A series of posts, sharing a recipe to resolve the climate and ecological crises. The theme throughout is how to incorporate one key ingredient (Nature-based Solutions) in our work and home lives. Feedback on these posts is welcome when you contact roberharding.com about the stunning images, or through www.EnvironmentalEducationProject.com.

‘Deep Dive into Rewilding’

Time to bring back the largest mammals: let’s see why!

We all have an opportunity to help rewild our portion of the planet, because it can happen on any scale. During lockdown many of us turned to nature: be it a window box project or helping restore natural habitats. Most people find the end result aesthetically pleasing and mental health benefits grow on them as the project progresses. Like most Nature-based Solutions it can save and often cost very little to implement as nature does most of the work!

But what is it?

Rewilding means to restore an area of land to its natural uncultivated state. This should look like a balanced ecosystem without any stresses from human activity, letting nature take care of itself. It usually includes reintroduction of species of wild animal or plants that have been driven out or exterminated. The aim is for nature’s natural rhythms to create and maintain wilder, more biodiverse habitats.

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Serious tool to fight climate change?

While it may not be the quickest way to absorb carbon dioxide it also has the potential to both absorb and store carbon (sequestration) long-term. This has been proven over hundreds and thousands of years. No technology is capable of this on a global scale, again, because we have nature on our side.

In Britain we need to comprehensively rewild 40% of our agricultural land (currently 80% of UK) and it will have a major impact on our targets to reach net-zero by 2050. None of the other strategies are on target to help reach this goal.

‘I published the Terra Carte, a roadmap of principles for nature, people and planet and a means of kite-marking best practice in genuine sustainability’. 

HRH Prince Charles

Who should take the lead?
TV presenter Professor Alice Roberts recently wrote an article in the broadsheets calling for the Royal Family to lead by example: “Rewilding somewhere like the Balmoral estate, which is nearly twice the size of Manchester, would bring the landscapes of the past back to life,” she explains.

“With amazing species like wolves and golden eagles set amongst a lush landscape of forest and pasture, the next generation could walk through a world I can only access through archaeological excavation.

“Whilst those of us lucky enough to have gardens can do our bit, the Royal estates are big enough that whole ecosystems could be restored on a massive scale.” You can sign the petition here!

Prince Charles responded: “I published the Terra Carte, a roadmap of principles for nature, people and planet and a means of kite-marking best practice in genuine sustainability,” he said. “It makes clear that our food production must recognise that the soil and biodiversity are the planet’s most important renewable resources and I hope this will all be an important focus at COP26.

Farmers in Britain can now access grants, a positive result of BREXIT, that is more attuned to rewilding than the EU grants. This gives them a responsibility to consider their land use because the current approach will lead to a dead end no matter how efficient they become. Areas of Britain that have intensively farmed for decades are reported to have 20 more yields (years) left before the land will be infertile and turn to dust.

Newly planted woodland in Giggleswick, Yorkshire, England

Basic skills or highly technical?

It is one of the cheapest ways to capture, and crucially also store carbon, but not many places are rewilding with enough care to gain the benefits. Its effectiveness depends on a deep understanding of natural processes that build and maintain ecosystems. Long term success depends on minimising any impact previously wrought by humans. However once natural processes take hold, they can take over and run themselves.

Let’s pull focus and look at ‘micro rewilding’ in your window box or garden. Whether you are renting a flat or a housing developer you can have a significant contribution. Research shows that an ecosystem can be spread out, like a mosaic across a built up area, if there are green corridors connecting them. You need to understand which species naturally occur in your area and support them with suitable plants, bird feeders, gaps in fences etc. And support your local community to create wildlife corridors: in urban areas this could be a line of wildlife gardens or wild areas along footpaths or streams in suburban areas. In the countryside green corridors should look like a whole ecosystem to allow a great range of species to use it: mature trees, ponds or streams and scrub including brambles and nettles.

Male Great Spotted Woodpecker at winter feeder. (Dendrocopos major)
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker at winter feeder. (Dendrocopos major)

Wildlife conservation groups (Wildlife Trusts in Britain and RSPB internationally ) will have been working on rewilding projects for decades. By joining them you support their work and can find out what you can do at home.

If we broaden our view of landuse to farmland across continents there is some surprising news summarised by José M. Rey Benayas in The Conversation: As people have migrated from rural areas to cities, large areas of farmland – especially isolated patches in remote areas – have returned to nature. Urban areas still only make up 10% of land use.  This trend will hopefully encourage all environments, including agriculture and livestock production or residential areas and industry to co-exist with higher levels of biodiversity.

This has been happening in Europe since the second half of the 20th century. Populations of large carnivores such as the brown bear, the Eurasian lynx and the wolverine have all increased in Europe. Wolves have been seen in the wild in every country in Europe now apart from UK… they total 12,000 but pose very little threat to humans at all.

Populations of large and medium-sized herbivores, such as the red deer, the wild boar, the roe deer and the Iberian ibex, have also increased. Other species, such as the Iberian lynx and the European bison, have been reintroduced on purpose. Beavers have just started breeding in Southern UK for the first time in the wild for around 500 years.

Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) on the stalk
Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) on the stalk

But what about rewilding our oceans… more next time!

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