Making more space for nature
I was very pleased to be invited to take part in a webinar for Rewilding Britain recently, about smaller scale Rewilding alongside Laura Fairs (Rewilding Lead at Embercombe) as well as discussing the wider wilder landscape initiative- Devon Wildland.
As with all these opportunities, on self reflection after the event there were a million more things that I could have mentioned. We seemed to pack a lot into an hour, however a couple of things I wanted to cover were abundance and a mantra for mosaics.
What do I mean by abundance? A great discussion of this can be found in Benedict Macdonald's excellent book Rebirding, where he talks about how we have got used to seeing fewer of a species in the landscape. He talks extensively about 'stochastic extinction', where so few breeding individuals exist, as Benedict says; "once you are left with a tiny population, everything has to work perfectly in order for the species to survive- yet by default, nature does not cater to the perfect survival of any one species."
Rarities become special and more treasured than more commonly observed species, but as Laura said in the webinar, "It doesn't have to be rare, to be special." One thing that we can say with some certainty is that we should stop taking common species for granted especially in the face of diseases. As seen with ash dieback, suddenly we are realising the importance of individual species to a whole host of other organisms.
We are rightly focussed on the biodiversity crisis but we also need to be mindful of how few of the remaining species are left, and how we have come to normalise this via shifting baseline syndrome. Shifting baseline syndrome is the process where we come to normalise populations and landscapes with reference to our own subjective perceptions of how things were in our childhood. As George Monbiot puts it in his book Feral, "Our memories have been wiped as clean as the land."
In many years time what we may see here at Hill Crest (as a relatively small site) is a loss of biodiversity when species associated with species-rich grassland migrate out in favour of more woodland specific species as the tree canopy starts to close over. This is where landscape-scale restoration is key, so that these species can 'roll with' the changes and migrate across the landscape, where ideally the land is no longer held in stasis but ebbs and flows as natural processes become re-established. What we may eventually lose in biodiversity, we will hopefully gain in abundance.
What this also means is that as changes happen across the landscape, a bigger mosaic of different wilder habitats are created; where areas of scrub, woodland and more open areas intermingle to support an abundance of different species- a mantra for mosaics!
This is my dream for Devon Wildland, a connected landscape which supports a mosaic of habitats, where more space is made for nature, through a collective mindset change where humans initially lead the way for nature to lead itself.
Thank you to Sara King at Rewilding Britain for giving me the space to share the changes that are happening here, and also how the social pressures on the land greatly influence the wider picture.
To watch the Rewilding Britain webinar in full, here is the link: