A Heal 2nd birthday blog, by Robert Finucane, Heal volunteer
Rewilding. It’s a word most people weren’t that familiar with two years ago, but now it feels like it’s everywhere.
The last two years can be called anything but uneventful. When Heal launched just days after the UK went into the first lockdown, it felt like the last thing people would want to talk about was Britain’s wildlife. However, as we all soon learned, access to nature, especially where we live, is incredibly important and helped many of us to find solace during the darker moments. The importance of green spaces in bringing people together and improving their wellbeing can’t be underplayed but with most people living in cities, access to wilder spaces was not possible for everyone.
In addition, the looming climate crisis and the UK hosting the COP26 climate conference really brought home the fact that nature’s recovery was a necessity and not a luxury if we wanted to avert worse outcomes in the near future. Occurrences of once-in-a-lifetime flooding events happening every few years in Britain, alongside rain shortages and wildfires across many other parts of the world, brought the urgency home.
In this context, it is not surprising that awareness of rewilding as a natural solution to many of our modern problems would really start to inspire public support. A recent YouGov poll even showed that 81% of the public support rewilding in Britain.
As one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, UK rewilding projects like Knepp and Wild Ken Hill have shown that given a little time, nature can return to land that was intensively managed with even the strongest chemicals and heaviest machinery. Both projects are in some of the most densely populated parts of the country and yet by making space for nature, they have created oases where rare creatures can thrive and people can easily access them.
Equally important was the reintroduction of two charismatic species to England: the White-tailed Eagle and the White Stork. These both helped to inspire the public imagination for how wild our tame countryside could become, with an eagle even spotted flying over central London.
There have also been some incredible moments for nature’s recovery too, with free-living beavers in Devon being given the right to remain and expand to new areas in England. All the more important after a government report highlighted that beavers alleviate flooding and improve water quality for downstream communities.
But there are still challenges ahead. Many landowners are still unsure about rewilding. Some see it as a threat to their traditional way of life or consider it an abandonment of valuable land. It will take time to convince everyone of the benefits rewilding can bring to wider society. However, with a new agricultural subsidy scheme due to launch promising payments for farmers who make space for nature, I am hopeful that we will see growing support for nature’s recovery across the UK.
So, as Heal approaches the end of its second year, I feel hopeful that the UK will be ready to embrace a slightly wilder future, one where our wildlife is able to thrive rather than just survive, and where everyone on this island is able to access the healing power of nature on their doorstep.