Benefits of rewilding

Rewilding brings a huge range of benefits – for nature, society and the economy.

images/benefits/ABOUT_US3.pngWe have a problem. One that David Attenborough sums up perfectly in the State of Nature report from 2013. He says, “Far more species are declining than increasing in the UK, including many of our most treasured. Alarmingly, a large number of them are threatened with extinction.”

Our mission at Rewilding Britain is to stop that happening – and we know that rewilding works. The most famous example is the reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park in the US, as you can see from the How wolves change rivers video. We believe that wolves could, and should, eventually be reintroduced to Britain. But there are many issues to be worked through and resolved and it could take decades. The same goes for the lynx, another keystone species that used to thrive in Britain. So what about the here and now? Well, there’s plenty to be excited about.

Beavers – our ecological engineers

Beavers, wiped out in Britain around 500 years ago, do wonders for the environment. The canals and dams they build act like giant sponges, reducing flood impact and, in the dry months, preserving water supplies. Dams trap silt, too. This slows the build-up of sediment, reducing the expensive need to dredge rivers. The process also cleanses water that often ends up in our reservoirs. Then there’s habitat creation. Beaver canals and dams are ideal for amphibians and their spawn, otters, water voles, birds, bats and all kinds of insects.

And beavers work fast. Take the Devon Beaver Project in north Devon. Five years ago, a pair was released into a seven-acre, secure enclosure with a tiny stream running through it. A University of Exeter study reveals that what they’ve done there is remarkable.

The beavers have built 13 dams and a network of canals which can now store 650,000 litres of water. Before the beavers arrived, says the university’s professor Richard Brazier, “that would have been just a few hundred litres.”

As for sediment and pollution, he says, “We are seeing an average of 150mg of sediment per litre of water coming off farmland when it rains heavily. Leaving the site, that reduces to just 10 or 15mg per litre. Also, nitrogen and phosphorus enter this site at reasonably high levels, especially in storms. But at the bottom end we see so little in nitrogen and phosphate, the university’s equipment cannot actually detect it.”

For more about these amazing creatures, have a look at this.

Natural harmony

It’s not all about beavers and other keystone species. In towns and cities, rewilding means creating ecosystems where human activity and natural processes become harmoniously intertwined. One exciting idea is the Greater London National Park concept. This, the vision of the geographer and explorer Dan Raven-Ellison, seeks to designate London as the first national park city “where people and nature are better connected”.

A fifth of the land in Greater London is valuable space for all kinds of flora and fauna. This includes the stag beetle Lucanus cervus, wild flowers like the greater yellow-rattle and a rare robin-sized bird called the black redstart. According to the RSPB, there are fewer than 100 breeding pairs of them left in the UK. Then there are the different species of burrowing bee and wasp, protected bats, the kingfisher and even rare types of fish such as smelt, sea lamprey and the twaite shad.

It’s still early days for the proposal, but if it gains momentum, it could mean good things for the capital’s biodiversity. As Raven-Ellison says, “National parks are special places where people care more for nature and enjoy nature more as well.”

Rewilding and carbon

The Government is aiming for an 80 per cent reduction in the UK’s greenhouse gases by 2050, compared with the 1990 baseline. The “carbon sink” effect of woodland regeneration and the restoration of wet peatland could play a big part in the process. A recent study suggests that huge gains could be achieved if the farming industry allowed the expansion of forests and wetland habitats to match what can be seen in Europe. Other measures, including reducing meat consumption and food waste, would also be needed, however.

Forests help with flooding, too

Forested areas are perfect for absorbing heavy rainfall, unlike bare ground which allows the deluge to flow into our rivers. The Pontbren woodland and tree planting project in Wales illustrates the point well. Here, water absorption rates are 67 times higher in young native woodland compared with adjacent, heavily grazed pasture.

The feelgood factor

It’s simple – rewilding makes the world more beautiful. And people benefit. A report published by Mind confirms that exposure to the natural environment positively affects health and wellbeing. This includes enhanced mood and self-esteem as well as reduced feelings of anger, confusion and depression.

Clip from 2013 Documentary Project Wild Thing, reproduced with thanks to the Wild Network

Show me the money

There’s serious money in rewilding tourism - money well spent. In Scotland, the Osprey alone is estimated to bring in £3.5 million a year. And a pair of Ospreys breeding at the RSPB Cors Dyfi reserve in Wales draws in around £350,000 a year locally. Further afield, the brown bear is a flagship species used to market Spain’s Somiedo National Park, visitors travelling to Finland to see brown bear and wolverine were linked to an economic boost of €4-5 million in 2012, and the reintroduction of griffon and cinereous vultures has been attracting 80,000 visitors each year to France.

A low-maintenance relationship

Rewilding can save money. This is because a rewilded ecosystem is very good at looking after itself, so management costs drop. One telling example is the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve in the Netherlands. Management here costs €300 per 1800 hectares less than similar sites in the country that aren’t self-governing. Wherever you look, the numbers add up when it comes to the economy – particularly when the government is pledging a £2.3bn spend on flood defences over the coming six years.

Factor in the benefits to nature and society and it’s clear – rewilding is a win-win-win situation.