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  • C4PMC

What do the government actually want to achieve with their nature recovery plan?

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

Over the last few days, a number of articles in The Times newspaper as part of a report called ‘A wilder world’. They have covered a wide range of topics all under the ‘headline’ subject of rewilding; looking at everything from how to ‘rewild’ your own garden, to the viability of bringing back apex predators and larger mammals – bison, lynx, wolves – to the UK.

In the same day’s newspaper, another article looked at tree planting, reporting on the government’s proposals to introduce a legally binding target to plant over a million acres of trees by 2050. This would aim to increase the amount of forested land in the UK by 3%. The plan also includes a pledge to halt the decline in wildlife species by 2030; and then increase them by 10% on the 2030 level by 2042.

It seems an odd pledge; as with tree planting, trees are not simply trees, and wildlife is not simply ‘wildlife’. It’s all very well planting hundreds of acres of tightly packed Sitka spruce across the country – but that’s not going to be as good for wildlife and biodiversity as planting broadleaf woodland or native pine forests, depending on the area; perhaps less densely planted (therefore fewer trees), but more beneficial – probably to everyone – in the long term.

The same applies to wildlife. A strict 10% increase is all very well, but if we simply see 15% more crows and woodpigeons and a 5% decline in other, rarer species that actually need our protection, then surely that’s a loss, whether or not the net result is an ‘increase in wildlife populations’.

Another article in the same paper – part of the rewilding special – focused on Langholm Moor, where a community trust bought out 5,200 acres of the moor for £3.8 million last year, from the Duke of Buccleuch. The land had formerly been a grouse moor; and the talk now is of ‘community-based rewilding’. While the group are still unsure of how they mean to diversity the moor in order to provide jobs and opportunities for younger locals (there are few jobs in the town, and an ageing community), they are pondering “wool production, a dark-sky observatory, camping sites and new housing on the moor.” As with most moors, they want to restore and rewet the peat bogs, (according to the article, this will provide a home for hen harriers!) as well as restoring woodland by planting native trees – which is a step up from Sitkas.

Does the government want to save the capercaillie, or reintroduce the lynx?

But the question in all of this is, what do the government actually want, or want to encourage, when it comes to nature? We all know that so red and amber listed species actively choose to live on grouse moors because of the management and predator control that is carried out. Rewilding enthusiasts often choose to leave nature to its own devices (except for when deer are eating their trees!), meaning in many cases, we end up with situations like at the RSPB's Lake Vyrnwy, where the lack of predator management means that they have lost much of their bird life. Black grouse, curlew, lapwing; when it was managed as a grouse moor they had plenty of all of these. Now, they have all disappeared – and the RSPB are begging for more money so they can 'fix' the situation.

So what does the government want to see? What are their real aims with their nature recovery plan? Rewilding is all very well, and there is certainly benefit in planting connected areas of native, broadleaf woodland, which will benefit woodland wildlife including the red squirrel – which desperately needs our help. But even in the case of the red squirrel, management (ie grey squirrel removal) is vital. Do we simply want wildlife 'targets' based on numbers, and allowing wildlife to do its own thing? Or a logically and carefully constructed wildlife plan that would, yes, probably include predator control. But a plan that would also encourage and protect the threatened species that most need our help – rather than simply playing a numbers game.


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