UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan - a positive action-oriented narrative


It’s rare for a proposal for restoring wild nature in the UK to be extraordinary enough to grab my attention. Mark Avery’s proposal last year for the uplands in the Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife was astonishingly radical in seeking to correct the mistakes of the past, an explicit invocation of the need for rewilding upland areas brought into public ownership. I’ve come across another this year, the approach so empathetic with my views of how it should be done that I felt compelled to work through its detail to gauge its plausibility, and to see where I may help in its development.

I was invited last July, as a member of the Alliance of World Scientists, to sign the World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency. We were shown a draft of a paper setting out the issues, and urged to support the initiative. I absolutely concurred with the opening premise that scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any great existential threat, this then coupled with being in support of grassroots citizen efforts, a similar exhortation to that of the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice in 2017 that I had signed previously (1,2). I saw no reason to dispute the evidence in this draft paper, of the never-ending rises in human population; ruminant livestock numbers and meat production; energy consumption; extreme weather; sea level rise; ocean acidity; ice mass and glacier thickness losses; and tree cover loss; and the concomitant increase in release of gasses indicative of a burgeoning human use of resources. The paper suggested six steps that governments and the rest of humanity could take to bring about transformative change, but as with the Second Notice, I saw Population and Nature as the key issues that motivate me, the others being attendant on those two key issues. Climate change is contentious, population control is contentious, but there is nothing contentious to me about the need to give autonomy to wild nature, to give it its own space, unhindered by the pestilent, invasive weed that the human species blindly conforms to. Thus, along with 11,000 or so other scientist signatories from 153 countries, I overcame my wariness about climate change issues and endorsed the World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency (3,4). Food was also one of the action steps identified, but at the time of signing, I hadn’t seen the way the wind was blowing, and which had turned dietary choices into a climate change policy lever, in the same way that natural climate solutions have been jumped on by the meaningless rewilders (5).

Food production drives global environmental change

I was aware of an editorial in the medical journal The Lancet that came out in November last year that questioned the lack of debate about the impact that meat consumption had on human health, as well as on the ecological consequences of its production – “So what is a healthy amount of red or processed meat? It's looking increasingly like the answer, for both the planet and the individual, is very little” (6). This was followed by an extensive report in The Lancet that set out a universal healthy reference diet to provide a basis for estimating the health and environmental effects of adopting an alternative to standard current diets (7). Transformation to that diet by 2050 would require substantial dietary shifts, including a greater than 50% reduction in global consumption of foods like red meat and sugar, and a greater than 100% increase in consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Recognising that food production was amongst the largest drivers of global environmental change by contributing to gas emissions, biodiversity loss, freshwater use, interference with the global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and land-system change, then there was a need for food production to take place within a “safe operating space”. This would be where there were “major improvements in food production practices” that took no more land, and addressed the negative issues of production to enable a “biodiversity-enhancing food production”, but which produced the elements of a healthy diet. It would be a “Great Food Transformation”, driven by scientifically derived targets to reorient food production and consumption, with policy interventions throughout, not least in influencing consumer choice.

Looking back now, what I notice about this report is the assumption that this safe operating space for our food systems would cope with an estimated increase in global population from 7.7 to 10 billion by 2050 and, while there was an assertion that no extra land would be needed, there wasn’t any recognition that maybe dietary change could result in a freeing-up of land from food production, especially from amongst the vast areas given over to meat production. Perhaps the calculation was that any easing of land use would be swallowed up by the need to feed an enlarging global population. That land could be freed up from a change in diet was explored over a decade ago in an article by Simon Fairlie of The Land is Ours, a land rights campaign for Britain, that speculated on what the extent of land use would be in Britain to meet dietary requirements under various forms of agriculture – chemical, organic, Permaculture - and how converting to a vegan diet would affect each of them (8). As would be expected, giving up meat eating in Britain would have a profound effect on the amount of land used, raising the prospect that we could give substantial space back to wild nature.

In his comparison for livestock-based agriculture, organic comes out as the most land hungry, while a conventional and a Permaculture approach were similar in overall land amount used, but the Permaculture approach was markedly different in its use of that land, as it was also different to organic. The Permaculture approach had a more dispersed human settlement pattern, made much more use of land for woodland, and had a range of additional yield that included wild meat. It’s an approach that surely would start to bring wild and natural processes back into being a force in our landscapes. Fairlie later described me as a Permaculturist, and also a tree enthusiast (which he held against me) in his book that was primarily a defence of meat production (9). He reasserted, as he had done in his article on land use and agriculture, that my vision of a self-willed land would be “highly compatible with a vegan society”, missing the point again that self-willed land is about autonomous space for wild nature, and not for human dietary needs. In this, he also overlooked that the Permaculture view of land use incorporates areas where there is no human exploitation (see Zone V in (10)) recognising, as the late Bill Mollison the originator of Permaculture did, that wilderness is a place “where all things have their right to exist, and we are only supplicants or visitors” (11). Mollison went on to explain why it was important to leave space unused – “When we settle into wilderness, we are in conflict with so many life forms that we have to destroy them to exist”. Fairlie, on the other hand, sees rewilding as a threat to food production, especially in relation to a removal of sheep grazing from the uplands (12) but his more over-reaching justifications for the presence of sheep got him labelled as a “strong contender for the Agrarian-Fundamentalist-Asshole-Remark-Of-The-Year award” (13). I should point out that while I am not a vegan, I changed my diet 16 years ago when I stopped eating sheep meat.

Connecting up woodland habitat across the UK

I came across a rewilding campaign launched in September that was a “plan for restoration and rewilding, repurposing 25% of the UK’s land for wildlife and carbon sequestration” (14). The announcement was accompanied by an animation showing the lateral expansion of a hedgerow across a farmed landscape so that it developed into a significant linear woodland. It was highly reminiscent of what I had learned about Forest Habitat Networks, and how they can bring connectivity and movement for wild nature (15). This animation also appeared on the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan interactive webpage that explained in a visually arresting and enlightening way other aspects of the restoration and rewilding plan (16). A map of the UK is given that shows the relative proportion and distribution of land uses in Britain like grazing land, cropland, woodland, peatland, urban and suburban. Scrolling down, an animation begins of a doubling of woodland cover, portrayed spatially on this map as connections between existing areas of woodland and at the expense of grazing land. The context is given of connecting populations of plants and animals as well as ecologically linking the uplands with the lowlands. It seemed highly consistent with the connectivity that is at the heart of the Wildlands Network Design approach of The Wildlands Project, a rare exposition that is sadly lacking in a UK context for rewilding (17,18).

The intention to expand hedgerows to become similar wildlife corridors infiltrating urban and suburban areas – Green Urban Spaces - is shown in a separate animation, effectively a community-driven rewilding, and described as such, bringing many more people closer to life-filled habitats (16). The context of these urban and suburban corridors is given as the means to link through to the larger areas of restoration and rewilding by way of the linear forests in the wider landscape derived from enlarging hedgerows. A fourth animation shows woodland development from upland water catchment to coast, reinstating natural flood hydrology. This animation also alludes to restoring natural coastal habitats like salt marshes as buffers to sea level rise and storm surges. Land and ownership is briefly raised in the text, with the assertion that greater transparency on land ownership details would mean communities could have more say over their local landscapes, a range of policies and incentives helping to push forward new opportunities, such as forms of collective ownership, as well as altered agricultural subsidies as payment for carbon sequestration.

Much of this Plan is very appealing, especially the doubling of woodland cover, the very strong emphasis on wildlife connectivity and thus an overt spatial approach, and the new access to nature for the UK’s urban dwellers – it gives a compelling impression that wild nature and natural functions could be widely reinstated, a significant driving force for inculcating nature connectedness in people. At the scale envisaged, it begins to seem like the UK would at last be catching up with many countries in continental Europe in developing a national ecological network, like the Green and Blue Network (Trame verte et bleue) in France that combines terrestrial with aquatic ecological connectivity, and the biotope network in Germany (19,20). The new access to nature in this UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan is strengthened in the accompanying report by targeting, where possible, restoration and rewilding near urban centres, plus expanding hedgerows, riverbank vegetation, and other linear landscape features, coupled with the intention to use legislation to give a right to roam in the newly restored habitats, as well as to allow local communities to buy land and manage it for the long term (21). Funding would be by a land value tax, carbon taxes from industries that cannot reach net zero emissions within the next three decades, and a new Offshore Tax that targets overseas landowners who use UK land for speculation and to avoid tax. The report recommends that Restoration and Rewilding Farm Extension Officials should be funded by government to advise and help farmers realise the potential of receiving payments to secure the restoration and rewilding plan. I responded 17 years ago with a similar idea to a consultation on the issues raised in the report from the Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming (the Curry report)(22). It always struck me as odd that we think of delivering extension services to developing countries, but what we really needed was an extension service in the UK that operates in a pro-active manner, working in partnership with sector farming organisations and local authorities, with the aim of taking information out to the farmer's place of work - be it their farm, local union branch meeting or market.

Green New Deal - democratising access to wild nature

I think there is a genuine desire in the report to democratise participation in restoration and rewilding, and in there being better access to nature for ordinary people. It is a positive, action-oriented narrative, framing interventions around a radical community wide action at the scale of the crisis. It takes away the unwarranted presumption of our rural landowning culture that disenfranchises most of the people from its heritage of wild nature – remember, it is now part of the environment law in France that species from terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, biological processes, ecological complexes and biological diversity are part of the nation's common heritage (23). This context of democratisation was supported where the report said that "adding land ownership details as an overlay to the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan will then identify those with the power to change land use, allowing local communities to exercise a much greater influence over the landscapes they live in. In turn, this will promote land-use decisions in the interests of many more people than landowners alone. Given that a full 50% of England is owned by less than 1% of the UK population, transparency is essential, as restoring grouse moors, hunting estates, peat bogs, and marginal agricultural land will require challenging sometimes powerful landowners to act in the interests of wider society” (21). I also noted the criticism of the sell-off of public lands as a loss to potential restoration of wild nature, as much as the need for public lands still held being made available for restoration, a point I have made myself many times (18,24-29). I was pleased to see a distinction made between rewilding and restoration, the former being indicative of reviving natural processes through letting woodland regenerate, or reintroducing locally extinct species, so that nature could take care of itself – “Given the scale of change, rewilding – the large-scale restoration of ecosystems – should become the default plan for bringing habitats back …. rewilding connects people and nature and is one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to resist climate breakdown and wildlife loss at the same time” (21). Conversely, restoration was seen to operate at smaller scale, reconstructing conservation-reliant, semi-natural open habitats.

What I wanted to know from the report was how and where land would be freed up so that aims like doubling woodland cover could be achieved. First though, we should see that this report – A Green New Deal for Nature – was part of a series of proposals on economy, work life, devolution, institutions, housing, energy, transport, and land ownership etc. that constitute a Road Map to a Green New Deal for restructuring society and economy, and stewarding nature for a just climate transition. It had been put forward by Common Wealth, a think tank dedicated to exploring ways in which democratic ownership can transform how our economy operates and for whom (30,31). Green New Deal is a banner initiative being taken up both sides of the Atlantic, New Deal being an allusion to the series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Roosevelt as a response to the Great Depression in America to get people back into work between 1933 and 1936 (32). The prefix of Green of its modern day equivalent denotes an environmental twist given the current global imperatives.

Thus a resolution was introduced last February into Congress in America by Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez that called on the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal that, amongst many other things to do with a just climate transition, made it a duty to secure access to nature for all people of the United States for generations to come, and have a goal of “restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency” (33). Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming President of the European Commission, committed in her candidacy statement to development of a European Green Deal in her first 100 days in office, with Frans Timmermans as EU Commission Vice-President designate for the European Green Deal (34,35). The EU will not lack for sources of guidance on this, like from the newly formed Democracy in Europe Movement that, along with a Pan-European coalition that includes Common Wealth, has formulated a Green New Deal for Europe that aims to unite Europe’s citizens, scientists, unions, parties, and policymakers behind a shared vision of environmental justice, and which calls for “Rewilding marginal areas and creating corridors for wildlife” (36-39). Closer to home, the Labour Party passed a motion on a Green New Deal at its Conference in September this year so that it became Party policy to include it in the manifesto, and within it to “Implement a programme of ecological restoration to increase biodiversity and natural carbon sequestration” (40)

The two central assumptions of the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan

The report was written by Simon Lewis, a Professor in global environmental change phenomena with a focus on the tropical forest biome, and who divides his time between the Geography Departments of the University of Leeds and University College London. Early on, Lewis states that the key to the Plan is to re-establish woodlands to link existing important remaining habitats together, and connect them to people, noting that a recent analysis had identified 12% of England, equating to 1.6 million hectares that could be restored (21). He makes two central assumptions: that a dietary change of eating less meat and drinking less milk will free up land for restoration that will benefit wildlife and people, as well as sequester carbon; and that areas of lowest value agricultural land, usually used for rough grazing, would be where land may be freed up. He identifies these as Grades 4 and 5 in the Agricultural Land Classification (41) noting that a quarter of Grade 4 land is near England’s major urban areas so that it can benefit the most people with minimal impacts on food production, whereas Grade 5 land typically covers upland regions that encompass vast grouse moor and deer stalking estates (21).

In support of the first assumption, Lewis cited the Committee on Climate Change report Net Zero (42). The Committee is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008, whose purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on building a low-carbon economy and preparing for climate change (43). The Net Zero report assessed options for reducing the carbon budget within each sector of the economy, developing scenarios and estimating the costs and benefits of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. It was asserted that deep reductions in land based carbon emissions depended on releasing land from agricultural use and instead using that land for emissions reduction and sequestration (see chapter 7 in (42)). It was here that the report made the link between diet, land use and afforestation for carbon sequestration, regarding the changes in diets as cost-neutral and afforestation as cost-effective. It notes that the Forestry Commission had identified 5m hectares (12.3m acres or 1,900 square miles) as low risk areas for afforestation in England (about 38% of its total area) a footnote explaining they were low risk because they did not include protected areas or Grade 1, 2 and 3a land.

I will disregard the Core Scenario, described in the report as the low-cost and low-regret option, and move on to the ‘Further Ambition’ Scenario where a 20% reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by 2050 could result in an 8% reduction in cattle and sheep numbers in the UK and a 23% decrease in grassland area, releasing a fifth of land out of agricultural production, and freeing it up for more tree planting and rewetting of peatlands. More ambitious changes in diet under a Speculative Scenario could reduce agricultural emissions further, and release more agricultural land for alternatives, and which could see annual tree planting rates reaching 47,000 hectares (181 square miles) –a bit larger than the Isle of Wight, or about 0.4% of the area of England. It would require a 50% reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy products, but some of that additional 30% reduction would be offset by consumption of alternative proteins produced off-farm, such as lab-grown meat from the tissue culture of animal cells, and mycoprotein (fungal protein). It was classified as speculative because it would require significant consumer behavioural change, including gaining public acceptability on eating alternative protein sources but, as was noted, any change in diet requires a shift in social and cultural attitudes, and increased public awareness of the environmental, animal welfare and health impacts of food that can come from active promotion from the retail sector complemented with public information and education campaigns. I think this is a tough ask, but an accompanying report on behaviour change and public engagement sets out a range of policy interventions that could encourage dietary change (44).

There were only a few nods to biodiversity enhancement in the Net Zero report, mostly in relation to peatland restoration, and a few cursory ones to do with afforestation. Lewis’s second assumption was based on a report from Friends of the Earth on identifying where land could be used for doubling tree cover in the UK by 2045 to make more space for nature, but also for carbon sequestration (45). The authors pointed to previously modelled scenarios for future land use change, noting that eating less and better meat and dairy would free up of land that’s currently used for pasture, especially low grade rough pasture and cropland that’s used for livestock feed so that more land could be given over for trees and woodlands. They set themselves some criteria for areas to avoid: land more valuable for growing food crops for direct human consumption would be excluded, as would deep peat bogs; and areas of existing woodland were screened out. Focus instead would be on optimising public benefit by finding poor-quality farmland that was in close proximity to urban areas, but also land might be reforested to give greater potential for flood mitigation, but they did not want to leave out creating more woods and forests in more remote upland areas as well so that space would be provided for nature and to help reduce flood risk downstream.

The mapping approach for their analyses used various data sets, including the Forestry Commission’s National Forest Inventory to screen out areas of existing woodland; Natural England’s Agricultural Land Grade maps, in order to screen out Grades 1-3 farmland (as the Forestry Commission did – see above) as well as Grade 5 land as a proxy for deep peat (which the Forestry Commission did not exclude – see above); and the Forestry Commission’s Priority Areas for England to show areas where woodland creation would be of greatest amenity value close to towns and cities, and especially deprived urban areas. They also looked at the Environment Agency’s Working With Natural Processes maps for Floodplain Woodland Potential, Riparian Woodland Potential, and Wider Catchment Woodland Potential. The results of their analysis gave 1.8m hectares (4.5m acres) of Grade 4 land that reduced to 1.6m hectares (3.9m acres) or 12% of England, when already wooded areas were removed. Of that available Grade 4 land, around 442,000 hectares (~1m acres) were close to where most people live in towns and cities. They note that there was also great potential for increasing tree cover through increased use of shelterbelts and increased hedgerow planting, doubling the width of existing hedgerows and incorporating more trees, but they averred that was outside the scope of their mapping. As it would seem also in deriving anything spatially coherent with their mapping of Grade 4 land from the floodplain, riparian and catchment woodland potential, other than observing that “vast swathes of England could be usefully replanted with trees for natural flood mitigation purposes”

Gauging the plausibility

Frustratingly, they did not show any of their mapping in the report, and I can’t point you to an up to date, easily explicable map of Agricultural Land Classification - they used a GIS mapping dataset that they had downloaded (46). Agricultural Land Classification has not been added to MAGIC (Multi-Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside) the useful interactive map of geographic information managed by Natural England (47). There are, however, maps on a regional basis if you want to check your location, but Grade 3 is not subdivided (48). To get an overall picture, you will have to look at a rather old map from 1985 that shows the Agricultural Land Classification of England and Wales (49). Areas of Grade 4 land are shown in that old map in yellow, and can be seen to surround Grade 5 land. The latter is predominantly in the uplands, but Grade 4 land is not just confined to the periphery of the uplands, and can be seen in both disperse and in larger, distinct areas in the lowlands, thus fitting the conclusion that some of it is in close proximity to towns and cities. I had hoped to be able to find some data on livestock numbers and the relative use of the land grades for grazing, since there has to be some way of determining whether a decreased demand for meat and dairy production would result in less livestock, and particularly on Grade 4 and 5 land. This was an assertion backed by figures in the Net Zero report (8% reduction - see above) but unsubstantiated by any data source in the land use report that was referred to (50). The annual June survey of Agriculture and Horticulture, which collects detailed information on arable and horticultural cropping activities, land usage, livestock populations and labour force figures, doesn't help either as it has no spatial element to the data (51).

The nearest I could get to spatial data is on Least Favoured Areas (LFA) in England, the zoning of agricultural land where special measures in agricultural subsidies exist to assist farming in these areas (52,53). LFA consist of Severely Disadvantaged and Disadvantaged Areas, mainly in the uplands and semi-uplands where the natural characteristics (geology, altitude, climate, etc.) make it difficult for farmers to compete. If you compare the two maps, the Severely Disadvantaged Areas correspond with Grade 5 land in the north, the Welsh border and in the south west, but also overlap into areas of Grade 4 land around the periphery of the Grade 5 land (49,52). The Disadvantaged Areas pick out some of that Grade 4 land peripheral to Grade 5, and also some chunks away from Grade 5 land in the south west, but do not cover any of the Grade 4 land in the rest of England. I calculated from the data that, as you would expect, the numbers of pigs (96%) poultry (97%) and the main areas of arable production (98%) are to be found predominately in non-LFA land, and thus away from upland areas, this non-LFA land constituting 82% of the total farmed area of England (53). Specialist pig and poultry production takes up only 2% of the area of non-LFA land, and thus a fall in the consumption of these will not result in any significant release of land. Two thirds of total grazing land is found in the non-LFA areas, but then two thirds of rough grazing is found in Severely Disadvantaged Areas. The latter can be misconstrued, as the rough grazing constitutes only 30% of the total grazing in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas, and the overall total rough grazing constitutes only 11% of total grazing.

Total cattle numbers are much higher in non-LFA land (81%) with only 10% in the Disadvantaged and 9% in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas. There is a 60:40 split between numbers of cattle for beef and for dairy cows in non-LFA land, which is similar to the split of 66:34 in terms of respective land area used for their grazing. While the 10% of cattle in the Disadvantaged Areas certainly seems to represent Grade 4 land, what we can’t say from this data is what the split in distribution of cattle would be between the Grade 4 and Grade 5 land of the 9% in the Severely Disadvantaged Areas, or how many cattle would be on Grade 4 land in lowland areas compared to the other, higher land grades in the non-LFA land. I suppose it could be argued that because 38% of the area of non-LFA land is grazing, then this could give an approximation of that Grade 4 land, but it is likely that Grade 3 land is also grassland that is used for dairy cattle. Even so, while the initial impact of a reduction of beef and dairy consumption would probably clear out what little there is in the uplands and semi-uplands (LFA land) it will be the lowland areas where the major release of land could occur.

As you might imagine, the distribution of sheep is different to cattle, with 30% in Severely Disadvantaged Areas in the uplands, 13% in the Disadvantaged Areas, and the balance of 57% found in lowland England, the latter perhaps a surprise for some. This is indicative of the stratified or three-tiered system of sheep farming in the UK, the tiers split between the harshest of hill conditions, the less harsh uplands, and the more productive grassland of the lowlands (54). Sheep meat is taken from all three tiers, and some lambs bred in the hills and uplands are used to replace breeding sheep lower in the tier, but the main throughput of sheep meat comes from selling lambs down the tiers to the milder climates of lower areas so that they can be fattened up before slaughter. It might be considered that the economic pressure of a downturn in sheep meat consumption would be felt more strongly in the uplands, the received wisdom being that livestock grazing is only viable there because of agricultural subsidy. However, while it is true that the financial viability of upland grazing, as denoted by LFA, is almost entirely dependent on that subsidy, it is also the case for lowland grazing (non-LFA) and both would have to make considerable cost reductions to break even in the absence of subsidy (see Table 10 in (55) and pg. 72 in (56)). It remains to be seen what the future holds for agricultural subsidy in the UK. Given my analysis and the caveats about LFA data related to capturing the totality of use of Grade 4 land, then it must remain a partly intuitive rather than a wholly factual reasoning about the impact that a reduction in consumption of meat and dairy products will have on freeing up Grade 4 land.

The need for a study to take the Plan forward

I went to see Simon Lewis because I wanted to make sure that I understood the approach in the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan, and to check whether the two assumptions I had identified were correct. In advance, I had sent him some reference information that may help in further development of the project, such as Forest Habitat Networks (57) new wildwoods in Britain (58) green infrastructure (59) urban ecology (60) and The Wildlands Project approach to reserve design, a process that would build respect for nature (61). I stressed the latter was a citizen engagement activity that was sorely needed across the whole spectrum of nature conservation in the UK because of the conservation industry’s appropriation of process in Britain, with only token participation from the public. I pointed to when I worked in community development a couple of decades ago, and as a Permaculture Designer, to emphasize the strength that spatial approaches have to fostering citizen engagement, such as the use of Planning for Real in community mapping and planning (62). I said that these were amongst many resources and issues, and which should also include the decisive issue of public ownership of land in facilitating restoration of wild nature plus an immersive experience in natural landscapes as a reconnection to nature, and which can be lent to inform the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan. I also noted that there were issues of natural justice in ensuring that the wild nature occupying restored areas was adequately protected, not just by statutory protection through designation, although our protected area legislation is entirely inadequate for that purpose, but also by inalienability.

As well as his day job, Lewis is connected in to people in think tanks and influence groupings involved in developing environment policy, mostly on climate change, and probably because of his background in research on tropical forests and carbon. He gets asked advice on afforestation and climate mitigation, and writes for the Guardian newspaper on climate change issues (i.e. 63,64) as well as arguing in his book co-written with Mark Maslin that Universal Basic Income and rewilding can meet the demands of the Anthropocene (65,66). In relation to the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan, he is not bound by any timeline of the overall Green New Deal program of Common Wealth, and can independently progress the land and nature part of it. Perhaps he should not have been surprised that he got no response from Rewilding Britain when he sent it his Plan, because it was probably deep in damage limitation over its failure to progress the Summit to Sea project (5). I reiterated my concerns that protected area designation needed changing; that our wildlife legislation is old and heavily amended, and desperately needed updating; that short term environmental incentive schemes for farmers is just paying rent over and over again, when what was needed was some continuity of establishment and protection for returning wild nature in some form of inalienability – public ownership would be good; that I wasn’t bound up with this rewetting of peat bogs, the fetishizing of sloppy peat by the conservation industry and carbon sequesters belying its anthropogenic origin, and excluding it from recapturing a native, natural vegetation, at its very least being bog woodland, a scarce and under-represented habitat in Britain; and that, in general, there were so many barriers to woodland creation, especially in the uplands from broad scale designation of moorland habitats (SSSI, SAC, SPA) or the quasi-designation imposed by the conditions of an agri-environment scheme, both of which barred tree regeneration, and the existence of common land grazing, the grazing rights needing extinguishing if there were to be any chance of afforestation.

We talked about the need for a study to take the Plan forward, possibly funded by one of the research councils. Lewis had written in his report that this could be realised by using the UK’s land cover and other maps to produce a series of priority areas to re-establish ecosystems to link existing woodlands and semi-natural habitats into a UK-wide connected network, this then being used to guide policy and future investment (21). In relation to that connectivity, I commended the WrEN Project (Woodland Creation & Ecological Networks) that is using a natural experimental approach to ask questions about how to prioritise actions to restore ecological networks at large scale (67). Two study landscapes have been selected, one in Scotland (~7,335km2) the other in England (~8,570km2) and then attributes identified within them based on ecological continuity/woodland age, woodland size, amount of surrounding habitat, and degree of spatial isolation. A total of 106 secondary and 27 ancient woodland sites have been surveyed in those two locations for habitat and wildlife, and studies have been carried out to determine species mobility using bats, and the response of small mammals to woodland creation.

I filled him in on the relevant contents of the Environment Bill that was placed before Parliament in October (68) like the Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) and their link to the Nature Recovery Network in the 25 year environment plan (69) and how it is all just a nonsense because the Environment Bill doesn’t mention the Nature Recovery Network; the individual LNRS that make it up will just contain a collection of stepping stones that are not networked by wildlife movement linkages; there is no attempt to create new designated area types for any newly identified opportunities for nature recovery in LNRS; and there is only a vague and uncommitted nod to public participation in drawing up LNRS. The Environment Bill is dead, its future depending on the outcome of the General Election, and so I may have to come back later with a fuller critique. However, I did come across a useful discussion document from DEFRA on the Nature Recovery Network that I commended to Lewis (70). In looking at the objectives, structure, development and potential partnership approaches for developing a Nature Recovery Network, it has a section that says all the right things about movement ecology - providing feeding, shelter, resting and breeding areas to support the lifecycles of species, allowing evolutionary change and genetic exchange between populations, facilitating species movement between larger habitat areas through habitat extension, corridors and stepping stones, decreasing the risk of local extinctions, increasing genetic exchange - but there was nothing in the document on how it would be identified spatially or achieved. I pointed Lewis to a document that has a simple explanation of the least-cost ecological network model approach, based on focal species for four broad habitat types, one of which was Broadleaved Woodland (see pg. 26 in (71) figs. 6 & 7 in (72)).

We left it open on what could happen next, mostly because it depends on whether the incoming government after the General Election will be receptive to taking on promoting the dietary changes needed, and the planning for ecological restoration on such a large scale, but we agreed a study should be put in place nevertheless. It is perhaps serendipitous that at least two of the party manifestos for the election have some of the issues that Lewis and I spoke of, such as in the Labour Party manifesto and its Plan for Nature that commit to review and improve protected area designations, and establish criteria and new priorities for new protected area designations; legislation for binding new standards on nature recovery, and habitats and species protection; restore the natural environment of Britain in a network of large, connected areas across the entire country, the connecting of natural corridors allowing animal migrations, seed dispersals and provide habitats in their own right, and which can lead onwards into the parks and gardens of town and city centres; encourage participatory decision making through establishing local citizens assemblies to debate and bring agreement on developing local nature networks that will underpin a national Networks for Nature, while also ensuring more people can enjoy living closer to nature ((73,74) and in the Green Party manifesto where there is a commitment to make space for nature through the restoration of natural landscapes; promote a reduction in meat and dairy consumption; realise the land’s ability to absorb carbon through reforestation, rewilding and regenerative farming; ending Government subsidies used to maintain artificial landscapes designed only for hunting and rewild the land where possible; restoring, expanding and joining up the wild spaces nature needs to thrive; reintroduce nature into our urban environments; and recognise access to diverse nature as a human right and uphold it across society (75). There seems to be bidding war between political parties over which one will plant the most trees when in Government, and so while I gave a digest of policies on nature of all the main political parties before the last election in 2017 (76) it doesn’t seem worth bothering with this time when the commitments I have outlined above are on offer. In thinking about the significance of this proposal of a UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan, I am reminded of the words I wrote 18 years ago, before I became an advocate for rewilding, but they seem as prescient as ever now, and they absolutely argue for us to get behind the Plan (77):
“As our knowledge grows about the state of our world, its future seems to become increasingly uncertain. The concern is that our individual and collective outlook is maintaining a way of life that will not last for long. But all is not doom and gloom. We can start out ourselves to change the way we view our use of the world, working out ways to be more careful of its resources, and then seeking out others who think in the same way. By making simple choices and then joining our efforts together with others, we begin to put a value on the things that are important for our future.

Many people look to nature as an inspiration for how we may be thoughtful in our approach to living in the world

Mark Fisher 28 November 2019

(1) Civilisation, artifice, domination, autonomy – divining a moral ethic for wild nature, Self-willed land December 2017

(2) Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T.M., Galetti, M., Alamgir, M., Crist, E., Mahmoud, M.I., Laurance, W.F. and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries (2017) World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. BioScience 67(12): 1026-1028

(3) Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., & Moomaw, W. R. (2019). World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency. BioScience “in press”

(4) List of scientist signatories, Supplemental File SI for the article "World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency" published in BioScience by William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, and William R. Moomaw, pg 92

(5) Rewilding Britain backs out of Summit to Sea – a symptom of a wider failure to achieve, Self-willed land October 2019

(6) Editorial: We need to talk about meat. The Lancet 392(10161): 2237

(7) Willett, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., Lang, T., Vermeulen, S., Garnett, T., Tilman, D., DeClerck, F., Wood, A. and Jonell, M., 2019. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393(10170), pp.447-492

(8) Fairlie, S. (2007) Can Britain Feed Itself? The Land 4 (Winter 2007-8) 18-26

(9) Fairlie, S. (2010). Meat: A benign extravagance. Chelsea green publishing.

(10) Fisher, M. (2001) Zonal analysis - placement and relative location, Permaculture Design course handout notes

(11) Mollison, B. (2002) Permaculture Designers Manual 2nd Ed. Tagari Publications

(12) Fairlie, S. (2013) Rewilding and Food Security. The Land (Summer 2013) 14: 23-25

(13) More Rewilding, Frequently Found Growing On Disturbed Ground, 10 August 2013

(14) Common Wealth (@Commonwealth) Twitter 11 September 2019

(15) Open or closed – what is the natural landscape matrix of a wild Britain? Self-willed land June 2009

(16) UK Restoration and Rewilding - Part of Common Wealth's Road Map to the Green New Deal

(17) Fisher, M. (2019) NATURAL SCIENCE AND SPATIAL APPROACH OF REWILDING –evolution in meaning of rewilding in Wild Earth and The Wildlands Project. Self-willed land March 2019

(18) An ecological landscape – connectivity, cores and coexistence, Self-willed land March 2019

(19) Trame verte et bleue - Centre de ressources (undated). Présentation de la TVB.

(20) Biotopverbund, Bundesamt für Naturschutz

(21) Lewis, S.L. (2019) A Green New Deal for Nature. 8.1 Land - Road Map to a Green New Deal: From Extraction to Stewardship, Common Wealth

(22) Rural Aspirations of a Semi-upland District, response to the Government's consultation - Sustainable Food and Farming: Working Together, Dr Mark Fisher 17 June 2002


(23) Article L110-1, Titre Ier: Principes généraux, Livre Ier: Dispositions communes, Code de l'environnement, Legifrance

(24) Nature improvement and restoration areas - are they a step towards rewilding? Self-willed land June 2011

(25) Unfinished business on rewilding - a comparison between Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe, Self-willed land May 2016

(26) Written evidence submitted by Dr Mark Fisher, The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum, Environmental Audit Committee, House of Commons September 2016

(27) A science-based movement for wilding, Self-willed land February 2017

(28) The continuing destruction of our native trophic pyramid, Self-willed land February 2018

(29) Hope is natural, hope is wild, Self-willed land September 2018

(30) What we do, Common Wealth

(31) The UK Green New Deal, Common Wealth

(32) New Deal, 6 June 2019

(33) Resolution - Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. 116th Congress (2019-2020)

(34) A Union that strives for more - My agenda for Europe, Ursula von der Leyen, candidate for President of the European Commission, POLITICAL GUIDELINES FOR THE NEXT EUROPEAN COMMISSION 2019-2024 July 2019

(35) Frans Timmermans, Vice-President: European Green Deal. Briefing for Hearings of European Commissioners-designate, European Parliament 8 October 2019

(36) About Us, Green New Deal for Europe

(37) OUR COALITION, Green New Deal for Europe

(38) 10 PILLARS OF THE GREEN NEW DEAL FOR EUROPE, Green New Deal for Europe

(39) A Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition, The Green New Deal for Europe 2019

(40) Agreed Conference Motion, LABOUR FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL

(41) Agricultural Land Classification: protecting the best and most versatile agricultural land, Natural England Technical Information Note TIN049 edition 2, December 2012

(42) Net Zero Technical report, Committee on Climate Change May 2019

(43) UK regulations: the Climate Change Act, Committee on Climate Change

(44) Carmichael, R. (2019) Behaviour Change, public Engagement and Net Zero. A report for the Committee on Climate Change October 2019

(45) Finding the land to double tree cover, - Friends of the Earth April 2019

(46) Provisional Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) (England) Natural England Open Data

(47) Provisional Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) Natural England April 2019

(48) Regional Agricultural Land Classification Maps, Access to Evidence, Natural England

(49) Agricultural Land Classification of England and Wales, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Welsh Office Agriculture Department, Agricultural Development and Advisory Service

(50) Land use: Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change, Committee on Climate Change November 2018

(51) Farming Statistics: Land Use, Livestock Populations and Agricultural Workforce at 1 June 2019 - England, DEFRA 24 October 2019

(52) Less Favoured Areas (England) MAGIC

(53) Less Favoured Areas (LFA) DEFRA November 2017

(54) UK Sheep Farming: Understand why sheep farming in the UK is different to other parts of the world, National Sheep Association

(55) Early review of the new farming programme, National Audit Office HC 2221 SESSION 2017–2019 5 JUNE 2019

(56) The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium, DEFRA, Government Statistical Service September 2019 - Update

(57) The genesis of the Forest Habitat Network concept by George Peterken from 1995 onwards for reversing habitat fragmentation – see Ch. 9

(58) New Wildwoods in Britain: The potential for developing new landscape-scale native woodlands, Land Use Policy Group 2002

(59) North West Green Infrastructure, The North West Green Infrastructure Think Tank Guide Version: 1.1 2008

(60) Werner, P. (2011). The ecology of urban areas and their functions for species diversity. Landscape and Ecological Engineering, 7(2), 231-240

(61) Johns, D. and Soulé, M. (1995) Getting from Here to There: An Outline of the Wildlands Reserve Design Process. Wild Earth 5(4) 32-36

(62) Fisher, M. (2001) Participatory planning processes. Permaculture Design course handout notes

(63) Sucking carbon out of the air is no magic fix for the climate emergency, Simon Lewis, Guardian 1 August 2019

(64) Don’t despair – climate change catastrophe can still be averted, Simon Lewis. Guardian 7 August 2019

(65) Universal basic income and rewilding can meet Anthropocene demands, Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, Guardian 12 Jun 2018

(66) Lewis, S.L. & Maslin, M.A. (2018) The human planet: How we created the Anthropocene. Pelican, London

(67) The WrEN project - A large-scale natural experiment, University of Stirling, Forest Research and Natural England

(68) Environment Bill 2019-20

(69) A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, HM Government 2018

(70) Nature Recovery Network: Discussion Document - DEFRA Group Discussion Paper: Not Policy April 2019

(71) ‘Improvement Programme for England’s Natura 2000 Sites – Planning for the Future’, Natural England 2015

(72) Somerset’s Ecological Network: Mapping the components of the ecological network in Somerset, Somerset County Council, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Forest Research, Somerset Environmental Records Centre February 2019

(73) IT’S TIME FOR REAL CHANGE – The Labour Party Manifesto 2019

(74) A Plan for Nature - our manifesto for the Environment, Labour Party 27 November 2019

(75) If not now, when? Green Party Manifesto 2019

(76) Commitments to nature in party political manifestos, ADDENDUM in Reclaiming our wild heritage, Self-willed land May 2017

(77) Fisher, M. (2001) The Permaculture View: sustainability through achieving a balance in life. Permaculture Design course handout notes