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‘Rewilding innovation’ fund launched to bring back nature

Image credit: George Hiles | Unsplash

A “rewilding innovation” fund is being launched by a nature charity to boost locally led projects aimed at helping land and sea habitats recover.

The charity Rewilding Britain will offer up to £15,000 each for projects that create new opportunities for large-scale restoration of nature.

These could include engaging with the community, business plans for enterprises such as ecotourism that generate income for the local economy or using new technology in rewilding.

A pilot of the fund last year handed out £55,000 to various projects, including one using new light-detection techniques to measure the carbon capture of scrub and wood pasture at several rewilding sites in England and Scotland, and another to investigate seagrass restoration feasibility in north-east England.

The scheme comes as rewilding is rising up the environmental agenda, in the UK and also worldwide. Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of nature to the point where it can take care of itself, by bringing back habitats and natural processes and, where appropriate, reintroducing lost species, such as beavers.

Part of the UK Government’s approach to reforming farming subsidies in England will see land managers paid for large-scale projects which could include rewilding.

Polling shows high levels of support for rewilding, though it has prompted concern from some quarters about switching land away from food production.

The innovation fund from Rewilding Britain will go towards land-based projects that are at least 40 hectares (100 acres) in size, while marine projects can be of any size.

The charity says it expects to fund around 15-20 schemes in England, Wales and Scotland this year, with the money awarded to those with the potential for the highest impact for people and nature. It says it particularly wants to support community projects.

Sara King, Rewilding Britain’s rewilding network manager, said: “The Rewilding Innovation Fund is being launched in response to the rapidly growing thirst for information, advice and funding for rewilding as a powerful way of tackling the nature and climate emergencies, while creating real social and economic benefits for people.

“We particularly want to support community projects, because locally led action is central to helping nature recover in ways that work for people and communities and for creating connectivity of nature across the country.”

New ideas and learning from successful applications will be fed back into the charity’s 'rewilding network' of community groups, landowners, farmers and land managers to provide practical information for their efforts to rewild.

Last month, a survey for Rewilding Britain showed that four-fifths of people backed rewilding in Britain. An even greater number expressed support for the country’s national parks being made wilder, with parts of the protected areas set aside for rewilding.

The poll of 1,674 people - conducted by YouGov in October 2021 - showed that 81 per cent of people supported rewilding in Britain, with support similarly high across voters from all political parties, all ages and social classes. Only 5 per cent of people polled opposed rewilding. 83 per cent of those polled supported Britain’s national parks being made wilder, with areas within them set aside for rewilding.

There are already a number of rewilding schemes in Britain, led by the Knepp Estate in Sussex, and including Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk, which is undertaking rewilding along with regenerative agriculture, and Cabilla Cornwall, an upland hill farm in Bodmin Moor that is restoring temperate rainforest.

Three-quarters of those polled also supported setting a target to increase the percentage of land rewilded in Britain from less than 1 per cent today to at least 5 per cent. The same proportion of people thought politicians should be doing more to reverse the decline in nature in the country.

Rebecca Wrigley, chief executive of Rewilding Britain, said: “This polling confirms rewilding is overwhelmingly popular with the British public and that people want politicians to do much more to reverse the catastrophic decline of nature in our country.

“Rewilding offers a major solution to the nature and climate emergencies while benefiting people, including through new jobs and opportunities for rural and coastal communities and healthier towns and cities.

“Rewilding is attracting astonishing levels of support because it’s about hope.”

Rewilding Britain wants to see efforts to restore nature across at least 30 per cent of Britain’s land and sea by 2030, with 5 per cent of this area being rewilded.

This would create areas of rewilded native forest, peatland, grasslands, wetlands, rivers and coastal areas, with no loss of productive farmland, while the remaining 25 per cent would support nature-friendly farming and other uses, the charity suggests.

Read more about Rewilding Britain's Innovation Fund.

Last week, a separate UK nature charity, The Woodland Trust, called for the public’s help to urgently raise the remaining £1m of the £2.5m asking price needed to transform land near Lympstone, close to the Exe Estuary in Devon, with a mixture of planting and letting trees and shrubs grow back naturally.

The Woodland Trust is bidding to turn a rural Devon site into new woods for an array of wildlife, in the county where the charity first started its work 50 years ago.

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