Rewild 25% of the UK for less climate change, more wildlife and a life lived closer to nature



Eduard Militaru/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Simon Lewis, UCL

The UK’s Labour Party has pledged to offer voters a Green New Deal at the next election. This is a radical programme for decarbonising society and the economy by 2030, through phasing out fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy and creating a public works programme to build the zero-carbon infrastructure of the future.

In my recent report, A Green New Deal for Nature, I argued that giving land back to nature could be another part of this vision. Restoring forests and other natural habitats to 25% of the UK’s land surface could sequester 14% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions each year. As emissions are scaled down and these ecosystems expand, they could continue to remove much greater quantities of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in future.

Often called “natural climate solutions”, restoring forests and wetlands draws carbon down from the atmosphere and stores it in the tissue of new vegetation and soil. On a large scale, and alongside leaving fossil fuels in the ground, this could help to limit global heating to well below 2°C.

The Domesday Book of 1086 indicated forest cover of 15%, ‘but significant loss of woodland started over 4,000 years ago in prehistory’. By the beginning of the 20th century, this had dropped to 5%.
Defra

These habitats can be restored through rewilding, which means giving natural processes a helping hand by stopping the draining of peatland for example, or letting a woodland regrow. Reintroducing species that were once extinct in a region can also help ecosystems regenerate. While letting nature take care of itself isn’t appropriate in all cases, rewilding is one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to resist climate breakdown and wildlife loss at the same time.

But what might that look like in practice?




Read more:
You can rewild your garden into a miniature rainforest – Imagine newsletter #4


The “green” in the Green New Deal

For wildlife, it’s important that restored habitats are connected. Linked habitats allow plants and animals to move more easily as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change. If species can migrate through green corridors to cooler areas, they could avoid local extinctions. This could mean a network of expanded hedgerows and woodland that criss-crosses the land, connecting wild habitats and ensuring species can migrate safely between them.

Other changes include reintroducing European beavers to flood plains to help manage flood risks. In remote places like the Scottish Highlands, wolves could return to keep herbivores in check and help woodlands rebound, increasing their long-term potential to store carbon. Rewilding instead of burning or draining carbon-rich peatlands would allow their vegetation and carbon stocks to recover. Wildlife, from insects to birds and large mammals, would have space to flourish. The UK would switch from being one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries to a green and vibrant land.

Beavers have returned to the UK’s rivers after an absence of 500 years.
Abi Warner/Shutterstock

This may sound utopian, but it’s not. The UK is a densely populated country, and with 72% of the land area used for agriculture, it might seem that there’s little room for anything else. But less than 20% of the UK is occupied by crops or dense urban communities, so 80% of it could be better managed for nature and storing carbon.

Some 45% of the UK’s land surface is given to grazing livestock. The poorest land for agricultural productivity is only farmed because of taxpayer subsidies. Meanwhile, about 13% of the UK is allocated to grouse-shooting and deer-stalking, often on degraded peatlands that are managed at huge environmental cost for the benefit of a tiny number of hunters. This land is currently of little value for food production, but it could store plenty of carbon if rewilded.




Read more:
Rewilding is essential to the UK’s commitment to zero carbon emissions


The exact locations should be the subject of local knowledge and consultation, but reducing grazing land from 45% of the UK to 33% and returning that 12% to wild habitat could provide half of the carbon storage needed. Restoring half of the UK’s peatlands could add 6% more land, alongside protecting the 7% of the UK that is already broadleaf woodlands and wildflower meadows. Together, this would make 25% of the UK’s land a refuge for wildlife and a vast reservoir of CO₂.

The Lady Fen wetland in Norfolk was recently restored to 300 acres.
Tony Mills/Shutterstock

How can it be done?

Farm subsidies currently give £3 billion to UK farmers ever year. By some estimates, subsidies are half the income of many farmers. After Brexit, this money could be given to farmers to reward them for storing carbon and rewilding, making this more financially viable than grazing on agriculturally poor land.

Economy-wide carbon taxes could also pay for rewilding schemes, while the government could also issue green bonds to raise funds to lend to landowners, helping cover the early costs of restoring land to wild habitat.

Reducing the demand for farm produce from land will also be key to making space for nature. This means cutting down on the most inefficient use of land – farming for meat and dairy, which uses between four and 100 times the land area to produce a single gram of protein compared to beans, nuts and other plant sources. Policies which make it easier for everyone to eat food that’s healthy and sustainable – including less meat and dairy – are the final pieces of the puzzle.

Less climate change, more wildlife, and a longer life lived closer to nature. That’s a lot to gain from modest investments in how land is used in the UK.


Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.The Conversation

Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University of Leeds and, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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We can ‘rewild’ swathes of Australia by focusing on what makes it unique



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Eastern quolls have been introduced in Booderee Nation Park as part of a rewilding project.
Oisin Sweeney

Oisín Sweeney, University of Sydney; John Turnbull, UNSW; Menna Elizabeth Jones, University of Tasmania; Mike Letnic, UNSW, and Thomas Newsome, University of Sydney

Since colonisation, a dizzying array of Australia’s native species and ecosystems have been altered or removed altogether. It therefore seems natural to consider the idea of restoring what’s been lost – a process termed “rewilding”.

Now a global trend, rewilding projects aim to restore functional ecosystems. The rationale is that by reactivating the often complex relationships between species – such as apex predators and their prey, for example – these ecosystems once again become able to sustain themselves.

Rewilding has successfully captured the public interest, particularly overseas. Conservation group Rewilding Europe has a network of eight rewilding areas and a further 59 related projects, covering 6 million hectares in total.

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the United States remains the most recognised example of rewilding. The wolves reduced elk numbers and changed their behaviour, which allowed vegetation to grow and stabilise stream banks.




Read more:
From feral camels to ‘cocaine hippos’, large animals are rewilding the world


It’s not hard to see why rewilding is popular, given that it sounds a note of hope and inspiration amid the seemingly endless stories of despair over ecological disaster.

But in Australia, we need to do rewilding differently. The particular challenges we face with issues such as introduced species mean that, like Vegemite, our rewilding future must have a unique flavour.

Australian values

Our recently published paper builds on findings from a rewilding forum held in Sydney in late 2016. Academics, government and non-government agencies met to discuss some of the outstanding issues around rewilding in Australia. Despite the large, diverse audience and wide-ranging views, the forum succeeded in identifying some key themes.

Peninsulas often make good locations for rewilding in Australia because their geography allows the impacts of introduced predators to be minimised. Booderee National Park at Jervis Bay has reintroduced long-nosed potoroos, southern brown bandicoots and eastern quolls.

A much bigger Peninsula, Yorke, in South Australia, is the site of an ambitious project to reintroduce 20 species currently extinct in the area.

The widespread removal of dingoes has reduced natural control on introduced species such as foxes and cats. This in turn has allowed feral cats and red foxes to prey on small digging native mammals in the absence of a larger competitor. Meanwhile, declines in Tasmanian devils have been mirrored by declines in smaller predators like eastern quolls, and changes to cat behaviour, suggesting devils indirectly affect other species.

Many of these digging mammals have declined continent-wide and disappeared completely from other areas. This in turn has resulted in knock-on effects, such as altered fire regimes and changes to plant diversity.

It’s no surprise, then, that our workshop identified restoring predators and small mammals as priorities in Australia. Lots of work is already going on to restore small mammal populations, such as via Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s and Arid Recovery’s fenced exclosures, from which foxes and cats have been eliminated.

But exclosures are also contrary to the aims of rewilding, because they need ongoing maintenance and do not help the ecosystem inside to be self-sustaining. They can also exacerbate prey naïveté, whereby the native mammals fail to recognise and avoid introduced predators.

It may therefore be useful to view fences as a stepping stone to restoring small mammal populations to broader landscapes, helped by a variety of means including promoting co-evolution of native and introduced species, incentives to farmers, and the use of guardian animals.

Australia is different

Passive rewilding – the removal of human agriculture, resulting in the return of natural vegetation – has had positive impacts on biodiversity in Europe. It could have similarly positive impacts here, for example by increasing the density of tree hollows in previously logged forest and woodland. But a complete removal of management is unlikely to be effective because of, for example, the need to manage fire and the presence of introduced species like miner birds that exert influences on other species and even entire ecosystems.

In arid areas, simply removing agriculture is unlikely to halt the declines in biodiversity unless deliberate steps are taken to control pest plants and animals and to shift the ecosystem into a preferred state. In oceans, where rewilding is no less urgent due to declines in large predatory fish, passive rewilding may be more feasible, as marine protected areas can result in recovery of fish, provided certain key criteria are met.

Reintroducing large (bigger than 100kg) herbivores is part of rewilding efforts in Europe and Asia. Yet in Australia, all large herbivores are introduced and are generally perceived as having negative impacts.

“Natural” control of such species is not possible due to a lack of big native predators. Introducing “surrogates” of long-extinct predators (as are used elsewhere in rewilding) would have predictable results in terms of human acceptance (farmers wouldn’t like it), but uncertain impacts on ecosystems.

What about people?

People can benefit from rewilding – either directly, through wildlife tourism income or reduced kangaroo grazing on farmland, or indirectly such as via provision of services like flood control. So rewilding should not, as has been suggested elsewhere, necessarily separate humans from nature. Aboriginal owned and managed land offers huge opportunities in this regard because it covers 52% of the country and is home to many threatened species. In urban areas, rewilding will have to be a compromise between what is acceptable to humans and what benefits ecosystems most.




Read more:
Should we move Tasmanian Devils back to the mainland?


There is clearly an appetite among scientists and managers for bold interventions such as trial reintroductions of Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia to restore ancient food chains or allowing dingoes to return to areas where they occur at low densities and are functionally extinct. Rewilding’s focus on restoration of ecosystem processes can complement, but not replace, existing conservation approaches. For example, we still need to achieve a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve network on land and at sea.

Development of a rewilding vision and strategy would be a valuable first step towards maximising the potential of rewilding, tracking success, and persuading governments to fund it.


The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Dr Andy Sharp, Natural Resources Northern and Yorke Manager Planning and Programs, to this article.The Conversation

Oisín Sweeney, Senior Ecologist at the National Parks Association of NSW, Research Fellow, University of Sydney; John Turnbull, PhD Candidate, UNSW; Menna Elizabeth Jones, Associate professor, University of Tasmania; Mike Letnic, Professor, Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW, and Thomas Newsome, Lecturer, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From feral camels to ‘cocaine hippos’, large animals are rewilding the world



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Most of the world’s wild horses, such as the Australian brumby, are outside their historic native range.
Andrea Harvey

Erick Lundgren, University of Technology Sydney; Arian Wallach, University of Technology Sydney; Daniel Ramp, University of Technology Sydney, and William Ripple, Oregon State University

Throughout history, humans have taken plants and animals with them as they travelled the world. Those that survived the journey to establish populations in the diaspora have found new opportunities as they integrate into new ecosystems.

These immigrant populations have come to be regarded as “invaders” and “aliens” that threaten pristine nature. But for many species, migration may just be a way to survive the global extinction crisis.

In our recently published study, we found that one of the Earth’s most imperilled group of species is hanging on in part thanks to introduced populations.

Megafauna – plant-eating terrestrial mammals weighing more than 100kg – have established in new and unexpected places. These “feral” populations are rewilding the world with unique and fascinating ecological functions that had been lost for thousands of years.

Today’s world of giants is only a shadow of its former glory. Around 50,000 years ago, giant kangaroos, rhino-like diprotodons, and other unimaginable animals were lost from Australia.


Read more: Giant marsupials once migrated across an Australian Ice Age landscape


Later, around 12,000 years ago, the last of the mammoths, glyptodonts, several species of horses and camels, house-sized ground sloths and other great beasts vanished from North America.

In New Zealand, a mere 800 years ago, a riot of giant flightless birds still grazed and browsed the landscape.

The loss of Earth’s largest terrestrial animals at the end of the Pleistocene was most likely caused by humans.

Sadly, even those large beasts that survived that collapse are now being lost, with 60% of today’s megafauna threatened with extinction. This threat is leading to international calls for urgent intervention to save the last of Earth’s giants.

A wilder world than we think

Formal conservation distribution maps show that much of Earth is empty of megafauna. But this is only a part of the picture.

Many megafauna are now found outside their historic native ranges. In fact, thanks to introduced populations, regional megafauna species richness is substantially higher today than at any other time during the past 10,000 years.

Megafauna have expanded beyond their historic native range to rewild the world. Number of megafauna per region, in their ‘native’ range only (a) and in their full range (b)
Modified and reproduced from Lundgren et al. 2017

Worldwide introductions have increased the number of megafauna by 11% in Africa and Asia, by 33% in Europe, by 57% in North America, by 62% in South America, and by 100% in Australia.

Australia lost all of its native megafauna tens of thousands of years ago, but today has eight introduced megafauna species, including the world’s only wild population of dromedary camels.

Australia lost all of its native megafauna tens of thousands of years ago, but is now home to eight introduced species, including the world’s only population of wild dromedary camels. Remote camera trap footage from our research program shows wild brumbies, wild donkeys and wild camels sharing water sources with Australian dingoes, emus and bustards in the deserts of South Australia.

These immigrant megafauna have found critical sanctuary. Overall, 64% of introduced megafauna species are either threatened, extinct, or declining in their native ranges.

Some megafauna have survived thanks to domestication and subsequent “feralisation”, forming a bridge between the wild pre-agricultural landscapes of the early Holocene almost 10,000 years ago, to the wild post-industrial ecosystems of the Anthropocene today.

Wild cattle, for example, are descendants of the extinct aurochs. Meanwhile, the wild camels of Australia have brought back a species extinct in the wild for thousands of years. Likewise, the vast majority of the world’s wild horses and wild donkeys are feral.

There have been global calls to rewild the world, but rewilding has already been happening, often with little intention and in unexpected ways.

A small population of wild hippopotamuses has recently established in South America. The nicknamed “cocaine hippos” are the offspring of animals who escaped the abandoned hacienda of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Colombia’s growing ‘cocaine hippo’ population is descended from animals kept at Pablo Escobar’s hacienda.

By insisting that only idealised pre-human ecosystems are worth conserving, we overlook the fact that these emerging new forms of wilderness are not only common but critical to the survival of many existing ecosystems.

Vital functions

Megafauna are Earth’s tree-breakers, wood-eaters, hole-diggers, trailblazers, wallowers, nutrient-movers, and seed-carriers. By consuming coarse, fibrous plant matter they drive nutrient cycles that enrich soils, restructure plant communities, and help other species to survive.

The wide wanderings of megafauna move nutrients uphill that would otherwise wash downstream and into the oceans. These animals can be thought of as “nutrient pumps” that help maintain soil fertility. Megafauna also sustain communities of scavengers and predators.

In North America, we have found that introduced wild donkeys, locally known as “burros”, dig wells more than a metre deep to reach groundwater. At least 31 species use these wells, and in certain conditions they become nurseries for germinating trees.

Introduced wild donkeys (burros) are engineering the Sonoran Desert, United States.

The removal of donkeys and other introduced megafauna to protect desert springs in North America and Australia seems to have led to an exuberant growth of wetland vegetation that constricted open water habitat, dried some springs, and ultimately resulted in the extinction of native fish. Ironically, land managers now simulate megafauna by manually removing vegetation.

It is likely that introduced megafauna are doing much more that remains unknown because we have yet to accept these organisms as having ecological value.

Living in a feral world

Like any other species, the presence of megafauna benefits some species while challenging others. Introduced megafauna can put huge pressure on plant communities, but this is also true of native megafauna.

Whether we consider the ecological roles of introduced species like burros and brumbies as desirable or not depends primarily on our own values. But one thing is certain: no species operates in isolation.

Although megafauna are very large, predators can have significant influence on them. In Australia, dingo packs act cooperatively to hunt wild donkeys, wild horses, wild water buffalo and wild boar. In North America, mountain lions have been shown to limit populations of wild horses in some areas of Nevada.

Visions of protected dingoes hunting introduced donkeys and Sambar deer in Australia, or protected wolves hunting introduced Oryx and horses in the American West, can give us a new perspective on conserving both native and introduced species.

Nature doesn’t stand still. Dispensing with visions of historic wilderness, and the associated brutal measures usually applied to enforce those ideals, and focusing on the wilderness that exists is both pragmatic and optimistic.

After all, in this age of mass extinction, are not all species worth conserving?


The ConversationThis research will be presented at the 2017 International Compassionate Conservation Conference in Sydney.

Erick Lundgren, PhD Student, Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology Sydney; Arian Wallach, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology Sydney; Daniel Ramp, Associate Professor and Director, Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology Sydney, and William Ripple, Distinguished Professor and Director, Trophic Cascades Program, Oregon State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rewilding the Sea


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the possibility of rewilding the sea – something which is surely within our grasp.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/04/the-primal-thrill-of-sharks-the-emotional-case-for-rewilding-the-sea

Australia: Re-wilding & the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat


The link below is to an article reporting on the practice of re-wilding and how it is assisting in the conservation of the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jul/05/wombats-endangered-species-hope