Patterns and disconnections in nature


It’s been a fabulous period of discovery, ever since we hit on the approach earlier this year of exploring the infra-littoral fringe on rocky coasts during the exceptionally low water of spring tides. Getting the tides right so that we can get far out on rock platforms exposed at low tide to peer into sub-tidal shallows, has added a marvellous new dimension to our enjoyment of the wild nature of the coast in places that we have visited many times before (1,2,3). We are now able, without resorting to snorkelling, to pretty much see almost the full range of zonation of marine species that are characteristic at varying depths of the littoral zone, many of which have to survive the alternate immersion in water and drying in air, and which all have to put up with varying degrees of light and exposure to wave action that rocks them to and fro (4).

Patterns in marine nature

Thus towards the end of June, we set off again for the N. Yorkshire coast, calling in north of Flamborough to see the sea bird colonies of kittiwakes, razorbills, fulmars and guillemots breeding on the limestone cliffs (5). There were a few puffins as well, but it was away from their burrows, in a towering arch to the cliffs at North Landing that we able to get close enough at last to hear clearly the murmuring sounds that puffins make (hear it in (6)). A couple of days later, we were out on the sub-tidal fringe of the rock platform below White Nab, just south of Scarborough, peering into gently waving kelp in 60cm of water and counting the sea urchins (Echinus esculentus) attached to the submerged rock. This was a thrilling discovery. The day before, we had seen just one sea urchin clinging to a vertical rock edge just above the water at Bulmer Steel Hole, north of Robin Hood’s Bay. It promptly dropped off into the sea, but not before we had been able to recognise the characteristic short spines and the darker radial lines on the pinkish-red shell (7). It was an unexpected find, since you don’t think to see sea urchins out of the water, even at very low tides, because sea urchins are grazing omnivores that feed off young kelp and marine encrusting invertebrates (8) the kelp of course being a sub-tidal species. The shallow, low tide inlets that infiltrate the rock edges below White Nab, and which are filled with kelp, were a much better prospect as the right habitat, and we stopped counting sea urchins when we got to 20. Further up the coast, out on the rock edge of North Batts near Saltwick Nab, south of Whitby, we almost trod on and squashed vaguely disgusting 4-6cm long brownish blobs laying on the seaweed. When they moved, revealing wing-like flaps along the body and smallish rhinophores (tentacles) on what could have been a head, we knew they had to be some sort of sea slug, and so it proved that they were sea hares (Aplysia punctate) named as they fancifully resemble brown hares (9). They are hermaphroditic herbivorous molluscs, their body colour varying during their lifetime between red, brown or green, depending on the colour of the seaweed they eat. North Batts is a favourite place to watch waves in winter, but it is also one of the better places to see the blazing pink of encrusting coralline seaweed (Lithophylum incrustan) and which is mostly found in the shallows at the far out edges of the tidal range.

The sea hares were a connection with our next foray a few weeks ago out on the rock edges at spring low tide when we found orange and pink chains of sea hare eggs forming spaghetti-like masses on top of the seaweeds on the rock edges at Saltpan Rocks, just up from Cocklawburn Beach towards Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. If we had had a magnifying glass, we would have been able to see the individual eggs inside each filament of the spaghetti (10). The sub-tidal shallows here yielded the pinky orange colour of many starfish (Asterias rubens (11)) a scavenging carnivore found at several depths, sometimes, I have found out, in astonishingly dense and large aggregations (12). As we had found was a characteristic of the sub-tidal shallows of the Pembrokeshire coast (3) there were also here the red seaweeds of dulse (Palmaria palmata (13,14)) and the leathery and liver-coloured red flags (Dilsea carnosa (15)) the fleshy or meaty translation of the species name aptly describing the slightly disturbing colour of this seaweed. We also learnt a new seaweed in Irish Moss or Carrageen (Chondrus crispus) a dark purplish-red seaweed with many flat, multiply branched fronds (16). While we noticed it first in the sub-tidal pools, it then seemed to crop up out of the water and in yellow to green colours. Dulse and red flags were also in the sub-tidal shallows off Annstead Rocks, between Beadnell and Seahouses, as well as a variety in the kelps, so that it was not just the common kelp or oarweed (Laminaria digitate) but also the single, crinkled frond of sugar kelp (Saccharine latissima) and what we now take to be the many-fingered cuvie (Luminaria hyperborea). We found numerous spreading colonies of the green form of breadcrumb sponge (Halichondria panacea) lying flat on submerged rocks in the sub-tidal shallows, as well as in the shade on the vertical surface of exposed narrow rock channels. Our previous finds of breadcrumb sponge elsewhere have mostly been of the orange form on the underside of rocks that were less far out, and in sea caves (1, 17). There was a single frond brown seaweed with a midrib that we confused with sugar kelp, but it is dabberlocks (Alaria esculenta (18)) although few seem in good condition, as many are tattered and torn, sometimes leaving just the midrib (19). We also confirmed that the prolific, fluffy growth of red seaweed, similar to dulse, that we saw growing on the stems of kelp here and in other places was actually that, the ephytic growth of red seaweed, especially dulse, is known on the older stipes of oarweed and especially cuvie (20-22). They may have just been outliers, but there were also a couple of kelp plants growing in the slightly deeper sub-tidal pools that had huge fronds, it being difficult to separate their leathery brown fingers under the water, if indeed they had any.

Concentric zones of colonization

There was a zoning of a different sort in the dune slacks amongst the dunes of The Snook on Holy Island. As I exclaimed years ago (23) it is one of nature’s surprises in this arid landscape of sand dunes that some of the slacks or hollows can hold water all summer, and that their wetland vegetation provides a striking contrast to the dryland species of the surrounding low and high dunes - where else would you see the candy pink and white flowers of restharrow (Ononis repens) growing only a few centimetres away from marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris)? We search out particular plants, like the Lindisfarne dune helleborine (Epipactis sancta) in the dry areas, and in the wetter areas, marsh helleborine, marsh orchids (Dactylorhiza sp.) the bluish-pink of seaside centaury (Centaurium littorale) the bright yellowish green of the leaves of the carnivorous butterwort that looks like a terrestrial starfish (Pinguicula vulgaris) the scented flowers of valerian (Valeriana officinalis) big patches of the cream flowered meadow sweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and the veined white flowers of Grass of Parnassus (Parnassus palustrus). Oddly, there is a colony on a sand mound of the white flowers of round leaved wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia) a flower we have only seen elsewhere in woodland in Slovenia. It is the wetter areas, though, that draw us in, and a new finding was marsh cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) which fortunately had finished flowering as it has an unpleasant smell that attracts flies.

The dune slacks this time were the wettest we have ever seen them, large areas of turf that were still marshy and covered in marsh helleborines, and the smaller of the sump-like slacks, all sizes of which are waterlogged during winter, had not even dried out by July. All the sump-like slacks have a stunning zonation of colours through greens and yellowish-greens from the different vegetation at the edge of the water-logged slack into the centre, these concentric zones of colonization arising from the water being deeper and retained longer in the deeper, central parts where there can be patches of open water. The sump-like slacks at The Nook are classed as being at an immature stage in dune-slack succession, this condition being maintained by the disturbance resulting from episodes of shallow flooding in winter, followed by drying-out in the summer (24). Their vegetation is classed as the knotted pearlwort - marsh bryum (Sagina nodosa - Bryum pseudotriquetrum) community, but in amongst that are a range of sedges, rushes and grasses, as well as the disc-shaped leaves of marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris). The latter along with the little white flowers of knotted pearlwort are the easier plants to identify, but the water-logged state means you won’t see me tramping out from the edge, disturbing the vegetation, to get a better look. As long as they stay water-logged, they offer a contrast to other, less wet but still marshy turfed slack communities on The Nook where creeping willow (Salix repens spp. Argentea) is more common, but this is where you will see the masses of marsh helleborine.

Hydrology plays a large part in the patterns of nature on these dunes, as it does in the tidal and near sub-tidal zones of the coast. I don’t think the inexorability of planetary rotation is going to change any time soon, and so we can expect the daily rise and fall of the sea and its effect on light levels and desiccation for marine nature to continue. These dune slack habitats do vary though and are open to change, the latter through maturation resulting from accumulation of wind-blown sand or changes in inundation, both leading to a drier state and which will result in a change in the communities of species growing there, as in the difference between the marshy turf slacks and slump-like slacks. As you can imagine, great efforts have been put into linking the hydrology to the ecology of wet dune slacks, which is fascinating in itself for appreciating the diversity in their patterns of nature, and for understanding what external threats from human activity exist and can be prevented, but the underlying objective of these efforts is as always to cut across even wild nature and hold it in stasis (24,25). However, the larger the area we can give over to nature protection, the easier it will be to isolate it from external threats, while at the same time there will be sufficient space to allow for natural changes or cycles so that it is more resilient to acute loss of habitat.

Disconnections in nature values

It seems to have become a habit in opening these articles of recounting the wild nature I have seen in the intervening weeks. Partly it is a further exploration of nature connectedness, but it is also about the importance of articulating the values of wild nature that I see and enjoy. Perhaps sensitive this time to the intention to put it into a context, I have been more expansive than usual. It is, however, an absolutely necessary counter to the grinding out of the wildness that passes for nature protection here. I have been documenting that high handed action of the conservation industry and the damage it does for many years, the issues at stake at many locations being depressingly familiar. I would say, from that experience, that it is a steep learning curve for local people who instinctively distrust and then object, having to learn about and be able to challenge the onslaught of funded works that are contentious. The trouble is, because of the sheer burden of this, and considering the massive disproportion of resources available to those with the funding behind them, less time is spent articulating the values at stake for local people. Instead, a common argument is heard that the resistance of local people would be overcome if only there was greater communication and understanding of the proposed works. I would absolutely refute that facile assumption. In relation to nature connectedness, there appears to be a disconnection when both sides of an argument claim that they have the best interests of nature at heart. This begs the question of whether both sides are looking at the same nature: does one side come with preconceptions of what should be done, and has the power to enforce that; does the other side take on arguments about nature, but these are a means to forestall change; or is nature perceived differently depending on various abstractions, motivations, or connectedness to place?

I can briefly illustrate this disconnect by way of two examples of contention. I’ve enjoyed walking the ancient woodland of Forge Valley near Scarborough for some years, looking for the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) toothwort (Lathrea squamaria) and broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) occasionally venturing north into Raincliffe Woods. For a while, I kept up with a Friends group for Raincliffe, their aim being to get Scarborough Council, the owners, to put a bit of effort into the amenity of the woodland. A few months ago, I caught a local TV news story about destruction in Raincliffe Woods. It made me chase up the story, finding first that the Friends website had disappeared, and instead a Save Raincliffe Woods website popped up (26). In short, Scarborough Council had considered two proposals, one from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and the other from Raincliffe Woods Community Enterprise (which the Friends had transmuted into) to take over management of the woodlands of Raincliffe, Forge Valley and Row Brow (27). The council chose to transfer Raincliffe and Forge Valley Woods to the Community Enterprise as a Community Asset Transfer on a 30 year lease, with the understanding that one of its activities would be “generating sustainable income from timber sales” (28). I have to say that the option of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust would not have been any better, since they have recently appointed a new woodland officer with a remit to extract woodfuel for sale from all the woods they manage (and see (29)). It was not long before there were rumblings about the extent of damage from the felling, which to many seemed to be destroying what they enjoyed about the woods and which was at odds with the alleged restoration of the woods (30). The inevitable bigger access track for machinery was constructed through the middle of the woods while there were no signs of any broadleaf trees being planted where trees have been felled, and there was the usual justification for the high impact of forestry operations despite the horror of its disruption (see these videos (31,32,33)).

The issues at stake at Raincliffe are depressingly familiar: a Friends group that on the back of a whack of funding transmutes into a damaging force, often supported by an NGO with its own particular agenda, in this case the Woodland Trust and the restoration of ancient woodland, an issue that the Trust seeks to make its own preserve (34). The actions of Scarborough Council in offloading responsibility for a public asset to an unaccountable, non-public body is also depressingly familiar (see Blacka Moor (35)). My suspicion is also, from previous experience, that there is likely a pervasive influence that certain individuals appear to have exerted over the years in shaping conservation thought and action in Raincliffe. However, the disconnect here is not just about the admiration of the heavy machinery of tree harvesters and their efficiency by supporters of the Community Enterprise set against the sense of place of the Save group, it is the astounding vitriol that the Save group, its website and Facebook page, receives on the Community Enterprise Facebook page, and the childish act of a few Community Enterprise supporters in setting up a “real” Save Raincliffe Facebook page (36-38). I asked the hard question of what was the motivation behind the Save groups objection. The reply was that the purpose of the group was simply that, to “SAVE what we have already, but what underlies this threatens every aspect of our lives, landscapes and freedoms”. The bitterness from a bullying minority is certainly a threat to freedoms, and it’s no wonder that the Save group feel that the public is being misled and robbed at the same time, when the Community Asset Transfer was just a means of turning a public amenity into a commercial asset. It was thus with some trepidation that I walked Forge Valley woodlands in late June, and saw the pink spots and crosses painted on trees, the haphazard amateurism of felling, its failure because of the re-growing of sycamore, the straggle of conifers abandoned after felling that are strewn over a limestone edge, and the unnecessary clearance and widening of paths that was destroying some of the botanical interest. It was the lack of sensitivity of all this that makes the Community Enterprise unfit to be managing what is a National Nature Reserve. If you think so too, then show some support for the Save group (33,36).

A perversity that fuels the disconnect

A second example is from the New Forest where, a few years ago, I remarked on an unusual arrangement in which the Forestry Commission, a non-ministerial government department that is barred from receiving agri-environment subsidy, was trousering many millions from a Higher Level Stewardship agreement to continue a program of wetland restoration in the Forest, initiated under an earlier EU LIFE-Nature project (39). The premise of this restoration is that drainage works in previous centuries had altered the course of many water systems in the Forest, and that these should be restored to a more natural physical, geomorphological and hydrological regime. The justification given is that the restoration would remove instability and erosion and be good for wildlife and its habitat, and was anyway an obligation on the Forestry Commission to remove the man-made alterations to drainage because these water courses were within areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). However, local people could only look on aghast as the next area in the restoration program fell under the disruptive actions that saw substantial tree felling justified on the grounds of clearing for access of heavy machinery, the importing of massive tonnages of sandy gravel and clay as an inappropriate infilling of existing channels, and the digging out of what were purported to be the original water courses (40). It is not beyond the wit of most people to realise that this level of disruption is tantamount to destroying the existing nature value of these locations, but with an untested expectation that it would return in some way enhanced. That is the disconnect.

It was this gloomy prospect that mobilised local people who valued the nature of Latchmore Brook, where restoration is soon scheduled, to challenge the inexorability of this damage by documenting the failures of the earlier restorations in the program, while enunciating what is distinctive about the wild nature of the Brook. The Friends of Latchmore (FoL) have succinctly laid out their concerns (41) and see the otter, southern damselfly, sea trout, brook lamprey, eel, smooth snake and other reptiles, and many species of birds, fungi, beetles and butterflies, and know that these will be driven away (42-44). A video with Prof. John Shepherd details some of the values that FoL consider at risk, before going on to comprehensively question the works in a way that indicates that the disconnect lays within those operating the statutory system (45). While this doesn’t absolutely resolve who is right about the science, it does connote a contrast in terms of the insensitivity to disruption/destruction that the conservation industry has in pursuing what it considers the right outcome, as it does a difference in confidence in whether the works will achieve the outcome assigned to them. FoL also sees the hydrologic failures at the sites that have been restored thus far (46,47) the loss of fish life due to the shallowness of channels dug with heavy machinery, and the lack of shade from trees and shrubs, leading to the water being too warm for the fish and most aquatic creatures - and there is no shelter from predation (48,49). They have garnered critical support in the form of a report that challenges the basis of much of the proposed work at Latchmore (50) as well as from Desmond Swayne, the local MP, who recommends that people should walk the Brook to see for themselves what is at stake, warning against “state funded vandals” changing the Brook's character, and that there were better uses for the funding (51, 52).

The contention at Latchmore is a sorry story of an overweening conservation industry, a cosy stitch up between the New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission, and the Verderers of the New Forest, as partners in the agri-environment funding, and a flush of money that allows them to play it big with millions in funding. However, the repeated challenges to the makeshift and piecemeal way that characterised the early restorations means that now, in the case of Latchmore, the restoration requires a planning application by the Forestry Commission for the proposed works and which has to be accompanied by an Environment Impact Assessment. I’ve just objected to a planning application for development in a disused reservoir on the open moor above me that was first trashed for its stone, the applicant looking for justification on the basis of exceptions in the National Planning Policy Framework, but it was just a very poor application that did little in the way of making a convincing case for the exceptions, especially the naïve and weak ecological report (53). I got the same feeling from reading the non-technical summary of the Environmental Statement accompanying the planning application (54) and especially the chapter on ecology in the full Environmental Statement (55). So much of the disturbance and direct habitat loss described in the latter is shrugged off on the presumption that the works will result in a net gain for ecology. It is unconvincing as a justification to point to the preceding works in the program, since these cannot have had a sufficient time span for benefits to become apparent and, as is documented by FoL, there is significant evidence of failure even in the hydrological realignments from which we are to presume so much else flows. What about the loss of trees?! It’s going to be decades before the multiple role that trees currently play in the ecology of the Brook is reinstated. Just reading one of the objections to this planning application details much of its faulty logic (56). There is also the inevitable bullying to determine the outcome in the non-technical summary of the Environmental Statement on the back of the SSSI designation, when it says the Forestry Commission has a legal responsibility to carry out the restoration (54):
“It is important to note that Natural England has identified the SSSI Units in the Latchmore Brook catchment as being ‘recovering’ due to the Latchmore Wetland Restoration project which is proposed by the FC. If the restoration is not implemented the SSSI Units will revert to being classed as ‘unfavourable no change’ or ‘unfavourable declining’”

For years, I have railed at the presumption of Natural England that the evaluation of a unit in a SSSI can be changed to “recovering” even before the ink is dry on the Higher Level Stewardship agreement, and thus in the absence of any action under that scheme, or in monitoring the outcome of that action. Here it is again in the non-technical summary of the Environmental Statement with Natural England presuming a condition of “recovering” before the “Latchmore Wetland Restoration project” has even got planning permission and thus has not started, nor do they have some power to see in to the future that there will be a successful outcome after the restoration. The particular attributes of the streams of the New Forest SSSI, their nutrient-poor, acid waters, their associated plant community, fish, invertebrates, assemblage of birds, and their use by otters, are noted in the citation for the designation (57). I can’t be sure if the Brook was part of the original designation in 1959, but if it was, it begs the question of why, 56 years later, this issue of wetland restoration there has become so important? If you want to put a stop to the perversity that arises from such cosy stitch ups, awash with funding, and which fuels the disconnect, consider making an objection online to the planning application by 2 September 2016 (58) or make a donation to FoL to help fund their legal challenges (59).

Disconnections and wilful ignorance

There is another type of disconnect that is typified by the soft journalism of those who fail to engage with issues other than at a superficial level, and who rarely get much above passing on popular fashions in thinking (and see later) or churning out the latest press release from the conservation industry. These are dangerous people as their failings not only keep themselves in ignorance, but everyone else. A couple of years ago, I wrote about finding, unusually, a newspaper article that was comprehensible about trophic cascades. As a guest writer, comedian John Finnemore had put environmental journalists (and the conservation industry) to shame when he used the analogy of a trophic cascade between sea otters, crabs, sea slugs and sea-grass beds on the Pacific Coast of California to question the ecological illiteracy of the badger cull here (60). I have only had to wait two years for that newspaper’s science editor to come up with another article on trophic cascades, also on sea otters, but this time in their effects in maintaining kelp forests around the Aleutian Islands through predating on sea urchins (61)(and see above). The very next day, there was a puff piece in its sister newspaper, where Patrick Barkham, a natural history writer, bigged up the outcome of the “rewilding” that had taken place at Knepp, Charlie Burrell’s farm in Sussex, and which had been “inspired by Frans Vera, a Dutch rewilding ecologist" (62). Without naming it, Barkham was obviously referring to the Oostvardersplassen (OVP) in the Netherlands with which Vera is associated, the commonality between Knepp and OVP being the free-ranging domestic livestock. Barkham sought to portray the heavily subsidised Knepp as a panacea for the future of farming - that you could still get meat production from this “rewilding” in a series of “pop-up Knepps”, as well as the enhancement in habitats. Then Barkham made a fatal error of logic by saying that a future subsidy regime could “enable some farms to be taken out of production for, say, a 25-year period, so there would be a constantly shifting supply of recently “rewilded” areas, providing Knepp’s dynamic mix of meadow and scrub so valuable to wildlife. Productive farmland would never be permanently lost”. But Knepp hasn’t been taken out of production, and the changes that have been seen there are instead a result of a heavily subsidised agricultural extensification, a fall in herbivore pressure from replacing three dairy herds with a few beef cattle and pigs, and giving up arable cultivation. Why would we want to waste money on this when what we need are long term real and permanent gains for wild nature that can’t be overthrown after 25 years?

I left a comment that this was not rewilding as I understood it, and asked the question of how much longer were we going to be misled in this country by a completely bogus and failed vanity project of Frans Vera in the Netherlands, that sticking domestic livestock behind fences in a landscape is rewilding? I also asked how there could on one day be an article on predator-prey interaction in trophic cascades, and then the next this puff piece of ecological illiteracy. Barkham came up with the increasingly used excuse that there are different definitions of “rewilding” and then asked why I thought the OVP was a failure? I addressed that in a further comment to Barkham, but before I go into that, another article appeared the following week in that newspaper, also extolling the virtues of “rewilding” by pointing to the landscape changes at Knepp as well as at Ennerdale as a result of farming activity being scaled back (63). This article also pointed to the OVP where “cattle and horses have been allowed to run wild. The reserve has been steadily changing over the last few decades but on the whole has been growing richer in wildlife”. I commented that I was glad that this article identified the changes at Knepp as being from agricultural extensification, but that is not the case at Ennerdale where cattle were introduced along the valley after felling areas of the plantation forest, allegedly to return a natural process, but if that was the case, why are roe deer being culled (64)? I went on to question the sweeping statement about the OVP "growing richer in wildlife". Then, today, another article appeared in that paper, claiming that the “rewilding” of Knepp was into its second decade, and then implied that the “free-roaming large herbivores” are the agents of change in this “wildland”, driving scrub and wooded grove creation (65).  So that is what the beef cattle behind the fencing at Knepp are called nowadays? When did the existing woodland at Knepp suddenly become wooded groves? I pointed out again that it was the reduction in herbivore pressure, the extensification, that allowed the woody regeneration, and which in wild systems was driven by predators. This is of course not rewilding at Knepp, nor is it wildland, it is still farming. How can Knepp emulate wildland other than as a pathetic and incomplete anthropocentric facsimile?

I have to say that the widespread admiration for the OVP, and its imitators like Knepp and Ennerdale, is an example of a disconnection that is based on a wilful ignorance. I have written before of the enforced starvation of thousands of animals due to resource limitation from the fencing preventing them from migrating to new food sources, the growing concerns about animal welfare, the failed predator model of culling suffering animals, and the establishment of two international committees to assess management of the OVP (66-68). It was always going to be so, and no amount of excuses from Frans Vera about greater carrying capacity, or that situations exist in wild nature where herbivore migration is inhibited, can justify the death of nearly 8,000 animals alone since the winter of 2010-2011 (see the graph in (69)) a turnover of death in only six winters that is over double the peak herbivore population trend during that period (see Fig. 7.1 in (70)). At issue is that the animals, breeding freely, have outstripped the primary capacity of the area of landscape fixed by the fencing so that the winter months, when grass doesn’t grow, are a period of starvation and death for them. This is only relieved by a policy of shooting some of the more obviously suffering animals, and the sight of vehicles gathering up carcasses when the stench gets too bad, and trucking them off to a rendering plant (71). The evidence is there for anyone to find, of a local population that is in horror at this ecological disaster, as witnessed by newspaper reports and the calls to attend meetings and demonstrations (72-83) videos made by local people that document the disaster, the weakened and emaciated deer and the loss of diversity, one of which includes national television coverage (84-86) and the fact that a Foundation for the Welfare of Large Herbivores has been set up in reaction to the plight of all large herbivores used in Nature Development in the Netherlands (87) but giving especial attention and high priority to the “distressing realities” of those in the OVP (88). That Foundation (89) as well as one of the videos (86) details the loss of species resulting from the overgrazing, such that rabbits, hares, moles, toads, and hedgehogs have almost or fully disappeared, and almost every tree and shrub has been destroyed by hungry animals, the video describing the OVP as “a swamp that essentially consists of reedland and a pond with a stark watershed, and a dry barren area where there's nothing left”

Frans Vera and others make great play of the bird population at the OVP, but a report that looked at the period 1997-2012, found a 10-12 fold decrease in the population of breeding birds in the core grazed area, and a drop from 91 to 58 species (90). This density in 2012 in the overgrazed OVP is a factor of 12-14 lower than in a nearby mixed woodland, and a factor of 21 lower than in the reeds, elder thicket and willows around Stork Lake, a short distance away. The report makes a damning conclusion that the density in the OVP is no greater than that which can be found in any large-scale agricultural landscape in Southern Flevoland. Ironically, the report identifies that the major concentrations of breeding territories are where herbivore grazing is at its least, and where the cattle can't trample the nests of ground breeding birds, and especially inaccessible areas such as reed beds or where there are places that are surrounded by water at least in spring. Thus in assessing the impact of the grazing on the vegetation at the OVP and its relation to birds, the authors noted that over a period of ever rising herbivore population and pressure, bird species of grassland and damp brushwood declined from 1990, followed by a decline of species of dry brushwood and thickets at the end of the nineties. Water and wetland species made a brief revival in 2002, due to remodelling of the area at the end of the nineties, where it was wetter, but birds of reed, brushwood, thicket and woodland have declined since 2002.

There is so much else that can be found that attests to the ecological disaster, and it is just wilfully lazy if others don’t look for it, or don’t make the effort to translate it from the Dutch. It is obvious that the trees, shrubs, and their undergrowths, the edges of reedbeds, and the abundance and variety of plants, have been destroyed by overgrazing to such a degree that an enormous decline in diversity has taken place. It has become a classic example of plant blindness, a situation where plants are entirely subordinate to the animal and bird life at the OVP (91). Plants don’t move, and so for the simple minded, it is the gawp factor of the spectacle of masses of animals at the OVP, as I often note of these open air zoos, of a herbivore-obsessed “rewilding without predators” (92). In reality, the OVP is the closest we have in Europe to a demonstration of the ecological meltdown from unrestrained herbivory that was observed on predator-free islands created by the flooding of a valley for a hydroelectric scheme in Venezuela (93,94). The studies set out to find evidence for the green world hypothesis of Hairston, Smith and Slobodkin (95) that stated that the world is green because predators prevent herbivores from becoming abundant enough to destroy vegetation. They monitored the vegetation on nine predator-free islands, and found a hyperabundance of consumers of plant material, howler monkeys, iguanas, and leaf-cutter ants, in the absence of their predators, leading to a severe reduction in the densities of seedlings and saplings of canopy trees, so that mortality of woody plants exceeded their recruitment. The extent of the spiralling down of the vegetation was described thus (94):
The understorey is almost free of foliage, so that a person standing in the interior sees light streaming in from the edge around the entire perimeter. There is almost no leaf litter, and the ground is bright red from the subsoil brought to the surface by leaf-cutter workers. Dead twigs, branches and vine stems from canopy dieback litter the ground, and in places lie in heaps"

Doesn’t the almost complete loss of woodland cover at OVP, and studies that show woodland regeneration there - even where spikey mantle shrubs have been planted -is completely inhibited by the herbivore pressure, desperate for something to eat (66,67) sound similar to what happened on those predator free islands? Doesn’t this show how bogus predator-free "rewilding" with fenced-in herbivores is, as well as Vera's theory about landscapes and woodland development being driven by herbivores? How long is the disconnect between the fantasy and the reality of the OVP going to be perpetuated?

Be sure that the OVP, Ennerdale and pop-up Knepps will be submitted in evidence by the herbivore-driven “rewilding without predators” fantasists as models for receiving agricultural subsidy in the inquiry by the Environmental Audit Committee into “the future of funding for biodiversity and agri-environment schemes ……. and the role that managed rewilding can play in conservation and restoration”(96). Since I have never heard of “managed rewilding” before, I contacted the Environmental Audit Committee to ask what it meant, and have not received a reply, but I can guess where it is going. There was yet another paper published recently that drew together the many re-definitions of “rewilding” (67,92) but “managed rewilding” was not amongst them (97). However, the author considered there was a danger that amongst an expanding list of actions on conservation intervention, like this plethora of supposed “rewilding”, policy makers could choose “perceived ‘coolness’, or political acceptability, whereas the risks of unforeseen consequences are overlooked”. The ecological disaster at the OVP, and the disconnect over what is its reality, is not cool, nor is it politically acceptable, and the consequences were easily foreseen. Indeed, a study published seven years ago modelled the starvation mortality of the Konik horses in the OVP due to overexploitation of resources (98). The authors chose that population, which they described as "living under these rather artificial conditions" of a closed habitat and in the absence of predation, because the winter mortality had been a key subject of the first international committee on management at the OVP (see above). Their model predictions for total population size agreed with the observed abundance of Konik horses at that time, and the outlook for their future, given the level of overgrazing, was grim:
"we would expect population collapses, in which 20–40% of all individuals die, to occur regularly"

Mark Fisher 12, 20 August 2016

(1) Coastal cliff system instability – a natural disturbance or manmade? Self-willed land March 2016

(2) Unfinished business on rewilding - a comparison between Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe, Self-willed land May 2016

(3) One more step towards the trial release of lynx, Self-willed land June 2016

(4) Biological zones, The Marine Life Information Network

(5) Flamborough Head SSSI, Natural England

(6) Atlantic Puffin · Fratercula arctica, Xeno-canto Foundation - Sharing bird sounds from around the world

(7) Edible sea urchin (Echinus esculentus) The Marine Life Information Network

(8) Species Information for Echinus esculentus, BIOTIC - Biological Traits Information Catalogue

(9) A sea hare (Aplysia punctata) The Marine Life Information Network

(10) Egg hunting in the Cornish rock pools, Heather Buttivant 3 March 2016

(11) Common starfish (Asterias rubens) The Marine Life Information Network

(12) Species Information for Asterias rubens, BIOTIC - Biological Traits Information Catalogue

(13) Palmaria palmata. The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae

(14) Species Information for Palmaria palmata, BIOTIC - Biological Traits Information Catalogue

(15) Red rags (Dilsea carnosa) The Marine Life Information Network

(16) Chondrus crispus. The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae

(17) The malady of conservation reliance, Self-willed land October 2015

(18) Alaria esculenta. The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae

(19) Species Information for Alaria esculenta. BIOTIC - Biological Traits Information Catalogue

(20) Oarweed (Laminaria digitata) The Marine Life Information Network

(21) Laminaria hyperborea. The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae

(22) Tangle or cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea) The Marine Life Information Network

(23) Gardening for nature - management of our national nature reserves, Self-willed land August 2006

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(25) Survey and analysis of vegetation and hydrological change in English dune slack habitats. Natural England Commissioned Report NECR153. 2014

(26) Save Raincliffe Woods


‎(28) Raincliffe Woods handed over to community group by the council, The Scarborough News 21 January 2015

(29) The free for all of trophic rewilding, Self-willed land January 2016

(30) Tree felling in Raincliffe Woods sparks concern among the public, Susan Stephenson, The Scarborough Evening News 22 Oct 2015

(31) So, this is woodland restoration? Save Raincliffe Woods 20 March 2016

(32) John Bradley‎ to Save Raincliffe Woods 14 March 2016

(33) Save Raincliffe Woods – Petition to Robert Goodwill MP and ScarboroughBorough Council

(34) Raincliffe Woods wildlife to benefit from £100,000 biodiversity grant. WREN News 10 July 2015

(35) Blacka Moor in peril from the conservation professionals, Self-willed land December 2005

(36) Save Raincliffe Woods, Facebook

(37) Raincliffe Wood Community Enterprise, Facebook

(38) Save Raincliffe Woods - for real, Facebook

(39) The moral corruptness of Higher Level Stewardship, Self-willed land August 2013

(40) Dreadful damage sparks rallying cry, Karen Bate, Forest Journal 1 October 2015

(41) Overview, Friends of Latchmore

(42) Birds, Friends of Latchmore

(43) Dragonflies and Damselflies, Friends of Latchmore

(44) Fish, Friends of Latchmore

(45) Latchmore Brook 'Restoration' : Why we oppose it John Shepherd, Friends of Latchmore 28 May 2012

(46) NORTH SLUFTERS - PART 2 (One of a series of Papers on the Progress of the Works - August to October 2014) Friends of Latchmore 31 October 2014

(47) Another Forestry Commission “restoration”, Friends of Latchmore 24 June 2015

(48) The role of riparian shade in controlling stream water temperature in a changing climate, Forest Research

(49) Concerns about Other “Restorations”, Friends of Latchmore

(50) On the management of the New Forest (SSSI, SPA, SAC & Ramsar site), Hampshire, UK, with reference to proposals to re-align Latchmore Brook, Tom Langton May 2013

(51) Help me stop stream in-fill plan, Desmond Wayne, Salisbury Journal 14 July 2016

(52) MP hits out at FC's plan to bring back wetland, Ben Craig, Advertsiser and Times 6 August 2016

(53) Comments for Planning Application 16/04799/FUL. Dr Mark Fisher 19 July 2016

(54) Latchmore Wetland Restoration Environmental Statement: Non-Technical Summary. Prepared by LUC and associated Sub-Consultants July 2016

(55) Chapter 7 Ecology. In Latchmore Wetland Restoration Environmental Statement Volume 1: Main Report Prepared by LUC and associated Sub-Consultants July 2016

(56) DR F MACDONALD. Latchmore Planning Application (Ref. 16/00571) 9 August 2016

(57) New Forest SSSI, Natural England

(58) Make a Comment - Application Ref. 16/00571, Planning, New Forest National Park Authority

(59) Stop destruction of New Forest habitat, crowdjustice

(60) Ecological consequence of predator removal, Self-willed land July 2014

(61) How sea otters help save the planet, Robin Mckie, Observer 10 July 201

(62) Rewilding could be the way to save Britain’s farms, Patrick Barkham, Guardian 11 July 2016

(63) The Dartmoor lynx has ‘rewilded’ itself. Should Britain follow suit? Keith Kirby, Guardian 17 July 2016

(64) Large carnivores as the focal species for reinstatement of natural processes in Britain, Self-willed land November 2014

(65) Purple emperor is the jewel of the wildland, Claire Stares, Guardian 12 August 2016

(66) The challenge of Lost Island - making ourselves wilder, Self-willed land September 2014

(67) A challenge to Rewilding Britain, Self-willed land August 2015

(68) Critique of herbivore-driven “rewilding” Mark Fisher, Wildland Research Institute 26 November 2015

(69) Oostvaardersplassen: 1 op de 3 dieren dood, omroep flevoland 28 mei 2016

(70) Vegetatie, vogels, grote herbivoren en recreatie in de Oostvaardersplassen. Verslag monitoring periode 1 mei 2015 t/m 30 april 2016. Staatsbosbeheer 5 juli 2016

(71) Gastblogger Martijn de Jonge onthult: Kringloop Natuur Oostvaardersplassen eindigt bij destructiebedrijf, Climategate ONTHULLEND OVER NATUUR, MILIEU, WETENSCHAP, ENERGIE & ECONOMIE OKTOBER 15, 2014

(72) Oostvaardersplassen: oernatuur of mislukt natuurpark? EenVandaag 11 MRT 2010

(73) 'Diersterfte Oostvaardersplassen onverteerbaar', Toine Heijmans, de volkskrant 1 november 2010

(74) Onnodig lijden van dieren in Oostvaardersplassen onacceptabel, Partij voor de Dieren 22-01-2013

(75) Almere: Hoe zit het met de natuur in de Oostvaardersplassen?  Nyckle de Jong, dichtbij 12 april 2013

(76) GEEN bescherming van de Dierenbescherming voor de dieren in de Oostvaardersplassen en de Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen, Voordierenblogger dinsdag 23 april 2013

(77) Oproep: grote stille tocht tegen het uithongeren van duizenden dieren in de Oostvaardersplassen, Voordierenblogger maandag 3 februari 2014

(78) Persbericht: kom het zien! De nieuwe film 'Wildernix' over de 'Killing Fields' van de 'Killing Fields' van de Oostvaardersplassen, Voordierenblogger zaterdag 22 maart 2014

(79) Demonstratie tegen dierenleed in Oostvaardersplassen, piep vandaag - Nieuws & Opinie Dier, Natuur 24 July 2014

(80) Oostvaardersplassen, Voordierenblogger zaterdag 22 maart 2014

(81) Nieuw drama Oostvaardersplassen dreigt, Hoefslag Okt 16, 2014

(82) Lijden van grote grazers in Oostvaardersplassen onaanvaardbaar, Hoefslag Mrt 2, 2015

(83) Kritiek Oostvaardersplassen laait weer op, EenVandaag 19 SEP 2016

(84) Dutch Nature Reserve 'The Oostvaardersplassen' True Nature? (subtitled) D. van Dierenvriend, YouTube 15 February 2013

(85) Verzwakt en uitgehongerd Hert in de Oostvaardersplassen, D. van Dierenvriend, YouTube Apr 26, 2013

(86) De nieuwe Wildernix/The New WilderMess (subtitled) Sjoerd Schaper. YouTube 25 September 2013

(87) The revisionism of the conservation industry – expanding the noosphere in Britain, March 2012

(88) Stichting Welzijn Grote Grazers

(89) Diploma Oostvaardersplassen. Sub Committee on Culture, Diversity and Heritage of the European Council. Stichting Welzijn Grote Grazers 18 maart 2014

(90) Broedvogels van de buitenkaadse Oostvaardersplassen in 1997-2012. Willem van Manen, Sovon-rapport 2013/30

(91) Wandersee, J.H & Schussler, E.E. (2001) Toward a Theory of Plant Blindness, Plant Science Bulletin 47: 2-8

(92) Trophic occupancy and the rehabilitation of the meaning of rewilding, April 2016

(93) Terborgh, J., Lopez, L., Nunez, P., Rao, M., Shahabuddin, G., Orihuela, G., Riveros, M., Ascanio, R., Adler, G.H., Lambert, T.D. and Balbas, L., (2001) Ecological meltdown in predator-free forest fragments.Science,294(5548), pp.1923-1926

(94) Terborgh, J., Feeley, K., Silman, M., Nuñez, P., & Balukjian, B. (2006). Vegetation dynamics of predator‐free land‐bridge islands. Journal of Ecology, 94(2), 253-263

(95) Hairston, N.G., Smith, F.E. & Slobodkin, L.B. (1960) Community structure, population control, and competition. American Naturalist 94: 421–424

(96) Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum inquiry launched, Commons Select Committee

(97) Corlett, R. T. (2016). Restoration, Reintroduction, and Rewilding in a Changing World. Trends in ecology & evolution, 31(6), 453-462

(98) De Roos, A. M., Galic, N., & Heesterbeek, H. (2009) How resource competition shapes individual life history for nonplastic growth: ungulates in seasonal food environments. Ecology 90: 945-960