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The ‘rewilding’ debate…

  • by JW

In Sidmouth, Devon and beyond…


There has been a bit of discussion on what is meant by ‘rewilding’ in Sidmouth:

At Lymbourne on the East Devon District Council facebook pages:

What do you think of rewilding two East Devon green spaces, allowing them to flourish and for nature to thrive? I’m very much in favour of rewilding… You’re much more likely to get docks, vetch, thistles and cow parsley, and then people start complaining about the “weeds.” Sadly the public hear “rewilding” and think “wildflower meadow.”

And at Glen Goyle, on the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group facebook pages, where there has been some debate about ‘rewilding’:

Thanks to Paul [Fealey, EDDC Horticultural Officer], we can now field questions like ‘Why not re-wild?’ with commentaries about what re-wilding really is (and it is not just to let things grow, which leads to a predominance of a small number of species, and low biodiversity)

Photo: Phil Lee of FOGG at “Why not re-wild the Glen?” – Friends of Glen Goyle

In his regular column in the WMN this week, Dartmoor farmer Anton Coaker looks at the issue. Here’s the first part of his journey north:

Farming and rewilding extremes

My lovely little wife and I have been away, quietly slipping up the M6 for a week’s R&R in Scotland. But before we even got there my blood pressure was rising again. As is our wont, we broke the journey with a night in a favourite faded beauty of a grand old hotel in Lakeland. And taking an early morning constitutional, I found myself walking back up toward said M6. As I’d seen the night before, prior to dropping off the sliproad at Shap summit, that farm within the carriageways is now de-stocked and dotted with silly fantasy tree plantings. And sure enough, my dawn walk revealed acres and acres of it.

Clumps of plastic tree tubes are filled with thorns, alders and hazel, planted last winter. The bold plan seems to be to create some idyll of broken scrub woodland, based no doubt on the fanciful idea that this will somehow make climate change ills all go away. It will so obviously not do this, but has equally evidently taken away the livelihoods of a number of shepherds, hauliers, auctioneers, abattoir workers, and goodness knows who else. Enquiries over subsequent days suggest the land belongs to a large estate, who would also undoubtedly control most of the commoners via tenancies. Some ground was still unfenced, with evidence of a small number of cattle still grazing. Sources indicate that there are to be a handful of in-hand longhorn cattle left to forage amongst the wilderness. Wherever the cattle potentially remain, the trees have enormous galvanised mesh guards, spiked on the outsides.

I think it likely money has changed hands somehow, probably to permit some corporate giant to continue spewing carbon much as ever. I walked as far as the Northbound overpass, beneath which I stood and listened to the traffic thundering overhead. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

The reality of the planting is the mesh guards will become messily engulfed by any trees that successfully grow on that blasted hill, although my own experience suggests they’ll mostly fail anyway. I noticed the fencing wasn’t carried out carefully enough to be sheep proof, and some neighbouring Swale ewes had already pushed into one of the new enclosures. Hopefully they’ll nibble the trees out toot sweet, but I fear they’re fighting a losing battle...

The ‘rewilding’ idea is hugely controversial – not least in Devon:

Devon Rewilding Network Local Network | Rewilding Britain

National Trust rewilding projects leaves tenants feeling pushed out – Farmers Weekly

Rewinding 100 years: the Devon neighbours who united to rewild on a grand scale | Rewilding | The Guardian