Rewilding and habitat restoration

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Fishnut
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Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 01, 2021 2:47 pm

I'm doing some investigation on rewilding for a piece I'm writing and was hoping I might be able to get some help with the background research. I'm highly dubious about the impact of a lot of the rewilding schemes I see around the country - plonking a bunch of twigs on the edge of a park and calling it rewilding seems to be, at best, false advertising.

I'd really appreciate help with the following:

- Any good examples of rewilding done right (anywhere in the world, but temperate climate preferred for comparability);

- Info on the sort of scale it needs to be done on to be successful;

- Info on how much of a 'kick-start' the habitat needs to rewild. It seems that the idea is to leave things to nature as much as possible, but I can't work out if that just means leaving things alone and letting nature get on with recolonising, planting a few trees to nudge things in the right direction, or creating a full habitat to get ecological succession occurring as quickly as possible;

- Any legitimate concerns about rewilding.

Obviously I'm doing my own research for this but I figured I might as well see if there were any nuggets of info hiding in the brains of you lot that you'd be willing to share :D
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Apr 01, 2021 3:50 pm

Great topic!

A quick reply as I'm half-listening to a conference right now ;) but maybe gives a head start with some case studies.

I think rewilding is a useful concept that's much abused. It's really a functional definition, not just restoring a habitat but the processses that maintain it - using herbivores to manage vegetation, for instance, and using predators to manage herbivores, rather than close-order management by humans.

Canonical examples would be Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands, really the first place to try re-wilding in Europe (for me, the "re" bit implies restoring lost species, or at least ±functionally equivalent livestock). In the UK, the Knepp Estate in Sussex is having amazing success restoring populations of priority species like Turtle Dove and Purple Emperor, with results that piss all over decades of intensively-managed postage-stamp reserves. It's been a bit controversial, especially their enthusiasm for reintroducing things like White Storks. But Wilding by Isabella Tree (co-owner of Knepp) is probably the best book on rewilding I've read. See also Feral by George Monbiot.

Another good example is the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the USA. There were issues with the native herbivores overgrazing, so wolves were introduced. This forces the herbivores into a kind of cat-and-mouse game, where they can't stick in the same place for too long and overgraze it, but instead move about, creating a heterogeneous mosaic of different habitats. (See the "landscape of fear" concept).

Really I think rewilding has to be at scale. A bunch of cows in a field isn't rewilding. A diverse suite of herbivore spp ranging over a landscape might be. A pile of sticks might be locally useful for invertebrates but it's a ridiculous abuse of the term.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by bmforre » Thu Apr 01, 2021 4:39 pm

Chernobyl surrounding areas?

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Apr 01, 2021 4:51 pm

bmforre wrote:
Thu Apr 01, 2021 4:39 pm
Chernobyl surrounding areas?
A fair point - it's not been done deliberately, but certainly counts as a rewilded. And, like other rewilded areas, also contains enormous populations of lots of threatened species.

Given that it's a radioactive exclusion zone full of crumbling urban infrastructure it's kind of embarrassing how much more successful it's been at bolstering wildlife than a lot of deliberate conservation initiatives.

Other examples are given in the book World Without Us by Alan Weisman https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/248 ... Without_Us
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by jimbob » Thu Apr 01, 2021 7:24 pm

Dean Morrison, who is a member here, and I think scrutineers Facebook group has been involved with the Knapp estate rewilding.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Martin_B » Fri Apr 02, 2021 1:16 am

I recall watching a programme on rewilding in the Murray-Darling river system where old marsh areas had been drained and used for forestry, and have now been rewilded back to marshland. I'm not sure if it's this one: https://www.foreground.com.au/agricultu ... -wetlands/ because it doesn't seem to match my (possibly hazy) recollections; there may be multiple rewilding projects.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by bmforre » Sun Apr 04, 2021 2:19 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Thu Apr 01, 2021 4:51 pm
Given that it's a radioactive exclusion zone full of crumbling urban infrastructure it's kind of embarrassing how much more successful it's been at bolstering wildlife than a lot of deliberate conservation initiatives.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by sTeamTraen » Sun Apr 04, 2021 7:54 pm

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Thu Apr 01, 2021 3:50 pm
Canonical examples would be Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands, really the first place to try re-wilding in Europe (for me, the "re" bit implies restoring lost species, or at least ±functionally equivalent livestock).
There's a social/political dimension to the Oostvaardersplassen. People have been observing that in a wild environment, some animals that humans traditionally consider attractive (e.g., horses) end up on the wrong side of the "red in tooth and claw" thing, and have taken to breaking into the park to feed them. They have accused the people who manage the area of deliberate animal cruelty, some individuals have received death threats, etc. I doubt if this was taken into account when the project was started, but it would seem to be something that any person, collective, or government that is considering such a scheme might want to think about.

The Animal Rights Party has six seats (4% of the total) in the lower house of the Dutch parliament and was potentially headed for 10 seats at one point in polls not too far before the last elections.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by dyqik » Tue Apr 06, 2021 12:55 am

On longer timescales, a lot of the conversation areas around New England are secondary forest that were abandoned as farmland when agriculture moved westward in the early 20th century. There's some attempt to manage invasives like oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose and norway maple, but the areas are largely abandoned. Fieldstone walls show where the farmland used to be.

Another area near me is a former WWII ammunition dump/supply site, which is now a national wildlife refuge. Again, to its managed to some degree, (closing off trails in some areas to reduce the impact of hikers) and there dogs are banned to encourage other carnivores, like coyotes, etc.

There's almost certainly literature about the effectiveness of these. The native plant trust might be one local source of information.

In the unmanaged category, there are several acres behind my house which are town owned land, a former tree and pig farm "gifted" to the town in 60's when it couldn't be developed for a town high school or housing due to wetlands on it. It's basically abandoned, and we had to pay to control invasives on the boundary of it against our property line. Now we go a hundred feet or so into it every spring to spray glyphosate on invasive bittersweet, to prevent it killing trees that eventually fall on our garage.

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by dyqik » Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:15 am

Wildlife in these range from beavers to white tailed deer, plus the occasional moose or black bear. None of these were extinct here exactly, but they were very rare and have mostly migrated back here over the century or so.

Beavers in particular have recently been allowed to get on with things in wide areas, leading to large areas of swamp filled with dead trees that have essentially drowned due to beaver dams being allowed to stand.

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by dyqik » Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:19 am

https://newildernesstrust.org/ is one possible resource

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by science_fox » Tue Apr 06, 2021 10:08 am

I was going to put this in the motorsport thread but maybe here is as relevant - https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/ ... /extreme-e Extreme-E where they've set up a championship to highlight/preserve vulnerable ecosystems through the means of driving all over them.

The aim is to leave it untouched after they've finished racing and install legacy programs to help recovery. So far the only mention has been the throwaway comment that the tire tracks (in the saudia desert) will 'fill in with windblown sand' which doesn't seem like the most responsible possible option, and does nothing for all the "brush" that had been stabilising the sand until they got driven on - the loss of such plants being, in my limited understanding, one of the factors helping deserts to spread. The program has the explicit aim of preventing this.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by jimbob » Tue Apr 06, 2021 1:50 pm

That does seem counterproductive
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by monkey » Tue Apr 06, 2021 2:51 pm

science_fox wrote:
Tue Apr 06, 2021 10:08 am
I was going to put this in the motorsport thread but maybe here is as relevant - https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/ ... /extreme-e Extreme-E where they've set up a championship to highlight/preserve vulnerable ecosystems through the means of driving all over them.

The aim is to leave it untouched after they've finished racing and install legacy programs to help recovery. So far the only mention has been the throwaway comment that the tire tracks (in the saudia desert) will 'fill in with windblown sand' which doesn't seem like the most responsible possible option, and does nothing for all the "brush" that had been stabilising the sand until they got driven on - the loss of such plants being, in my limited understanding, one of the factors helping deserts to spread. The program has the explicit aim of preventing this.
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UK woodlands at crisis point

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Apr 14, 2021 10:47 am

according to the Woodlands Trust:
The UK’s native woodlands are reaching a crisis point, with just 7% in good condition, according to the first comprehensive assessment of their health.

The Woodland Trust’s report found the woods facing a barrage of threats, including destruction by development, imported pests and diseases, the impacts of the climate crisis and pollution. Woodland specialist birds and butterflies have declined by almost half since 1970, it said.

The report said the high-profile drive to create new woodlands is important, but would count for little if existing woods are lost. In any case, the report said, rates of tree planting are nowhere near what is needed and less than half of the new trees are native species.

Trees should play an important role in helping the UK tackle the climate emergency and restore wildlife in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. They can also provide services such as reduced flooding and shade, as well as being important for many people’s wellbeing.

Woodland cover has nearly tripled since 1900 and makes up 13% of the UK, but half of this is forestry plantations that support relatively little biodiversity. In December, the UK’s Climate Change Committee said 2bn new trees would be needed by 2050, increasing the coverage to 18% of the country, and requiring a tripling of the growth rate.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment ... isis-point

Obviously this has relevance for things like HS2 as well, which are removing native woodland and replacing them with badly designed, poorly managed plantations of non-native species, including via direct grants to the commercial forestry sector.

A walk in a UK woodland is often a pretty depressing experience: no understory, little dead wood, impoverished flora and fauna. And that's talking about native woodland, including designated sites, which don't receive the protection and management they need in the UK ecological context of historical deforestation, ongoing fragmentation, lack of native herbivores, etc etc.

Walking through a pine plantation in the middle of a National Park is even more depressing, of course.

Woodland restoration is pretty cheap, luckily: just fence off a big area and limit grazing. Trees will plant themselves. But the ability of native biodiversity to colonise new woodlands is obviously dependent on source populations existing, which is to say it depends on conservation of existing native woodland. Currently the country is failing badly.

Mod note: merged the Woodland Crisis thread with this one, as the focus was mainly on restoration and rewilding.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Fishnut » Wed Apr 14, 2021 11:22 am

That is really depressing. And makes me even more concerned about all these tree planting schemes - I fear they're going to be used as a way of deflecting attention, "look, we do care, we're planting all these trees". Lots of trees don't make a woodland.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Apr 14, 2021 12:56 pm

Yes. It's market-friendly greenwashing, like promoting honeybees as a response to the declines of native pollinators.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by lpm » Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:04 am

A basic fact is that the woodlands were harvested for countless centuries - e.g. coppiced every 7 years for poles and firewood, big trees felled every now and again for timber. The understory was constantly managed. Woodland grazing was part of it.

That came to an abrupt halt. Somebody now has to be paid to go in and manage woodlands and nobody wants to buy bundles of firewood or a bunch of poles. Even people with fires in their homes are purchasing hardwood logs for log burners - ash and beech, say, sometimes kiln-dried before sale...

There's a fundamental question of what woodlands are for. That was easy to answer for hundreds of years - a woodland could be valued at £x per acre for the coppice type raw materials and £y per acre for the timber. And it's easy to answer for modern plantations. And farmland obviously has a clear purpose.

I don't think this report answers what a woodland is for, apart from woodlands are nice. And I'm not convinced woodland restoration will deliver what we consider to be native woods, because native woods were the result of humans intervening every day of the year. Do we really want to set up a system that will require us to pay people to artifically manage woodlands for a couple of hundred years?
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:12 am

lpm wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:04 am
Somebody now has to be paid to go in and manage woodlands
Ecologically speaking, woodlands will manage fine on their own.

The problem with unmanaged woodlands is that they aren't optimal for recreation, or other uses by humans. They get full of saplings, fallen trees, brambles, nettles and boggy patches. Basically an unmanaged woodland isn't where someone would like to take the kids and dog for a brisk walk. Which gets us back to your question. If the sole purpose of a woodland is for it to be a woodland then just leave it alone. If its for something else then people need to step in.

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by lpm » Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:29 am

But the Woodland Trust thinks they are also for various birds and butterflies that did nicely in old woodlands, so want to replicate that habitat.

An unmanaged woodland would have a different mix of species, quite possibly a less diverse mix.

Are there any examples of unmanaged woodlands? Places that have been left untouched, since 1914 say? What actually happens? The only place I can think of are the Norfolk Broads when reed cutting stopped - the broad becomes reed beds, then swampy vegetation, then swampy wood, then woodland. Currently of course they are trying to revert to broad and managed reed beds. You want bitterns back, you need bittern habitat back.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:38 am

lpm wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 9:29 am
Are there any examples of unmanaged woodlands? Places that have been left untouched, since 1914 say? What actually happens?
I know some areas that have been unmanaged for many decades. Either by design or neglect the land owner just left them alone. Best way to sum them up is to say that they are hard to walk through. There's lots of fallen trees you have to climb over or through, and deep undergrowth in places depending upon the amount of sunlight. To walk through you'd need to wear a stout pair of boots, thick trousers and jacket, and tolerance for scratches or nettle stings.

I don't know about the actual species, but in general that environment is great for wildlife. The fallen trees are a superb habitat for insects. Rodents really like all the cover provided by undergrowth and saplings, and there's lots of different kinds of fungi (which also really like the fallen trees). There may not be so many species of wild flowers, but I've never counted.

ETA, you can probably find some unmanaged woodland near you. Best place to look would be a steep riverbank that's privately owned. Its not suitable for growing crops or building on, and grazing sheep or cattle might get into trouble. If there aren't any major footpaths through it the chances are that the area won't managed.

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:05 am

"Natural" woodlands are managed by suites of herbivores, whose diverse feeding methods have different impacts on vegetation. Those herbivores are in turn managed by predators stalking the herds, causing them to shift about over time and thus creating a mosaic of habitats in different successional stages.

Management by humans is necessary only because those herbivores and predators are mostly extinct in Europe.

For this reason there is no unmanaged-but-natural woodlands in West Europe. Białowieża in Poland is probably the closest example - and it's awesome https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bia%C5% ... BCa_Forest

The UK does have plenty of spare space. Deer-shooting estates in Scotland alone add up to an area larger than Yellowstone, so there's no reason we couldn't have woodlands full of bison and wolves - except for the issue of ownership.

So more practical models generally involve using a range of farm animals to do the grazing/browsing, and people to do the predation. It's still way less work than manually coppicing everything, and sites like Knepp in Sussex and Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands show that natural ecosystems can be restored quickly, easily and cheaply once you have the land. Loads of marginal farmland will be going broke without EU subsidies, so there's an opportunity to do something useful with it.

As for what they're for, the obvious answers are things like carbon sequestration and biodiversity. The UK has committed to 68% carbon reduction under the Paris Agreement and to protecting 30% of its land for nature by 2030, targets that will require a lot of hard work to meet. I'm sure the UK wouldn't want to renege on international commitments.

Native woodland is much better than monoculture plantations at both of those things, especially compared to the conifers preferred by commercial forestry.

In terms of human access, all 3 sites mentioned above are highly popular wildlife tourism destinations. Generally these things operate with a core area people don't visit much, and a buffer area where they do. Wildlife from those forests would also spillover into the rest of the countryside - loads of common bird and butterfly species are declining very fast in the UK. If people want to keep seeing things in their gardens and on daily walks, they need big areas of proper habitat to deliver their nature.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Woodchopper » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:11 am

Bird on a Fire wrote:
Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:05 am
"Natural" woodlands are managed by suites of herbivores, whose diverse feeding methods have different impacts on vegetation. Those herbivores are in turn managed by predators stalking the herds, causing them to shift about over time and thus creating a mosaic of habitats in different successional stages.
Yes, I was just using 'unmanaged' in the sense of not managed by humans.

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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by Fishnut » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:21 am

First, I want to apologise for not properly engaging with the thread despite starting it and asking for help. I got distracted by other topics.

Secondly, I want to everyone who did engage, it's really appreciated :D

Thirdly, I saw this piece in this month's Gardener's World magazine which made me sigh excessively and reawakened my desire to start researching this topic.
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Gardeners World.jpg
Gardeners World.jpg (30.2 KiB) Viewed 728 times
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It reads:
Tiny forests coming to a town near you
Tiny forests the size of tennis courts are springing up in towns across the UK under the government's commitment to plant more trees. Environmental charity Earthwatch has government funding for 12 urban "Miyawaki" forests, densely planted with native trees to maximise biodiversity. The first three are already growing in Lancing in West Sussex, Redbridge in London, and Oxford. "Tiny forests connect people with nature" says Louise Hartley, Earthwatch's Programme Manager. earthwatch.org.uk/get-involved/tiny-forests.
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Re: Rewilding and habitat restoration

Post by lpm » Thu Apr 15, 2021 10:22 am

Knepp needs carefully management. Some of that is cheap, but at the end of the day it needs professional care - not least to work out where they go wrong and need to change course.

It's a hell of a long way from "woodland restoration is pretty cheap, luckily: just fence off a big area and limit grazing." You need to both limit grazing and allow grazing. One area I know well gets New Forest ponies brought up for a few months a year, then transported back. It's not like we just let deer and boar and wolves wander back.

I know a lot of what I call thickets - impassible patches of land. I'm not convinced they are left sufficient decades to develop to their next stages - usually some new owner comes in and "tidies up".
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