There’s no way around it: this autumn’s 2023 State of Nature report painted a bleak picture of current biodiversity levels in the UK. One in six species are now facing extinction in Britain, largely as a result of human activities. But while it certainly made for uncomfortable reading, an important truth stood out amongst the gloom: rewilding has yielded results. The report was peppered with a whole host of rewilding and nature conservation projects that have reversed biodiversity loss, helped mitigate climate change and restored habitats.
This year, more clearly than ever, we’ve been reminded that rewilding is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the climate and biodiversity crises, while bringing a myriad of other benefits, from job creation to improved wellbeing. As we move into a fresh new year, we invite you to look back on some of the brightest rewilding highlights from 2023 – which can only bring us hope for a greener, cleaner, wilder 2024.
1. Rewilding Britain awards bison-sized funding
It was a big moment this summer when we awarded £100K to Kent Wildlife Trust, the inaugural recipients of our new annual Rewilding Challenge Fund. Home to the UK’s first reintroduced European bison, which are now successfully reproducing, the Trust is aiming to rewild tens of thousands of hectares, including one of the largest continuous areas of ancient woodland in southern England. We also supported 11 rewilding schemes across Britain through our Innovation Fund, from a marine workshop in Sussex Bay to a lynx reintroduction project in Scotland.
2. World’s first rewilding centre opens in Scotland
This absolutely stunning building in the Highlands opened its doors to the public in April. Based at Dundreggan, flagship project of Scottish rewilding charity Trees for Life, the centre offers visitors the chance to experience rewilding – and its impacts – in action. Already, it has hosted Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin, and ITV’s This Morning, as well as scooping an international tourism award. Rewilding is certainly putting itself on the map.
3. Scottish Government embraces rewilding
Now it may be just one word, but we cannot overstate the significance of the Scottish Government finally endorsing a definition of ‘rewilding’, having previously avoided its use. The decision in July gives real recognition to the success of rewilding in Scotland and its importance in meeting climate and biodiversity targets. Holyrood also played host to a Lynx to Scotland reception event in the spring, on how transformative lynx could be for the nation’s wild places. Progress indeed.
4. A bumper year for beavers
No rewilding round-up would be complete without a beaver breakthrough! In September, a beaver kit was photographed in London (pictured) for the first time in 400 years, just 18 months after Enfield Council reintroduced them as part of a natural flood-management programme. Less than a month later beavers were released into Ealing’s wonderfully named Paradise Field. And in December two translocated beavers were released into the upper River Spey catchment in the Cairngorms, at the heart of the UK’s largest national park – the first time they’ve been safely relocated outside their current range in Scotland.
5. Eagle success flies high
This year saw the first white-tailed eagle chick to hatch in England for more than 240 years. This exciting birth marked the culmination of efforts since 2019 to reintroduce Britain’s largest bird of prey to the Isle of Wight. In Scotland, where around 150 white-tailed eagles are now successfully breeding, it seems that another species of eagle is getting a solid foothold; this year a record 46 golden eagles were reported in the area. When the project began five years ago it was thought that only three breeding pairs remained.
6. Protection for our seas
Our vision is of a massive upscaling of rewilding across 30% of Britain’s land and seas by 2030. So the designation of England’s first Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) – giving complete protection from activities that could negatively impact the marine ecosystem – was a real milestone this summer. They’re a significant step up from Marine Protected Areas, which do allow certain activity in the area. But with two of the five planned HPMAs dropped during the consultation it’s an important reminder that marine protection simply cannot be designed without local communities at the heart of the process.
7. National parks set to go wild
Rewilding Britain has been busy campaigning to make Wilder National Parks a reality. After making the case — alongside fellow members of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance — for nature to become the priority of Scotland’s national parks, we saw a breakthrough in February. NatureScot advised ministers that the parks must focus on restoring nature as well as mitigating and adapting to the climate emergency! We don’t yet know where Scotland’s new park will be, but we can now hope it will be wilder. Next stop, ensuring the two new national parks planned for England and Wales are just as well thought out…
8. Rewilding sites get welcome boost from Defra
We’ve long been pushing for Westminster to include projects that are restoring natural processes across England’s nature-depleted landscapes in their Landscape Recovery Scheme, a hugely important source of post-Brexit funding for land managers. So it was a real coup when in November the government announced that 34 projects would benefit from £25m worth of funding – including many sites linked to rewilding projects in the Rewilding Network. A real recognition of how vital rewilding is in combating the climate and biodiversity crises.
9. A powerful movement gathers pace
Which brings us neatly to the Rewilding Network – whose determined and visionary members constantly impress and humble us. Made up of rewilders from landowners and farmers to charities and national parks, its 900 members are the beating heart of rewilding in Britain. This year, for the first time, we were able to bring them together in person, to connect, share learnings, and explore the challenges and inspiring solutions to rewilding. The two-day event, including a visit to the spectacular Wild Peak project, left us feeling full of hope for a wilder future!
10. A rewilding vision for Europe
The pan-European rewilding movement took a giant step forward in November, when 45 representatives from leading European rewilding organisations — including our CEO Rebecca Wrigley and Rewilding Director Kevin Cumming — met to launch the new European Rewilding Coalition. Whether it’s reintroducing wild horses to the Iberian Highlands, campaigning for wilder national parks in Scotland or supporting local enterprises in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, together our vision is to scale up nature recovery across the continent through a stronger, galvanised movement. It’s time to Think big. Act wild.
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