Britain is one of the most ecologically depleted nations on earth. We have lost all our large carnivores and most of our large herbivores. While the global average forest cover is 31%, and the European average is 37%, ours is just 12%. Our ecosystems have almost ceased to function. Because of the absence of trees and loss of soil, our watersheds no longer hold back water. And these impoverished systems offer low resilience to climate change.
Our National Parks are dominated by sheep farms and grouse or deer estates, leaving almost all our hills bare. Nature is protected in isolated reserves which provide important refuges for biodiversity. But these refuges are not joined up, and so are very fragile in the long-term.
There are no large areas of land in which nature is allowed to find its own way. In this respect Britain is highly unusual: unlike almost any other country, there is nowhere, beyond tiny patches, in which we may escape obvious human impacts.
Rewilding offers a chance to reverse that. A chance to work with communities to restore to parts of Britain the wonder and enchantment of wild nature; to allow magnificent lost creatures to live here once more; and to provide people with some of the rich and raw experiences of which we have been deprived.
National Parks could play a key role in making Britain wild again. Our current Parks are classed as IUCN Category V protected areas – a protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value.
We’d like to see the establishment of a core wild area in each National Park which reaches at least category II status, whereby large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.
By allowing natural systems space to function we can create space for wildlife to thrive and secure all the benefits nature provides – clean air and water, carbon storage, flood control, and amazing experiences which benefit our health and wellbeing. It often requires some initial supportive measures to kick-start natural processes again, or to help reintroduce lost species, but the goal is to reduce human intervention and create wilder spaces, both on land and at sea.
The resurgent wildlife that rewilding will bring has a great potential to attract people and to generate a fair living from the wild. In all the areas of major interest to us – on land and at sea – traditional forms of employment are sparse and often in steep decline. Communities are losing their economic base. Schools, shops, churches and pubs are closing.
By stimulating a vibrant eco-tourism sector we hope to help reverse this loss, bringing income and opportunities that will help young people stay in their communities to raise their families and sustain the area’s vitality. In Scotland alone over 1 million trips are made for the primary purpose of viewing wildlife, and nature-based tourism is estimated to be worth £1.4 billion, with 39,000 associated jobs (Deinet et al. 2013).
We don’t want to rewild everywhere. We do want to see a break from the monotonous uses of land and sea that have caused so much damage and loss – to people as well as nature.
This article first appeared on the website of the Campaign for National Parks and is republished with permission here.