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Re Wilding - What is it all about? Professor Alistair Driver spoke to the IAgrM Thames Valley Branch by John Giles, FIAgrM

Date Published: 18/04/2019

The Thames Valley branch of the Institute of Agricultural Management last week heard from Alistair Driver, from the Re Wilding Britain organisation. This was a subject I knew very little about personally and so I thought I better go along. I am aware that colleagues in our sustainability team at Promar have been involved in some work on this subject - and I felt I needed to know more. I am really glad I went.

Alistair talked to us for about 40 minutes and then engaged in a lively Q & A session. It was all good value.

Among the numerous points he made, included:

  • Traditional conservation techniques have failed to meet biodiversity targets in the UK agricultural and farming sector
  • Re wilding needs to take place on a large scale in order to allow the restoration of natural ecosystems and to show that the overall biodiversity is improving as a result – on areas of land typically up to 10,000 ha at a time
  • As such, its part of a long-term process, maybe taking decades to show real improvements in areas such as flood management, carbon reduction and better soil quality
  • The ultimate objective is to re wild some 1 million ha of land in the UK - much of it in upland Scotland, Wales and Northern England
  • The whole process is aimed to improve the economics of farming and land ownership, to increase diversification opportunities, to stimulate rural communities and employment, to improve soil quality, reduce flood risks and produce better water quality, improve carbon storage and contribute to the wider objective of healthy living
  • It needs increased long-term government funding and support such as higher tier payments dedicated to re wilding projects to achieve all of this, not just 5-year cycles of cash. It therefore must be able ultimately to show strong benefits to both people and communities
  • The model for re wilding cannot be imposed on rural communities and it is not about buying up land for this purpose, nor is it about abandoning more conventional farming activity either
  • The benefits can also include enhanced wildlife (birds and butterflies, as well as beavers, wild cats lynx, eagles etc etc) as well as a mix of livestock production with different grazing habits
  • The re wilding process will involve on going learning as to what works best in different parts of the country, alongside more traditional forms of agriculture and farming
  • It is not meant to be elitist in any way, but more of an inclusive process with livestock production being a key part of the overall objectives and operational plan for re wilding

This was a really interesting evening. Alistair emphasised he did not see re wilding as a radical approach, but some of the things he touched on certainly raised an eye brow or two. In many ways though, this is what IAGRM meetings are maybe meant to be about – to challenge current thinking, learn about new ideas and not be willing to accept the status quo and hear from others who might have a different view on life per se. 

I certainly went away much better informed on the subject, as I expect many of the other 30 strong who attended did. I am pretty sure we will hear a lot more about the subject in the future. I now feel as if I have just a bit of a head start!

The Thames Valley branch has a long track record of holding these sorts of events and long may it continue.

John Giles, FIAgrM, Divisional Director, Promar International