Faking the wild – safari park rewilding

Rewilding should benefit the well-being of wild nature, rather than acting as a human appropriation of the natural world for income generation that inevitably compromises those benefits. Seventeen years after I launched a manifesto for rewilding the UK, I now offer a Charter for rewilding as a response to it’s anthropization. Combining participatory systems of ecosystem governance with a natural science and spatial approach to wild nature is an empowering narrative that offers much to encourage a greater ecocentric view of the world.

I designed and built two contrasting public demonstration gardens in Halifax in the early 1990s, incorporating elements of plant associations and use, especially nitrogen-fixing plants, which I had picked up from books and articles about Permaculture (1,2). Its approach of a beneficial assembly of plants in relation to human settlements made sense. A few years later, I did the 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate as an evening class interspersed with a few daytime practical sessions (3,4). I learnt that Permaculture was an ecologically-inspired design system, an interdisciplinary earth science for the human species based on protracted and thoughtful observation, a whole-systems design approach that uses concepts, principles, and methods derived from ecosystems. I got a copy of the late Bill Mollison’s Permaculture – A Designer’s Manual and found his learning experiences of nature in working in the 1950s with the Wildlife Survey Section of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Tasmania infused throughout. Mollison wasn’t happy with the environmental degradation he was seeing from conventional land use, his observations leading him to think there were better ways to exist without the wholesale collapse of biological systems. His approach would be a Permaculture design process that utilises ecological and systems-thinking principles, and spatial reasoning strategies. It was a conscious, integrated and systematic site design process that strongly appealed to the lapsed research scientist in me.

Permaculture learning introduced me to wilderness

The concept of maintaining an unexploited wilderness zone in the spatial strategy of Permaculture (Zone 5) was lost on my land-deprived course contemporaries whose horizon and priorities for action didn’t get past urban fringe. They didn’t hunger to know wilderness, to understand what had been Mollison’s inspiration, a position understandable in a population whose wild heritage was unknown to them having long been taken away in Britain. I was struck by how Mollison wrote about wilderness, the importance he gave to its existence. He saw the need for a “nature-centred ethic for wilderness conservation”; that we should “govern our greed” and start to withdraw from agricultural landscapes and “allow natural systems to flourish” (5). In a world where forests, species, and whole ecosystems were being lost, he said that one of our responses must be to “care for surviving natural assemblies, to leave the wilderness to heal itself”. He made the distinction between human zones of influence, managed primarily for people, and the “wilderness, where all things have their right to exist, and we are only supplicants or visitors”. He expanded on this relationship to wilderness – “In wilderness, we are visitors or strangers. We have neither need nor right to interfere or dominate. We should not settle there, and thus leave wastelands at our back. In wilderness we may learn lessons basic to good design, but we cannot improve on the information already available there. In wilderness, we learn of our little part in the scheme of all things”. He averred that “thoughtful people… need wilderness as schools need teachers” so that it was a moral imperative that “all of us have some part in identifying, supporting, recommending, investing in, or creating wilderness habitats and species refuges”

The destructive tendencies of humans towards wilderness were ever present to Mollison – “Only excessive energy (human or fuel) enables us to assert dominance over distant resources. When we speak of dominance, we really mean destruction”. He cautioned “When we settle into wilderness, we are in conflict with so many life forms that we have to destroy them to exist”. He considered that we needed to cultivate or construct the resources that we use in home gardens surrounding where we live, and “not plunder a failing wilderness”; that it was our responsibility to put our own house in order by cutting down on broadscale agriculture – “Should we do so, there will never be any need to destroy wilderness”. It was the most distant or most damaging agricultures and other land uses that created ecological deserts, and which needed closing down and replacing with a much less wasteful Permacultural approach to existence and full nutrition based on the complexity and self-sustaining properties of natural systems – “We create our own life conditions, now and for the future”. This would free up space to “greatly enlarge true wilderness, for it is the ultimate grace to give room on earth to all living things, and the ultimate in modesty to regard ourselves as stewards, not gods”. Mollison allowed that it would take time, that he could not, in his “lifetime, or that of my children's children, foresee a world where there are no eroded soils, stripped forests, famine, or poverty, but I do see a way in which we can spend our lives towards earth repair…. we can start, and our children can continue the process, and so develop new forests and wilderness to explore”. With the hindsight of greater ecological knowledge now, if there was one thing I see missing, it was that Mollison never saw the need for connectivity, that wilderness has to be networked through human-used space, or it dies (6) but then his experience in Tasmania was of a very large wilderness (16,000 km2) that covers a quarter of the island (7).

Mollison did, though, have a view outside of his own backyard, noting that Colin Tudge, a biologist and writer, had conjectured in an article in New Scientist in 1986 on what proportion of the British Isles could be “given back to nature” from a modification of agricultural practice and diet, in which Tudge had come up with a “very conservative estimate of perhaps 60%” (5). Mollison didn’t give a reference for the article, but I have tracked it down. Tudge’s argument was that “Farming takes up just about twice as much space as it reasonably should” (8). It was because “much of what is done in this country in the way of farming is anachronistic and antisocial” and that our farmland could be put to better use because we “sanguinely preside over the sacrifice of half our landscape, not in the name of necessity but in the cause of commerce”. He went through the arithmetic of meeting the nutritional needs of Britain’s population based on a diet primarily of cereals, fruit and vegetables, and the land area that would be needed to produce that. He noted that wheat production was yet to reach the increased yields that were possible, and when it did there would be surpluses that would go to feed livestock – “We have the basis of a diet that is nearly but by no means exclusively vegetarian, of a kind that modern nutritionists would consider close to perfection”. While he allowed some land area for conservation grazing with livestock, he was scornful – “So we could keep some of the bonny creatures of yesteryear just for the indulgence of it, as 18th-cent landowners kept deer in their parks: Ayrshires, Alderneys and Bo-peep sheep, with Gloucester OId Spots in the orchard to sweep up the windfalls”. It was the rest of the livestock grasslands that were wasted land, the broadscale agriculture that could be replaced by restoration of forests – “There is no reason why we should not compete in the world's agricultural markets, and be self-reliant in food (which means being self-sufficient in temperate crops) and still have a country fit or Robin Hood or Rupert Bear. Replant Sherwood Forest might be a suitable slogan for bullish environmentalists in the 1990s”

Leaping past the confinement of fences, both physical and mental

I have covered other examples of where there has been advocacy to reconsider land use in Britain, to free it up from agriculture so that it can be returned to wild nature: Simon Fairlie speculated on the extent of land use 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, concluding that vegan Permaculture would free up the most land for wildlife (9); Mark Avery, in seeking to correct the mistakes of the past, made the astonishingly radical proposal in the Peoples Manifesto for Wildlife for bringing substantial areas in the uplands into public ownership and returning them to wild nature (10); and Common Wealth’s UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan that seeks to repurpose 25% of the UK’s land for wildlife when it is freed up after changes in diet (11). Given these markers, you may wonder why the driving edge of rewilding in Britain is dominated by ensuring the perpetuation of a farming pressure, not by removing it. Thus the apparent mainstreaming of rewilding has led to the creeping normality of a meaningless rewilding being foisted upon us that is profoundly de-radicalised. It has reduced the meaning of rewilding to a thoughtless, simplistic equation, so that it is now as deeply compromised as mainstream nature conservation, although the absurdity of aping conservation grazing seems lost on the fervent promoters and supporters of this de-radicalised rewilding. It’s hard to see any recent initiative leaping past the confinement of fences, both physical and mental, that characterise this de-radicalised rewilding. It is an irony that I have remarked on before, that contemporary critiques of rewilding are more acutely aware of the fallacies in this refarming, this free-for-all of the trophic rewilders, because that is now the prevailing narrative, shorn as it is of any of the critical factors of the original meaning, of full trophic occupancy in a connected system of wildlands where large carnivores structure ecosystems by regulating mesopredator and herbivore abundance and behaviour (6,12-14).

Sure enough, one of the latest critiques, by Dieter Helm, Chair of the Natural Capital Committee, is just another example of how the hijacked meaning of rewilding has become the norm, but Helm impressively dismantles the refarmers, providing me with a brilliant characterisation of their approach, and which will serve as a useful term of abuse (15). Helm asks how the sums add up for this large-scale rewilding “One answer is to use the land as a safari park. Set up safari lodges, run a private lodge, start glamping camps, take people out on nature watching trips, and preferably high paying guests. This is partly what the bigger rewilding experiments are all about: nature tourism”. He must have had the farm at Knepp in East Sussex in mind when he came up with the term “Safari park rewilding” because for £80 you can get a “2.5hr vehicle safari encountering Knepp’s herds of old English longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs, and red and fallow deer, discussing how they are managed and how they create habitats and biodiversity in the landscape. Stopping at places of interest, you will learn about the dynamics of self-generating wood pasture and the theories of Dutch ecologist Frans Vera whose ground-breaking work on free-roaming herbivores underpins the Knepp project, as well as the concept of natural capital and eco-system services”(16). You will see what Helm thinks about this claim of natural capital. I’ve disproved that self-generating (17) and the Oostvaardersplassen, the pet project in the Netherlands on which Vera based his theories, has been entirely discredited (14,17-23) but don’t expect Knepp to lose its disingenuousness when it has a commercially winning formula.

The latter is indicative of one of Helm’s key points about this safari park rewilding - that they are a “private venture” without open access, or they would not be able charge people so much money to visit (15). In terms of natural capital providing public goods, Helm says they don’t offer much in the way of direct human benefit as an experience of nature since they are for the few, who can afford the entry price, and not for the many who can’t – they do not democratize access to wild nature. He also questions why allegedly rewilded farms should continue to be subsidized, when the general principle for use of public money should be to allocate subsidies to those activities that add the greatest benefits, which provide the greatest public goods. As I have often noted, Knepp just sucks up farm subsidy and agri-environment funding while operating as a meat factory - a total of £927,873 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 ((17,24,25) and search RH13 8LJ in (26)). Helm also skewers two of the fundamental weaknesses of safari park rewilding: the reliance on domestic pigs, cattle and ponies, as proxies for extinct herbivores that are “are hardly close substitutes to… the animals that kept the forest canopies open” and which are confined within these “new and typically fenced enclosures”; and the absence of predators that Helm identifies as “key elements of the past ecosystem that are needed to keep herbivores in check… Even if substitutes are added, the big herbivores were part of a wider ecosystem which included lots of very large predators too” (15)

Safari park rewilding is the anthropization of rewilding when you consider what environmental philosopher Ned Hettinger has to say about the dangers presented by the Anthropocene boosters (27) – “I see the recent focus on the age of man as the latest embodiment of human hubris. It manifests a culpable failure to appreciate the profound role nonhuman nature continues to play on Earth and an arrogant overvaluation of human’s role and authority. It not only ignores an absolutely crucial value in a proper respect for nature but leads us astray in environmental policy. It will have us downplaying the importance of nature preservation, restoration, and rewilding and also have us promoting ecosystem invention and geoengineering

Other ventures into safari park rewilding are coming thick and fast

You will notice that Knepp has those pigs, cattle and ponies, but no large predators (see above). I have already pointed to one other Knepp-alike, of another rich landowner - the "naturalistic grazing systems" with black cattle of Hugh Crossley, 4th Baron Somerleyton, and his Hall and Estate in Suffolk, with Basic Payment Scheme and agri-environment funds, one being an Entry Level plus Higher Level Stewardship Agreement (Reference AG00422599) bringing in a total of £604,484 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 ((28-30) and search NR32 5QS and NR32 5QQ in (26)). I also picked up an early sniff that animal trader Derek Gow, who didn’t want to miss out on the safari park rewilding bandwagon, was going the same way (31). Gow wants to see “more state sponsored ‘Knepps’ with black, velveteen herds of heck cattle emerging ponderously from the forest shadow while their calves race forward into the sun. Maybe one day burly bison in reserves of this sort as well”(32). He sees these being where “cohesive, considerable, nature grazing areas will shortly be established”, but despite claiming these areas “for all their visual appeal are not zoos or safari parks”, that is exactly what he is offering at Rewilding Coombeshead in Devon, the 150 acres of his farm where within ringed fences are breeding groups of Heck cattle, Exmoor ponies, Iron Age pigs (wild boar/Tamworth crosses) beavers, and mouflon, an early form of domesticated of sheep (33). There are “Shepherds huts in private pastures”, “Viewing platforms overlooking the re-wilding zone”, “Beaver watching in tent hides on summer evenings” and “Foot and ATV safaris with guides” all at a price yet to be revealed. However, this will be extra income to the agri-environment subsidy of a five-year Middle Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement (Reference 515746) and Basic Payment Scheme that he already receives, and which brought in a total of £61,510 for the two years of 2018 and 2019 (search PL16 0JS in (26)).

Other ventures into safari park rewilding are coming thick and fast. Dominic Buscall shows every sign of being thoroughly Knepp-ed after he met with Charlie Burrell, owner of Knepp Castle Estate, as well as Alasdair Driver, REFARMING (Rewilding) Britain’s peripatetic mainstreamer of this safari park rewilding, and who has done much to degrade the real meaning of rewilding (10,34-36). One of the reasons Buscall gives for rewilding one quarter of the Buscall family 4,000-acre Ken Hill Estate near Snettisham in Norfolk is to “help insulate our business from the impact of Brexit” (37). I suspect what was more important in shoring up the business was the 10-year Higher Tier agri-environment funding of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme (Agreement Reference 617882) that Ken Hill Farms and Estate has, and which covers the whole farm and not just the rewilding area. Combined with the Basic Payment Scheme, this resulted in them trousering £730,606 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 (search PE31 7PQ in (26)). Not surprisingly, Buscall has said that this agri-environment funding was the “best way to scale up rewilding in the UK”(38).

As is the fashion for estate owners, Buscall first introduced two female beaver into a 55-acre fenced enclosure after they had been trapped in the wild in Scotland (31,39-41). I really loathe the enslaving of once free-living beaver by these private ventures, and the vanity it represents of the perpetrators. The trend is all too clear when an article in the Daily Telegraph can declaim that beavers are a “must-have addition” for country estates to attract tourists, their enslavement being “part of a rewilding trend as licences for the animals are on the rise…. Landowners have reported a rise in the number of people "glamping" on their land as they visit to see rare wildlife, including beavers, and "rewilded" habitats”. We have James Wallace to blame, a director of the Beaver Trust, for tieing together glamping, beavers and rewilding because it is reported that he has been working with "glamping company Canopy and Stars to help landowners rewild their land, including the reintroduction of beaver. He has had 30 landowners so far ask him about reintroducing beavers". Who would have thought that there was a connection between glamping and restoration ecology? According to this article, 13 beaver licences have been issued by Natural England since 2017: Buscall will have been one, but the two estates that were mentioned that had already introduced beaver were the Lowther Estate below Penrith in Cumbria that has an Entry Level plus Higher Level Stewardship scheme (Agreement Reference AG00456493) as well as two Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship Schemes (Agreement references 625733 & 661956) that combined with Basic Payment Scheme brought in £1,098,235 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 (search CA10 and Lowther in (26)) as well as Archie Ruggles-Brise’s Spains Hall Estate near Finchingfield, Essex, that I have noted before (31) and which is mostly farmed by a contractor with a Middle Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme (Agreement Reference 356761) that combined with Basic Payment Scheme brought in £506,135 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 (search CM6 3QB in (26)) and woodland areas directly managed by the estate that have a Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme (Agreement Reference 115711) which combined with Basic Payment brought in £32,654 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 (search Spains in (26)). Knepp apparently also has a licence (42) but is unfashionably behind the curve on the beaver bandwagon in introducing them - perhaps they are at the back of the queue in the rush to steal beaver from the wild in Scotland for personal gain. Since free-living beaver are a strictly protected species in Scotland, it begs the question of how this stealing from the wild is regulated?

Buscall has also carried out the usual tree persecution, backed by the funding of a Woodland Management Plan under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement (Reference 675342) in Ken Hill Wood in preparation before introducing “wild cattle, ponies and pigs to mimic the effect of the herbivores that roamed the UK thousands of years ago” and was “building a fence around the perimeter of the rewilding area to allow this” while “allowing deer already found in the area to remain” (37,38,43). I can only see one public footpath, but Buscall has said that in the future parts of the rewilded area would be opened to the public. What he means is that he will make people pay for the access – “We are aiming to make the site more accessible whilst respecting and protecting nature. This will likely take the form of wildlife safaris and forms of accommodation such as tree-houses, which we think will be a great option for the many people that visit north-west Norfolk in the summer”(37). As an indication of how whole heartedly Buscall has embraced this safari park rewilding as a promotional and business opportunity, his project has joined the European Rewilding Network (44,45). This is the parade of meaningless rewilding projects maintained by REFARMING (Rewilding) Europe that also includes Knepp and the equally nauseating Wild Ennerdale where an Entry Level plus Higher Level Stewardship scheme agreement (reference AG00478850) brought in £535,595 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 ((12,24,25,46) search on Maxwell and CA23 in (26)). More on REFARMING Europe later.

Merlin Hanbury-Tenison has taken on 330 acres of his father’s farm on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and now wants to “tear up the fences separating its two sides” as part of a “three or four-decade-long vision”(47). Inevitably, Hanbury-Tenison wants to get in on the beaver bandwagon, following on from the first phase of The Cornwall Beaver Project at Woodland Valley Farm near Ladock two years ago, the enslaving of captive beaver being used as tools to provide an ecosystem service to people in Ladock by allegedly preventing flooding (40). He has resorted to crowdfunding to pay for the trapping and transport of a free-living beaver family in Scotland, and to build the beaver enclosure, purchase monitoring equipment, and install “a small hide so that guests can watch them without disturbing”(48). The intention is for up to six beaver to be entrapped in this enclosure straddling a tributary of the Warleggan River on the 1 August 2020. If you cough up £500, you can be “one of these select few” who will be part of the small gathering who will “watch this special and unique moment”. As well as the enslaved beavers, he’s going to have “roaming Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies, pine martens and perhaps even bison to break up the gorse” while the farm’s income will come from “yoga retreats, corporate away-days and whatever post-Brexit environmental payments the UK government devises” (47). Currently, it looks like the land is farmed by maybe a tenant/contractor that has a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement (Reference AG00354103) that covers the Hanbury-Tenison farm, plus a few other parcels of land, the former being perhaps 70% of the Agreement area, Hanbury-Tenison’s 330 acres perhaps being 60% of that, so that proportionately it brought in ~£211,750 over the two years of 2018 and 2019 (search PL15 7SH in (26)). Hanbury-Tenison believes his “rewilding project will teach people about the incredible healing power of the natural world. Designed for those struggling from the stress inducing pace of the urban environment….it is a place for healing, restoring and growing”(47). So the project will be selling human wellbeing, but he is aware that rewilding is an anathema to many farmers - “A lot of people in the rewilding community are considering whether we need a fundamental rebrand”(47). Well, I think Helm has already done that rebranding – safari park rewilding!

Rachel Evatt, a phone-app entrepreneur, announced a month ago that she had recently bought 125 acres of ex-dairy farm land in the Peak District, adjacent to her house, and her “bold aim is to rewild the land” (49,50). The house on Eccles Road to the east of Whaley Bridge, bought probably only a few years before, is called Sunart, and so it is no surprise that the project using the additional land is being called Sunart Fields. The house was built in the 1930’s in an Arts and Crafts style, and has about 2.5 acres attached – we know this from the planning application that the Evatts put in in 2017 for further extension to include an increase in ground floor footprint through expansion of existing rooms and adding additional rooms, plus building a new annex containing guesthouse accommodation, a swimming pool and a gym, and a range of agricultural buildings, the application receiving consent (51,52). Prior to the announcement, the Evatts registered a private company limited by shares - called Sunart Fields Limited - at that address, whose nature of business was classified as mixed farming (53). Evatt says that the project is about “letting nature take its course” (48): they have a small flock of sheep, a few pigs to turn up the ground, and have access to grazing cattle of which they think they would probably need 10, the intention being to adjust the frequency and rotation of these herbivores through the land – “We will seek to replicate what might happen naturally through some very low intensity grazing” (49,54,55). Evatt has clearly stated that she is taking her lead from Knepp (55-56) but there is no information yet about how they are going to make money out of this venture, which they surely intend or why register a company?

My last example – Heal Rewilding – doesn’t even have any land yet, but is planning to raise around £7m through public donations and corporate financing by 2022 to buy about 500 acres of lower-grade land in the English Lowlands and “give it back to nature” (57,58). The intention is to “rewild the land and convert associated buildings into learning spaces, accommodation and staff offices. The site will be fully enclosed and around half the land will remain inaccessible except to staff and volunteers” (58). Donors will get access to see the Heal 3x3, the nine square meter patch that they have sponsored (59) and corporate sponsors will benefit from facilities for company away days, strategy retreats, courses and workshops (60). Not much is given away as to what they intend to do with the land other than “heal the land, heal nature, heal ourselves” although an article in the Guardian makes it plain that it will be similar to Knepp in that Heal Rewilding will “reintroduce semi-wild grazers such as pigs, ponies, longhorn cattle and deer to sustain a mosaic of grassland, scrub, wooded areas and possibly wetland zones…They will also provide education and accommodation” (57). Having Ted Green as its Patron is also a link to Knepp, as he has long been involved there, as well as being a big fan of Frans Vera (61,62). Heal Rewilding asserts that rewilding is what the academic world calls a “contested term” and then proceeds to put a spin on it that fits its own agenda –“Grazing, browsing and rootling animals construct a mosaic of habitats by 'working' the land in different ways…..We plan to graze cattle, pigs, ponies and deer on the sites once the natural food supply is sufficient to support appropriate numbers of them. We are not farming these animals - they are our ecosystem engineers acting as proxies for extinct or absent wild species”(63)

Well, fully enclosing the land means that it will be farming – wild animals don’t exist behind fencing – and so there will be no connectivity, like all this safari park rewilding. What’s with this half the site being inaccessible? That doesn’t democratize access to and understanding of wild nature. You may be wondering why a private company limited by shares called Heal Rewilding (Enterprises) Limited was registered in the name of only one person six weeks before Heal Rewilding was registered as a charity, the charity incorporated under the Foundation Model that has no membership that can hold it accountable other than a self-selected group of trustees (64,65). I suspect that a revenue stream was always intended from the education, accommodation, and the facilities for corporate sponsors (see above). It fits the mould of a private venture, albeit that the net income may go to the charity. Making rewilding pay is very much in keeping with the anthropreneurs of REFARMING Europe and its approach of ensuring that the cultural domination of land use, the anthropogenic systems associated with the Anthropocene, are maintained so that there is money to be made out of it, and the fenced herbivores and absence of large carnivores are key to that (66). Thus it was no surprise that I find that Heal Rewilding had signed up to endorse a Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth, but I need to give you some background to this Charter.

An unwarranted influence on the Charter

Along with others, I got sight of a draft of this Charter when the Wild Foundation circulated it for endorsement. We were immediately wary of any influence on its content from REFARMING Europe, given the past history between those two organisations, of the Foundation willingly being manipulated by Rewilding Europe (see later). My first thought was that I didn’t see why the Wild Foundation should be the rallying point for global rewilding, and it just seemed that it was jumping on the rewilding bandwagon by trying to give the World Wilderness Congress some prominence when its usual exposure had faltered because of the false start of trying to hold the 11th Congress in China, and now postponement of it taking place in India, the replacement venue (67). There was a reference in the draft Charter to restoring bison “from the coastal lowlands to the mountains of Europe" a typical disavowal of species habitat selection that would be perpetrated by REFARMING Europe (68). There was also a reference cited that while it started off well in explaining that land free of agriculture restores itself (citing other published articles) it then destroyed that by giving space to the warped views on landscape of Frans Schepers, managing director of REFARMING Europe, and with the usual self-justifying agenda points of herbivores reducing fuel loads and wildfires, and plant and wildlife species requiring open habitat (69). The draft Charter contained a set of principles, and I recognised them as being similar to those in the REFARMING Europe’s Call to Action for a Wilder Europe (70). I have previously noted the meeting in Spain last October at which those principles were developed, and I was right back then in not wanting to see any outcome of that meeting being implemented here (28). Other things were troubling, an appendix pointed to in the text was missing from the draft, and there was a time pressure to endorse the Charter. For all we knew, the missing Appendix could have been stuffed with hyperbole about REFARMING Europe’s project areas.

There was a reluctance from some to endorse it, and this was amply justified when the Charter was finally published after being “approved by the WILD 11 Resolutions Committee on behalf of the delegates” ((71) but see later). A reference attached to the Principles in the Charter says they were adapted from Rewilding Europe's Call to Action for a Wilder Europe (see #34 in (71)). This reference was not shown in the draft Charter. The Charter also says that Appendix A - Constituencies and Actions for Rewilding built upon "the work of rewilding organizations from 15 different European countries in the Call to Action for a Wilder Europe". That was a reference to REFARMING Europe’s Call to Action. Well, Peter Cairns said it was 12 countries at that meeting in Spain last year (28) the seemingly unrepresentative group present being from the nine project areas of REFARMING Europe plus some fellow travellers, so that anything they came up with was without challenge or any other interpretations being made available.

This is an unwarranted influence on the Charter from REFARMING Europe, a private Dutch Foundation that continually seeks to downplay predation in trophic ecology when its goal is to maintain open landscapes through a trophic imbalance (22,72,73). It has no intention of ever actively supporting the reinstatement of large carnivores, nor seeking connectivity for wild nature to overcome habitat fragmentation, in spite of what its propaganda may say. Instead it wishes to see its allegedly de-domesticated herbivores, its plastic aurochs accepted as wild animals that can be released to free living (24). Landscape architect Catherine Nordenson questioned the ethics of the use of de-domesticated animals as tools in anthropogenic restoration practices, especially the ethical implications of "faking the wild" given natural predation by carnivores upon herds of de-domesticated herbivores who may no longer possess the same defence mechanisms or skills of their wild ancestors (18). As anthropreneurs, REFARMING Europe would undoubtedly make lousy Permaculturists as they disdain wilderness (72) and Paul Jepson, a member of its Supervisory Board (74) belittles wilderness by considering it a “social construct” (75).

Once the Charter was published, REFARMING Europe claimed that it was a "visionary document", that it followed their Call to Action for a Wilder Europe and had "a similar message" (76) – that’s because it has the same message! That's the point of it, and the involvement of one of its perennial ringmasters in producing the Charter ensured that it did. He had done the same thing in the last World Wilderness Congress document - A vision for a wilder Europe – that became a battle for months in trying to make it less like a propaganda text for REFARMING Europe (72). To further compound this complicity, he was also a member of the WILD 11 Resolutions Committee that approved the Charter (see above and (77)). REFARMING Europe always need to keep the momentum going in their promotion and propaganda to maintain a facade over their scam. Thus in having its Call… embedded in the Charter, and then having the Charter splashed as a response to the strategy to the UN Decade of Restoration - as it always intended (76) - REFARMING Europe is getting its agenda into the mainstream again, with it now appearing to have global backing. Not for nothing has environmental philosopher Jozef Keulartz observed “In Europe, rewilding has indeed gone Dutch” (23)

Many are oblivious to the faults of REFARMING Europe. Especially annoying is that some Americans just don’t get what’s wrong. It seems odd when the backdrop of such a greater presence of trophic ecology, and having some of its leading investigators, they seem incapable of applying the same science and seeing how bogus REFARMING Europe is! Whether or not it was a deliberate subterfuge to omit the overt links to REFARMING Europe in the draft Charter, it did affect the outcome. There are some who would have shied away from endorsing the Charter had those links with REFARMING Europe been present in the draft. Either way, it felt like we were being conned again, that history was repeating itself. As I had done before, I yet again had to be the voice of those with concerns about the overbearing influence of REFARMING Europe, but rather than being accused of just being negative, I set out how I would have approached a charter on rewilding very differently.

Having a much wider perspective

I doubted if the wording of this deeply compromised and unchallenging Global Charter (71) would be seen to meet the vision and theory of change to overcome the barriers that the strategy of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration envisages (78). It certainly offers little in the way of options and solutions to the challenges in Pathway 1 of the strategy - “the generation of a global movement, including many linked local networks, will focus on shifting societal norms and behaviours regarding ecosystem restoration”. Moreover, it does not address the rights of wild nature, the equality that is needed to ensure there is equitable space for wild nature. I have a much wider perspective than represented by the Charter. As a member of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (79) I see evolving work on development of ecosystem-based approaches, such as Nature Based Solutions, development of resources on Ecosystem Governance, and on Transformative Conservation in Social-Ecological Systems (80-82). In addition, the developing IUCN Green List of Species and its Green List Scoring for species status is bringing rigor to interpretation of “fully recovered”, important as that is in reinstating trophic ecology (83). The Areas of Connectivity Conservation Guidelines (84) are another work area in IUCN important to trophic ecology, as is the draft guidance on Safeguarding Ecological Corridors in the Context of Ecological Networks for Conservation (85).

The fit of rewilding, as the capturing and self-perpetuation of regional diversity, with Green List species status and Networks for Conservation is obvious, but there is also a fit with Ecosystem Governance. I have worked with households and communities as a Permaculture Designer, and know the value of participatory design, especially in community mapping and planning. Mary Ellen Hannibal in her book The Spine of the Continent, likened the Wildlands Network Design workshop approach of the Wildlands Project to “collective impact” (86) variously defined elsewhere as a collaborative approach using a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants (87). It seems to me that this collective impact approach can be seen to have infused the evolution of rewilding within the Wildlands Project and the Wildlands Network Designs (88). I would argue that this participatory dimension to rewilding is as important as its scientific underpinning (14).

My approach to a Charter would stress the need for a transformational paradigm shift in the relationship between humans and nature so that it changes its mindset to wild nature, and which leads to the development of participatory systems of ecosystem governance. Thus ecosystem governance should be embedded into all administrative levels through deliberative processes in co-operation with civil society, that identify common cause and engender high buy-in to options and solutions, and which feeds into an overall spatial strategy for land area allocation and use between wild nature and humans that reaches down through bioregional to local level implementation.

The focus of this ecosystem governance has to be the insufficient attention that is given to understanding how free-living wild nature can have a meaningful existence against a backdrop of human exploitation. The Nature Needs Half initiative is symptomatic of a global concern (89) but it does not directly address habitat fragmentation and movement ecology, the life history of species, and coexistence with humans in an interconnected middle landscape. Some elements of protected area systems have given wild nature a space of its own, removing it from confrontation with humans. However, these strictly protected areas are often too small to accommodate the life history of wide ranging species, and little thought is given to what happens on dispersal outside of the protected areas, nor if species inside these protected areas have any long term future as isolated populations.

Conservation biology, in its recognition of the implications of the latter in terms of extinction dynamics, island biogeography, population biology, genetics, and landscape-scale ecological restoration, and in its vital advocacy of networked systems of core areas connected by wildlife movement linkages (88) is now seeing fruition in such as the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act in America (90). It is paralleled by the Council of Europe's Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy through which has developed the Pan European Ecological Network (PEEN) as a guiding vision for spatial coherence in assisting conservation of wild nature (91,92). A number of countries in Europe, like Germany (93) have the development of ecological networks written in to their legislation on nature conservation, and others have spatial studies on the back of PEEN. The question has to be asked what lessons can be drawn from examples of corridors and connectivity projects as conservation strategies from around the world so that an overall spatial strategy can be developed for connected, ecological landscapes at local, through bioregional to a continental scale. It has to be predicated on full trophic occupancy and thus the perpetuation of wide ranging species along with the entirety of regional wild diversity through strictly protected core areas connected by wildlife movement linkages.

This is the original meaning of rewilding (88). It is not overstating the case that there is an empowering narrative embodied within that original meaning, its natural science and spatial approach offering much to encourage a greater ecocentric view of the world. Anything else is just faking it behind fences.

Mark Fisher 27, 29 May, 4 June 2020, 23 January 2021

(1) ORNAMENTAL KITCHEN GARDEN, Mark Fisher - course handout note


(2) Forest garden, Mark Fisher - Permaculture Design course handout note


(3) Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Permaculture Association


(4) PERMACULTURE DESIGN - a short introduction, Mark Fisher - Permaculture Design course handout notes


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(13) Trophic occupancy and the rehabilitation of the meaning of rewilding, Self-willed land April 2016


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(18) Catherine Nordenson, C. (2015) De-domestication and the Wild. IN Deming, M. E. (ed). Values in landscape architecture and environmental design, Louisiana State University Press


(19) Theunissen, B. (2019). The Oostvaardersplassen Fiasco. Isis, 110(2), 341-345


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(21) The internationally famous "Re-wilding" project of the "Oostvaardersplassen" in the Netherlands has failed, Forests From Farms


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(26) CAP Payments Search, UK CAP Payments, UK Co-ordinating Body


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(30) Somerleyton Estate trying to make Rewilding in East Anglia a reality, Somerleyton 23rd April 2018


(31) What future Wildcat in Britain? Self-willed land August 2019


(32) Think the UK Can't Lead the World on Rewilding? Think again! Derek Gow, EcoHustler 13 Jun 2019


(33) About the project, Rewilding Coombeshead


(34) Beavers: getting ready to make a return from extinction, KL Magazine #114 March 2020, 42-44


(35) The loss of a great activist against dewilding, Self-willed land May 2018


(36) Using functional traits - walking rewilding and wolves straight into the criticism of Goldilocks Standards, Self-willed land June 2018


(37) Norfolk farm fights climate change and impact of Brexit by rewilding, Chris Bishop, Eastern Daily Press 29 April 2020


(38) Rewilding and sustainable farming, Emily Beament, The Ecologist 18 May 2020


(39) OUR BEAVERS HAVE ARRIVED, Wild Ken Hill 19 April 2020


(40) Addressing ecological and legislative issues, Self-willed land July 2017


(41) Leaky dams - preciousness, vanity and tree persecution, Self-willed land April 2019


(42) Beavers could be key to boosting profits of country estates, Helena Horton, Daily Telegraph 24 February 2020

(43) WOODLAND WORKS UNDERWAY Wild Ken Hill May 16, 2020




(45) Wild Ken Hill, European Rewilding Network, Rewilding Europe


(46) Watching the naturalness return to the Carrifran Valley, Self-willed land April 2015


(47) Rewilding — does it need a rethink? Henry Mance, Financial Times 25 April 2020


(48) The Cabilla Beaver Project, Merlin Hanbury-Tenison in Cardinham, Crowdfunder


(49) Internet entrepreneur brings rewilding to Peak District farm, Sophie Yeo, Inkcap 5 May 2020


(50) Rachel Evatt (@rachelevatt) Twitter Apr 20, 2020


(51) Planning application details, Application number HPK/2017/0321, High Peak Borough Council


(52) Design and Access Statement - Sunart, Eccles Road, Whaley Bridge, High Peak, SK23 7EW - June 2017


(53) SUNART FIELDS LIMITED Company number 12550631, Companies House


(54) Rachel Evatt (@rachelevatt) Twitter 12:46 Apr 21, 2020


(55) Rachel Evatt (@rachelevatt) Twitter Apr 22, 2020


(56) Rachel Evatt (@rachelevatt) Twitter 9:28AM Apr 21, 2020


(57) Wildlife charity plans to buy UK land to give it back to nature, Alex Morss 27 Mar 2020


(58) Guest blog – Heal, a new rewilding charity, Jan Stannard, MARK AVERY 30 March 2020


(59) Rewilding + tech = Heal 3x3, Heal Rewilding


(60) Businesses and Heal, Heal Rewilding


(61) Our founding team, Heal Rewilding


(62) Advisory Board, Knepp Wildland project


(63) Rewilding (our version) Heal Rewilding


(64) HEAL REWILDING (ENTERPRISES) LIMITED Company number 12385872, Companies House


(65) Charity #1187992 - HEAL REWILDING, Register of Charities, Charity Commission


(66) Trophic occupancy and the rehabilitation of the meaning of rewilding, Self-willed land April 2016


(67) WILD11 Postponement, March 2, 2020


(68) Bison habitat preference becomes a pawn in the disputed natural vegetation cover of Europe, Self-willed land November 2015


(69) Could Abandoned Agricultural Lands Help Save the Planet? Richard Conniff, Yale Environment 360 10 December 2019


(70) The principles of rewilding, Call to Action for a Wilder Europe, Rewilding Europe


(71) Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth, 11th World Wilderness Congress


(72) What is rewilding? Self-willed land September 2013


(73) A challenge to Rewilding Britain, Self-willed land August 2015


(74) Supervisory Board, About us, Rewilding Europe


(75) Can rewilding restore Europe’s biodiversity and help change the way we think about nature? Kira Walker, Equal Times 25 September 2019


(76) Global rewilding charter strengthens worldwide call for nature recovery, April 16, 2020


(77) Participate in the WILD11 Resolutions, Wild 11


(78) Strategy of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, UNEP FAO Draft 6 February 2020


(79) Commission on Ecosystem Management, IUCN


(80) Nature-based Solutions, IUCN CEM


(81) Ecosystem Governance, IUCN CEM


(82) Transformative Conservation in Social-Ecological Systems, IUCN CEM


(83) Akçakaya, H.R., Bennett, E.L., Brooks, T.M., Grace, M.K., Heath, A., Hedges, S., Hilton‐Taylor, C., Hoffmann, M., Keith, D.A., Long, B. and Mallon, D.P. (2018) Quantifying species recovery and conservation success to develop an IUCN Green List of Species. Conservation Biology, 32(5): 1128-1138


(84) Worboys, G.L., Ament, R., Day, J.C., Lausche, B., Locke, H., McClure, M., Peterson, C.H., Pittock, J., Tabor, G. and Woodley, S. (Editors) (2016), Advanced Draft, Area of Connectivity Conservation Guidelines IUCN, 28 Rue Mauverney, Gland, Switzerland


(85) Hilty, J., Worboys, G., Keeley, A., Woodley, S., Lausche, B., Locke, H., Carr, M., Pulsford I., Pittock, J., White, W., Theobald, D., Levine, J., Reuling, M., Ament, R., and Tabor, G. (May 2019). (Draft) Guidance on safeguarding ecological corridors in the context of ecological networks for conservation. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.


(86) Hannibal, M. E. (2013). Spine of the Continent: The Race to Save America's Last, Best Wilderness. Rowman & Littlefield pg 26


(87) Collective Impact, John Kania & Mark Kramer, Stanford Social Innovation Review Winter 2011


(88) 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 May 2019


(89) Nature Needs Half


(90) H.R.2795 - Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019, 116th Congress (2019-2020)


(91) Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy, Council of Europe, 1996


(92) Jongman, R. H., Bouwma, I. M., Griffioen, A., Jones-Walters, L., & Van Doorn, A. M. (2011). The Pan European ecological network: PEEN. Landscape ecology, 26(3), 311-326


(93) S. 20, 21 - Gesetz über Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege (Bundesnaturschutzgesetz - BNatSchG) 2009, Bundesministerium der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz



www.self-willed-land.org.uk  mark.fisher@self-willed-land.org.uk