Addressing ecological and legislative issues

 

It was an immense disappointment to see Bastow Wood, a place I have walked often for it’s wonderful atmosphere of wildness, succumb to the dead hand of conservation management (1). I needed some quick reassurance that not every where I value is suffering from this constant dirty war fought by the conservation industry in their chosen need to undo the choices that wild nature makes in regenerating a natural landscape cover (2). Scar Close was my best bet, a phenomenological paradigm of self-willed ecological restoration that only extreme prejudice could destroy. We delight in discovering the blossoming out of species there that were trapped in refuge in the shady, moist hollows of the limestone pavement, as well as marvel at the capture of so many other species, the puzzlement being where they came from when Scar Close is surrounded by sheepwrecked grass. We haven’t found all of the 200 or so species of plants that have been identified there, but we added one to the list last year when Colin Newlands came along with us, the manager of the National Nature Reserve in which this area of limestone pavement sits (3). Finding Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) in returning woodland always feels to me like a stamp of approval from wild nature. On reflection, the plant could have been in refuge at the bottom of a grike on Scar Close, rather than having been translocated in from elsewhere after the fruit body had been eaten by small rodents (3). Either way, it is the transformation that Scar Close has undergone once grazing was excluded, the accumulating decomposition from the burgeoning tree cover and the herbaceous cycle of plants, that means that the wildflowers now grow on the surface rather than in the deep joints in the limestone (4).

The mature hazel there owes its existence to the absence of sheep

The weather outlook was poor, but it perked up – as did we – when we arrived at Scar Close to find a few yellow globeflower (Trollius europaeus) the scarce, white-flowered baneberry (Actea spicata) and lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) still in flower. The handsome and almost prickle-free melancholy thistle (Cirsium heterophyllum) was just starting, but the flowers of the day were rock rose (Helianthemum numularium) bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) and thyme-leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) with amongst the shrubs, the white of guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) and the lovely fragrance of burnet rose (Rosa pimpinellifolia). We sought out the Herb Paris again, the wooded-over dip in which it grows being a wonderfully immersive place. It was there that we made another exciting discovery – a characteristic lattice work of small dead branches trapped on a multi-stem hazel that meant that we were seeing was glue fungus (Hymenochaete corrugata) (see photo in (5)). This basidiomycete fungus has the ability to glue dead, falling branches as they lodge against living stems, its brown/black crust seemingly squeezed out of a tube between the stems (6). Why it happens is not clear, but it could be a means by which the fungus holds on to the dead wood that it feeds on, and it may also facilitate distribution of the fungus as its mycelial growth migrates from one tree to another via the connections (6,7).

We first came across this fungus a couple of years ago when walking Ballachuan, an ancient Atlantic hazelwood in Argyl, and which is considered to have never been coppiced, the hazel maintaining its multi-stemmed form quite naturally (8, 6). While glue fungus is not rare, it is not present in all hazelwoods, being more likely found in the less disturbed, old-growth hazel stands. This makes sense if one of the functions of gluing hazel together is as a means of distribution because it would be lost to coppicing and removal of the wood. As it is, the nearest sighting of glue fungus to Scar Close is 10km to the W, the furthest at 51km to the E, and four in other directions at between 13 and 27km (9). How did glue fungus get to Scar Close? The mature hazel there owes its existence to the absence of sheep that would have chewed off any growth that may have emerged out of the grikes - that is assuming some vector for the arrival of the hazel nuts. Even then, the glue fungus would not have taken hold if the hazel had been subjected to the usual conservation management of chopping down every stem. Thus the presence of glue fungus at Scar Close indicates a period of ecological continuity in undisturbed hazel stands, the latter developing after removal of sheep grazing. I would argue that this is clear evidence that wilding works, of wild nature conserving itself (10).

We also came across another new plant at Scar Close, and we would have dismissed it as a patch of the garden escape London Pride (Saxifraga × urbium) if we had not seen a native version of this saxifrage in Ireland when walking its woodland in 2012 (11). Our first sighting of St Patrick’s cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis) was in Glengarrif Wood Nature Reserve, along with other Lusitanian species like Irish spurge (Euphorbia hyberna) and strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) the species so called because they are native only in Ireland, Spain and Portugal (12,13). I looked up the distribution of St Patrick’s cabbage, and was surprised to see that there were a number of locations about 25km away from Scar Close, between the edges of the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District (14). Thus when I contacted Colin about the glue fungus, I said that we also came across what was probably London Pride, this garden plant being a cross between St Patrick’s cabbage and an alpine saxifrage that is a native of the Pyrenees (Saxifraga umbrosa). However, I speculated that it would be nice to think that St Patrick’s cabbage had popped across the Irish Sea, and then alighted in Scar Close when so many other fascinating things happen there. I have since confirmed that it was London Pride and not St Patrick’s cabbage through comparing their leaf forms, and also learnt that it is likely that the sightings of St Patrick’s cabbage to the N of Scar Close are almost certainly naturalised plants (15). I also made a connection to Colin between glue fungus and the astonishing hazel gloves (Hypocreopsis rhododendri) the rubbery orange, finger-like, radiating lobes of this fungus that clasp around hazel stems, and which are found growing parasitically on the glue fungus (6). Sadly, we didn’t come across any hazel gloves in the Argyl hazelwoods, but I wondered to Colin if it could be next to arrive on Scar Close, even though there are no records of the presence of hazel gloves fungus in England (16). To my surprise, Colin replied that last year a fly was recorded on the National Nature Reserve that had only been recorded from north/central Scotland before, so he thought that finding hazel gloves may not be out of the question!

The brilliance of wild nature is revealed in the detail

Colin has two areas undergoing wilding in the Ingleborough National Nature Reserve – the other is South House Moor (17). His enthusiasm in engaging in observations on species with me is matched by his fascination in watching the transformations taking place in those two areas while calmly rebuffing any challenge to their continuance (18). It is in the detail of these enthusiasms and fascinations that the brilliance of wild nature is revealed. I am conscious that the extent of the details that I delve into, such as those above, have diminishing rewards with some people. Indeed, I many years ago discovered that the reference I was given when I moved from the pharmaceutical industry to do research in a teaching hospital in America claimed that I got “bogged down in the minutiae”. There’s a certain irony in that description. I was supposed to be doing primary research on metabolic dysfunction (obesity, diabetes) and not stray into drug discovery. However, I used one of the compounds in development as a differential aid in distinguishing aspects of meal tolerance and carbohydrate metabolism, only to find that its apparent action was completely mundane, rather than some endocrine cascade from the gut that was hoped for. The compound was from a family of natural red pigments, the prodigiosins, which have a chicken wire structure of carbon and nitrogen rings (pyrrolyl pyrromethane) its colour and existing evidence of anti-bacterial properties lending it for use back then as a dental disclosing agent (19). As a known compound, there was pressure on the chemists in the company to synthesise as many variants of it that they could devise, adding bits here and there on the structure so that it rotated and packed in solution in different conformations. These were then tested for their efficacy in a very basic level screening process, so that patent protection on the various compound structures could be sought. While the chemical wizardry was remarkable, no one had seen it as a priority to investigate how the compound was having its apparent effect.

It was obvious that the pharmaceutical industry was not to be in my future and, while in America, that also became true of any further career in research. That I have gone from an absorption in life sciences to this contemporary preoccupation with wild nature is perhaps indicative of the accuracy of a much earlier assessment. When I was nine years old, my school master wrote that my standard of attainment depended on whether or not I was interested – “He must realise that we all have tedious or unpleasant things to do”. So when the fun runs out, I move on. At least he allowed that I was “sensible and logical in argument”, and it is those characteristics, allied to a drive to delve into detail – to become “bogged down in the minutiae” – that helps me see through all the illogic in what passes as nature conservation. It is in the detail, in particular, that reveals the pathetic addressing of ecological and legislative issues, examples of which stack up every day. Sometimes they are such self-serving nonsense that they are beyond ridicule.

Supercows and feral boar

Early in January, one of the projects back-breeding cows to produce plastic aurochs got a splash when there was a report about a few of its “supercows” that were dumped in an unnamed location in the Czech Republic (20). It was in fact the one bull and five cows that were introduced into Milovice, a former Soviet military area near Prague, and where they joined an existing group of 15 “wild” horses behind fencing (21). There was the usual assertion about these plastic aurochs providing a “natural "gardening service" that maintained landscapes and created the conditions for other species to thrive” and then there was the admission that these big cows were needed at Milovice because other herbivores in this location, perhaps wild deer and maybe the horses, were being predated by wolves (20). You can see how perplexing it must have been that the local wolf population was holding back the destruction of woody vegetation in the opening up of this landscape, the aim of all herbivorists. However, apart from denying the trophic ecology of predator-prey interaction, it is entirely foolish to think that these cows will be immune. The report says they have suffered few losses, but consider that Galician mountain ponies are frequently picked off by wolves (22); fellow herborvists “Rewilding” Europe were aggrieved when a pack of feral dogs chewed up four of the bison from the herd they released in the Țarcu Mountains in Romania (23); and predation of bison by wolves in Yellowstone continues to rise (24) with the wolves co-operating in larger groups to hunt them (25). It seems wild (and feral) nature will continue to confound this nonsensical herbivorist wishful thinking that diminishes the effect of natural predation (26).

Another of the mainstream herbivorists, Paul Jepson, has slightly, but only slightly, up-scaled his ecological view by suggesting that we could tolerate the presence of wild boar if we considered hunting them, humans fulfilling the role of top predator – “if we want wild boars back, we must rewild our society and restore hunters within our communities” (27). He says that “Rewilding adopts a pragmatic approach to hunting” and “Rewilding offers a body of theory, practice and visions that can inspire innovative thinking on rural futures”. Nowhere does he address the current legal situation of the feral boar in England, nor the mixed lineage they have from being crossed with domestic pigs to increase meat production, and which is a barrier to accepting them as the precursor for a reinstated former native species (28,29). To support his case, Jepson mentions that the Forestry Commission is culling increasingly large numbers of boar, but he doesn’t say where or how effective this is. He should have done his research better on this culling. In spite of an accelerating culling program in the Forest of Dean since 2008 that has resulted in the death of 2,003 feral boar (38 in 2008/9, 543 in 2015/16, 492 in 2016/17) the target population of 400 set in 2012 has always been exceeded, and in fact the population density has risen sharply since that target was set, the population now being nearly four times the target (29,30). Paradoxical as this may appear, it demands of Jepson that he addresses this phenomenon, as it makes a nonsense of his “rewilding” theory and feral boar.

Northumberland water voles and Cornwall beaver

Jepson has been one of those who have jumped on the “rewilding” bandwagon, debasing its meaning and contributing to the confusion there is about its objectives, and which is why I use wilding instead. This debasing is evident in the description in the farming press of a program of mass release of water voles in Northumberland as being “rewilding” (31). Miles King jumped on this, remarking that it was just a conservation project – “The risk is you end up rebadging all these conventional nature conservation activities as rewilding in the hope that people take an interest. We need to avoid being sucked into that” (32). There’s a large element of truth it what Miles observes, but he was wrong in this case. It was not described by the local press as “rewilding” (33) and nor does Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the lead organisation in Restoring Ratty, a Heritage Lottery Funded project that has the support of partners in the Forestry Commission and Tyne Rivers Trust (34). If Miles had read on, he would have seen that the reason why it was labelled as “rewilding” in the article was because its author wanted to drag in an attack on “rewilding”, recycling the words of Phil Bicknell, chief economist of the National Farmers Union, from four years ago- “The arguments for rewilding appear idealistic to say the least - you have to go back hundreds, if not thousands, of years to find a Welsh hillside or Lake District uplands where sheep weren’t present and integral to the communities that live there” (35). What Bicknell was quoted for was his response to George Monbiot’s book Feral, but I fail to see the connection between sheepwrecked uplands and the release of water voles.

The Restoring Ratty project notes that they will be restoring water voles to the Kielder area after an absence of 30 years (36). A reinstatement after a much longer period is claimed by the Cornwall Beaver Project, with "beavers being back in Cornwall" 400 years after they were hunted to extinction in the UK (37). A friend sent me a link to the project page (38) and I was curious to find out what was going on as I had not picked up on, and did not think it likely, that a second licence application for trial release of beaver in England had been granted after the Devon trial (39). Sure enough, these were not going to be free-living beaver - a true restoration of beavers to Cornwall. Instead this “ground-breaking project” was the dumping of beavers inside 650m of beaver proof fencing on a farm upstream from Ladock, north east of Truro. Apparently it was the farm that wanted to have the beaver, twinning up with Cornwall Wildlife Trust to develop a rationale for their presence as potential mitigation of the flooding that Ladock is exposed to. Given the captive nature of these beaver, I responded to my friend that I could stick a lynx in a cage in my back garden, assuming I could get through the necessary import regulations and dangerous animal licensing (which can be done) but it wouldn’t be a return of lynx to West Yorkshire – it’s still in a cage rather than free living. A gloss to the presence of these beaver was added by listing a range of research objectives alongside research partners, the wildlife trust suggesting they were chosen to focus on aspects that are less well understood, such as the impact in a lowland farmed landscape (38). The ubiquitous Prof. Richard Brazier of Exeter University was one such researcher, his involvement well-known with the captive beaver project of the Devon Wildlife Trust (40). Do not confuse the latter with the free-living beaver on the River Otter in Devon (39, 41). You may ask yourself, like I have, what would be the relative merits of observations on these captive beaver in Devon compared to the free-living, when so much was learnt from the free-living beaver on the River Tay once their unlicensed presence was tolerated because of the opportunity they presented (42,43). So why is it that Cornwall Wildlife Trusts appears to be just aping the captive beavers in Devon? Moreover, aren’t the captive beaver in Cornwall being used as a tool to provide an ecosystem service to people in Ladock, the same way that captive cattle are used as a conservation grazing tool by the conservation industry? I hope very much that these beaver find a way to escape (possibly gnawing through what I saw could be wooden fence posts enclosing them) and free themselves from this enslavement to people.

Why lease a common?

Some things remain a puzzle even after delving into the detail. I could not understand why the John Muir Trust seemed excited about the prospect of taking on a three-year lease from the Lake District National Park to manage Glenridding Common, the lease being agreed in June (44-46). A simple search on the DEFRA mapping system revealed it to be a registered common of about 1,000ha, most of which is overlapped by the much larger Helvellyn and Fairfield Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) the latter being part of the very much larger European designation of the Lake District High Fells Special Area of Conservation (SAC) (47-49). The Lake District National Park owns the majority of the registered common, but the top 200ha – the area with no statutory SSSI or SAC designation - is in joint and indivisible ownership with the National Trust (49). Given that the predominant habitat on the common is heathland (see Unit 6 (50)) but more accurately described as grass moorland, then it is not unsurprising that it has an agri-environment stewardship agreement covering most of it (AG00416658 - Entry Level plus Higher Level Stewardship). This 10-year funding totalling £702,717 began in 2013, and is paid to the Glenridding Commons Group, the usual stitching together of the commoners so that they can receive the money, rather than the land owners. It will be a small group, as there are only two commoners that graze the land, undoubtedly with sheep (49). Because there is an agri-environment agreement on most of the common, the level of grazing by the commoners will be set by Natural England, and if there is any restriction it will only last for the six years of the contract agreement remaining, unless there is some new form of agri-environment payment after we leave the EU.

The John Muir Trust is well-known for its land ownership in Scotland, and how it moves this land along the wildland continuum, an example being the 1,255ha of Li and Coire Dhorrcail, owned by the Trust on the north-eastern slopes of Ladhar Bheinn on the Knoydart peninsula (51). By controlling red deer and through the removal of feral goats and livestock grazing, the land is beginning to see the natural regeneration of many native tree species, as well as the return of pine marten, roe deer, bats and woodland birds, adding to the existing presence of otters, foxes, water voles, buzzards and eagles (52,53). It was this track record that rang warning bells with the various commoner organisations, the Federation of Cumbria Commoners and the Foundation of Common Land seeking assurance from the Lake District National Park that the rights of the commoners would not be affected by the new management, the Federation describing the Trust as a “conservation charity that explicitly supports rewilding” (54,55). In a letter of objection to the lease, the Foundation asked for five conditions to be included in the lease, these being accepted by the Park, and which have turned up in the Trust’s draft Management Plan (55). Given that the Trust will have agreed that it will have no power over grazing levels, it’s hard to see from the Management Plan what influence it may have on the ecological trajectory of the land, other than the limited woodland replanting envisaged (56). The Trust believes the woodland replanting will require consent under Section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, and thus will be open to objection from the commoners and anyone else (56,57) but I think they will likely find that the agri-environment agreement already prohibits tree planting without consent from Natural England, and tree planting will anyway be proscribed under the habitat monitoring criteria of the SSSI designation. It just seems a nonsense for the Trust to take on a registered commons, where the interests of the commoners overrides everything, and where the level of grazing is set by Natural England. Is it the great opportunity the Trust has been looking for, their “long-held ambition to be involved with a property south of the border”?(44). If so, then it may meet their objectives of broadening their land management operations and increase their support base, but it will not be “remaining true to our historical focus on wild land” (44)

World Heritage Site listing has a had a difficult few months

The hegemony of commons in the Lake District uplands, and their alleged cultural tradition, was one of the properties deemed of Outstanding Universal Value that was in the application evaluation for its recent listing by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (WHS) including that they were a “a key element of the natural scenic beauty” (58). WHS listing has a had a difficult few months recently, with George Monbiot considering the listing of the Lake District as damaging to its natural values (59,60) and outrage at increased felling in the Białowieża Forest WHS when it may put remnants of primeval forest there at risk (61). The Polish Minister of the Environment countered this by saying that the WHS listing was wrong, and that an application for change of status of the forest would be submitted (62). As I quickly found out, there are two important elements in understanding WHS listing. The first is identifying from a list of 10 criteria what properties exist at a site that have Outstanding Universal Value, and whose cultural and/or natural significance is “so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”(63). The first six of the criteria relate to cultural values; the next to natural monuments or scenic beauty; one to features exhibiting earth history or earth processes; and the last two on the natural values of ecological and biological processes and important natural habitats for conservation of biological diversity (63). The dissonance arises because the Lake District listing was accepted on solely cultural values (Criteria (ii), (v) and (vi)) without any attention given to natural values (58,64) whereas the Białowieża Forest is listed for solely natural values (Criteria ix and x) (65) when a substantial area of the state-owned forest (37-80% depending on what you read) is managed for commercial production (66-69). This is why objectors to the listings of the Lake District and the Białowieża Forest want a mix of criteria for the Outstanding Universal Values, of both cultural and natural values.

The second element is the requirement to show that there are “legislative and regulatory measures at national and local levels to assure the protection of the property from social, economic and other pressures or changes that might negatively impact the Outstanding Universal Value, including the integrity and/or authenticity of the property”. Note it is national measures – not supranational measures - the national measures for protection being put forward at listing, and then it is up to governments to ensure compliance with their own national law. Thus WHS listing does not in itself give UNESCO any regulatory power over a listed site other than delisting from the brand. This seems to be at the heart of some confusion amongst onlookers, with protesters seemingly expecting UNESCO to be able to stop the felling in the Białowieża Forest (60). As the UNESCO listing notes, there are a variety of protected area designations that cover the Białowieża Forest WHS, including on the Polish side a National Park, various small nature reserves and a Protected Landscape Area. Each of the latter have varying levels of protection under the Nature Conservation Act, the National Park having the most and the Protected Landscape Area having the least protection, the latter allows the “the rational management of agricultural, forestry, fishing and hunting” (70). Outside of the National Park, it is this Protected Landscape Area that covers most of the World Heritage Site. That there are Natura 2000 designations is unlikely to make any difference as these are also implemented under the national protected area designations. Given that background, management plans can seek to provide non-statutory protection, and this is probably the case with the Polish Forestry service that administers the state forests of the Forest Promotional Complex Białowieża Forest. In the document submitted in 2012 by the Polish Government for continuation of WHS listing, only 23% (11,613a) of the area of the Forest Promotional Complex has strict protection, whereas 58% (6,061ha) of the National Park has strict protection (66). So the Polish government in wanting to emphasise the cultural heritage/utilitarian aspects of the non-National Park area of the WHS is entirely consistent with its category of designation under the national system of protected areas, and with the management plan. We may not necessarily agree with this, but no amount of protesting will make any difference unless we understand precisely what the real issues are.

As for the Lake District, you may wish to know that the first application for WHS listing in the 1980s was on the basis of a mix of cultural and natural heritage (58). Subsequent applications had cultural heritage only, the history of the National Parks in England like the Lake District being acknowledged as contributing to the formation of the modern concept of legally-protected landscapes. This is not something I am in any way proud of when we misappropriated the term National Parks that should only be used for protected areas substantially free of human exploitation (71). In terms of protection and management, the evaluation notes that the National Park has the “highest level of landscape protection afforded under United Kingdom law” which is not saying much, but derives originally from the National Parks and Countryside Act 1947; that the National Park has a Management Plan and a National Park Local Plan; that there are a “substantial number of individual … natural sites within the English Lake District that are designated and have legal protection” (presumably SSSI); and the “Commons Act (2006) and the Commons Registration Act (1965) protect the rights of commoners and reconfirm the protection of agro-pastoral farming systems, protected since the 19th century (Commons Act 1876)”. As we know, our statutory protected area systems, National Park management plans, and commons legislation are slanted towards nature being accommodated in cultural landscapes, and thus are more likely to give way to that interest (see above and (72,73)). In regard to this, and rather disturbingly, the evaluation report has some bizarre assertions that will likely meet with a lot of criticism (58):
“In the past, overgrazing and other farming management practices threatened the environmental and natural values of the property. Although these practices have been corrected, there seems to be a certain imbalance in the consideration of the natural values favoured over the cultural values of farming practices. In the future, measures should be adopted that consider also the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities”

More evidence that wilding works

It is perhaps the curse of this analytical approach - this delving into detail - that it may come across as splitting hairs, but detail matters because I think it leads to understanding, and gets me past the pathetic addressing of ecological and legislative issues illustrated above. There are, however, good news stories around, and more solid evidence that wilding works. Steven Robinson recently came back from Białowieża National Park thrilled at having watched a lynx for over an hour, and seen pine marten, bison, elk (moose) and beaver. He says there is a much wider diversity of trees and flowers compared to our woodland, as well as large amounts of standing dead wood that had woodpecker holes and many fungi. I pointed Steven to a book chapter on the forest communities of the National Park (NP) and in which he should recognise many of those communities in the photographs he sent me, especially of the wet forest communities (74). The author of that chapter, Pawel Pawlaczyk, works for the Naturalist Club (Klub Przyrodników) a voluntary ecological organisation in Poland, and he has a long history of research on forest ecology in places like Białowieża, but also in Drawa National Park (Drawieński Park Narodowy) in Pomerania, NW Poland (75,76).

Pawlaczyk wrote a fascinating account a few years ago that detailed the changes in conservation approach in the 110sqkm of the Drawa NP over the 25 years of its existence, from extensive forest management in the beginning, to a recognition that natural processes were better fostered by a restriction of human intervention (77). In 1990, only 40ha in 20 dispersed fragments were strictly protected, but as the benefits of non-intervention became apparent, more and more areas were given strict protection, rising to 23 totalling 569ha of strict protection by 2012, with another 3,100ha left free of any planned interventions. Pawlaczyk’s article details the reconnaissance in 2012-2013 that was done on the Park’s nature in advance of new conservation plan. He describes that non-intervention had led to restoration of forest coverage, the structure of forest ecosystems improved significantly, especially the features important for biodiversity, as was reflected in the occurrence of unique species typical of natural forests; the natural values of lakes were retained without management, as were those of the rivers, natural hydro-morphological processes in the latter evidenced by the dynamics of the coarse wood debris in river currents; and that faunistic values were spatially correlated with a low level of human presence, especially in areas not used for tourism, recreation or education. As importantly, areas of conservation intervention to maintain particular species in secondary habitats, like meadows and alkaline meadow fens, were not impacted, and chalk substratum bogs with sawtooth sedge (Cladium mariscus) were preserved both under active and non-intervention management. Based on the above, the new protection scheme for the Park provided for 12 larger areas of strict protection (which integrates the existing ones) to give a total area of 1,392 ha, and a further 4,226 ha to be left free of human intervention. I think Pawlaczyk’s conclusion should have echoes everywhere:
“The 25-year-old history of planning and realization of protection in the Drawa National Park is a history of evolution towards gradual acknowledgment of natural processes, wildness and naturalness of landscape, and effectiveness and legitimacy of non-intervention management in respect of many, though not all, ecosystems of that park. This trend does not result from any a priori assumptions but rather from the deepened knowledge of the park’s nature and observation of effects of various methods of its protection. Also in the perception of Park visitors, the impression of naturalness and “wildness” gradually becomes a key factor as it more and more differentiates that area from other parts of Pomerania. The elements of wildness and naturalness, even if shaped secondarily, are currently the greatest natural value of Drawa National Park”

There are no lynx in Drawa NP, but it is very much hoped that the wolves that disappeared from the Park area after 1992 make a return, since during the 1980s, forest rangers had noticed a positive effect of the wolves’ presence from the smaller number of trees damaged by deer (78). Perhaps the Park should consider reinstating lynx to the area, the reinstatement project that started last year in the Palatinate Forest in Germany with the release of one male and two females could act as inspiration (79). The good news from this project is that the dalliance in early February of the male and a female lynx has resulted in the birth of two kittens in May (80). The other female lynx had gone missing last December when her radio-collar stopped working, but was sighted by a walker in the Palatinate Forest in April, and subsequent tracking of the presence of the lynx by two specially trained dogs turned up some lynx hair that genetic analysis confirmed came from the missing lynx (81). A further four lynx have been released between March and April in the second cycle, a male and two females from Switzerland, and a male from Slovakia (82). Unfortunately, the latter was tracked while it took an extensive westward-arcing route out of the Forest, travelling over 200km, crossing four rivers without using a bridge, entering France but missing out the Parc naturel régional des Vosges du Nord as it travelled south in the Vogues, having reached the Parc naturel régional des Ballons des Vosges near Colmar by June (82,83). The male lynx from Slovakia also showed independence of mind by walking East out of the Palatinate Forest, setting up in a territory 30km away between Bad-Durkheim and Ludwigshafen, before crossing over the Rhine six weeks after release (84). He was recaptured and returned to the Palatinate Forest, his presence detected as recently as this month, and perhaps the four females there will convince him to stay (82).

Carrifran Wildwood gives me some more good news, as well as confirmation of evidence from there that wilding works. The Wildwood is joint winner of the Woodland Trust Scotland Trophy for New Native Woods (85). The John Muir Trust’s Li and Coire Dhorrcail Woodlands in Knoydart won this award in 2015 (see above (86)). The award is given to new native woodland projects of between 5 and 20 years growth, and through either natural regeneration or planting, there is evidence of "exemplary use of silvicultural techniques, planning, practice and management" that is delivering a "high quality native wood" (87). The reaction of the judges for the award to the Wildwood is illuminating (88):
“On arriving at Carrifran, they added, one is now in no doubt of having arrived at an exemplar ecological restoration project. Native woodland has firmly established itself and while this has been mainly by planting, there are encouraging signs of natural regeneration taking place. The woodland, up to higher elevations, is intermixed with long-lost dwarf shrub heath. The site stands as a beacon of hope within the Southern Uplands where woodland cover, such as it is, is largely confined to ungrazed cleughs and ledges. The project is driven by sound science and excellent monitoring. This not only helps inform the future direction of Carrifran but undoubtedly acts as a body of information, advice and encouragement to assist similar projects elsewhere”

So often the evidence of wilding remains undocumented, but this is not the case for Carrifran where ecologist Stuart Adair has been involved from the beginning in carrying out ecological studies. He is also welcoming, along with Philip Ashmole, when Leeds students carry out their field trip at Carrifran each year, and undertake projects in the valley such as mapping a Recreational Opportunity Spectrum, habitat availability for reinstatement of raptors and lynx, and modelling the impacts of reforestation on storm runoff in the Carrifran Valley. Stuart last year had a detailed account published in the Scottish Forestry journal of the transformations that the Carrifran valley had undergone since livestock grazing had been excluded and many trees had been planted (89). This a comprehensive account of the changes in vegetation, the increase in species diversity, and the natural regeneration of a number of plant communities, like the upland dwarf shrubs, that had been suppressed because of the “long instituted extensive, open-range grazing of domestic stock”. He notes that it is early days in the developing forest ecosystem, but leaf litter and woody debris are beginning to accumulate on the forest floor and there is some natural regeneration of seedlings – “In short, genuine, if limited, forest ecosystems are now established within the glen”. He also notes that as faunal studies are showing, birds, insects and small mammals are multiplying in the greater diversity of habitat. Stuart reflects that on a “more emotional level, anyone familiar with the glen before the turn of the Millennium could not fail to be astounded at the change of scene when entering the glen” and which he describes as “uplifting”.

It is in the evidence from Drawa NP, the early success of lynx reinstatement in the Palatinate Forest, and the positive ecological change at Carrifran, that a science-based movement for wilding is being be built, and which addresses all the ecological and legislative issues (90). It will be uplifting.

Mark Fisher 15 July 2017

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/awe_walks.htm

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/open_restore.htm

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/germany_lynx.htm

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/ash_dieback.htm

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/rain_forest.htm

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/wild_nephin.htm

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https://tinyurl.com/y7z8ydqm

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www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/science_based.htm

url:www.self-willed-land.org.uk/articles/wilding_works.htm

www.self-willed-land.org.uk  mark.fisher@self-willed-land.org.uk

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