Today, the largest terrestrial carnivore in the United Kingdom is a badger. Aside from the fact that I love badgers, wouldn't it be great to have a little more diversity in our landscapes?
At Ecosulis, we believe that rewilding is the best way to enhance British biodiversity. But this progressive approach to conservation isn't only about letting nature take care of itself and bringing back lost species. It can reconnect human lives with the natural world, support sustainable livelihoods, regenerate degraded habitats in a cost-effective way, and help with everything from securing supplies of freshwater to mitigating flood risk. At a time when the United Kingdom is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, the question we really need to ask is: can we really afford not to rewild?
My experience with rewilding and the benefits that enhanced wild nature can bring date back many years. But it was more recently in 2010, when I was working on forest conservation in California, that I had a chat with John Davis from the Albuquerque-based Rewilding Institute. John urged me to think big and work to reintroduce long extirpated species, such as the grizzly bear, to the state. At the time, it seemed like a moonshot dream. But in less than a decade, wolverine and wolf have recolonised California, and grizzly reintroduction is under serious consideration. The presence of these species is already bringing more tourists and conservation dollars to the region, and driving discussions about how to connect wilderness, wild nature and community livelihood in economically deprived areas.
Two years later, I was part of a team who convinced the United States Forest Service to install a beaver deceiver - a device that allows water to bypass beaver dams - to avoid flooding in one of their visitor centres adjacent to a beaver dam. Not only was the Forest Service biologist excited about avoiding the huge expense of visitor centre renovation, but also the prospect of allowing industrious beavers to expand local wetlands and increase biodiversity.
Beavers, in fact, could be one of the cheapest ways of restoring degraded wetlands. A recent study in the western United States showed that beaver reintroduction would create enough water storage to offset the construction of two dams, potentially saving billions. In these uncertain times of climate change, "nature's engineers" could be critical in ensuring water supplies for both wildlife and people.
Not only is rewilding potentially more cost effective than traditional forms of active restoration, it can stimulate new enterprise and economic activity, incentivising landowners and local communities to protect local wild nature and support conservation efforts.
Nature-based tourism, on the rise in many areas of Europe, is an increasingly valuable source of revenue. The European Safari Company, for example, is now offering safari-style holidays in rewilded European landscapes, with a percentage of profits recycled back into conservation. A Scotland or Wales boasting enhanced biodiversity and iconic species such as the beaver and golden eagle will surely bring more tourists and benefit local economies. Working in partnership with farmers and diversifying rural economies beyond agriculture will keep people on the land, pre-empt damaging development, and lead to healthier environments and communities.
Rewilding is all about dynamic processes rather than pre-defined targets. Yet humans and wildlife coexisting in restored landscapes is one of rewilding's key goals. Accomplishing this goal is enshrined in Ecosulis' core values of Biodiversity, Habitats and People. As experienced environmental consultants, our unique blend of innovation, technology, insight and commitment will ensure that rewilding plays an increasingly important role in delivering benefits for the nature and people of the United Kingdom.