Somerset Wildlands - Decentralised Re-Wilding in SW England
with Alasdair Cameron

Our second talk of the season in the Baptist Church Hall attracted a great audience of around 50 people, it was great to be gradually getting back to the numbers who attended pre-Covid.
The speaker, Alasdair, is the founder and Executive Director of Somerset Wildlands (SW), a charity which he set up 2 years ago. 

Alasdair first clarified what exactly the term “re-wilding” means: restoring land to an uncultivated / unmanaged state, and offered 3 different ways that this is being achieved:

  1. The “large country estate” model. Very large areas of previously intensively farmed land are being left to re-wild, with little intervention. The flagship example of this is the Knepp estate in Sussex.
  2. Trees for Life. This is happening in Scotland, where local communities buy areas of land and leave them to re-wild.
  3. Pockets of large estates are being re-wilded by landowners, and smaller scale re-wilding takes place on smaller areas of land.

Somerset Wildlands fits most closely with the 3rd model, because Alasdair has started buying areas of land on the wet Somerset Levels. This land was intensively-managed grassland, used mainly for silage and of very low wildlife value. His aim is to create “stepping stones” between existing nature reserves (such as the RSPB reserve at Ham Wall) for species to move between.

How? - simply by leaving the fields alone and allowing nature to take over. No paths, car parks, visitor centres, sign boards, indeed very little human intervention. Nature doesn’t need our intervention; it can thrive without us!

The speed at which it does so is remarkable. Already the first sites have been colonised by meadowsweet, comfrey, purple loosestrife, thistles and nettles, with harvest mice, grass snakes, otters, snipe, sparrowhawks and marsh harriers returning after many years of absence. The only intervention has been to dig a pond. On the margins, birds foot trefoil, meadow pea, thistles, yellow flag irises, umbellifers and some willows are establishing. Hares, badgers, roe deer and foxes have all been recorded as returning to use the “neglected” land. The biodiversity index score has increased markedly in only a couple of years.

Photo: Grass snake

Looking to the future, Alasdair predicts that beavers (already only 10 miles away), otters, wild boar, sea eagles and even pelicans (last seen 3,000 years ago!) could become established and be a common sight on these re-wilded areas. In 60 years time it could develop into a wet forest. The moral of the talk: the less we interfere, the more complex the ecosystem will become and the more resilient it will become to climate change and other environmental pressures.
Photo: Otter footprints at Godney Marshes

Dave Sage

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