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To fight climate change, the UK must rewild, state wildlife campaigners

There are many ways in which we, as a country, can go about reducing our carbon emissions to net zero, and in our humble opinion, we should be pursuing all of them. Yet, there is one method that has the ability to captivate the heart and mind more than any other, as it is based around the idea that we should return our green spaces to their most natural selves. This idea is known as ‘rewilding’.

In a new report, named ‘Rewilding and Climate Breakdown: How Restoring Nature can help Decarbonise the UK‘, published by UK-based environmental group Rewilding Britain, it states that to make a significant impact in reducing our net carbon emissions, we need to rewild at least 25% of our landscape. The plan sets its aims at targeting the subsidies that farming communities receive, arguing that they should be redirected onto efforts that support the restoration of wild areas such as peat bogs and marshes, and creating new ones such as biodiverse forests and meadows.

“Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of ecosystems where nature can take care of itself.” The Rewilding Britain page states. “It seeks to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the landscape and the habitats within.”

 

Last year, £3.1billion was spent on agricultural subsidies, with £400million, around 13%, going towards agri-environmental projects. The report by Rewilding Britain suggests that spending on these projects should increase to £1.9billion, which would support the sequestration of an estimated 47.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

The amount would be made up of “25.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in new native woodlands, 7.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in species-rich grasslands and 14.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in peatlands and heaths.” These figures add up to just over a tenth of the current UK CO2 emissions. This is an incredibly large portion, and it’s benefits would not be confined to carbon sequestration. Rewilding large amounts of land has the chance of improving air quality, and greatly improving levels of biodiversity. 

Rewilding Britain’s report calls for three changes to the UK government’s environmental policies:

  1. Integrate carbon sequestration into any new ‘public money for public goods’ mechanisms to incentivise large-scale natural climate solutions.
  2. Establish a mandatory economy-wide carbon pricing mechanism linked to carbon emissions to raise dedicated revenue to help fund natural climate solutions.
  3. Support locally-led partnerships to coordinate action across landholdings to ensure natural climate solutions are designed and brokered locally within each ecological, economic and cultural context.

It also takes aim at rewilding and restoring four key environments that call Britain a home; peatland, woodland, wetland, and marine. The report includes statistics on how much land is used for non-necessities, such as 270,000 hectares being used for golf courses, 1,344,000 hectares used for grouse shooting moors, and 1,830,000 hectares used for deer stalking estates.

The report comes in conjunction with the ratifying of a petition calling to rewild large amounts of Britain, which will now be debated in parliament after it received 100,000 signatures. The petition called for a “bold financial and political commitment to nature’s recovery”

The report goes on to suggest an initial yearly payment for each type of environment, such as £512 per hectare per year for woodland, which would go towards “old-growth native forests in order to remove any perverse incentive to deforest”, allowing the management of said areas to be undertaken more successfully.

Unfortunately, Britain happens to be the ‘slowest and most reluctant of any European nation to begin rewilding the land and reintroducing its missing species’, writes George Monbiot.

Perhaps this is connected to the fact that we have one of the highest concentrations of land ownership in the world. Large landowners, who are often (though not universally) hostile towards any animals that might compete with or prey upon the animals they hunt, and often deeply suspicious of proposed changes to the way they manage their estates, are peculiarly powerful her. Though they and their views then dot belong to very small minority, they dominate rural policy, and little can be done without their agreement.

In a response to the petition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that “Our manifesto committed to planting 11 million trees by 2022, and in addition a further million trees in our towns and cities, and we also have a long-term aspiration to increase woodland cover from 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2060,”. This is part of the government’s 25-year environment plan that was launched in January last year.

For further reading on rewilding, Deeply Good recommends investing in a copy of George Monbiot’s Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea, and Human Life, in which he puts forward the case for Rewilding in a very informative and emotive way.

We will be releasing an in-depth look into the Rewilding Britain report, so stay tuned.

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