Report sets out benefits of landscape 'rewilding'

Landscape-scale "rewilding" programmes can provide ecosystem services for low cost while benefiting both wildlife and local people, but can also adversely affect some land users, according to a newly published parliamentary report, Rewilding & Ecosystem Services, prepared with input from 32 academics across the environmental spectrum.

Wild Ennerdale: work has reinstated natural riverflows - image: FlickR
Wild Ennerdale: work has reinstated natural riverflows - image: FlickR

The re-establishment of pre-human ecosystems, including the re-introduction of key species, "might help to reduce or offset negative impacts of intensive agriculture including: soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, insect pollinator declines and a reduction in biodiversity", it says.

Both management-intensive conservation and conventional farming come with significant public costs attached, it notes, pointing out that sites of special scientific interest cost around £85 per hectare per year to maintain, while more than half of total UK farming income currently comes from EU subsidies.

While rewilding can be accomplished simply by abandoning land, "natural processes may be kick-started in several ways - for example, where seed sources no longer exist, trees can be planted and fenced off to assist vegetation succession", says the report, citing the examples of Carrifran in the Scottish Borders and Glen Affric in the Highlands.

Wetland restoration "can incorporate rewilding approaches", while: "Habitats such as blanket bog retain water and decrease water treatment costs, so water companies like United Utilities and South West Water invest in restoring them."

Reinstating natural river flows and allowing vegetation succession, as at Wild Ennerdale in the Lake District, can also have a role in flood alleviation, it adds. Meanwhile, re-established woodlands "store an additional two tonnes of carbon and 20kg of nitrogen per hectare per year, although the amount gained varied between sites", according to a study of abandoned farmland at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.

While the rewilding movement is often associated with reintroduction of both carnivorous and herbivorous mammals, these "are not always feasible and some stakeholders argue rewilding can be done without them", it says. Mammals such as wolves can carry out for free tasks that currently require human input such as deer culling, while beavers' dams have been shown to provide ecosystem services by slowing peak river flows and arresting agricultural run-off, although "burrowing, tree felling and localised flooding create costs for local land managers".

The outcomes of such projects are also unpredictable and may bring ecological losers as well as winners, it says. "An evidence-based framework is needed to select species suitable for reintroduction in any given case."

Meanwhile, there remains some disagreement even about what the term "rewilding" should mean, and given how few such projects have actually been established "there is limited evidence on their impacts". The website of charity Rewilding Britain lists 13 such projects.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Read These Next

IoG Saltex 2016 - show preview

IoG Saltex 2016 - show preview

This year's Saltex will be looking to build on the success of last year by packing in a multitude of exhibitors and sessions over the two days, Sally Drury reports.

According To Dunnett ... Horticulture needed to 'colour in' green infrastructure

According To Dunnett ... Horticulture needed to 'colour in' green infrastructure

It's now around one year since work started on Sheffield's groundbreaking "Grey to Green" scheme, one of the largest urban green infrastructure projects in the UK.

Tree lifting, moving  and planting

Tree lifting, moving and planting

Successful relocations can see even big trees flourish while costing less than buying new stock, says Sally Drury.

Follow us on:
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +
Horticulture Jobs
More Horticulture Jobs

Contracts & Tenders

Sally Drury on professional gardening

Sally Drury

A monthly checklist of things to do and watch out for to keep your garden looking its best.