Rewilding with Chris Packham


Earlier this week, representing LUCT, I attended a conference hosted by Climate Change North-east, to hear the guest speaker, Chris Packham speak firstly about the state of the UK’s wildlife and secondly, about what we can all do to reverse the current situation.

Some facts which he quoted (based on scientific study) were frightening; for example, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.  Out of 218 countries assessed for their “biodiversity intactness”, the UK came 189th – much closer to the bottom than the top!

The UK has lost 44 million birds since the 1960s (a very short space of time in biological terms) and even more startling, we have lost 97% of our hedgehogs – a greater percentage than the decline of the Turtle Dove, which has been so widely publicised.

We have so accurately measured the declines of all these species (bird, insect and mammal) but failed to address these declines!  Our statutory agencies have suffered over 50% cuts in funding – we must start reinvesting in them.

Many nature reserves have become isolated and populations of key species have become fragmented.  Our national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are a very different “model” compared with their equivalents abroad.  For example, none of our national parks have wilderness areas, unlike in North America or Europe.

In France, following studies on 900 different farms, there is a deliberate policy of reducing the application of herbicides by up to 50%, because there has been no appreciable decline in crop yield - the French have acted on their findings almost immediately.

In the UK, only 1-2% of land is under nature conservation, compared with over 70% for agriculture.  What about a “nature friendly farming network”? There should be a bridge between farming and conservation - we have the capacity for change – a key phrase to take from the morning!

‘Rewilding’ is a word which alarms some – as a consequence, it has been misunderstood.  Rewilding can take place on a small, as well as landscape scale, approach. For example, in your own garden, allotment or park.  

One much lauded example, the Knepp Estate in Sussex, was intensively farmed for 60 years, without thought for the future.  Now it is a fantastic example of what can be achieved in a relatively short time frame.

Click through to manifesto

Click through to manifesto

Together with 17 acknowledged experts from the worlds of science and conservation, Chris has drafted The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife”, launched on Wednesday this week, which can be downloaded from his website.  Together with a walk starting in Hyde Park tomorrow, “Walk for Wildlife” we must “catch up” with the rest of Europe, by embracing our wildlife, much of which has featured in our culture and heritage for centuries.

None of us will agree with everything suggested in the Manifesto, but there will be many aspects that we all hopefully do agree about.  One idea is linking all primary schools with a local farm, to understand how our food is produced. The document is a draft, open for comment but nonetheless it is a valuable starting point for discussion.  Our neighbours in Europe have already begun to reverse the decline in their wildlife.  A healthier landscape means a healthier lifestyle, of benefit to us all!

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Jill Warwick