A new organisation, Rewilding Britain, was launched today. I wish them well.
I am a fan of any organisation or person that challenges the current nature conservation movement to think big. It is clear that we need to do much more to live up to the mantra of Professor Sir John Lawton and deliver more, bigger, better and connected protected areas. And I think it is right to have a debate about which iconic species should be part of a future British landscape.
The RSPB is doing its bit. We've been involved in a range of high profile reintroductions over the past three decades including white tailed eagle, red kite, corncrake, cirl bunting, crane and short-haired bumblebee. And, we have a track record of restoring lost habitat providing a return to the 'wild'.
A fortnight ago, I returned to our Winterbourne Down reserve (see below) where we, like our award-winning neighbour Henry Edmunds at Cholderton Estate, are restoring chalk grassland for a range of species such as stone curlew and brown hare. It was my third visit and on each occasion there has been something new to see reflecting the different stages of transition from arable to grassland. This has required a fair degree of intervention to get us this far and we are still taking action to fast-track the restoration process for example by creating chalk hummocks to provide the right habitat for specialist plants and butterflies.
Recreating chalk grassland may not be everyone's idea of rewildling, but it feels like the right thing to do given how much we have destroyed.
There is a similar motivation behind the hugely ambitious Wallasea Wild Coast project (see below) that reached its latest milestone this weekend with the first breach of the sea wall. We're on track to deliver, by 2025, the largest managed realignment project in Europe resulting in a wetland landscape of mudflats and saltmarsh, lagoons and pasture - creating a pocket of wilderness on the Essex coast which will also compensate for habitat that will be lost through sea level rise and coastal squeeze.
Again, this may stretch some people's concept of rewildling, but it is what is possible and necessary in a densely populated part of England.
But we do know how to think and act big - just look at our ambition at Abernethy (shown below), the Flow Country and even at our sites in the Peak District. Thousands of hectares being restored for Caledonia Pine, blanket bog or open moorland.
We want to do more which is why we have embarked on major partnership projects transforming landscapes - our Futurescapes - to benefit people and wildlife. I see other organisations like the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust with similar ambition and experience. Together, I am sure that we will embrace the challenge presented and support offered by Rewilding Britain.
We now need Defra to support this ambition in its promised 25 year plan for biodiversity.
"Great stuff" by the RSPB on rewilding from the Chalk Grasslands of Southern England to the Caledonian Pines forests of northern Scotland and the reintroduction of many birds including, currently, the marvellous work being done on the Great Crane project.
We now need to bring this forward to include the major mammals. For example now the beaver is present in Devon it needs to be reintroduced on a good many other reserves as it is a key stone species and has a important beneficial effect on wetland habitats. The wolf and lynx are other key stone species for which there should be plans for reintroduction. In George Monbiot's recent book about rewilding it is just amazing the beneficial effects that the return of top preditors had in Yellowstone National Park, beneficial effects that could never have been foreseen.
Good luck to the new organisation "Rewilding Britain". To help it along it just needs good support from the Governments of England, Scotland, Wales and N.Ireland and for them to cast off there Victorian attitudes to wildlife. However not at all sure about that!!! .
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