The wildlife Black Hole of middle England

Rewilding examples from central England

Rewilding in the lowlands – outlooks from the agencies

Questions and discussion - morning sessions

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Final plenary discussion - Ways forward on rewilding – suggestions from participants

Rewilding Middle England
Prospects for creating wild nature in lowland England - 22nd November 2007

A  joint meeting hosted by WN and LRWT, and supported by Severn Trent Water

Nearly 80 people gathered at Cropston to:

  • Hear about rewilding projects and discuss the lessons to date

  • Discuss the potential for further projects across lowland England

  • Debate the issues and implications for nature conservation policy

  • Give momentum to the topic amongst people and practitioners.

The event was opened and chaired by Professor Jules Pretty OBE


The wildlife Black Hole of middle England - problems and  opportunities

Michael Jeeves
Leics and Rutland Wildlife Trust -
download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 611 kb)

Rewilding, new nature and natural processes – examples from central England

Chris Gerrard
Great Fen Project Manager - download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 1,490 kb)

Sam Lattaway
The National Forest Company Land Use Office
r - download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 1,775 kb)

Ruth Needham
OnTrent Project Manager -
download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 1,194 kb)

Rewilding, new nature and natural processes in the lowlands – outlooks from the agencies

Keith Kirby 
Natural England - download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 540 kb)

Andrew Heaton
Environment Agency - download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 485 kb)

Jonathan Spencer
Forestry Commission

Questions and discussion - morning sessions

Competition for resources
It was noted that there was a genuine competition for resources amongst different bodies addressing flood and river corridor management. Can these bodies collaborate so that complementary work occurs?

Relationship of SAPs and BAPs with wilding projects
Where do the new priority species in Action Plans sit within major wildland and landscape-scale projects?

It was suggested that the focus should be on habitats and that activity should not be too distracted by Species Action Plans.

Perhaps large projects can look beyond Biodiversity Action Plans and Species Action Plans, to the bigger picture, while recognising the formal context provided by BAPs and SAPs.

Climate change is a major driver for these and similar projects, which takes us beyond BAPs and SAPs.

Relationships with farmers and landowners
Negotiation and developing relationships with farmers and landowners is an important part of big-scale projects. In the Great Fen area much time is invested in outreach with landowners and farmers, and this pays dividends. For example there is much understanding of the Great Fen project’s purpose amongst farmers and they are incentivised to contribute through money.

Agricultural Payment schemes
Concern was expressed that the HLS (Higher level scheme) payments may be restricted to Sites of Special Interest (SSSIs). This is leading to priority projects being rushed into the queue. Key organisations need to press for broader criteria for HLS funds.

‘rewilding’ or just ‘wilding’ ?
It was noted that we should be careful about the ‘re’ prefix, so is it just ‘wilding’ rather than ‘re-wilding’? Are we looking back or forwards with wilding, natural processes and big-scale projects?

Policy follows practice
It was recognised that there is now much thinking and activity on wilding and natural processes in nature conservation. Policy has not yet caught up with this. How do you re-wild thinking in Whitehall?

The need for examples
It was noted that it’s important to influence people through good examples: tell good stories and use images and icons to grab attention and inform people.

Putting the case for funding
Participants were interested in how funds for the Great Fen project and for the ‘On Trent’ initiative were sought and justified.

There was strong interest in the possibility of an eco-bridge across the M1 at Charnwood. Conservation bodies such as National Forest had recommended it to the Highways Agency who were investigating it with their engineers. This could be an actual and symbolic action to stress the importance of connectivity. Participants commended the enlightened attitude of the Highways Agency in investigating this possibility.

SSSIs and the factors that govern them
There was a reminder that we should not forget the fundamental role of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. These are a key building block for much activity on habitat and ecosystem restoration, wildland and natural processes.

Condition assessment and conservation targets are the main factors which influence the management of SSSIs, and these can be out of line with some current thinking in conservation. Hence the particular condition assessments and targets for SSSIs can determine whether some stay ‘fixed in time’ while others have flexibility in their scope for management and natural processes.

Wild herbivores and grazing policy
It was noted that government bodies recognise the limitations we have in Britain on grazing animals. Might this lead to a policy-opening for wilder types of herbivores?

Statutory bodies – where’s the lead?
The interest in the topic of rewilding amongst statutory bodies was welcomed, and the question was posed of where is the leadership for rewilding and restoration amongst the statutory bodies? It was pointed out that this whole subject presents a challenge for statutory bodies as there is no one set of views on the topic amongst conservation bodies, especially in the voluntary sector.

Rewilding data will influence people
It was pointed out that information and data from wildland and related projects will help inform views on what should happen subsequently, such as use of funds and policy decisions. Thus monitoring has a crucial role in our learning about wildland and in the influence it can have.

Do policy-free areas present an opportunity?
The question was posed as to whether there might be more potential for creative approaches to conservation in areas receiving little formal attention and where there was no main agenda and policy direction. As a caution to this view it was noted that in any place there are stakeholders who have views on what should happen. No places are value free, and values change through time.

Learning from the States
The various wildland activity in several initiatives in the US is long established and well documented, illustrating issues such as core areas and connectivity. UK practitioners can learn from US experience.

The Workshop Discussions are on a separate page. Follow this link.


Ways forward on rewilding – suggestions from participants

A wild place for every settlement…
Each settlement (town, city of whatever scale) should establish its own area of wild land as part of its green infrastructure strategy, and get people’s buy in for both the wild area and the benefits it would provide for people, for wildlife and for the ecosystem services.

This approach will result in different costs for different areas, reflecting the land market and different opportunities which present themselves.

The use of ‘planning gain’ arrangements and land swaps may present an opportunity to create and build up wild land areas through planning and development.

The wildland menu
We need a menu of approaches for acquiring and influencing land.

Dutch government and NGOs
We could learn from the Dutch approach of the government buying land and handing it to NGOs (often with resources) for management.

Sensing the Wild
Some small urban patches of land provide an important experience of ‘the wild’ to local people and children.

Ecosystem Services
Climate change is a key driver and could be harnessed to focus on the potential of carbon-absorbing soils and peats of wild areas.

Sustainable Construction
There are wildland and ecological opportunities from the construction, architecture and design sectors eg. Urbis in the North West.

Creating advocates
People need to be helped to take pride in and develop a passion for their local wildland project: eg. “I’m from the Great Fen area”.

Harnessing the arts
Conservation bodies and wildland projects could make more use of the arts to promote wild land and engage people in it.

Sherwood Re-awakes
The Forestry Commission sees much scope for re-wilding Sherwood Forest. Sherwood has an iconic status, it can provide many opportunities for its big catchment of local people, and it can be managed to provide greater carbon-absorbing soils and vegetation, and other ecosystem services.

Focus on river corridors
There is much potential for creative conservation and wildland activity along river valleys, especially through addressing the need for flood management and for people’s access.

Agree the principles then promote them
Practitioners need to identify, agree and promote a set of principles for wildland projects that they want delivered.


Concluding point from Michael Jeeves

A view of the zones of activity and management in the Soar valley.

Download the PowerPoint Show here (PPS 422 kb)