More than a fifth of councils in the UK are currently undertaking rewilding projects or have plans to do so, according to a joint investigation by Inkcap Journal and the Guardian.
The media outlets asked every council in England, Scotland, and Wales about their rewilding plans and found that 21 per cent of councils – 43 of 206 – were either currently rewilding or had plans to “embrace it soon”. In England, 22 per cent of councils were undertaking some form of rewilding or planned to do so, while 19 per cent in Scotland and 14 per cent in Wales were purusing similar projects.
Rewilding projects underway which were highlighted by the investigation include a former golf course in Brighton which is being restored to a wildflower meadow, while Derby City Council has approved the largest urban rewilding project in the UK, which will see it convert 130-hectres of Allestree Park into a mosaic of habitats with red kites and harvest mice reintroduced to the area.
East Renfrewshire Council, meanwhile, plans to restore a stretch of industrialized river channel on the Levern Water, in Barrhead, to reconnect the river to its natural floodplain. Two 18th century weirs are to be modified and lowered to allow salmon upstream for the first time since Victorian times.
However, Sophie Yeo, editor of Inkcap, warned: “These statistics indicate the overall willingness of councils to endorse rewilding as part of their approach towards conservation, but should not be taken as an absolute barometer of their commitment towards nature recovery.”
The investigation was based on self-identification. Where a council confirmed they were rewilding, or otherwise endorsed rewilding as an approach, then they were counted as a being in favor of rewilding. The exception to this rule was where a council had a plan to reduce the mowing of green spaces, which was not counted as a rewilding project by the report as there is “no element of hands-off or landscape-scale management involved”, Yeo said.
A major challenge was the “flexibility” of the term ‘rewilding’, which Yeo said was “demonstrated by the pains that some councils took to demonstrate exactly what it meant to them, and why it was or was not an appropriate strategy for their land “.
Alastair Driver, head of the NGO Rewilding Britain, told The Guardian that all councils could make a significant contribution to the group’s aim to ‘rewild’ five per cent of Great Britain. “There’s no doubt that local authorities can directly and indirectly contribute significantly to rewilding, particularly around urban fringes where people can walk out into truly wild or wilding countryside,” he said.
“We have got to find large sites of at least 250 acres where we can move significantly up the rewilding spectrum. That also usually means, in the absence of native herbivores like bison and elk, we are probably going to need small numbers of rare— breed cattle while allowing natural regeneration to take its course.”