The road to recovery

Posted by Dr Paul Jepson on 18/11/2018

The UK government recently stated its ambition to "leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it", and to "not just protect and conserve, but enhance and restore habitats and landscapes". Adopting the slogan "Protect the best, recover the rest", unifies these ambitions. We not only need to protect the best regulations, policies and natural areas developed to date, but also forge ahead and engage new audiences in new conservation narratives suited to an era of accelerating change. 

In rewilding and restoration we are now seeing the emergence of just such a narrative. A "Recoverable Earth" narrative, characterised by compelling tales of the return of iconic species such as the European bison, beaver and white-tailed eagle, the recovery of ecological abundance, and innovative ways of working with restored forces of nature to solve today's environmental, economic and social challenges. This is a story of what can be achieved, rather than what needs to be done.

Nature, society and economy are inextricably linked, and there is little value in attributing blame when it comes to missed conservation targets and declining biodiversity. Contrasting sharply with the pessimistic undertones of many of the twentieth century's conservation-related messages, Recoverable Earth inspires us with its positivity, and the idea that we can work together with nature, not only for the good of nature itself, but people too. 

The Gelderse Poort project, a pioneering rewilding initiative located near the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, demonstrates perfectly how this can work in practice.  Starting in the early 90s, the area's waterways were restructured so that floodplains were once again able to play their natural role in flood protection. Clay mining became a new economic driver, partially replacing agriculture, with newly excavated channels contributing to the ecological restoration of the riverine landscape. Beavers, Galloway cattle and Konik horses were reintroduced, while species such as osprey and black stork have returned in growing numbers. 

This restored natural asset is generating multiple forms of value for the citizens of Nijmegen. These include a range of nature-based recreation opportunities, a heightened sense of civic pride, and better flood protection and water quality. Local brick makers, who use Gelderse Poort clay, can justifiably say they are helping to build a greener future for the area. 

As we approach Brexit, now is a time of transition and no little uncertainty. But as the Gelderse Poort project shows, the change in conservation thinking and practice represented by rewilding has been gaining momentum and generating positive outcomes across the globe for many years. As somebody actively engaged in this change, both as a researcher and an educator, I firmly believe that we should seize the opportunity to embed this thinking into our institutions and our landscapes. This will require a new generation of conservation enterprises, with the confidence, networks, skills and experience to innovate and involve others in shaping a better and brighter future for our natural environment. 

A leading example of one such enterprise, today Ecosulis has the ambition and ability to put the philosophy of Recoverable Earth into practice. Dedicated to protecting and enhancing biodiversity and habitats across our project portfolio, we are committed to realising a recovered United Kingdom where wild nature, business and people can all thrive in an interconnected and sustainable way.