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.


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


Free workshop announced : NEW CREATURES OF THE FOREST?


The return of beavers, boar, lynx and wild grazing to the landscapes of Britain

1 October  2011,   10.00 – 12.30

A free workshop @ the woodland edge conference venue, Neroche.

Experienced practitioners will give illustrated talks on how these wild animals can shape the environment around them. The discussion will consider whether and how these animals might become more widespread in Britain.

Key issues to be addressed will include:

·   What are these species’ effects on the ecosystem?

·   What is the recent experience with these animals in the UK? 

·   How do practitioners, policy makers and the pubic feel about returning these species?

10.00  Welcome & Introductions

– Rick Minter and Gavin Saunders –

10.05  The Awakening Forest – re-wilding the land or the people?

– Peter Taylor & Rick Minter –

10.15  Current experiences with beavers in the UK and future prospects for beavers in England

– Derek Gow & Lisa Schneidau –

10.35  Discussion on the potential for beavers in England

10.50  Realising lynx in our wildwood – how might it happen

– James Thomson & Peter Taylor –

11.10  Discussion on the potential for lynx back in Britain

11.25  Wild grazing, including experience from managing heck cattle in Devon

– Derek Gow –

11.45  Discussion on wild grazing – issues, policies and practices

12.00  Optional walk to view and discuss the longhorn cattle in Neroche

12.50  Close

Lunch will be available to purchase from the outdoor conference catering facility. A discussion article based on issues raised at this event will be prepared for ECOS.

Speaker details:

Gavin Saunders is Project Manager of the Neroche Scheme

Peter Taylor is author of ‘Beyond Conservation – a Wildland Strategy’

Rick Minter is editor of ECOS and adviser on public perceptions in the outdoor environment  

Derek Gow advises on mammal restoration projects, including beaver reintroduction schemes

Lisa Schneidau is Director of Conservation at the Somerset Wildlife Trust

James Thomson is a media adviser who has researched the potential for lynx reintroduction