Take a walk on the rewilding side

Lynx, beavers, and wild boars are roaming the countryside. Gone are the bare scrublands, replaced by temperate rainforest with millions of trees. Uplands teaming with wildlife and not just the occasional bleating sheep. This might sound like romantic nonsense, but rewilding British countryside could have serious economic and environmental benefits.

One of the main calls for rewilding is in the uplands of Britain. Currently, the main use of land in these areas is for sheep farming. Sheep farming may invoke images of spring lambs, shepherds, and sheepdogs but it has actually decimated the wildlife in upland areas.

Moreover, sheep farming is economically inefficient and relies heavily on EU subsidies. Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is making radical changes to the way farmers’ subsidies work and delivering on his promised “Green Brexit”. Replacing the much reviled Common Agricultural Policy system of a direct payment scheme to farmers will be subsidies for farmers who protect and steward the environment. Farmers will benefit if they work to improve soil quality, reduce pollution, and support natural habitats for wildlife. It is unconservative to continue to subsidise failing farming industries, that are not only inefficient - with no upland sheep farming being profitable - but also damage Britain’s precious natural assets. 

Britain’s current farming industry, particularly upland sheep farming, has untold damage on biodiversity. We are thirty to fourty years away from soil fertility being ruined in certain areas of the countryside. This makes farming even more inefficient, harms habitats for insects and birds, and leads to issues with chemical run-off damaging rivers and fish populations. Rewilding would restore the soil and the landscape to its former glory. Trees in Britain cover only 13% of the total land area, compared to an average of 35% across the EU. Rewilding will bring about an increase in trees. Not only will this help biodiversity, but it could counter carbon dioxide emissions and work as a natural buffer against flooding. Woodland planting schemes in Wales, have shown that water absorbs into the ground 67 times faster than that of fields. Currently, 56% of British species are in decline, and 15% are endangered - from the natterjack toad to the European turtle dove.

Conservatives across the country should be worried by these statistics, and rewilding can help to combat these worrying trends. Now some may say that conservation is all well and good but introducing boar and lynx is unrealistic and worst, dangerous. However, nobody is suggesting the mass reintroduction of these animals but the careful consideration of the ecology and the beneficial impacts of predation. For example, lynxes being suggested as a natural solution to the problems of the overpopulation of deer. Moreover, beavers have been discovered to reduce floods in certain areas. 

The beneficial impacts of rewilding are not just environmental. They also have wide-ranging social benefits and offer the potential of eco-tourism. Rory Stewart, the MP for Penrith and the Border, an opponent of rewilding the uplands, suggested rewilding the green belt instead. He said this would allow for more people to appreciate the rewilded areas and enjoy the health benefits.

Despite this, I would argue that he has missed a key reason for rewilding the uplands and other isolated areas. There low population and current underutilization, with inefficient sheep grazing, make them prime candidates for redevelopment. However, small scale rewilding efforts such as those in my local area of the Wandle river restoration, should not be overlooked. The pollution has been greatly reduced and this has allowed for trout and eels to begin breeding once again. 

Many of the rural communities in Britain, especially those in the uplands, are suffering from population decline as farming is unprofitable and younger generations are looking for less volatile careers. Rewilding offers the chance for substantial eco-tourism ventures. Britain already has large numbers of tourists, with areas such as the Lake District attracting roughly 16 million visitors a year. These are highly successful, but let us now imagine a different sort of tourism. Instead of tea shops and overcrowded car parks, imagine the careful stewardship and sighting of animals ranging from lynx to moose to wolves to pelicans. The rewilding efforts do not have to stop on land either, with the reintroduction of bluefish tuna, whales, and sharks around the British coastlines.

This may sound unrealistic but the reintroduction of lynx, wild boar, and beavers are deemed to have excellent suitability by Rewilding Britain and efforts across Britain and Europe have already started. Moose, bison, wolves, and pelicans may take longer but have successfully inhabited the British Isles before. The great majesty of these animals should once again be there for us and future generations. The introduction of brown bear and wolverine in Finland is reported to have boosted local economies by roughly £5 million. Rewilding will excite and energise local communities, providing expansion of tourism but also pursuits (done carefully) such as hunting and fishing. 

Green conservatism and rewilding efforts should be promoted by all conservatives. Rewilding does not just provide economic and environmental benefits but also ensures the future generations can enjoy and sustainably reap the rewards of British nature. Conservatism has always stressed the importance of legacy and conservation, and we should not ignore the application of these principles in regards to rewilding. The Burkean view of society in which we should make homes and pass them on to our children, and Oikophilia, the love of home, are tenets which Conservatives should continue to seize and apply to ideas of conserving and stewarding our natural environments.

As Thatcher once said, “It’s we Conservatives who are not merely friends of the Earth — we are its guardians and trustees for generations to come.” A sensible and sustainable plan to rewild Britain will guarantee that the British countryside will not only continue to survive but will prosper. 

Julia Hussain (Secretary, ex-Communications Director, The Queen’s College) is an undergraduate in her first year of reading Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.