A Guide to Rewilding in the UK

A Guide to Rewilding in the UK

Whether you have an interest in sustainability or environmentalism or are directly involved in the landscaping and arboreal industries, rewilding is a current issue that impacts our broader society and economy as a whole. So, what should people know about the topic and the approaches taken in the UK?

What is Rewilding?

Rewilding is an environmental strategy which aims to return areas of country back to its natural state, restoring habitats and lost wildlife and preserving fauna and flora. When carried out thoughtfully and expertly, it can bring a variety of benefits to us, such as:

  • Providing opportunities to local communities which can range from better learning scope and outdoor activities through to local employment and economic gains.
  • Protecting the country for future generations to enjoy.
  • Helping local communities that have been destroyed by intensive farming
  • Providing healthy spaces for people to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of nature.
  • Bringing missing species back to their natural habitats.

As the head of Rewilding Europe, Wouter Helmer states “the goal of rewilding is not to restore a painting that then needs curating, it is about restoring a system that can come to look after itself.”

There are a number of ecological benefits to rewilding, including:

  • The return of key species to the UK, encouraging ecosystem diversity and driving ecological processes.
  • Helping our damaged ecosystems recover.
  • A cost effective way to conservation by letting nature do the heavy lifting.

UK Rewilding Projects of Note

There are rewilding projects all over Europe but let’s look at some of note here in the UK.

After being intensively farmed, the 3,500 acre estate of West Sussex’s Knepp Castle has been restored to its natural glory since 2001 and is now the home of various extremely rare species such as turtle doves, nightingales and peregrine falcons. The project is being allowed to develop in a gradual way, driven by the direction that the ecological systems take themselves.

750 acres of Cambrian Wildwood
is being rewilded with a view to extending the woods to 7500 acres by purchasing new land and partnering with landowners. The area will contain new trails and designated camping zones in order to reconnect people back to the natural wild beauty of this part of Wales.

Flowing through South London, the River Wandle isn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, but that doesn’t prevent rewilding. In the 19th century this river flowed with dyes and bleaches from London’s textile industry but now the Wandle Trust is restoring features that made this river such a spot of natural beauty in the midst of sprawling London.

Controversies Associated with the Approach

Some rewilding projects have involved introducing species back into the wild which have died out. These include beavers and wild boar in Scotland. However, these approaches also led to controversy, after scientists found that illegally-released boars potentially carried an antibiotic-resistant strain of the MRSA superbug. There are similar concerns about plans to reintroduce lynx to the wild. Beavers released into Devon are already being targeted with calls for a cull following unintended impacts on local farmers.

The concerns have grown so great about some projects that organisations such as the National Trust are now notably low-key on the topic. But other rewilding case studies, such as Godney Marshes have been more successful. At the Marshes, the once intensively farmed land has simply been allowed to recover at its own pace and in its own way, without any species introduction or human engineering.

The Principles of Rewilding

Organisations and groups involved in rewilding generally follow a holistic series of principles based around:

  • The central focus of communities, people and livelihoods and the benefits that rewilding can offer to all.
  • Holistic and natural processes, which allow nature to choose the direction and end-state, rather than imposing a human-driven outcome.
  • A pace which is also set by nature. Plants and wildlife all need time to flourish, once again in groups that are sustainable and ecologically balanced.
  • Long-term benefits that will last for future generations.

Is Agroforestry a Workable Alternative?

In some cases, rewilding may be an aspiration rather than an achievable reality, particularly where the unintended consequences of human intervention cause controversy and negative impacts on farmers and communities.

In a growing country such as the UK, housing and business developments are necessary to sustain both population and economy and both of these compete for available land space. However, alternative approaches such as agroforestry can be a pragmatic alternative and halfway house. With agroforestry, trees and hedges are replanted into once farmed or industrialised land to allow nature to flourish once again, at its own pace.

Certainly, the intention behind restoring industrial and overly-farmed land to its former natural glory is a good one. But the approaches taken to do so must evolve and lessons from failed projects must also be taken on board. Only then can rewilding projects avoid potential mistakes and ensure that the British public is fully on board.

For more information on rewilding check out the Rewilding Britain website.

About the Author: Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading, and has worked in the arb industry for 14 years. Landmark Trading are one the UK’s leading suppliers of arborist equipment.