Yesterday a group of Transition New Mills members went to a well-attended Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s talk by Tim Birch on rewilding Derbyshire’s uplands.
Tim began by outlining his vision for 40 years hence, where parts of the National park had been allowed to rewild, allowing some iconic species such as goshawks, peregrine falcons, red squirrels and even golden eagles to prosper in a fully functioning ecosystem at a landscape scale. This was based on success stories from elsewhere, including Dovestones RSPB reserve near Greenfield, Knepp in West Sussex, and Oostvaarderplassen only 30 minutes from Amsterdam.
The potential benefits of rewilding are many. Apart from helping a great number of species in decline, bringing natural wonder to people, the practice can address flooding problems (where vegetation can help the soil retain water, and beaver dam construction can slow river flow) and help revitalise rural economies through eco-tourism.
There are some barriers to overcome before this can be realised. Tim focussed in particular on incompatible grouse moor management practices which focus on burning heather to keep it low, removing any trees on which predators could perch, and often trapping and persecuting wildlife such as mountain hares, foxes and birds of prey. Local wildlife reserves often have limited effect because the surrounding land is often hostile to wildlife which has no regard for boundaries. Tim questioned why such practices were so widespread in the National Park which is supposed to be an area whose purpose is to connect people with wildlife and nature, and made a call to arms that the aims of the Mass Trespass needed a further push to be finally achieved.
There are some promising signs and opportunities. Michael Gove, the current Environment Secretary is said to be interested; Brexit offers opportunities through changes to a farming subsidy mechanism which pays farmers to keep land bare; the Moors for the Future programme is making progress (although the next stage was questioned – what wildlife will be allowed back when the moorland is regenerated?); projects in Derbyshire had been identified (most in the south and east, although Ladybower and the Upper Goyt Valley was highlighted as having great potential) and hill farming is in crisis and eco-tourism offers a good way of diversifying rural economies. There is growing public awareness and support, although it was stressed that there needs to be much more public debate of the issue. There will inevitably be compromises necessary, and one solution may be to follow the New Zealand model of ‘Spare and Share’ where some areas are identified for rewilding and some where retaining cultural assets are given priority.
Overall, the mood was very positive, and it was noted that some improvements are capable of being seen in 10 years or so, which made the prospect all the more tantalising.
If you are interested in finding out more about rewilding, check out Rewilding Britain, or read George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’.