching economic benefits for the region.
Rewilding offers other demonstrable benefits to communities and residents, the restoration of trees and other vegetation to the hills holds back the rain that falls on them. This in turn slows down the flow of water to the lowlands. Wide buffer zones around the rivers also hold back the floodwaters that might otherwise swamp communities downstream, and filter out much of the fertiliser and other contaminants which now enter the water.
Rewilding also helps to keep the soil on the land and carbon in the soil, therefore helping to reverse the effects of carbon in the atmosphere.
In essence rewilding could help in providing solutions to a large number of environmental issues we currently face as a nation. By investing in our wild spaces and bringing them back to how they should have been allowed to exist prior to our involvement, is of benefit way beyond the actual area the rewilding is taking place in.
True rewilding will only work on a large scale as you need livestock to manage vegetation growth. I would say a minimum of 1000 acres would be needed. However, we can do something on a smaller scale, more ‘light-touch’ management, possibly using machinery to mimic animal behaviour. The first thing I would say to a landowner interested in rewilding would be to talk to your neighbours and get them involved as the larger the space available to rewild the more effective this is.