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Government’s landscape-recovery projects could ‘teem with wildlife’, conservationists say

PM has said he will restore more than 30,000 football pitches worth of wildlife rich habitat

Sam Hancock
Friday 20 November 2020 16:33 GMT
AOC speaks at climate protest for Biden's early hires

A series of landscape restoration projects across England could see the transformed habitats “teeming with wildlife”, according to conservationists.

Plans to carry out 10 “landscape-recovery” projects were announced by the government ahead of Boris Johnson’s now widely panned 10-point green plan, which he released on Tuesday evening. In a statement on the website, published last Saturday, it was confirmed the projects would be launched “over the next four years to restore peatlands, woodlands and create wilder landscapes”. 

The pledge by the prime minister, which he listed in his “green industrial revolution” as a move to “protect and restore our natural environment”, is the equivalent of restoring more than 30,000 football pitches worth of wildlife rich habitat, government officials said.

Charity Rewilding Britain welcomed the news on its Twitter account, saying: “We have more than enough landowners as part of our new Rewilding Network to deliver this — and more!” The organisation is bidding to assist No 10 in its endeavour to protect and embellish English landscapes. 

However, the group warned, for this to be a “true landscape-scale recover”, projects need to “cover a variety of land uses and demonstrate how working with different landowners to restore natural processes, or rewild the land, can deliver on a grand scale”. 

Rewilding Britain believes that by “protecting, restoring and regenerating species-rich mosaics of habitats”, the process of rewilding can help “reverse biodiversity loss and bring back the abundance of Britain’s wildlife”. 

Professor Alastair Driver, director of the organisation, said that he “urged the government to ensure it selects areas which contain a mix of habitat types, not just single ones such as blanket bog, mixed woodland or lowland heath”.

Through rewilding, landscapes are transformed from being “biodiversity-poor and dominated by monoculture” — such as farming or forestry — “to being attractive, multi-textured, multi-coloured habitats, teeming with wildlife, providing multiple ‘public goods’ and sustaining resilient local economies,” he said.

Prof Driver also said the sorts of interventions that are needed to trigger this transformation include “protecting, expanding and creating woodlands, reducing grazing pressures to allow natural regeneration, reintroducing keystone species such as the beaver, reconnecting rivers with their floodplains, and creating key corridors of connectivity between habitats”.

By 2030, Rewilding Britain has said it wants to see the creation of “core rewilding areas” across at least one million hectares — around 5 per cent — of Britain’s entire stretch of land and sea. 

In the statement, released last week, officials confirmed that the 10 landscape recovery projects would be carried out through the government’s environmental land management scheme, which will soon replace the schemes currently available under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The government also said it hopes the plans will help protect the country’s “natural infrastructure” by expanding habitats which are central to “capturing and removing CO2 from the atmosphere” — another goal listed in Mr Johnson’s 10-point plan — helping to improve air quality for much of the UK.

Reactions to the restoration projects have largely been positive, although some critics have pointed to the irony in the government’s intention to rewild the nation when projects such as High Speed 2 (HS2) are infamously ravaging natural habitats.

One woman on Twitter called the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) “hypocrites”. She wrote: “You could start by scrapping the most environmentally damaging UK vanity project in history - #HS2,” before adding: “More irreparable damage has been done to our countryside by this than anything else in living memory #ToriesOut #CorruptTories #lies #environment #StopHS2 #Hypocrites.”

“#HS2 is unwilding and deforesting at an alarming rate all for 20 minutes! 108 ancient woodlands and more being trashed! How can this be???,” another said.

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