Thanks to James Waller for our latest guest blog. James is a writer, Green Party volunteer and supporter of environmental causes. He has recently rediscovered his connection with nature after living London for three years…
“Believe it or not, up until fairly recently, in ecological time, Britain was home to a much vaster array of impressive wild creatures. Some of these included top predators such as wolves, lynx, bear and wolverines, as well as different types of eagles and other birds of prey, wild boar, elk, beaver, and a variety of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.
However, since the Neolithic revolution and the introduction of agriculture, subsequent waves of human expansion have gradually eroded their once pristine natural habitats and/or caused conflict with people. Thus their numbers massively declined, in many cases into extinction.
On a more positive note, over the last twenty years a variety of national conservation projects have successfully reintroduced various native British species back into the wild. In areas where rare animals had become extinct or where the survival of local populations was severely threatened, sanctuaries of protected natural habitat and release/breeding programs were set up, in an attempt to preserve and rebuild their presence in the ecosystem.
Just some of the animals and insects that have been reintroduced back into Britain’s natural landscape include mammals such as the beaver, wild boar, sea otter and red squirrel, and birds like the great bustard, black grouse, white-tailed eagle, osprey, goshawk and red kite, plus several species of butterfly.
Here’s where you might see a few of them…
Beavers: These large, aquatic, dam-building rodents have been cautiously returned to a couple of select sites. As a keystone species they have an important influence on the rest of the ecosystem, creating habitat for smaller river-dwelling creatures with their dams and lodges. So far they have been released in Scotland at Knapdale Forest, Lower Mill Estate in Gloucestershire and at Martin Mere in Lancashire, and recently a totally wild beaver was spotted in a river in Devon. There are also plans to release beavers in Wales very soon.
Wild boar: Ater 700 years of absence this large, powerful member of the wild pig family has made a strong return to Britain. What’s truly remarkable is that their reintroduction was not planned and has happened purely by accident. There is a sizeable population in the Forest of Dean in the West Country and have been sighted across the south of England, they are also as far north as Yorkshire and Lancashire. There is division between supporters of the wild boar’s return and those concerned about its impacts.
Great bustard: This large native bird, which is in fact the heaviest flying animal, weighing up to 21kg and standing one metre tall, is found across rolling grasslands in Northern Europe. After going extinct in Britain in 1832, a breeding program was set up in 2004 in Wiltshire. Bustards transported from Russia were reintroduced to the landscape. The project’s first breeding pairs have successfully hatched chicks and a great bustard sighting has now been reported 50 miles away in Dorset. The can currently be seen roaming wild on Salisbury Plain.
White tailed eagle: Once a common sight in the skies over Britain’s wilderness, these magnificent birds-of- prey were persecuted over past centuries by landowners who saw them as a threat to their livestock and gamebirds, and in 1970 they became critically endangered. After reintroduction in the 1980s there are now over 50 breeding pairs around the west coast of Scotland. There has also been a recent reintroduction in Ireland of two pairs that have produced chicks.
Glanville fritillary butterfly: An extremely rare species with beautiful white and orange markings, previously it could be found all over southern England. It only lives in specific habitats of exposed chalky undercliff and grassland where lamb’s tongue, the plant it feeds on as a caterpillar, is abundant. Now they survive just in the Isle of Wight and Channel Islands, but have been reintroduced at sites on the Somerset and Surrey coast.
More to come?
Following EU legislation passed under the Habitats Directive, EU member states have an obligation to explore and attempt reintroductions of native flora and fauna. In Britain this means that more consideration and attention is being given to conservation and rebuilding ancient ecosystems.
A significant and controversial proposal in this process is the idea to reintroduce native predators like the Eurasian lynx, grey wolf and brown bear. A range of recent studies has declared that there is a strong possibility these animals could be sustained by, and benefit, the environment.
Also, as Britain currently has an out-of-control deer population that is destroying habitats by ‘overgrazing’ vegetation vital to the ecosystem. The reintroduction of predators is being viewed as a potentially natural and effective solution.
Scientific research in Scotland has suggested the idea to reintroduce wolves there could be successful. Public support seems fairly strong, as the exciting opportunity to see wolves running wild could provide major development for ecotourism.
It seems like the future of Britain’s wildlife is starting to look positive. So maybe it’s time to answer the call of the wild and get out there and see them.”