We need wilder national parks — here are some of the people and organisations working towards this

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Thornhill Carr, Derbyshire's Wildlife Trust's flagship rewilding site, supports a mixed mosaic habitat including impressive mosses and ferns
Guy Shrubsole & Sara King
01/06/2021

Rewilding Britain has launched a new campaign calling on ministers to create wilder national parks.

We have a vision for a wilder Britain full of thriving wildlife and restored habitats. National parks have a key role to play in leading the way to nature recovery. 

And we aren’t the only ones who support this vision — lots of project managers, landowners, land managers and National Park Authorities share our dream of achieving wilder national parks for people and wildlife. 

Here we celebrate some of the projects and parks who are leading the way, giving us the blueprints of how we can achieve wilder national parks in this UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. 

Sign our petition

If we’re to see wilder national parks across the board, we need governments to take action

National Park Authorities working to create wilder nationals parks

Encouragingly, some National Parks Authorities (NPAs) are already starting to make their own suggestions for what wilder national parks could look like.

Exmoor NPA voted through a vision for nature recovery’ in November 2020 in which it proposed to Create 7,000 ha of nature recovery opportunity areas’ where nature and natural processes are allowed to take their course. In these wilder areas land will be allowed to recover, healthy soils and clean water will be restored, and wildlife will recolonise (10% of the National Park).”

The vision was accompanied by two images by artist Richard Allen illustrating the reasons for a decline in nature and what a nature-rich Exmoor might look like. 

The Brecon Beacons NPA has recently been consulting on its next Management Plan. It proposes to increase nature recovery within 67,000 hectares of the Park [50% of the National Park area]. This will include woodland restoration and expansion by natural regeneration and new tree planting; restoration of peatland, rivers and wetlands; improving the condition, connectivity and functionality of other key habitats; and many other benefits.”

The Cairngorms NPA’s latest Nature Action Plan for 2019 – 2024 states that rewilding principles run through all of the aims and all landscapes. Rewilding brings benefits to people and wildlife in gardens and fields as well as forests and mountains. Rewilding brings fresh ideas and approaches which allows natural processes to flourish alongside productive land management and building diverse, nature-based economies that support robust, resilient communities.” The Cairngorms National Park also contains the Cairngorms Connect project, some of whose members are detailed later on in this blog.

The Lake District NPA is currently consulting on its next Management Plan. It proposes that Core areas of nature recovery will cover a minimum of 10% of the National Park by 2025, where natural processes are being restored at scale and nature can recover and thrive.” It also states that By 2025 we will actively be pursuing restoration and reintroduction of key species as identified in the Nature Recovery Delivery Prospectus. These could include Black Grouse, Pine Marten, Water Vole, Corncrake, Golden and White Tailed Eagle.”

Drivers of a nature-depleted Exmoor
A vision for a nature-rich Exmoor

Exmoor NPA’s vision for a wilder national park, bursting with wildlife, is something we need for all national parks in Britain. 


Rewilding Network members working to create wilder national parks

There are a number of pioneering projects that can provide examples of what wilder national parks could look like. Here is a virtual tour of the Rewilding Network projects who are leading the way!


Lake District National Park

There are three Rewilding Network projects within the Lake District National Park. They provide excellent examples of how we can create a mosaic of core rewilding areas and nature recovery areas, where people and wildlife thrive: 

Wild Haweswater

RSPB Haweswater is a partnership project with a mission to restore a landscape of thriving upland wildlife alongside sustainable farming. People are central to the project, and new enterprises have become established including low-impact tourism businesses such as wildlife watching, guided tours, and accommodation. 



Wild Ennerdale

Tucked away in the west of the National Park, Wild Ennerdale was established in 2003 to take a different approach to landscape recovery. Working in partnership, the project aims to let natural processes shape the landscape whilst supporting sustainable forestry, farming and tourism.

Lowther Castle Estate

The Lowther Castle Estate began its rewilding project in 2019. By increasing the diversity of herbivores on the landscape, including Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, red deer, ponies and beavers, wildlife has returned in abundance. Access and education are central to the project’s mission, opening parts of the estate to walkers and cycling.

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Lowther Castle Estate has undergone active restoration of wetlands, wildflower meadows, woodlands and scrub.
Yorkshire Dales National Park

Ingleborough NNR

Ingleborough National Nature Reserve (NNR) is renowned for its spectacular scenery and special wildlife. The NNR is most associated with its diverse plant life, but also supports a range of birds, butterflies, moths, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. There is a long history of people using the landscape – the site provides recreational opportunities for visitors to connect with its unique and diverse habitats and biodiversity.

Peak District National Park

Wild Peak

Led by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, the Wild Peak is a partnership of local landowners, community groups, businesses and organisations with one mission — to restore the Peak’s woodlands, peat bogs and meadows, and reintroduce missing species including beavers, black grouse and pine martens. Through this it will also create more diverse and resilient local economies.

Cairngorms National Park 

The stunning Cairngorms National Park has been leading the way on nature restoration for several years. An example of a project in the Cairngorms that provides a great example of what wilder national parks could look like is:

Mar Lodge

The re-birth of the pinewood began 25 years ago, and has resulted in a wild beauty across the landscape. Mar Lodge is home to iconic wildlife including golden eagles, capercaillie, dotterel, snow bunting, pine martens and much more. The estate is one of the most important areas for nature conservation in the British Isles and in 2017 it was awarded National Nature Reserve status.



And close by to the Cairngorms is another brilliant example of natural regeneration:

Creag Meagaidh

Starting 36 years ago, Creag Meagaidh was one of the first places to seriously tackle centuries of land degradation. It has proved a resounding success, with naturally regenerating native woodland and forest across its 4,000ha.

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Recovery of montane woodland species such as juniper, dwarf birch and willows is happening at Mar Lodge.

Northumberland National Park 

We don’t have any current network projects within Northumberland National Park, however Kielderhead Wildwood is located close to the park and gives us an insight into how a wilder park could look: 

Kielderhead Wildwood

Kielderhead Wildwood is one of the wildest landscapes in England, and the last English stronghold for Scot’s pine. Led by Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Forestry England, the project is restoring natural processes and rebuilding healthy ecosystems. Education is at the heart of the project, sharing knowledge with the next generation. 

South Downs National Park

Whilst we have no current network projects within the South Downs National Park, there is an excellent example of rewilding just a stone’s throw away:

Knepp Estate

The Knepp Estate is the jewel in the crown of rewilding projects in England! It is an inspirational example of how we can turn unproductive farmland into thriving ecosystems whilst still supporting food production. Not only does the estate now support an overwhelming amount of wildlife, it also has thriving enterprises including safaris and camping.

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Free-roaming grazing animals drive regeneration at Knepp, creating a mosaic of habitats - from grassland and scrub to open-grown trees and wood pasture.

Conclusion

We want to see our national parks full of these projects and landscapes and to build on the brilliant work already being undertaken! That’s why we’ve launched our campaign for wilder national parks. 

But we won’t get wilder national parks across the board unless ministers mandate it, and give more powers and funding to NPAs to make it happen.

Last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to protect 30% of the UK’s land and sea for nature. But it’s not credible for Government to claim that national parks, in their current state, can count towards this commitment. To do so, they need to be much wilder. 

We’re calling on UK and devolved ministers to be bold, and mandate wilder areas across all our national parks – to boost biodiversity, sink more carbon and create rich, natural environments for people.

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Wilder National Parks campaign

We’re calling on the Government to make national parks wilder, so that these precious places can lead the way in turning the page on nature-depleted Britain.