Doesn’t sound quite right does is it – the call of the re-wild? It does to George Monbiot whose new book Feral is making waves with wildlife conservation thinkers and farmers alike. The Wildlife Trusts have a very good piece on this subject on their site.
George’s thesis is simple; human pressure, livestock and compensatory grants have reduced the uplands into ‘Bowling Greens with contours’. In a Newsnight interview (22.38) he pulled no punches. Standing on a Welsh moorland he cheerfully referred to ‘A barren landscape, repeated deforestation – but in Britain we fetishize it’.
Estelle Bailey, CEO of Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s, put the rather more pragmatic counter view.
‘We can never get back to something that George is fantasizing about’ she said.
The Glaslyn Reserve (part of the Pumlumon Living Landscape) that Estelle was interpreting to the interviewer was the same site criticized by George Monbiot for having a management plan that sought to remove trees.
So who is right? In my view both Estelle and George take informed expert views. However, whilst George Monbiot’s dream of reintroducing the top predators (brown bear, wolf and lynx) that have become lost during the past millennia is ecologically sound, what works for Yellowstone National Park in America would not work in the Brecon Beacons or the Fells of Dartmoor.
Estelle explained very clearly the essence of the Living Landscapes philosophy. We live in a crowded countryside on which we are very dependent and long term integration of food production, nature conservation and local employment is central to a healthy sustainable countryside.
George Monbiot called sheep ‘the white plague’, but they are the creatures that contribute food to the UK food chain, income to rural communities and maintain the open habitats that not only create some of our iconic landscapes but also play a profound role in delivering ecosystem services.
George may no longer love the British countryside but it provides us with food, water supplies, flood risk mitigation, spiritual solace, carbon storage and the home for 62.74 million people. Re-wilding may be an extreme – Living Landscapes programmes like Plumlumon show how multiple ideals can be obtained.