Think the UK Can't Lead the World on Rewilding? Think again!

Connecting nature's shattered fragments can transform our world for the better

Rewilding, Wilding, New Nature

These terms which vary vastly in their incendiary ability to ignite disgust or passionate desire are increasingly used to describe a simple ideal. The prospect that we have the ability if we so choose to restructure our human living environments to re-accommodate free-flowing Nature.

The scale of the challenge is vast but as identified by both the government’s official climate advisors and crystallized in a recent report released by Rewilding Britain essential if we wish to meaningfully combat climate change. Rewilding Britain estimate that by readjusting the current system of farm subsidies we could create in excess of 6m hectares of wildlife habitat.

But it’s not just a physical challenge. Attitudes and practices will have to change too. Our relationship with nature has always been one of utter dominance. We encounter a problem however slight and overcome it with extreme response. Badgers killed in their tens of thousands to protect cattle from a disease they do not widely transmit. Hen harriers stamped out by hobnailed game keepers. Water voles grazed out by sheep.

In Britain we are swaddled by landscapes which are green. Verdant. But are they really what they seem?

Little owl - by Mark Dunsford

The answers are obvious if we look. Wildflowers in the spring hedge banks. A tumult of snow-strewn whites, cobalt blues and carmine pinks flowing, cascading, dancing down into the silent silage to die. Like the pulped-up roe fawns, hares, field voles and skylarks their reign of wild abandon is over. Ice-Age meres shorn like naked slaves of their once wonderous mantels of vegetation; moors whose blue bells still linger in nodding testament to their former forests exposed by sheep grazing down to their very bones; children playing in rivers which reek of excrement and foam with acrid sludge; National Park landscapes of immense vistas so devoid of life that only a dwindling detritus of tiny creatures remain.

The leaders of right indecisive and hesitant. Evangelical opponents of half-truths so brash and strident that they sweep them all away.

As I write I am surrounded by a landscape which is not yet entirely destroyed. Bird song abounds and the honey-sweet smell of flowering hawthorn wafts through the air. Extensive, scattered scrub, restoring heathlands, saltmarsh, flower-rich meadows, old style grazing marshes, extensive reedbeds and woodlands of different characters are here. Sure it has its problems but this landscape is now set on a different course. Missing species are being restored. The great, pied fish hawk that is the Osprey is hunting and will soon breed here again. By the late summer of 2019 white-tailed eagles will wheel with the sun light glinting on their golden eye rims in the deep blue distance of its skies

Other species are being discussed and cohesive, considerable, nature grazing areas will shortly be established.

Water vole by Mark Dunsford

Though reviving some environments which are utterly destroyed will involve near complete resuscitation their faint pulses are not yet silent.

How might they look?

Pigs or better still tolerated, free ranging wild boar rooting to reinvigorate redundant seedbeds; recovering woodlands in the uplands being retained rather than reduced annually to ash; beavers slowing the flow of every stream and river allowing great guilds of watery wildlife to reform; beef being produced in deciduous woodlands from cows that calve in the shelter of the trees they browse; glow worms being reintroduced in their tens of thousands into roadsides that are seldom flailed to light up a prospect of hope in the darkest off hearts; more state sponsored ‘Knepps’ with black, velveteen herds of heck cattle emerging ponderously from the forest shadow while their calves race forward into the sun. Maybe one day burly bison in reserves of this sort as well.

These areas for all their visual appeal are not zoos or safari parks but nature dynamos whose purpose is simply to produce life. The life generated by the natural activities of the large herbivores they retain must have the ability to flood out into adjacent, linked environments with some prospect of survival. Landscape corridors of regenerated habitats could relink living space for wildlife through farm, urban and industrial environments alike. This dream is not a rose-tinted idyll but a reality in Holland today.

So, we need to do much, much more not less. No head burying in our chemically poisoned soils will do. There will have to be fighting and discomfort to ensure a better future. For many of us it is not just about our lives. It is and must surely be about leaving options for tomorrow. Why should we not strive with all our power now to make this possible? To leave those to come with the opportunity to encounter and enjoy the ebullience of the natural world that has shared this earth with us since our own sentience began.

It’s time to say sorry. To hear their songs. Marvel at their colours. Ingest deeply of their warm scent and wonder in breathless awe at the spectacles that they could present. We should seek to do so for the purest of principals to ensure through our actions now that any future we may have we have with them.


Pine Martin by Mark Dunsford