Is rewilding “land abandonment” or the “scruffy bits on the side” of well managed land? Does it really “reduce biodiversity”? These were just a few of the claims made on BBC Breakfast last week – and Helen Meech was there on the sofa to offer some well-informed alternative points of view.
The interview, part of the BBC’s Wild Britain Week, took place in the magnificent setting of Stanage Edge in the Peak District and focused on the definition of rewilding as well as its benefits.
Helen, director of Rewilding Britain, was speaking with Ross Murray, president of the Country Land & Business Association, and Robin Milton, chairman of the NFU Hill and Upland Farming Group.
Defining a solution
Mr Murray likened Britain to “a huge garden.” He added “We’re all gardeners and for the most part, the garden is beautiful and managed and you have the scruffy bits at the side – and that’s what you’re promoting.”
This, Helen explained, is not the case.
She said, “Rewilding is not about standing back and letting go. It’s about the balance between natural succession, grazing and predation and putting all those processes back in the system. So you wouldn’t necessarily get the landscape you are describing.”
Mr Murray also voiced concerns about food production. “I do think that rewilding has a place but on a managed basis on the fringes because ultimately we have to produce food,” he said.
Helen replied, “I think there’s a danger of making false choices between food production and nature. Actually, they go hand in hand. We all know that our farming systems depend on clean water, on good soils and rewilding can deliver just that.”
Enriched, not abandoned
Mr Milton from the NFU wanted to explore the definition of rewilding because, he said, “land abandonment isn’t really a feature of this landscape. We managed it for years and years.” He added, “Rewilding as a concept is not wrong. [As farmers] we like wild areas, we’ve got wild areas. But you don’t want somewhere that’s scruffy, that’s untidy, that’s actually got reduced biodiversity.”
Again, Helen offered a counterview: “Rewilding’s the restoration of ecosystems, it’s about restoring natural structures. It’s also about putting back species that we’ve lost from Britain that aren’t just ornaments of the ecosystem, they also play crucial roles in the function of those natural systems. If we can get those natural functions working again, there are going to be huge benefits for nature and for people, too.”