Although vast stretches of rolling hills may seem visually appealing, a closer look reveals that many of them are actually barren landscapes, depleted by excessive grazing and lacking in varied forms of wildlife. The destruction of habitats, shortsighted agricultural methods, and the prevalence of factory farming are contributing to a concerning decline in biodiversity in Britain, with one out of every six species at risk of disappearing from local areas.
In addition, the efforts of local wildlife restoration initiatives are making a difference. According to the Wildlife Trusts, there was a slight increase in 2021 with 3.22% of the UK’s land being effectively protected and maintained. Rewilding is also being embraced by councils, and there is a growing number of community and private projects emerging.
The project Back on Our Map aims to restore nature and is focused on the Lake District region. It has successfully rejuvenated habitats in several protected areas, from Morecambe Bay to Grizedale Forest, by bringing back endangered species like the hazel dormouse. In June 2021, 69 dormice were released and have since reproduced, with over 100 young dormice discovered in later surveys.
Additionally, 64 small blue butterflies were relocated from a nearby coastal area in order to expand the geographic scope of the population. According to Anya Kuliszewski, a community engagement officer, each butterfly was set free by a student from a nearby elementary school as a way to engage and inspire the next generation of nature lovers.
The initiative aimed to broaden the range of individuals participating in conservation efforts. The team of volunteers comprised of inmates from Haverigg open prison, beneficiaries of the mental health organization Mind in Furness, and students from a special needs college. According to Kuliszewski, they have successfully trained ten inmates in basic horticulture skills at level 1.
The group of men have successfully planted hundreds of aspen trees, out of the total 4,000 that are currently thriving in the forest, as part of the project. Kuliszewski mentions that many of them intend to continue participating in conservation volunteering even after their release.
In Derbyshire, where just a year ago there were a series of overgrazed knolls, there is now a meadow bursting with purple knapweed flowers that sprouted after the sheep were allowed to mimic wild grazing. The burst of flowers spawned a “massive increase” in invertebrates and insectivorous birds, including spotted flycatchers and swallows, while sightings of weasels, badgers and deer are increasing.
The owners of High Leas Farm in Derbyshire have been practicing low input farming for over 10 years. Last year, they joined forces with a team of ecologists to launch the Woven Earth project and began a holistic restoration process on their 160-acre property.
According to Rob Owen, from Woven Earth, our land needed time for vegetation to grow and restore itself. While we have done some reseeding, our focus has been on letting the natural growth in the soil take its course. Our perspective recognizes humans as essential players in the ecosystem and redefines our role in the wild, acknowledging our importance as a valid contributor. Humans are a crucial component of the wild.
A social farm project aimed at adults with mental health concerns is hosting workshops led by healthcare experts to engage in. Owen explains, “Many of our challenges stem from our disconnection from nature and lack of involvement in it. Our goal is to reconnect individuals with nature.”
Some initiatives propose starting with changes in one’s own home. In East Anglia, the organization WildEast encourages residents and property owners to leave a portion of their land or garden untouched by avoiding mowing, ploughing, or planting flower beds. According to Argus Gathorne-Hardy, a farmer involved in the rewilding movement at WildEast, approximately 2,000 people have pledged to participate, covering an area of 8,500 acres. The goal is to establish a blueprint for promoting natural habitats in all spaces.
In Felixstowe, a campaign has been launched to create a connected network of green spaces across local backyards, gardens, and balconies. This initiative, known as the Felixstowe Community Nature Reserve, calls on each member to dedicate at least three square yards of land to support pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, by planting native species, installing ponds and hedgehog homes, and incorporating other wildlife-friendly elements. Additionally, residents are encouraged to let a part of their garden or allotment grow naturally, allowing nature to create its own micro-ecosystems. According to Gathorne-Hardy, this approach will help to protect and enhance the local ecosystem.
The Truro local authority in Cornwall, located in south-west England, formed a group of countryside rangers five years ago with the goal of enhancing wildlife presence on land owned by the council. As a result of planting new trees in wooded regions, the wasp spider population has grown in the area. Additionally, there has been a rise in sightings of vibrant orange fritillary butterflies and various bird species including firecrests, gold crests, and buzzards.
According to Ben Slattery, the primary park ranger, a particular meadow in Coosebean Woodland has become a popular location for butterflies and spiders. He notes that since the sites have been managed with a focus on increasing wildlife, there has been a noticeable rise in its presence.
Volunteers have joined forces to organize bioblitzes, clean up litter, and assist park rangers with upkeep. They have also participated in locally-led bat tours and discussions on nature. Eleanor Atkins, a volunteer, shares, “We have witnessed the arrival of new species and an increase in the population of local species. It is a delight to observe the changing seasons in this untouched haven.”