On a mission to mainstream rewilding

Our special advisor Alastair Driver reports on 18 months of winning hearts and minds – and busting a few myths

Kielder Forest b8ee64bdf34b4a436fdfc02ade191b2d

In Oct 2016, I left the Environment Agency after 34 years in public service – including the last 15 as national head of conservation – looking for an exciting new challenge, and boy have I found one! 

After a year and a half in the role, I can honestly say this is the most exciting time of my career so far. 

I have two key roles for Rewilding Britain: 

  • to promote rewilding at a high level within government and potential partner organisations 
  • to establish one or two major rewilding projects on the ground in England

So much has happened in such a short time, but here are just a few reasons to be cheerful so far:

Policy influencing

Much of this revolves around explaining what we in Rewilding Britain mean when we talk about rewilding – our priorities and principles.

I started off by diving in at the deep end with visits to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). I then tackled the key eNGOs such as the National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts. I also spoke to politicians and senior civil servants. 

My main myth-busting message is that it’s not about wolves and bears and kicking farmers off the land. Instead, it is about restoring natural processes and healthy, functioning ecosystems on a large scale to the point where nature can take care of itself. 

This has definitely helped to gain support in principle. But some organisations are still afraid to use the term rewilding’ because of the sharp teeth’ connotations. I am, however, determined to stick with it. I believe we can and will convince people of its merits by just getting on and doing it on the ground based on our principles. 

My mission to mainstream rewilding has been aided by taking part in high-level discussions on the 25 Year Environment Plan and the public money for public goods approach to future land management, speaking at major events such as the Green Brexit conference, attended by Michael Gove, and taking Sir John Randall, the environmental advisor to No 10, down to Knepp.

English projects

Progress here has been equally positive. In all the locations I am considering, I have been welcomed in to explain the Rewilding Britain approach and explore opportunities. 

This includes very large areas in the uplands such as the Lake District, Peak District and Kielder Forest (see main image), as well as smaller estate/​farm cluster-sized areas in the lowlands such as Somerleyton in Suffolk and Selwood in Somerset. 

We are rightly setting ourselves the ambitious target of establishing rewilding areas of at least 10,000 hectares and this means that the uplands are likely to provide the greatest opportunity, with the Peak District and Kielder looking favourites at the moment. 

By the end of the year I hope to have a geographically-defined project agreed in principle with key partner organisations in one or both of these locations.