Wildland in Wales

benefits, opportunities and examples - 7, 8th April, Machynlleth

MEDIA BRIEFING from the Wildland Network - 14 April 2006

Mick and Mark on a wetland visit

Conference and field visits: 7 and 8 April 2006

A landmark conference on wildland took place in Machynlleth on Friday, 7 April. The Wildland Network hosted a day of presentations and discussion about wild areas in Wales, followed by a day of field visits. The meeting was a chance for people to exchange ideas and experience, and to consider how Wales can safeguard its wildland and benefit from it.

Participants at the event discussed the main benefits to people of wildland, including spiritual refreshment, education, adventure, wildlife, economic opportunities, carbon-absorbing soils and vegetation, water retention to minimise floods, and improving water quality. Wildland provides major services to society – it should be protected and recognised as an asset.

The regenerating woodland, carbon absorption and water retention associated with wild land will create a robust environment which is more resilient to climate change. Larger areas for wildlife means our wild plants and animals are not so threatened by changes in the climate.

If wild places like the Cambrian Mountains are not appreciated by people, there is a risk they will become a repository for unpopular development and industrial infrastructure. Not only do these developments fail to deliver economic security to the local area, but they eliminate any possibility of using our greatest asset, our wild landscapes, as a setting for a really sustainable rural economy.

Wild places like the Cambrian Mountains have immense environmental and cultural importance. New enterprises associated with wild land can help in the economic regeneration of places around the Cambrian Mountains. As farm subsidies reduce across Europe, marginal farmland in upland areas is likely to become uneconomic. It is important for farm businesses and local economies that new opportunities for business and employment are developed. The wilder parts of our countryside provide great potential, if we are prepared to sieze the opportunities for making the most of our attractive landscapes with greater wildlife interest. Livelihoods can be supported both by funding for environmental benefits, and by providing services to visitors.

Wales could cultivate a new ‘wild land experience’ package to attract people to its wild places, with activities aimed at different types of visitors for different types of markets. Leisure, crafts, adventure sports, eco-tourism, arts and local food, could all be part of this package. Scotland has long benefited from a ‘hunting, shooting, fishing and golf’ package attracting people to its wild places, and Wales could offer a range of ventures which harness the interest of its wild areas.

The Red Kite has shown how wildlife can help to identify and brand places in Wales. The beaver could be a new wildlife icon which could help brand parts of Wales. Places in Europe already label themselves as ‘Village of the Beaver’ or ‘Valley of the Beaver’ to help attract visitors and investment. Beavers are a species once native to Britain so they can coexist well with other wildlife and their activity helps to hold water in catchments and lessen the risk and impact of floods. Similarly, other charismatic species of our native wildlife can act as a local focus and help to get the public more interested in nature.

Just as farming is an important part of our cultural heritage in Wales, so is our wilder land and the wild animals it supports. Eagle, boar, stag and salmon, a whole range of animals play central parts in our folk tales and legends, and provide iconic characters in the identity of our land. To reconnect with these animals is to reconnect with our cultural roots.

NOTES

The Wildland Network

The Wildland Network is a network of individuals and organisations. Our aims, through research, advice, encouragement and education, are:

  • to promote the recognition and appreciation of wild land;

  • to protect and conserve the qualities of wildness;

  • and to promote the establishment of complete ecosystems on a large scale.

We have topic discussion groups and a general news and information service via a website and email. We hold two to three meetings per year to discuss aspects of wildland, with site visits to examples of wildland.

Website at www.wildland-network.org.uk

Examples of current areas of work that members are involved in are: mapping wildland areas in UK; assessing the value of wildland to society; assessing the potential for species reintroductions.

What is wildland?

There is no accepted definition of wildland, though some organisations provide their own, for example the United States and Canadian governments, the IUCN, PAN Parks Foundation in Europe, the Scottish Office, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the John Muir Trust. The experience of wildness could be largely subjective. A number of themes of wildness are common to all the definitions: a large area (minimums quoted at 2,000 and 10,000 hectares); remoteness, characterised by distance from roads and a perceived lack of other people; absence of built infrastructure; naturalness of vegetation; presence of wild animals. Other themes include the ruggedness of the terrain, lack of modification by humans, and having an intact ecosystem

In Britain, many areas perceived as wild have few obvious wild animals and are not composed entirely of natural vegetation. However, these areas, often in the uplands, are still perceived as wild, due to their remoteness and absence of infrastructure, and are highly valued for these qualities. Moreover, recent changes in farm subsidies and the economics of plantation forestry give us unprecedented opportunities for creating more natural vegetation patterns over large areas, and enhancing the presence of wild animals where appropriate.