Gloucestershire's Apprenticeship Champions 2019


We need to let nature back into the Garden of England

The UK ‘is going backwards in biodiversity’ and some widespread “rewilding” of our environment is needed. As the nation could be about to enter a new post- Brexit era for agriculture, this was the message delivered at a special agriculture conference staged by Gloucestershire’s Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Cirencester College. Prof Alastair Driver, of Rewilding Britain, said: “The simple fact is that we are going backwards in biodiversity. We need something significantly different in addition to traditional nature reserve conservation. That is the underpinning case for rewilding.” Prof Driver was among a number of nationally renowned experts in the field speaking at the Rewilding: Perspectives and Applications conference, held at the Cirencester university. He added: “But we have a very long journey to take – we are rewilding for the time being, and it will be a very long time before we have rewilded. “In England and Wales, we cannot jump to purist rewilding where immediately we are truly hands-off across large areas and not intervening at all. It is not practical and not likely in such a crowded country. “The Garden of England is England. We are a giant garden. Every square metre has been managed by man over the centuries.” He presented a simple definition of rewilding as ‘the large-scale restoration of ecosystems to the point where nature is allowed to take care of itself’. On behalf of Rewilding Britain, he is currently assessing large areas of uplands such as the Lake District, Peak District and Kielder Forest, as areas where biodiversity might be improved by rewilding projects.

Christopher Price, director of policy and advice at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) suggested landowners considering rewilding could go some way along that journey, without compromising their tax status. Many farmers, he said, were already delivering strong levels of environmental diversity, using other methods than rewilding: “Landowners won’t want to divest themselves of management altogether. Many are achieving high standards of environment, through methods that are the antithesis of rewilding.” Other speakers included Sir Charles ‘Charlie’ Burrell, whose Knepp Castle Estate, in Horsham has become a flagship experiment for farmland restoration. “We decided to come out of arable farming over a six- year period.The break-up of any constant look or feel was good for nature. Life has poured back in,” said Sir Charles. That strategic decision has meant a resurgence in birds - turtle doves and nightingales – as well as the purple emperor butterfly and the violet dor beetle, added Dr TonyWhitbread of the SussexWildlife Trust. Dr David Hetherington, discussed the challenges and opportunities of a potential re-introduction of lynx to the UK. Ecologist Derek Gow, whose consultancy specialises in water vole conservation, said: “Rewilding for many species is not about sitting on our hands and just waiting for natural processes occur. The end game for many of these species is just around the corner. Nature is capable of amazing things – if we help it.” On beavers, he added: “This animal breathes life back into landscapes that are lost – biomass rises exponentially and biodiversity of the landscape also rises considerably in response to their presence. Why are we waiting to restore this species? If beavers are

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56 | December 2018 | www. punchline-gloucester .com

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