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Annual Review




The Wildland Network (WN) has held four meetings, one consultation workshop, and two field trips involving over 250 people since its inaugural event in May 2005. We have moved around England (Leeds, Penrith/Ennerdale, Isle of Sheppey, Gloucester and Cirencester) crossed Offas Dyke into Wales (Machynlleth) and crossed the English Channel for an excursion around the nature reserves of Holland. Seventy three people have signed up as supporters of WN, and our website averages around 1,000 visits and 4,000 hits a month.

The Geography Dept. at Leeds University was the venue of our first meeting in May, 2005, following on after the very successful Wilderness in Britain Seminar Series that was held there some four years ago. The forty or so people brought with them their enthusiasm for wildland as well as considerable knowledge of its practical reality. The broad range of their affiliations and interests showed that wildland is approached through all manner of directions whether it is through art, a responsibility for species and landscapes, or just because of awe and inspiration.

The morning session of speakers covered a broad spectrum. Peter Taylor's talk amply illustrated the contents of his forthcoming book - Beyond Conservation: a wild land strategy - which was eagerly awaited as it provides a primer for anyone who seeks the inspiration and motivation of WN members. He was joined by Derek Gow who gave a lusty review of wildland re-introductions in continental Europe, and the difficulties we seem to have in following that lead in the UK.

Steve Carver and Simon Bates showed the results of their wildland mapping work using Geographical Information Systems, a tool that is both diagnostic but also an immensely powerful visual key that can begin to involve communities. Toby Aykroyd looked at the economic benefits that can be realised through wilding, showing that imaginative linking could combine the expected ecological benefits with social and enterprise programs. Rachel Yanick finished the session with a review of the Wild Ennerdale project where landowners have combined efforts to take a whole landscape approach. Questions to the speakers panel covered wind farms; herbivore grazing projects; over-management of land; and the measures needed to take this enthusiasm for wildland out into the mainstream.

Our next meeting, in October 2005, was hosted by the partners to Wild Ennerdale Project with 50 people turning up on the first day meeting in Penrith. Speakers talked about a range of wildland projects led by public bodies, NGO's, community groups and private landowners, and the following day was a guided walk around the Wild Ennerdale valley.

The first day started with presentations on two wildland project gazetteers (the WN database is now posted on the website). Peter Samson of the North Pennines AONB then talked about habitat enhancement through planting of wood pasture and temporary exclusion of livestock, particularly at Geltsdale. He bemoaned the fact that the pictures in his presentation were taken too soon to show any evidence of transition, but we could just pick out a few small sticks in the landscape that held out promise for the future.

The Forestry Commission is one of the three landowners/partners in the Wild Ennerdale Project. Gareth Browning of the FC explained that timber was a by-product of their management of the woodland in the project area, and not a sole purpose of the woodland. He noted that 40% of the project area was covered by designations of SAC and SSSI. Martin Lester talked about expansion of the East of England's fens around Wicken, explaining that the National Trust saw a role in meeting a public need by creating wildlife recreation areas of the future. James Fenton of the National Trust for Scotland explained the policy for the Mar Lodge Estate which is regarded as remote rather than wild since ecological processes are not the main determinant for its landscape. James showed pictures of the removal of estate tracks, some being reinstated as paths.

Presentations on community rewilding projects in Dartmoor and the Moffat Hills came next. Adam Griffin co-founded Moor Trees in 2000, and since then they had planted 8ha on Dartmoor and planned to plant another 15ha. They had supplied 2000 trees for community planting schemes and had sown a total of 20,000 in their tree nursery. Hugh Chalmers of Carrifran Wildwood described how they had ring-fenced their valley to exclude deer before tree-planting. They had also removed the feral goats, although the goats still grazed the surrounding Moffat Hills

The entertaining highlight of the day was a presentation on rewilding West Sussex farmland by Charlie Burrell. As with many farmers, Charlie has been staring the future of farming in the face over the last five years, recognising that the structural changes in subsidy, coupled with the poor quality of his land, meant that he could not carry on as normal. A first move some years ago was to put 1,400 acres into a Countryside Stewardship Scheme for parkland restoration (the farm is situated in parkland designed by Repton). A 60 acre lake and a herd of fallow deer in the medieval deer park were supplemented by Exmoor ponies, Old English longhorn cattle and Tamworth pigs that get to roam freely around the park. Dead, fallen trees that once would have been cleared away and burnt are being left in place. Large areas of his arable land have been sown with meadow flower seed, using up most of the local supply. Other areas of arable are being left to turn into scrubland. Charlie describes all this as the “Zen art of letting go”.

The Wild Boar workshop, hosted by WN and BANC in December 2005, was held to discuss management of the growing wild boar population. It was prompted by the DEFRA review, launched that September, into the way wild boar are managed and monitored. Since becoming extinct in Britain over 300 years ago, wild boar have established several small populations in England following escapes from captivity, perhaps fewer than 500 feral wild boar overall with the main population in Kent and Sussex and smaller breeding populations in Dorset and Herefordshire. These populations are expected to grow.

The day set out to explore and discuss a range of issues and there was lively debate on if and how compensation for landowners' agricultural damage could be arranged, such as through a levy on hunting licenses. The meeting had a good mix of “different people with different perspectives all bouncing ideas off one another in a constructive and amenable way”.

It is perhaps coincidental that a couple of weeks after this workshop, a herd of 100 wild boar were released by activists from a farm in Devon, and the panic they engendered spread through the media for weeks into the new year.

Our first meeting of 2006 was in Wales in April. A smaller attendance created an relaxed atmosphere in which to hear an insightful introduction from Stanley Owen. There was some more wildland mapping wizardry from Steve Carver, who went through various datasets that characterized Wales. The biophysical data caught the audience interest, showing up an extensive littoral (coastal) resource, and a suggestion for Steve to find datasets that gave importance to the state of the coastal waters.

Derek Gow did beavers again, but had time to go through a comparison of the European with the N. American beaver, their respective food and habitats, the beneficial effects they have on the landscape, and the history of beaver use and persecution in Britain and Europe. Derek combined the right amount of hard facts and emotional appeal to convince anyone that beaver have been lost to our landscapes for too long.

Richard Farmer, RSPB, described one of their upland reserves on the Vyrnwy Estate in the Berwyn Mountains. The shooting estate was historically managed by periodic burning to refresh the heather. The RSPB was now managing for the return of waders, blocking the drainage grips, cutting heather rather than burning, reducing sheep numbers and introducing Welsh ponies. Keith Jones talked about the two farms that the National Trust has at Nantgwynant, Snowdon, offering the contrast of a changing lowland mosaic with the larger upland farm. The farms are managed “in hand” (not tenanted) and Keith talked of the possibility of re-embracing transhumance i.e. the transfer of livestock between uplands and lowlands.

Powys County Council had put in a big lottery bid to finance development of a future vision for the Cambrian Mountains area. Jeremy Wright, Head of Economic Development, gave us a flavour of the assets of the area, but also the difficulties there were in relying solely on traditional enterprises. He said that a successful bid would need many fresh ideas for the future. Concerns from amongst the audience were raised on the skewed age demographic of the area, and whether there would be any protection for the Welsh language.

The field visits the next day were an upland/lowland split, enjoying the wetland habitat of the Dyfi estuary and the potential of Pemprys, an upland sheep valley, and the upland plantation land of Pumlumon.

The first field trip of the year in May was the excursion by 17 people around the nature reserves of Holland, including the famous Oostvaardersplassen reserve and a number of wetland and heathland sites. One of the party commented afterwards:
“the main difference between the Netherlands & Britain was the governments commitment to the process. If we were given all that backing and money to buy land in Britain, then it would make a lot of difference.... I think owning land and determining its usage is critical.”

Another went further:
“The trip inspired me in regard to the need to think BIG and JOINED UP. We need to be brave as a nation in setting land aside for nature (the 2million acres of the Wildand Britain proposal is perhaps not enough) and putting in the infrastructure and the effort and the land to link it all up (e.g. by building eco-bridges, by setting aside land for nature along our main river corridors, by stopping farming or reducing economic activity on marginal lands, etc.).”

The next field visit to the Emley Marshes in Kent a few days later may have seemed small beer by comparison, but the site does hold the largest concentration of breeding waders in lowland Britain.

The prospect of seeing the WN furry toy animal and bird collection brought our best attended meeting near Cirencester in September. Or perhaps more likely it was the brilliance of the speakers and the stories they had to tell. The 80 or so attendees heard from some of the big names on reintroductions and on the interactions between predators, their prey and the landscape around them.

Roy Dennis recounted his decades of involvement with big bird reintroductions - the small groups of three and four sea eagles at first that were doomed to failure (too few and in the wrong place), learning the lessons so that next time it was tens of birds introduced in batches over the years and in the right way and the right place. His tour de force presentation explored almost the complete range of likely reintroductions, showing lessons from continental Europe, and concluding that after beaver – the achievement of which like Derek Gow (who spoke after him) he regards as the measure of whether Britain is serious. However, he thought it would be the lynx that has the next best chance of a successful reintroduction.

David Hetherington explained that lynx were ambush hunters, not fit for running down deer like wolves are able to do. Carbon dating studies showed that lynx survived much later than previously thought before extinction, certainly through our Roman period and maybe into the 7th Century, such that we can now see that their demise coincided with continued fragmentation and loss of habitat. Hetherington gave a detailed analysis that showed that a return of lynx to the Scottish Highlands would produce a viable population.

By all means have herbivores nibbling the (complexly vegetated) landscape says the aptly named David Bullock – but try to use herbivores that are analogues of lost native species - and don’t call them conservation tools said his co-presenter Mathew Oates. Throw in some predators that scare and move the herbivores around so that they concentrate less, and which redistributes their influence. Thus predation and population numbers are not the critical issue as it is unlikely that our apex carnivore of wolf and the omnivorous bear could have taken down an adult auroch, our extinct wild cattle that were much bigger than today’s domestic cattle.

Peter Taylor showed us that our wild herbivore guild is much depleted – only mountain hare and deer remain. We could bring back wild boar and wild horse and cattle analogues, but what about the mega-herbivores, and how far back in our history of persecution and extirpation should we look? Peter explained that we once had temperate forest rhino and elephant, and moose had their moment. Add them back to the guild, along with wolves and maybe bear to mess them up, and we would have some measure of how the structuring of natural woodland took place then. But as Peter said, perhaps we should look forward to our future and work with what we’ve can realistically replace. That adds an unpredictability to the outcome and some degree of risk, a concept that was embraced by many.

Many gave their thanks for an excellent meeting before convoys split off for field trips to observe the beavers at the Cotswold Water Park, and the less certain chance of seeing wild boar in the Forest of Dean. Samantha Ellis recorded her impressions of the field trip and the meeting in her Play Journal, describing the search for signs of wild boar as being "a million miles away from my desk in London."

As 2006 plays out, we have one more meeting in England (Cropston) before our program in 2007 begins with a trip to Knepp Hall to see a farm rewilding (see earlier), and we hope to have a first meeting in Scotland with visits to Caledonian Forest. Our field trip is a sweep through Bavaria, Austria and the Czech Republic to espy some lynx, wolf, beaver and brown bear. Future Natural will be a big meeting next year, in partnership with VINE, but our crystal ball is still cloudy on when and where this will be.

The Coordinating Group would like to thank all those who have helped to make this first year and a bit of WN activity such a success. Particular thanks go to Alison Parfitt and Rick Minter for their professional facilitation at meetings, and Derek Gow for organising and leading the field trip to Holland.


The accounts presented below cover the period from the inaugural meeting in May, 2005, up to and including the meeting in September, 2006. In the main, meetings have been held in partnership with other organisations, such as BANC and the National Trust, who have handled the finances for the meeting and then split any surplus with us afterwards. Because of that arrangement, we do not show the detail of the income and expenditure of those meetings. WN Wales handled the finances for the meeting in Wales, and thus income and expenditure for that meeting is shown.

The expenditure on the TAN 8 Memorandum was for a report commissioned by the Coordinating Group to make the case to the Welsh Assembly Government for removal of the Nant y Moch area from the Draft Map of Strategic Search Areas for Onshore Wind Power in Wales.











Nature in Charge



Wild Boar



Wildland in Wales



Scary or What

















Display board



TAN 8 Memorandum



Wildland in Wales