Simon's Blog: Outstanding options?
I recently met with colleagues from Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from across the south and east of England. Following the formal business, we had an opportunity to visit a rewilding project in Sussex. The scheme is at the 3,500 acre Knepp Estate that until a few years ago was farmed intensively although rarely made a profit due to the difficult farming conditions.
While many schemes and nature reserves manage for specific species or outcomes the management at Knepp seeks to allow natural processes to develop. Free roaming animals such as deer, cattle, ponies and pigs act as proxies for wild grazing animals and provide some income to the estate. This creates a mosaic of habitats such as wood pasture, grassland, wetland and scrub that has seen an astonishing uplift in wildlife.
Whatever your view on wildlife many will understand that there is an economic driver for virtually all our land management decisions. The Knepp Estate is now profitable thanks to a diversification programme that includes holiday lets, glamping, wildlife safaris and agricultural income derived from the livestock.
This is not a process that could or indeed should be rolled out across the whole country. But such an approach could be part of a mix of solutions to the worrying decline in our wildlife. The State of Nature report last year recorded that 53% of wildlife species declined between 2002 and 2013 and that 1 in 10 species is under threat.
Rewilding is an option that can work on a number of levels and help reconnect people with the natural world and the long-term benefits that brings. More importantly it demonstrates that this type of approach is economically viable. Nationally designated landscapes such as the Suffolk Coast & Heaths and Dedham Vale AONBs have an interest in this approach as the benefits to natural beauty.
Natural beauty is made up of many factors but a rewilding project can bring benefit to an areas landscape and its associated wildlife. The process of rewilding brings many environmental benefits, for example to water quality, but importantly the diversification can mean economic well-being.
First published in the East Anglian Daily Times October 2017