Nature recovery could avert wildlife catastrophe
Britain’s climate zones are shifting by up to five kilometres a year because of rising temperatures – with potentially catastrophic impacts for wildlife, says a new report by Rewilding Britain.
The shift – due to human-caused climate heating, and hundreds of times faster than the country’s natural climate warming at the end of the last ice age – is set to outpace many species’ ability to adapt and adjust their ranges.
But Rewilding Britain’s research also shows that a massive increase in restoring and connecting species-rich habitats across at least 30 percent of Britain’s land and sea by 2030 could help save a fifth of species from climate-driven habitat loss, decline or extinction.
The charity is calling for the creation of core rewilding areas across at least five percent of Britain, with a rich mosaic of nature-friendly land and marine uses across another 25 percent of the country.
“Nature is our life support system and it’s at risk. We urgently need to kick-start a new era of rewilding and nature restoration to match the growing tsunami of climate heating and species extinction,” said Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s Chief Executive.
“We can only thrive if nature thrives, so we need to think big and act wild, with radical change in how we manage land and sea to halt and reverse biodiversity declines, and tackle climate breakdown.”
Climate zones comprise an area’s temperature, humidity, precipitations and seasons – helping determine the distribution of species and habitats. Such zones shift naturally, but human-driven climate heating – increasingly recognised as the greatest future threat to biodiversity – is causing much more rapid disruption and triggering severe climatic changes.
The estimated shift in Britain’s climate zones is part of a pattern in which such zones across the northern hemisphere are moving northwards, and upwards in elevation, at an unprecedented rate. Rewilding Britain’s calculations are based on an analysis of existing research by leading experts.
For many plants and animals, surviving such rapid change will partly depend on their ability to move their ranges to more hospitable areas. Those that can’t move across land or sea at roughly the same rate as their climate zone are likely to decline and be at increased extinction risk.
Rewilding Britain says Britain’s severely depleted wildlife and crumbling biodiversity is in no fit state to withstand climate heating’s shocks, which also include sea level rises and extreme weather patterns such as fires, floods and droughts.
Although Britain should be teeming with wildlife, populations of species – from songbirds to insects to plankton – are collapsing, with some 56 percent in decline and 15 percent threatened with extinction.
Britain’s network of often-degraded protected areas is also too small and fragmented to offer enough habitat for most species to move to, and may end up being no longer in the climate zones for most species they are intended to protect. Connectivity to help species move their range is also threatened by intensification of activities such as farming, forestry and fishing.
Rewilding Britain’s proposal for a network of core rewilding areas across five percent of Britain would restore as many natural processes, habitats and related species as possible – with a mix of native forest, peat bogs, moorlands, heaths, grasslands, wetlands, saltmarshes, kelp beds, seagrass and living reefs, and without loss of productive farmland.
These rewilding areas should be embedded in nature-enhancing landscapes across at least another quarter of Britain’s land and sea – with activities such as low-impact mixed forestry, natural product harvesting and nature-based tourism, and with the Government providing financial incentives for wildlife-friendly and regenerative farming, including through its Environmental Land Management Scheme for England and similar schemes in Scotland and Wales.
Such landscapes would act as ‘natural dispersal corridors’, allowing species to move as the climate heats. They would also soak up atmospheric carbon. Rewilding Britain’s previous research has shown how extensive rewilding could reduce the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10 percent.
Taking no set path, these corridors would connect, enhance, restore, and expand Britain’s most important habitats, using the core rewilding and protected areas as stepping stones for nature.
In its role as a catalyst to mobilise and support a movement of locally led rewilding action and the myriad of nature recovery initiatives emerging countrywide, next month Rewilding Britain will launch the Rewilding Network – a decentralised hub bringing together and offering advice to thousands of people who are considering or already rewilding.
The charity’s newly relaunched website rewildingbritain.org.uk provides information for people to start or continue their own rewilding journeys, whether on a large-scale or in gardens and communities.
Rewilding Britain is also calling on the UK Government to enshrine the Prime Minister’s recent promise to protect 30 percent of the country’s land by 2030 in a clear regulatory framework through the upcoming Environment Act, with sufficient funding and with rewilding becoming a key land use.
Rewilding Britain’s new report, ‘Adapting to climate heating: How rewilding can help save Britain’s wildlife from extinction during the climate emergency’, can be downloaded from the charity’s website.
Rewilding Britain wants rewilding – the large-scale restoration of nature so that it can take care of itself – to flourish across Britain to reconnect people with the natural world, sustain communities, and tackle the extinction and climate crises.
Rewilding Britain - it's been a fantastic five years!
Have a watch of our video that outlines what a busy five years it has been for Rewilding Britain https://vimeo.com/438958186
Rewilding before us
Five years ago, Rewilding Britain was born. Rewilding was a new idea for most people – exciting for many and threatening to others. It certainly stimulated debate across the country. More than anything it started a shift in people’s perceptions of nature and how we use land, and what might be possible in the fight against climate change and species extinction.
Today, rewilding is well on the way to becoming mainstream. We like to think we’ve played a part in making this happen by:
Adopting an accepted definition of rewilding and ensuring it is more widely understood.
Defining a set of pragmatic principles and priorities to back this up.
Leading targeted high-level meetings with key policy decision-makers.
Widely promoting the positive benefits of rewilding on land and in seas.
Producing research to evidence the impact of rewilding.
Catalysing support from enthusiasts, sharing expertise and information.
Showcasing and supporting pioneering rewilding examples and the vital importance of local engagement.
As a result, we’re now receiving an incredible number of enquiries from landowners, businesses, NGOs, local government and communities large and small wanting help and advice on rewilding. Over the last year alone more than 50 private landowners have contacted us with over 100,000 acres of land between them with potential for rewilding. Our support, advice and introductions to other enthusiasts and practitioners have helped them adopt rewilding, or to seriously consider it.
We’re still in ongoing discussions with the UK government to mainstream rewilding into key government policies. This includes the Agriculture Bill, the associated Environmental Land Management scheme and the Environment Bill. Throughout these discussions we have been strongly supported by several MPs across all key parties and by members of the House of Lords, whilst the chairman of Natural England, Tony Juniper, describes rewilding as “a massively important part of the Nature Recovery Network”. In Scotland, we’re also working as part of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance on a set of key policy asks.
Within five years, this positive shift in attitudes and support for rewilding at all levels has been truly remarkable. We'll continue playing a major role, catalysing this support and appetite to massively upscale rewilding across Britain, a vision delivered on the ground by landowners and local communities.
Here’s a snapshot of our key achievements and influences so far.
July 2015: Rewilding Britain is born!
Autumn 2015: Our first employees
March 2016: Chris Packham lends his support
August 2016: Sparking debate - Our director joined a panel discussing rewilding at Birdfair, hosted by Chris Packham.
September 2016: Launching our ‘How rewilding reduces flood risk’ report
We published our first report, ‘How rewilding reduces flood risk’. It highlights the key role of taking a natural approach (including rewilding) to flood management that repairs and revitalises Britain’s broken ecosystems. One result was a government pledge of £15 million for natural flood management, something that our current director, Alastair Driver, had a key hand in securing in his previous role as head of conservation for the Environment Agency.
November 2016: A boost for beavers - We supported Devon Wildlife Trust with their appeal for the River Otter beaver project, which is still going strong!
December 2016: Publishing the Rewilding Knowledge Hub- This report, summarising rewilding research, is still used by students and researchers today
January 2017: New Directors - Rebecca Wrigley and Alastair Driver join Rewilding Britain to lead the organisation.
August 2017: Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe join forces
September 2017: Publishing our principles of rewilding - These are the same principles we use today.
December 2017: Broadening the debate - Our director, Alastair opened a dialogue with senior policy leads at the National Farmers Union, CLA, Countryside Alliance and Uplands Alliance etc. on the merits of rewilding and myth-busting. The debate continues and has been vital for raising concerns as well as finding common ground.
January 2018: Influencing the 25 Year Environment Plan - The Government published its 25 Year Environment plan. We got a mention to support restoring ecosystems, and it cited Knepp Estate as a prime example of lowland rewilding. This was the beginning of the ‘Public money for public goods’ policy change that is currently advancing with the Environmental Land Management consultation.
October 2018: Supporting the Summit to Sea Project - We played a key role in securing funding for the Summit to Sea project in 2018, and played a short-term role in leading the project’s formation. Whilst it has faced its challenges and opposing voices the project is now being co-designed with local communities. We’re proud to have helped get it up and running.
November 2018: Initiating visionary rewilding projects - After nearly two years of travelling the length and breadth of England to meet with numerous stakeholder organisations to scope the opportunities, our director Alastair, convened the first meeting of our first vision-scale initiative - the Wild Peak Vision. This meeting involved the RSPB and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (DWT) and the latter agreed to lead the initiative from that point on. Informal consultation then commenced with local landowners, community groups and stakeholder organisations.
April 2019: Launching our petition calling on the UK Government to restore nature on a massive scale to help stop climate breakdown
We launched a petition to call on the UK government to make a bold financial and political commitment to nature's recovery. The petition asked the government to avoid a climate emergency by drawing millions of tonnes of CO2 out of the air through restoring, rewilding and protecting our environment.
Within two months, 100,000 people had signed to show their support, triggering a debate in parliament.
May 2019: Launching our new report: How restoring nature can help decarbonise the UK
Our report demonstrates how rewilding and other natural climate solutions can draw millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by restoring and protecting our living systems. Evidence suggests they could provide over a third of the greenhouse gas mitigation required globally between now and 2030. Yet so far they have attracted only 2.5% of funding for mitigation and far too little political attention.
In advance of the government’s debate, we presented MPs and key organisations with this report, showing the government how much of what type of habitat could be restored. We showed them why it should be restored and how much it would cost, using carbon markets to finance it.
October 2019: Parliamentary debate - The debate took place in October with a key group of MPs engaging in enthusiastic discussion on the merits of rewilding and voting unanimously in favour. Zac Goldsmith referred to it as “perhaps, the most important issue of all”. He said that “rewilding is essentially integrating natural processes into land management” and outlined what the government is doing.
He acknowledged that without radical intervention we are heading for a 3 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. He confirmed that the government will double its spending in tackling climate change in the period 2021-2026, with a large focus on natural climate solutions. He also committed to banning the burning of upland peat bogs, saying the government is now developing a legislative response because the voluntary approach has not worked.
November 2019: Nature for Climate Fund
The Government announced the £640M Nature for Climate Fund, which was set up to deliver exactly what we were calling for in our decarbonising report. Lord Goldsmith confirmed to Rewilding Britain that our petition and debate created a major difference in raising awareness of the role rewilding has to play in restoring nature in the UK, helping to secure this £640 million. We can’t thank our supporters enough for rallying behind us to trigger this debate and increasing pressure on the government to draw millions of tonnes of CO2 out of the air through restoring, rewilding and protecting our environment.
December 2019: Securing rewilding as a theme on The Archers
Encouraged and advised by us, the Archers commenced an ongoing storyline on rewilding.
December 2019: Help launching the Scottish Rewilding Alliance
Scottish Rewilding Alliance, which launched at the Big Picture conference. It’s ‘a collaboration between like-minded organisations who share a mission to enable rewilding at a scale new to Scotland’. Membership is growing including RSPB Scotland, Trees for Life, John Muir Trust, Scotland: the big picture, and many more.
March-April 2020: Mainstreaming rewilding into government policy
We’ve been working closely with landowners to collate evidence on why rewilding should be included in the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. We’ve also rallied people to support our call for rewilding to be a specific option in the future ELM scheme.
July 2020: Hitting 40K followers on Twitter - Our Twitter feed is a busy place - a platform to share exciting rewilding news, influence policy asks, debate rewilding and unite ambitious rewilders. Do give us a follow.
July 2020: Rewilding the House of Lords - As a direct result of our communication with selected members of the House of Lords, the House held a discussion on rewilding during their second reading of the Agriculture Bill. This centred around an amendment proposed by Lord Greaves to specifically mention rewilding in the Bill as one of the activities which could be funded under the future ELM scheme. Many members spoke during the discussion and there was plenty of support for the Rewilding Britain definition and principles, which were quoted by Lord Greaves.
Ultimately, the amendment was withdrawn as the Minister confirmed that because rewilding was accepted as beneficial to biodiversity and public goods, it would automatically be considered to be something which could be funded under the new scheme anyway. We will continue to press for the specific inclusion of rewilding in the guidance for landowners on the list of activities which could be funded through Tier 3 of the proposed ELM scheme.
July 2020: Rewilding Britain turns five!
July 2020: Influencing other bodies to include rewilding in their response to the ELM consultation
Working closely with Wildlife and Countryside Link, we helped them place the right emphasis on rewilding in their response to Defra’s ELM consultation. They included strong support for a call for rewilding to be a key option for landowners under Tier 3 of the scheme:
“Tier 3 should therefore explicitly incentivise rewilding projects, which almost always require initial multiple interventions in order to restore natural processes, often by stepping back from active management over time and, where appropriate, reintroducing or replicating the functions of missing species. Because rewilding involves being less prescriptive and reducing management over time,it is likely to be more affordable than the creation of habitats which need to be managed.” You can read their full response here, with a focus on rewilding in pages 13-14.
Other like-minded organisations such as Heal Rewilding have also followed our lead and submitted comprehensive responses calling for the inclusion of rewilding in ELM.
July 2020: Mainstreaming rewilding in government policy
A keynote speech given by Lord Goldsmith entitled “A green recovery”, summarised the need for UK leadership on nature and climate as we set out our priorities for restoring the natural world in post-Covid economic recovery.
In that important speech, we were delighted to hear that the government intends to mainstream rewilding, and even more so with a direct acknowledgement to Rewilding Britain for our ‘fantastic influence on the national debate around rewilding’ adding that we can ‘personally take credit for rewilding having become slightly more mainstream than it was’.
Very significantly, Lord Goldsmith went on to confirm that (i) he expects the Nature for Climate fund “to place a lot of importance on rewilding” (ii) that he expects there to be “a recognition of the value of rewilding in ELM” and (iii) that the government is now “looking very closely at delivering a riparian programme – ie rewilding and planting etc either side of waterways, to help create an informal nature network across the country”.
Lord Goldsmith finished by saying that Rewilding Britain will be “very much involved in those discussions” and will be coming to us for more information. He said, “I’m absolutely convinced that we need to get the incentives right to reward, and incentivise a much greater uptake of rewilding.”
What’s next for Rewilding Britain?
We are establishing a pioneering, collaborative Rewilding Network that will give people the practical tools and connectivity they need to make positive changes for rewilding across Britain. This will upscale the area of rewilding by at least 120,000 hectares across Britain by 2022.
We’re also working to massively increase the ambition for nature's recovery through encouraging the expansion, enhancement and connection of a rich mosaic of rewilding areas and biodiverse habitats on land and sea across Britain.
We need your support more than ever - to spread the word, to help fund us and to take action to make rewilding a reality. Today we send a massive thank you to everyone who’s supported and championed us for the last five years on our exciting journey.