Awakening the forest

In 2009 I helped to run a workshop about reintroducing various species to Britain.  It involved the participants suggesting their vision about returning wildlife to these shores over the coming decades. Here are just three examples of what came up in people’s comments…

“Cranes displaying near beaver ponds beside forests with lynx roaming free.”

“Beavers, wild boar, and moose established. Realistic proposals for lynx and serious discussion about wolf.”

“Land managers are informed about all possible reintroductions and are willing and happy to work in partnership to achieve this.”

The last quote above, emphasised that local landowners and communities are central to all this. It turned out to be a dominant theme of that event. In all the discussion it was quickly realised that people themselves should be persuaded of the merits of a possible returning animal or bird, to help influence how it happens, especially if it will be in their locality or have a link to their specific interests, be it farming, forestry, water management, game or conservation of other wildlife.

So, just to do a hard sell about how majestic a lynx or a beaver might be, in some people’s eyes, may make some people suspicious or turn others off. It is important to provide information on what the species is and how it influences the environment around it, for people to consider all the issues and discuss the implications amongst their peers. It was this sort of discussion which also arose at the workshop which followed the woodland edge conference. A group of people got together to consider the latest state of play on the possible return of beavers and lynx, and to consider how wild herbivores, like the Neroche longhorns, contribute to the feel of rewildling the land, and to the process of conservation grazing. You can listen to the workshop talks and much of the discussion by clicking the play figure on the centre of the images below.

The speakers we heard from on beavers have notable experience. Derek Gow has advised several landowners and charities about the captive beaver projects on their land, and has arranged the quarantine and delivery of the actual animals for them. He has provided consultancy advice on other issues of beaver ecology, including on how further trials for conservation management involving beavers could occur. Lisa Schneidau, Director of Conservation at Somerset Wildlife Trust, was formerly with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, where she was involved in the policy discussions linked to the beaver trial at Knapdale in Argyll.

Following a quick tea break we were joined by ecology consultant Peter Taylor and James Thomson, MSc graduate from Edinburgh University to discuss the scope for reintroducing lynx back into the UK. Among discussions about the return of the Eurasian lynx to Scotland, pursued in depth by current Cairngorms Wildcat Project Manager David Hetherington, we were also joined by a different character… The Iberian lynx. Peter commented that the endangered feline could be quite at home in Dartmoor with it’s large supply of rabbits. After a good old fashioned debate on all that, it was then the turn of Derek Gow to give the definitive low-down on Longhorn cattle. To listen to Derek’s presentation and to see some pictures of the ‘Neroche longhorns’ just click here.

Summary

The debate over how, where and when former species like beaver and lynx could be back in Britain includes three slippery questions:

  • How can we consider these factors amongst other priorities in wildlife conservation, when resources are so stretched?
  • To what degree could these former species of wildlife provide natural processes that we may desire in our woods, wetlands and other habitats? Might they help provide a healthier ecosystem for free?
  • Are we not only rewilding the land with these creatures, but also rewilding ourselves? Is this about us, and reclaiming lost elemental experiences, as well as     restoring missing species to their former realm?

For more discussion on reintroductions and rewilding, a compilation of articles from ECOS, with example projects and policy debates, has just been prepared by Peter Taylor.

– Rick

From natural processes to human ones

No matter how broad-minded we feel we might be as an individual, we all relate to the world around us, including wildlife and woodlands, with our own personal values. We each look at a place and consider what matters to us through our own window.  In a charming but rather un-loved orchard in my Parish, I see the last fragments of the orchard landscape which was once widespread in the locality, festooned with fruit and lichen, and keeping the pastoral feel of countryside steadily becoming more sanitised.  But somebody else in the Parish sees the old orchard differently: an applicant for paintballing sees a potential for a stag party and team-building events to support paintballing – an activity some people view as risible. An ecological consultancy has supported the applicant, downplaying any concerns about impacts on the area’s bats, owls, lichens and insects.

The paintballing application will be settled not by a process of discussion, but by a set-piece planning decision. But in many other instances, the different needs we have from the landscape, and the different potential we all see from various parts of it, can be negotiated and discussed. Different views through people’s different windows can sometimes conflict or cause tensions, or can allow people to realise a big picture, of different interests coming together for a greater whole.

It is processes like Community Forests, AONBs, landscapes like Neroche, which provide frameworks for collaboration, big picture thinking, and considering how to settle tensions on ‘what matters’.  Yes, these processes might sometimes stifle things for those who want to race ahead and act on their own, and for example clear ‘scrub’ that might be other people’s bird habitat or supply of sloes, but maybe it’s mostly good to talk and to haggle.  So as we grapple with agendas like wildlife connectivity, and greater community use of woods and forests, the existing and new processes, from Transition Towns (or forests?) to formal and informal partnerships across public private and voluntary bodies will come into focus. We will no doubt give them some thought during parts of the Woodland Edge event.

– Rick