Moving past process to outcome – the manifestation of wild land
The news that sheep were grazing a "wildflower meadow" in Green Park in central London was uniformly met with a positive response, including in a couple of twee BBC videos, one with a nauseating soundtrack (1,2). Black and white archive photographs appeared in a newspaper article of when in 1935 users of Green Park had to share their space with sheep, as though it was a normal thing (3) and it appears it was, as the National Archives holds copies of the sheep grazing agreements on the Park between 1905 to 1939 (4). The sheep were in Green Park now as a week’s trial (21 to 27 August) for the usual orthodox dogma of the conservation industry that their gardening - the “woolly lawnmower mower” effect - will free the wildflowers from “coarse grasses”, which in turn will encourage invertebrates like butterflies (5-8). It was also a massive publicity stunt through the sheep being paraded along the Parks pathways – “commuter sheep” -before reaching their temporary fenced enclosure for a hard days chomping between 9-5pm before being paraded back (9). It was a turning back of the clock to when in the 1920s and 30s, flocks of sheep were regularly seen on London streets as they were herded to and from Hyde Park, Green Park, and Kensington Gardens (10,11). However, the attention they had now must have undoubtedly clouded the issue in the public’s mind of what constitutes wild nature when the Royal Parks labels them “rare and native sheep breeds”, the shepherd from Mudchute Farm where the sheep came from labels them “native breeds”, and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the final partner in this grazing scheme, labels them “rare breed sheep” (6-8).
The grazing scheme is part of The Royal Parks
“Mission: Invertebrate”, an eight-month project based mostly on family
activities and citizen science investigation of invertebrates in the Royal
Parks that has received a grant of £600,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery
(12). The intention is that comparisons will be made between this grazed and
an ungrazed area, but it may allegedly be several months before it is known if
the trial was a success (9). While there no specific details given, such as
the cost for the grazing element of this project, or about its spread to other
parks trailed in newspaper reports, there is this worn-out assertion (13):
Freedom from farming activities
Like many of the assertions deriving from the conservation industry, this one doesn't bear much dissection, but there will inevitably be great claims of success, even though the sheep were only there for a week. What is never acknowledged is that urban Public Parks have come to be seen today as one of the few, accessible places that people have a freedom from farming activities, a freedom denied them in the countryside (see later). Ironically, parks grew out of a paternalism in the 1830s to offer respite to the toiling, manual labour of urban manufacturing, to “promote the health and morality of the people” while at the same time discouraging the “working class” from “recourse to pernicious practices” (14). It was recognised that to provide these “public walks” there needed to be open spaces in the “neighbourhood of some large towns” but that they didn’t need “carriageways”, indicating the intention for pedestrian use only. Even then, though, the suggestion was that the “interior of such open spaces might be beneficially used for grazing and other purposes, whilst they were surrounded by such walks as would afford exercise and recreation to the people”
While the high-profile sheep in Green Park recently were restrained and separated from people by fencing so that the “public walks” were not impacted, they weren't in the 1930s, judging by black and white photographs (3, 10). However, the cattle that are intended to be grazing Richmond Park, perhaps in October, are to have an ““invisible fence” involving electrically activated collars” (3). This sounds like virtual fencing - a means of delineating their space by underground cables signalling an electric shock to collared stock if they stray over it, and which had one of its first public space trials in Epping Forest (15,16). If this takes place at Richmond Park, there will be the inevitable and often controversial mixing of people with livestock (17,18). Is this a softening up, the usual miasma of misconception that sees the gradual erosion of the liberties of people to a freedom from agriculture, and that grazing of public spaces then becomes a norm? That there is a loss of liberty is evident when Brighton and Hove Council instigated sheep grazing on many of its publicly owned spaces, ostensibly because it would be cheaper than the usual park maintenance of mowing (19). More than that, at Wild Park, the council would wreak havoc on the woody vegetation on its dipslope followed by enfencing and grazing with sheep, this being within the usual dogma of recreating chalk grassland (20). Many local people, who enjoyed the wild freedoms of the naturally regenerating Wild Park, were angered at the proposal and raised a petition against it (20). Comments included: "The scrub clearance work is destroying a valuable habitat for wild birds and other flora and fauna….The park is a much-loved, widely-used public resource and should remain unfenced as open space….Barbed wire has no place in a public park….Sheep will curtail people’s freedom to use the park". I am reminded of the essay question I set a couple of years ago on lynx reinstatement where a student suggested that lynx would reduce sheep numbers and bring down the ecological destruction from their overgrazing. I think the student meant it as a natural means of restraining herbivory, in the same way that lynx would have a similar effect on roe deer and their browsing. I had to explain that it probably wasn’t a widely acceptable solution, but I bet it would be a tempting thought for the Wild Park Defenders (21). I will come back some other time to this lack of large carnivores in Britain.
The need for the link between land and income to be broken
The actions of wild nature have no purchase cost, just a will to let land be nature-led. However, the natural processes allegedly reinstated by this fencing and grazing come at a price through either rental, purchase, grants or subsidy. Thus some undisclosed part of the Royal Parks grant of £600,000 will have footed the bill for the temporary fencing and for the shepherd and sheep at Green Park (see above). More of this budget will be taken up when the sheep grazing pops up in other Royal Parks, as it will when the virtual fencing and cattle are installed in Richmond Park. It took a Freedom of Information request to Brighton and Hove council to find out the cost of fencing at Wild Park (£5,000) that each sheep grazing there was hired at 28p a day from Sussex Wildlife Trust, and that in two years a total of £42,000 was spent by the council on hiring hundreds of sheep for grazing in various public locations, while £13,000 was spent transporting the sheep from one location to another (22, 23). It was of course guaranteed that the council would save money by this on park maintenance, because the sheep grazing was a good wheeze to attract agri-environment stewardship money to fund it instead (24) a ploy to attract agricultural subsidies that many local authorities cottoned on to (25). A point was made about the grazing at Wild Park that it was the shepherd at Sussex Wildlife Trust who was making out like a bandit because, as well as the income from sheep rental, he would be selling off the meat that will have been produced from the sheep sucking the life out of the land (23). It is the inevitable and incorrigible multi-layered connection between land and money that always ends up killing wild nature.
It is in this fencing and grazing that so many boundaries are crossed and re-crossed. It points to the need for the link between land and income to be broken, that the land has to have a break from farming, especially from the fake farming that is going on in public parks, to be able to restore and enrich itself. More importantly, this fencing and livestock grazing, the latter often termed “conservation grazing” but more recently in the context of meat production as “holistic planned grazing” (26) is tied up with the most contentious issue facing the trajectory of ecological enrichment, the inability to recognise the need to differentiate between process and outcome. It becomes tedious to be continually ignored on this point, and you have to wonder what the motivation is behind it from those supposedly committed to a presence of wild land?
The drift in the meaning of “rewilding”
Last year, ECOS, the journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists had an issue devoted to the growing pains of “rewilding”(27). I turned down the offer to write something for this issue, as I had nothing good to say about “rewilding” considering the drift there had been in its meaning. I did, however, send Rick Minter, the editor, a link to an introduction on the then-developing POSTnote on ecological restoration (no longer available) as well as my observations on a comparison between “Rewilding” Britain and “Rewilding” Europe (28). Rick replied that he sensed that there were people applying partial and prejudiced interpretations to aspects of “rewilding” according to their comfort zones. He also thought it was a cop-out for the introduction to the POSTnote development to suggest evidence was required for wilding practices, but not for those of traditional nature conservation. Because a spectrum of models must exist, Rick suggested a way forward would be for an outfit with broad influence to produce a typology of “rewilding”. Rick was keen to point out that given the characteristics of each model, people should then be able to recognise the context and local situation for why one of the models amongst the spectrum is being implemented or suggested in any one situation.
I had copied Helen Meech, Director of
“Rewilding” Britain into this email exchange, and she came back with a
framework diagram for “rewilding” that had been in a review of research
produced by Christopher Sandom for the development group that was setting up
“Rewilding” Britain (29). I first met Sandom back in 2012 at the 3rd European
Congress for Conservation Biology, Glasgow, where Steve Carver and I gave a
talk (30). A few of us met at an informal meeting during the Congress to
discuss what we wanted to see out of the 10th World Wilderness Congress in
Salamanca the following year (31). Sandom baldly declared that he knew all
about wilderness, and yet the irony is that he became a mouthpiece for
“Rewilding” Europe at Wild 10 (32). Anyway, Rick was quick to see faults in
the framework. He thought it was a conflation too far to label “low conflict”
with grazing/herbivores and “high conflict” with predators, and that the
directional arrows showing expected effects on ecosystem services could be
contested by some, as much depended on stakeholder attitudes, as well as
individuals' prejudices. I noted that the framework had been in a document
that had been circulated some years before to the development group, and to
which a number of us had made comments. A revised draft of that document was
never circulated, and which could have addressed the issues within the
framework. The examples of models in it weren’t very robust anyway in terms of
criteria, as they were compiled by a student of ours and would have needed
significant updating for entries to have been of any indicative value, let
alone there be any easy consensus on benefits/costs in terms of ecosystem
services. Moreover, the casting of the framework against a backdrop of
ecosystem services saw wild nature only in anthropocentric terms, as a
commodity that could be monetised and even traded (33) and thus obscured a
greater part of the motivation for ecological enrichment, the intrinsic value
of wild nature. John Fowles, in his autobiographical recollections on his
relationship with the wild nature of trees, eloquently sums this up (34):
Rick’s point about “low conflict” and “high conflict” was well made, since it predisposed the reader to a particular judgement about the involvement of animals from different trophic levels in ecological enrichment. The “high conflict” is the nonsense of the critical discourse analysis approach that says that reinstatement of wolves “may obfuscate the clear-cut, purified nature category to which rewilding often aspires” (35) as well as those who determinedly wish to downplay the role of large carnivores in the trophic ecology of Europe (36). Steve was more forthright about the framework when he said “Lose the cow from this diagram and replace by a natural grazer!” He meant a native grazer. My main concern about the framework was in the allocation of examples to categories, as it jarred with its inconsistency, and did not reflect the readily available facts. My suggestion to Helen was that we come up with a matrix-like typology of the wildland spectrum that can be both visual and textual, and which captured both approach and outcome for wild nature from various enrichments. I noted that, ten years ago, I had given a view on outcome based on increasing wildland experience (28) and that Steve had made a start on approach by coming up with a simple typology linked to examples, such as non-intervention at Scar Close, assisted restoration at Carrifran, through to culturally-limited restoration - take your pick for the latter! The discussion went dead after that, but I should note that there were 93 uses of the word “process” in relation to such as “natural processes” and “process restoration” in the document that had the framework diagram. This was to be a harbinger for more of the drift in meaning.
“Rewilding” Britain suborned by the herbivorists
Last year, Steven Robinson wrote an article bemoaning the lack of wild in “rewilding” (37). Steven was critical of Knepp, questioning its commitment to the ethos of wilding because of its senseless predator control, shooting of woodcock, and its receipt of agri-environment subsidy tied to the banality of fencing and cattle grazing, the “conservation grazing” of mainstream conservation (see above) rebadged sometimes as “naturalistic grazing” (38) but which in Knepp’s case has more in common with “wilderculture” (26). The latter is at least honest that it’s about meat production through “holistic planned grazing” by moving livestock around in a way that approximates the spatial distribution effect of the fear of large carnivores, and where “humans act as the predator” through harvesting the livestock, rather than there be large carnivores in the system – it is dubbed as a “predator-less form of rewilding using grazing animals as tools” (26, 39). Unsurprisingly, Charlie Burrell of Knepp responded to the criticism by Steven, suggesting that he had “misunderstood the core principles behind rewilding” and asserting that “‘rewilding’ is ‘process-led’ conservation” based on the theories of Frans Vera (40). It is patently untrue that Steven misunderstands “rewilding” as we have corresponded frequently about experiences of wild land, and together sifted through various evidence strands before he wrote his article (41). I have trashed Knepp so often (ie (42)) that I leave it to the comment that Helen Crabtree left on Charlie’s article, that it was wrong to assume from it that the countryside around Knepp was devoid of wildlife; that instead the wildlife at Knepp should be “considered in the context of the surrounding area!” (42). I would also note that the surrounding area probably didn’t need the millions in subsidy that Charlie receives (28).
I have come to dread that phrase “process-led” as it is further evidence of the slippage towards a herbivorist approach to “rewilding” being pushed to become the norm, and it is no surprise that it is in the common vernacular of “Rewilding” Britain because Charlie is its Chair, and it also appears on the “rewilding” page of the Knepp website (44-46). It also came as no great surprise that “Rewilding” Britain announced that it had signed up to an agreement with “Rewilding” Europe, the latter’s approach as I have often observed is also a “rewilding without predators” that imitates Vera’s unproven theories on the openness of landscapes (47). As his mentor, this is also what Charlie believes, a typical channelling of Frans Vera’s self-serving fantasies - “predators do not, as is commonly believed, directly regulate herbivore populations through predation (essentially, food resources do this)”(48). The ties that bind go on and on, as the agreement between “Rewilding” Britain and “Rewilding” Europe was, of course, signed at Knepp (49) because Knepp is a member of "Rewilding" Europe's European "Rewilding" Network (50). I should tell you that I wear it as a badge of honour that Frans Vera has blocked me on Twitter (51). The problem is that this nonsense is becoming the norm amongst those who really don’t have a grip on what ecological enrichment really means, don’t engage sufficiently in the detail, and who are just latecomers jumping on to the bandwagon. There were two recent examples of such racy ideas, one where the creation of “New Natural Areas” would just end in another open air zoo of curiosity animals, such as plastic aurochs and fake water buffaloes, and a plant blindness that is typical of open habitat species fetishists (52). The other was blindly ignorant of the track record of a wildlife trust in its trashing of wetland, and blithely suggesting that its influence in another wetland would “rewild the river” and would result in “real nature” (53). Peter Cooper, the author of the latter, is not shy in his towering assertions considering his youthfulness, and so it didn’t take much to reveal the inherent misleading in the allegedly “enlightened” approach he asserted was going to be taken by the wildlife trust with this wetland – the use of “large grazing animals” to “help keep scrub at bay and maintain the open wetland habitats” (54). The trouble with these racy ideas is that they are just another spinning of sugar to confect a tower of candyfloss. I do wonder if we are not past the big idea stage when its detail is insignificant, and its reality non-existent - and that is before questioning its ecological literacy, but more of that later.
I mentioned last time that “Rewilding” Britain still couldn’t agree on what a real wild area is (55). A Wild Area Definition was developed and circulated for comment amongst “Rewilding” Britain’s advisory group. It contained two explanatory appendices that followed a similar, successful approach that had been used in the Wild Europe definition document for European wilderness and wild areas (56). A key message came within the Wild Area Definition - that “Rewidling” Britain had to move past process - a duff facet of fake “rewilding”- and on to outcome as the manifestation of wild land, in the same way that self-willed land is a statement of outcome from a lack of human intervention. This very important point should go towards meeting the needs of people who are very uncomfortable with the airy-fairy notion that wilding is about kicking off “processes” that have no end point (i.e. (57,58)). Apart from this being very disingenuous, it also lacks scientific rigor. The importance was also stressed of having a coherency/consistency in implementation towards that manifestation of a wild area, rather than a free for all, irrespective of where the location was, and how people perceived the location. I knew there would be resistance to restrictions on activities specified for the core areas in the Wild Area Definition, as there are those who cannot accept that any human impact diminishes wild land so that restrictions on activity must be accepted for a presence there and, probably more significantly, because those restrictions took away the constant focus on the “process-led” fake “rewilding”. That focus has been an infuriating annoyance ever since I started out on this advocacy for self-willed land, that there has always been a dead hand that lacks ambition for moving towards truly wild land on the wildland continuum such that there is little aspiration for it, and often spoiling attempts to frustrate it (see graphc pg. 310 in (59)). I saw the Wild Area Definition as setting an aspiration for real wild land, and being a necessary counter to the “process-led” fake “rewilders” whose ambition sits on the lower end of the continuum, and who always advocate fencing and grazing. Moreover, these fake “rewilders” have never answered the question of what is a natural level of grazing when there is full trophic function (i.e. the presence of large carnivores, but without human influence) let alone looked at real world examples (60).
Estimates of grazing pressure and the direction of flux
It’s a question of cycles and the direction of flux (61) the growth of vegetation set against its consumption by herbivores (the cycle) and with the large carnivores applying a controlling effect on consumption through controlling numbers of herbivores, as well as creating a spatial heterogeneity to the herbivore impact through a landscape of fear. The direction of flux, or net flow, at any one time depends on which is the greater rate, vegetation growth or consumption. I have mentioned before the Italian mathematician Volterra who modelled these relationships in 1926 (62) although he would not have been aware back then of the ability of herbivores to sense the risk of predation (fear) and escape, so producing a spatial redistribution (63,64). We do not, however, need to get into complex modelling to illustrate a point about the direction of this flux, of whether in simple terms it is towards a continuing accumulation of vegetation or an increasing loss of vegetation. David Bullock of the National Trust in a talk on the capacity for large herbivores in upland Britain, distinguished between different feeding patterns and intake rates between wild herbivores: the “Concentrate selectors” that are highly selective browsers of tree leaves and shoots, such as moose, roe deer, boar and beaver; “Intermediate feeders” – able to graze and browse depending on availability, such as red deer; and “Bulk roughage feeders” –grazers of grasses, sedges, rushes and herbs of which the only wild example would have been the aurochs (65). If aurochs had a similar intake to contemporary, free-ranging cattle of between 5-10kg/dry matter/day, then at an offtake of 10% of annual vegetation, where tree regeneration is not blocked, there would have to be less than 20 cattle/sqkm, or 0.08 cattle/acre. While red deer have a lower intake than cattle, the threshold for woodland regeneration is similar at 10 deer/sqkm or 0.04 deer/acre. A rough calculation shows that the total herbivore numbers present at the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands, Frans Vera’s plaything, is about four times greater than that herbivore density (66).
I came across a site specific observation of a change of direction in this flux when I wrote about the re-imposition of grazing in Epping Forest (67). A study by Layton using historical records of grazing pressure on the Forest, sought to quantify the effects of a reduction over the 20th century by comparing it to thresholds that had been established for woodland regeneration in the New Forest (68). His graph predicted that woodland regeneration in Epping Forest would have been checked up to around 1925, when the grazing level was above 70 animals/sqkm or 0.27 animals/acre, but regeneration would have started to take place after that as the grazing level dropped. Layton had no way of substantiating the precision of this finding, but there were occasional written observations of tree regeneration across the decades in specific locations, and he made comparisons of mapping from the 1890s, and of a photographic record from c. 1900, with the contemporary vegetation, and which revealed areas of infill of new woodland.
Another site specific observation came when I wrote about whether the ecological role of wolves could be substituted by fencing in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado (69) in alleviating the extent of damage that elk (deer) were doing to willow and aspen (70). Elk browsing had prevented new aspen suckers, or shoots, from maturing into large trees since 1970, the year that elk management ceased in the National Park System. Moreover, if high elk numbers continued, there would be a complete loss of aspen trees in the core winter range. Elk browsing had significantly reduced the heights and volumes of existing willow shrubs, with densities above 32 elk/square mile decreasing willow growth and size measurements by 40 percent. I didn’t cover it in my article, but as part of the process of decision making on an elk management program, the ecological role of elk in the park was assessed so that a prediction could be made on how far numbers of elk would have to drop before the damage was reversed (71). Willow structure and growth declined noticeably at an offtake (annual use level) of about 37%, and which corresponded to 32 elk/sqkm or 0.13/acre. The average offtake across the park was at 33% for a herd of 1,074 elk, but aerial surveys of the winter range between 1994-99 showed a markedly varying spatial density of 1-65 elk/sqkm, thus supporting the observation that damage was far greater in some areas than others. The authors modelled the responses of willow and aspen to reductions in elk density, showing in the case of willow that the herd would have to be reduced to 200-400 for the flux to be reversed. A second modelling approach used elk reduction, but also the influence of targeted fencing to exclude the effects of the elk, and found a similar response with a reduction to only 600-800 elk.
It is interesting to note that the predicted food-limited carrying capacity of the park for elk in the modelling study came out at 1,154 elk which was a very similar level to the population estimate in 2001 of 1,074, and which had risen rapidly to that point from half that number when culling had ceased (71). Undoubtedly, that rapid increase of population to the food-limited carrying capacity was what led to the degradation of the willow and aspen vegetation, as was clearly seen in the park. The authors were clear that this overgrazing was defined simply as any excess of herbivory that led to degradation of plant and soil resources - that herbivore numbers at food-limited carrying capacity damage ecosystems - but they were also clear that overgrazing by definition could not occur in an ecosystem with an intact predator fauna where those grazing effects could all be considered to be natural and undisturbed. In light of that, the authors considered various studies, including those at Yellowstone where wolves had been reinstated, to understand how much that food-limited carrying capacity would be depressed by the presence of predators. Given that modelling showed that the offtake of annual growth would be required to be reduced down to around 21% to reverse the vegetation damage, an estimate of 200 wolves that could occupy the area of the park, and along with bears, may lower the food-limited carrying capacity to 40-50% of that in the absence of predators. This predator-limited carrying capacity for elk, what could be described as the ecological carrying capacity, and which is in the range between options of culling with and without fencing (see above) could thus be considered to be an indication of what a natural level of grazing might be, given that wild nature is likely to retain all the elements of the ecosystem, including willow and aspen, as well as the elk and wolves, because it is not in the business of extirpating any of its species. It is the poise of an ecosystem at full trophic occupancy. This experience in North America, of factoring in the impacts of predators, just pours nonsense on the mewling’s of all the herbivorists who think that fencing and grazing livestock is natural, and that large carnivores don’t regulate herbivore populations through predation (see earlier). Unfortunately, the park had, eventually, and in the face of disappointment and criticism, to pass over the option of bringing in wolves to control the elk and, instead, adopted the approach of both fencing and the culling of elk (69).
You have to marvel at the Zen-like arguments that Sandom, an arch herbivorist with many links into the European megaherbivore mafia, comes up with when challenged on what is a natural level of grazing – “I don’t think there [is] a single natural level, but naturally variable” and “Whether adding, removing, or not doing anything with herbivores, a decision is being made. History dictates this” (72). Sandom, along with Charlie and his mentor Frans Vera, has to take a some of the blame for the constant, unwarranted association in Britain between farming with livestock and “rewilding”. Sandom uses his academic position, as do other herbivorists (47) to push this association. Thus his latest wheeze is to seek to create a link between the use of “large herbivores” in “rewilding projects” and livestock grazing in community agriculture, with the intention that any future agri-environment policy in Britain could bankroll these “novel approaches” (73). Laughably, Sandom sees one aspect of this community agriculture that he wants to link to "rewilding" as being an extended form of direct marketing whereby an urban community supported agriculture company acts as a go-between on linking sheep farmers and customers in the Brighton and Hove area, thus bypassing the usual commercial distribution chain. I fail to see what this sheep farming (are sheep large herbivores?) has to do with true ecological enrichment, because it is just maintenance of the open landscape of chalk grassland in the same way as as the rent-a-sheep "conservation grazing" that is going on in Wild Park in Brighton (see above). I suppose community agriculture at least takes away the focus of the “process-led approach” from being solely on the stonkingly rich Charlie and his Knepp Estate, but it is still the begging bowl pleading of getting the public to pay for this fake “rewilding”. In this, Sandom is ploughing the same furrow as Paul Jepson, his erstwhile colleague when he was doing his graduate studies (see later). I wonder whether Sandom will give a single thought as to how his “novel approaches” for “rewilding” in community agriculture can be justified in any ecological terms on its level of livestock grazing when it is to be about meat production? Steve has often wondered how Charlie sets the grazing level at Knepp, which he guesses must be at a level to achieve a particular desired outcome. Steve is right, and he could have got the answer from the Knepp webpage about Charlie’s allegedly “free-roaming herbivores” that are actually behind fences, and which again channels Frans Vera’s fantasy theory of open landscapes – “Without grazing animals, the scrub emerging from our post-agricultural fields would soon turn into closed-canopy woodland, which is a poor habitat for most wildlife. Disturbance from grazing, browsing, rootling, rubbing and trampling, provides a check on galloping scrub” (48). We thus know what direction the flux takes at Knepp, as it does also at the Oostvaardersplassen.
The break from farming, fake or otherwise, and from mainstream conservation
The Wild Area Definition was quickly followed by circulation to the “Rewilding” Britain advisory group of a proposal for a “rewilding” project, and which no doubt will eventually be revealed on its Pilot Projects webpage where “More details on specific pilot projects will follow soon!” (74). Do not get the impression that these two documents in quick succession indicate in any way a normal level of involvement of the advisory group. The proposal was truly uninspiring for any ambition for really wild land, with its unchallenging "process-led approach" - it came across as another tower of candyfloss. After I had returned my thoughts on the proposal, I came across a remarkably prescient article by David Eyles, a retired livestock farmer, that in its last paragraph entirely encapsulated what I thought was one of the biggest problems with the proposal (75). David observed that almost all land in the UK is owned by someone, and that this ownership meant that the demand to make that land provide an income is very strong. He also advanced the cultural argument that this ownership and use had shaped the land, such that “if the rewilders wish to change all that, then they need an extraordinarily good reason to do so. So far, neither the rewilding movement as a whole, or Steve Carver, have provided that reason”. The mention of Steve was in relation to his quest against driven grouse shooting, but it was almost as if David had been eavesdropping on the internal discussions about the proposal because, for me, the key question unanswered by it was how the incorrigible connection between land and income can be broken (76). While there was a commitment in the proposal to so many hectares of wildland for a core area - although I questioned whether it really will be wildland under that ghastly euphemism of a "process-led approach" - it only works if there is no expectation of a regular financial return from the land, which means you either have to own/control it (beneficial ownership), its publicly owned, or some private landowner volunteers to forgo that income.
Not only was this not addressed in the proposal, the need for engagement was missing in specifically paving the way for the paradigm shift away from mainstream conservation that has to happen for the core areas, the restriction on people and their activities if they are to have a presence there. Perhaps that wasn’t in the proposal because “Rewilding” Britain has no intention of adopting the Wild Area Definition unless it is significantly watered down, because it would cause the project to fail to “realize the economic benefits of rewilding” (74) that are an implicit feature of the proposal. Well, Charlie has certainly realised the economic benefits of “rewilding” through agri-environment and farming subsidy, his “process-led” approach wrongly becoming synonymous with “rewilding” so that even the Financial Times observes that it is “unclear how this process could be funded on a national scale: even rewilding requires management, and management requires investment” (77) and Paul Jepson - a board member of “Rewilding" Europe and another spinner of candyfloss towers (read about his last one (78)) proposed a National Land Asset Policy that is a wheeze to get Government to formally bankroll approaches to “rewilding” like Charlie’s (79).
Repulsively, the rush to jump on the bandwagon of “rewilding” has brought in those who for convenience, or for their own agenda, too easily water down the interpretation of that word just because it is easier to acquire funding for a soft definition and interpretation that fits more easily with mainstream conservation – I have heard it said that all mainstream conservation is now “rewilding”, and places like Knepp just reinforce that impression and add to the drift in meaning, as does a recently accepted academic paper that describes anchoring felled trees into rivers to simulate the ecological function of large woody debris as “rewilding”, but fails to advocate restoring riparian woodland from which a natural source of large woody debris would arise (80). These latecomers also lack the honesty to locate their less aspirational outcomes at the appropriate point within the wildland continuum, mostly at the bottom end of the wildland spectrum, but instead lump them all together with those that have more ambition for nature-led land. John Fowles was absolutely right about the need for delinking land from usability (see above) such as the exploitation to extract an income, or the subsidising of livestock grazing behind fences so that the livestock are used as enslaved tools, because we will never have truly wild land without it.
Mark Fisher 19, 23, 30 September 2017
(1) Sheep shipped in to graze in London's Green Park, BBC News 22 Aug 2017
(2) Sheep grazing in Green Park – BBC London News, 23 August 2017
(3) Sheep to graze in London's Royal Parks in wildflower meadow bid, Henry Bodkin, Daily Telegraph 18 August 2017
(4) Hyde Park, Green Park, Kensington Gardens and Bushy Park: sheep grazing; agreements between the Commissioners of His Majesty's Works and Public Buildings and various individuals, 1905 Jan 01 - 1939 Dec 31, The National Archives WORK 16/2562
(5) Rare breed sheep in The Green Park, The Royal Parks
(6) Woolly lawnmowers take up residence in The Green Park, The Royal Parks 22 August 2017
(7) Grazing Green Park, Mudchute Park and Farm Blog 25 Aug 2017
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(53) Rewilding the river: bring nature back to our floodplains, Peter Cooper Wildlife August 17, 2017
(54) Peter Cooper (@PeteMRCooper) Twitter 22 August 2017
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(73) Research Fellow in Rewilding & Community Agriculture, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex
(74) Pilot projects, Rewilding Britain
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(76) A science-based movement for wilding, Self-willed land February 2017
(77) UK farmlands: green and pleasant? Laura Battle, Financial Times 15 September 2017
(78) Addressing ecological and legislative issues, Self-willed land July 2017
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