Rewilding Britain – a new way of looking at the restoration of land?

Rewilding Britain – a new way of looking at the restoration of land?

Since the year 2000, when publication of Frans Vera’s book ‘Grazing Ecology and Forest History’ stimulated debate about what our ancient landscapes would have looked like, interest in the concept of rewilding has grown. The book was followed in 2005 by Peter Taylor’s wildland strategy for the UK in his book ‘Beyond Conservation’ in which he set out a way forward for rewilding or restoring and repairing the damaged and truncated natural processes that once shaped our habitats and landscape.

More recently (2013) George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ makes the case for rewilding our land and seas. It considers how and why we can “rewild” and the benefits of this to nature, and challenges some of our long-held thinking about conservation of nature and landscape, and how we make a living off the land. Importantly it makes the case for the need and value to people of reconnecting with wild places and the opportunity for alternative ways of making a living from marginal land.

In 2015 Rewilding Britain was launched, setting about making the case for rewilding in the UK. Their new director, Helen Meech, describes rewilding in an interview with Peter Shepherd, a partner in BSG’s Oxford office, and Ian Houlston of LDA Design. The interview appears in the latest edition of ‘Landscape’, the magazine of the Landscape Institute.

Helen describes rewilding as “the large scale restoration of ecosystems. Unlike some other forms of conservation, rewilding does not attempt to produce fixed outcomes. It sees dynamic ecological processes as an essential, intrinsic aspect of healthy living systems. At Rewilding Britain, we hope to restore the ecological dynamics that allow successional processes to take place and living systems to keep changing”.

Peter Shepherd said “Rewilding is an exciting concept that could bring about a step change in how we view nature and wild experiences. It will clearly require careful thought about impact on existing land-use and livelihoods, and delivery will require a range of disciplines and expertise, which is why it has been so good to be discussing this with Ian Houlston at LDA Design, the visionary practice that brought us the Olympic Park. I can see rewilding increasingly being considered as a serious option and one that could take a variety of forms depending on where it is undertaken. For consultants such as BSG Ecology I suspect it is something we will increasingly be considering, especially in projects with large land holdings and long-term management implications”.

Peter recently attended a study tour with members of the Landscape Institute at the Knepp Estate which has been running a rewilding project for over 10 years. A wide range of issues was covered, from the behaviour and impact of Tamworth pigs to the role of similar projects in the wider landscape and what we want our countryside to look like. Of greatest interest was the discussion with the owner of the Knepp Estate, Charlie Burrell, who provided a fascinating insight into the practicalities of rewilding, the benefits of it to the Estate, and the ecological changes that are taking place. The Estate currently supports nationally important breeding populations of nightingale and turtle dove, which have grown as the habitats have changed from intensive arable production to a mosaic of grassland, scrub and young secondary woodland. It was particularly interesting to observe how the vegetation has developed a similar structure to many brownfield and post-industrial sites.

We can see great potential in rewilding as part of an alternative and potentially low-cost approach to site restoration following development. It is a subject that we will be following closely and we are particularly interested in how it might be picked up as government policy is developed further.

The “Landscape” article can be found below:

Landscape Institute Journal – ‘Wild Times’


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