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Wednesday, 26 August 2020 09:35

New rewilding network aims to boost nature on 300,000 acres

A new network from charity Rewilding Britain aims to spearhead a massive and rapid rewilding across Britain, in its first three years aiming to catalyse the return of nature to 300,000 acres, an area the size of Greater Manchester or the North York Moors National Park.

rewilding frogThe charity's new Rewilding Network will aim to create a rewilding snowball effect by bringing together hundreds of people from across Britain – including landowners, farmers, land managers, community groups and local authorities – who are rewilding land or considering doing so.

They launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise £25,000 to cover the Network's start-up costs – including the creation of an online resource offering individual support, videos and webinars, and for strengthening connections between rewilding projects countrywide - and it achieved its target and a few thousand more in just one week!

Rewilding Britain says bold action is needed to reverse the collapse in UK wildlife, which has left 56% of species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction, and to tackle climate breakdown. Red squirrels, capercaillie, and pollinating insects such as the great yellow bumblebee are among many species facing a bleak future, while returns or rebounds of species like beavers, sea eagles and pine martens are happening slowly.

"We need to hit the reset button for our relationship with the natural world, and rebuild our lives and economies in ways that keep nature and us healthy," said Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain's Chief Executive.

rewilding website image"Our Rewilding Network will help propel rewilding to a whole new level – so we can all begin to enjoy a Britain rich in wildlife again, with healthy living systems soaking up millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, and our lives enriched by wild nature and strong resilient communities, regenerative farms and nature-friendly businesses."

The charity say that interest in rewilding has boomed and is at levels never seen before. Rewilding Britain is now receiving unprecedented levels of requests for guidance. Over the last year alone, this has included over 50 landowners and partnerships with almost 200,000 acres of land between them, and thousands of smaller-scale land managers, gardeners, individuals and local groups.

The many farms and projects liaising with Rewilding Britain include Wild Ken Hill farm in Norfolk, which is rewilding 1,000 acres – alongside managing 2,000 acres of regenerative agriculture and 500 acres of freshwater marsh – to benefit people, wildlife and the climate. It aims to show how rewilding can improve air and water quality, and help farmers reinvigorate their businesses.

In Dumfries and Galloway, the Langholm Initiative charity aims to create a new nature reserve on Langholm Moor by purchasing 10,500 acres of wildlife-rich and culturally important land – jointly valued at £6 million – from Buccleuch Estates, in one of Scotland's largest community buyouts.

But while increasing numbers of people across the country want to rewild or help others rewild, there are many who don't know how to get started, lack information or don't know if others in their area are also rewilding. Rewilding Britain has already been connecting up landowners in an informal way in places such as Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Yorkshire and southern Scotland, and the potential for collaborating and sharing ideas is clear.

rewilding Wild Ken HillThose with land – farmers, charities, government bodies and others – often also need support to get things set up for nature to recover in a way that also boosts livelihoods. Despite reasonably good advice available for farmers, landowners and land managers about nature-friendly farming, there is currently no coordinated service providing advice on how to rewild and build new enterprises around this.

As the primary 'go-to' rewilding hub, the Rewilding Network will harness the growing enthusiasm for rewilding and support projects of all sizes and all stages of rewilding by providing expert practical help and advice, and being a place for discussion, sharing knowledge and ideas, and developing community action.

Currently under development for a late 2020 launch, the Network will catalyse larger and better-connected rewilding areas, and ensure more opportunities for people to get involved in rewilding – whether on their own land, by setting up local groups, or by volunteering with others.

Much of the Network's information will be free to access. Details of membership subscriptions are currently being worked out through consultation with interested potential members and others.

The charity believe that restoring nature on a huge scale across Britain's land and sea – including native forests and woodlands, peatlands, rivers, moorlands and saltmarshes, while boosting nature-friendly farming – can be achieved without loss of productive farmland.

Rewilding Britain wants rewilding to flourish across Britain – to tackle the climate emergency and extinction crisis, reconnect people with nature, and inspire individuals and communities through new opportunities that help them thrive.

www.rewildingbritain.org.uk

Meanwhile...... Golden eagles breed at Highlands rewilding estate for first time in 40 years

A pair of golden eagles has successfully reared a chick in an artificial nest at Trees for Life's flagship Dundreggan rewilding estate in Glenmoriston between Loch Ness and Skye – marking the first known return of the birds of prey to breed at the Highlands site in 40 years.

The eagle chick flew from the nest for the first time this month – some five years after a Trees for Life team and renowned conservationist Roy Dennis MBE of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation set up an eagle nest or eyrie at a prime location to entice the birds of prey back.

There was no certainty the project would work. Golden eagles build their own nests in remote and inaccessible places, and are highly sensitive to disturbance.

"This is a rewilding success story beyond our wildest dreams. I've been checking the eyrie regularly since we built it in 2015, hoping to see evidence that the eagles had returned – and now they have. As golden eagles may use their nesting sites for generations, we're hoping they are back for the long-term," said Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life's Dundreggan Manager.

rewilding Golden eagle caption copy"Four decades without golden eagles breeding or establishing themselves in this part of our wild and beautiful Highland glen have been four decades too long.

"When we built the artificial nest, we knew it was in a good location for eagles because we found the remains of an old nest at the site. We've been keeping our fingers crossed for the past five years, and it's wonderful that our efforts have paid off like this."

Golden eagles – regarded by many people as Scotland's national bird – are regularly seen over Dundreggan, but until now there has been no sign of them nesting or setting up a territory.

Highland Raptor Study Group member and golden eagle expert Stuart Benn said: "Eagles are undergoing a marked expansion in the Highlands just now, recolonising ground they haven't been on for many years and even colonising some completely new areas."

The golden eagle is the UK's second-largest bird of prey, after the white-tailed eagle. It is native to Britain, but centuries of persecution saw it driven into extinction in England and Wales by the mid-1800s.

The bird has been making a slow recovery in Scotland – though continues to be threatened by illegal persecution, with annual reports of golden eagles being shot, poisoned or having their nests robbed. The fourth national golden eagle survey, published in 2016, showed that Scotland's population of the birds had increased to 508 pairs, a rise of 15 percent since the previous survey in 2003.

With a massive decline in wildlife over recent decades leaving Britain one of the world's most nature-depleted countries, the return of such apex predators – which humans have either driven to extinction or left facing a precarious future – can play a key role in helping nature get back on its feet, including by ensuring a fully functioning food chain.

Trees for Life has been rewilding Dundreggan – including by protecting and expanding fragments of the Caledonian Forest – since its 2008 purchase of the 10,000-acre former deer stalking estate.

This has included restoring golden-eagle-friendly mountaintop forests of tough, waist-high 'wee trees', such as dwarf birch and downy willow. Known as 'montane' species because they can grow near mountain summits despite harsh conditions, these once-common woodlands are now rare in Scotland following centuries of overgrazing by sheep and deer.

A marked rise in black grouse numbers as habitats have recovered has also probably helped the eagles in their breeding attempt, as these are favourite prey for eagles.

Dundreggan is home to over 4,000 plant and animal species – including some never recorded in the UK before or once feared extinct in Scotland.

In June, Trees for Life lodged a detailed planning application with Highland Council for the world's first rewilding centre at Dundreggan, which it plans to open in 2022. The charity expects to welcome over 50,000 visitors annually – allowing people to explore the wild landscapes, discover Gaelic culture, and learn about the region's unique wildlife.

Trees for Life is rewilding the Scottish Highlands. Its volunteers have established nearly two million native trees at dozens of sites, encouraging wildlife to flourish and helping communities to thrive.

www.treesforlife.org.uk