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The ecological case against rewilding

In an article for the Big Issue North yesterday, former Sunday Times journalist Roger Ratcliffe became the latest in a long line of bandwagon-hoppers to beat the drum for rewilding Britain’s moors. This process would see our unique and striking moors turned over for forests, shrubbery and thicket.

This tired argument was already put forward by Ben MacDonald in the Spectator last year, and by the Revive Coalition, whose weighty tome on the subject arrived just in time for Christmas. So now seems like an opportune moment to finally put the issue to bed and reiterate that, even from a purely ecological standpoint, the arguments for rewilding Britain’s moors don’t stack up.

For one thing, we are incredibly lucky to have our moors in the first place. Heather moors are among the rarest habitats on the planet, a point which was substantiated by the 1992 Rio Convention on Biodiversity. Moors are home to a myriad of unique species not found in any other environment, including 18 species of bird considered to be of European or global significance.

They are also terrific carbon sinks - much better than forests. In all, peatlands cover just 3% of the earth’s land surface but store over twice the amount of carbon as all standing forests. This fact rather nullifies Mr Ratcliffe’s dream of a Neolithic Scottish jungle. Indeed, if there is a habitat which climate activists should find fault with, it certainly isn’t Britain’s moors.

Moors are also superbly well managed. During a 2017 study of the Glonogil Estate, a team of German conservationists found that there were double the number of golden plover on the estate than there were in the whole of Germany. The team’s head researcher, Dr Daniel Hoffman, remarked that “they breed here because the landscape is managed the way it is”. Moors are an ecological gift for which rewilding would mean surrendering to chance.

So not only is the case for rewilding Britain’s moors unoriginal, it’s also plain wrong. Although, to give Mr Ratcliffe his due, he is probably the first person to argue that the moors of Wordsworth and Brontë have “no visual appeal”. Well, to each their own.


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