These are the proposals in the manifesto, listed by the ministry. You may comment on the proposals, preferably with a view to selecting something for action. If you would like this to be considered as a project for further discussion as to the exact action desired, please advise in the comment.

Rewilding Aims

1. Stop using public money to fund ecological destruction. Public money should be spent on public goods, not on funding practices or giving tax exemptions to businesses which destroy the environment. The list is very long, but just to provide a few examples, we may want to consider the area-based farming subsidies worth £3.6bn a year that largely go to support unsustainable and environmental damaging activities such as: intensive sheep farming, with complete disregard for the alarming rate of soil erosion and biodiversity loss; careless use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides, subsidised by public money, polluting rivers and exterminating insect life; generous tax loopholes for firms that invest in shale gas exploration; 1 £6bn a year donated to the fossil-fuel industry, almost twice the financial support provided to renewable-energy providers; 2 tax breaks on fuel use by airlines which amount to about £8.5bn a year; 3 £4m of taxpayer’s money given to 30 grouse shooting estates in 2014 alone, 4 of which are owned offshore 4 and of course gun licences for bloodsports, which are also subsidised by public money.

2. Use a significant sum of the money we now spend on farm subsidies for restoring ecosystems and reintroducing missing wildlife. The British ecosystems, by which we mean the web of interactions between biological organisms and their physical environment, are in dire need of help. Plant and animal life are disappearing from this country; soil and water, the very basic elements that allow life on Earth to exist, are poisoned and degraded, progressively unable to sustain life. It is not too late to reverse this trend, nature has a surprising ability to regenerate. However, attention, work, hope and, indeed, money are needed. If a potion of the £3bn currently used to subsidise destructive farming methods (which include: overgrazing, cutting, burning, liberal use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers which leech into waterways etc…) were instead used to restore lost and wounded ecosystems and reintroduce missing wildlife, we wouldn’t need to wait long to see a reawakening of Nature in all its abundance.

3. Set a target of rewilding at least 10% of our uplands to begin with immediate effect. What would happen if 10% of the uplands were allowed to regenerate? By relieving grazing pressure from sheep and cattle, banning the regular burns that take place over grouse shooting estates, and allowing shrubs and trees to come back, we could transform some areas currently devoted to hilltop farming into multi-purpose woodland. The animals would slowly come back and birdsong would be heard again. The soil on the forest floor would become rich in nutrients, the root system of trees would prevent erosion and, like a sponge, absorb water during periods of heavy rainfall, decreasing the risk of floods downhill. The argument stands from a financial point of view just as well: more trees and more wildlife attract more ecotourism, which, in places like Wales, already contributes far more to the economy than farming does (agriculture in 2003 contributed £418 million, against £1900 million from “wildlife-based-activities” 5 )

4. Create a list of species to be re-established in the UK, a meaningful timetable to achieve it and significant public and private funding to pay for it. Many important species that were common in Britain have disappeared due to hunting pressure, climate change or habitat loss. These include large browsers like the moose, top predators like the lynx and the wolf, and large sized birds like the crane and the stork, among many others. Their vanishing from this island has left the ecosystem fragmented and imbalanced, with the ecological niches once occupied by these animals now empty. For example, without natural predators the deer population is growing out of control, and without beavers, the hydrology of rivers has changed. However, with appropriate planning and funding, we can help some of these animals come back and restore the ecological processes they once provided.

5. Make our national parks worthy of the name, by allowing habitats to recover and wildlife to return. National parks in the UK are not doing a great job of protecting nature and allowing wildlife to thrive. According to the IUCN, the international body for the conservation of nature, protected areas are classified on a scale from 1 to 6 based on their ecological value, with 1 being the highest score. Generally, national parks receive a score of 2, but in the UK they are only classed as level 5, due to their weak ability to protect nature. It therefore looks like our national parks, which by definition should be providing nature with a safe haven, are performing inadequately at this task, a trend which should be reverted immediately.

6. Ban driven grouse shooting. Driven grouse shooting is the hunting of the red grouse, where the birds are flushed by a group of “beaters” and driven towards a line of gunmen, waiting to shoot them as they fly past. Red grouse cannot be reared and released like pheasants, so driven grouse moors are managed to maximise the number of birds available at the beginning of the shooting season. This leads to a number of enviro nmentally destructive consequences. For example, controlled burns of hectares of uplands are performed on rotation each year, to produce a near-monoculture of low heather, an ideal habitat for grouse and little else. The soil is regularly drained, to allow for even more heather growth. Any natural predator of the grouse and its chicks are promptly dispatched, raising many pressing issues about and wildlife crime and persecution (refer to 98 the Wildlife Crime manifesto) . This systematic pillaging of the environment is driven by money. When a single day of shooting for a party of 6 can cost over £24,000 6 and when the costs of running a grouse shooting estate are covered by generous public subsidies (£5 6 per hectare per year, which sums up to £156,800 for a 2800 hectare estate 7) , the math is simple. G rouse shooting estates make big money and are increasingly subsidised by the public at a time of national austerity.

7. Set a maximum population density for deer on stalking estates, which will allow trees to grow once more. Deer are browsing animals, meaning they eat tree leaves, including those of seedlings and young trees, which are easier to reach. They also strip the bark off trees, often causing their premature death. Therefore deer numbers, when too high, can affect the age diversity of a woodland, and prevent forests from regeneratin g, which in turn has a negative impact on other mammals, birds and invertebrates. 8 Today there are thought to be 2 million deer in Britain, the highest level for 1000 years, and their population has doubled since 1999. 9 The Scottish Natural Heritage report spending £4.8m a year on deer fencing but assume that the cost of damage to forestry is more than that, 10 while the damage to crops in the East of England averages at £3.21 million per year. 11 And this is without taking i nto consideration the downstream negative ecological impact on biodiversity. There are two reasons for this: on one hand deer don’t have any natural p redators to keep their  population in check (in the past there would have been lynx, bears and wolves doing that), and on the other hand in many Scottish deer stalking estates the numbers are maintained artificially high through winter feeding. Without reducing their numbers forests and woodlands all across the country are unable to regenerate and once the old trees die, there won’t be any young ones to replace them.

8. Use natural flood management, including beavers, to hold back the water that falls on our hills, ensuring a safe and steady flow down our rivers. The British uplands, bare and overgrazed as they currently are, offer little protection against the risk of downhill floods after heavy rainfall. The lack of vegetation and severe soil erosion increase the rate of water run-off and thereby prevent rainfall from being absorbed and stored as groundwater. 12 The most intuitive natural flood management plan would be to reduce grazing pressure on the uplands near areas at high risk of flooding and allow shrubs and trees to recolonise the land. Comparisons of water run-off between pasture land and a 10 year-old tree shelterbelt show significantly reduced water flow where trees are present. 13 Stabilising river banks by re-vegetation can also be particularly effective, as it prevents natural bank erosion. Another way of mitigating flood risks is to reintroduce beavers and allow them to do the work for us. Beavers naturally build dams, which trap sediment and reduce the mean velocity and discharge of water downstream, facilitating floodplain development. 14

9. Create buffer zones between farmland and rivers, to block pollution and floodwater and establish significant wildlife corridors. Buffer zones are defined as permanently vegetated areas of land separating agricultural fields from neighbouring waterways and they provide a high diversity of natural functions and services. First of all, they act as physical barriers, retaining farming pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorous and pesticides and preventing them from running off into the waterways. 15 A study carried out in Japan found that where buffer zones are present the amount of nitrates dissolved in water are 43.7% less than in the upland stretches. 16 Buffer zones are also dynamic systems that modulate water flows. During high rainfall water travels rapidly from the catchment to the rivers, and with large bursts of water the surrounding landscapes can flood. Buffer zones act like sponges and slow the flow of water from catchment to river, thus reducing the risk of floods. They can also reduce sediment loss into rivers by holding the bank together, which further reduces flood risk. Furthermore, they can serve as wildlife movement corridors, a critical tool for reconnecting fragmented habitats, allowing animals to move across otherwise isolated patches of nature. 17 Their cost effectiveness has been evaluated in several studies: while their presence may result in additional costs to the landowner, either for maintenance or as a loss from reduced agricultural land, these are outweighed by the many benefits to the public (and to public spending on flood mitigation). These range from improved bank stability, greater water quality, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, and greater aesthetic value.

10.Declare 30% of the UK’s seas off-limits to commercial fishing, drilling, dredging and other forms of extractive industry. 3 billion people rely on marine and freshwater fish as a major source of protein. Yet fish stocks around the world are more depleted than ever before: today the oceans have lost 50% of the fish since 1970, 29% of commercial fish stocks are now classed as overexploited and 61% as fully exploited. 18 The UK, whilst relying heavily on the fishing industry, has only managed to grant genuine protection to 7.4 Km 2 of sea, out of the 48,000 Km 2 of territorial waters. This is neither an informed nor forward looking policy. Closing more areas to fishing is crucial if we want to allow fish stocks to recover and sealife to thrive again. It is also an optimal solution from an economic point of view, because marine reserves allow for the fish inside them to live longer, grow larger and produce more eggs. Over time, as the population increases, adult fish leave the protected reserve and add to the catches in neighbouring areas, and their eggs, transported by the currents, go on to spawn in new places. In other words, no-take zones act as nurseries of the sea, providing us with an insurance policy for the fisheries, as well as a healthier more thriving and more resilient marine ecosystem. 19 A WWF report calculated the ecosystem benefits that no-take zones result in and revealed that every dollar invested to create a marine protected area could yield triple the benefits through f actors including employment, coastal protection, and fisheries. 20 Economically speaking, this is a no-brainer for the fishing industry, the country and the marine ecosystem.

References:
1. Kahya, D. (2016). How the UK taxpayer could spend millions funding the hunt for fracked gas.
Unearthed. [online] Available at: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2016/05/25/oil-tax-how-the-uk-taxpayer-could-spend-millions-fundingthe-hunt-for-fracked-gas/(Accessed 28/08/2018)
2. Bast, E., Doukas, A., Pickard, A., van der Burg, L., Whitley, S., (2015). Empty promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal exploration [Online]. Availabe at: 
https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/9957.pdf(Accessed 27/08/2018)
3. Chakrabortty, A., (2015). The £93bn handshake: businesses pocket huge subsidies and tax breaks. The Guardian [online]. Available at:
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/07/corporate-welfare-a-93bn-handshake (Accessed 27/08/2018)
4. Shrubsole, G. (2016). Who owns England’s grouse moors? [online] Available at: https://whoownsengland.org/2016/10/28/who-owns-englands-grouse-moors/(Accessed 26/08/2018)
5. Russell et al. (2011). Status and Changes in the UK’s Ecosystems and their Services to Society: Wales.​ ​InThe UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UK National Ecosystem Assessment, UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge.
6. Churchill sporting agency (2018). Full Team Availability 2018/19. [online] Available at: 
https://www.ejchurchill.com/sporting-agency/availability/full-teams/(Accessed 29/08/2018)
7. DEFRA (2014). CAP boost for moorland. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cap-boost-for-moorland(Accessed 24/08/2018)
8. Gill, R. M. A., & Fuller, R.J. (2007). The effects of deer browsing on woodland structure and songbirds in lowland Britain. Ibis149, 119–127.
9. The deer initiative. About wild deer: overview. [online] Available at: 
http://www.thedeerinitiative.co.uk/about_wild_deer/(Accessed 26/08/2018)
10. Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee (2017). Report on Deer Management in Scotland: Report to the Scottish Government from Scottish Natural Heritage 2016. 5th Report(Session 5)
11. White, C.L.P., Smart, J.C.R., Böhm, M., Langbein, J., Ward, A.I. (2004). Economic impact of wild deer in the East of England [Online]. Available at:
http://imap.woodlandforlife.net/PDFs/DEER%20studyExecutive_Summary[1].pdf(Accessed 27/08/2018)
12. Sansom, A.L., (1999). Upland vegetation management: The impacts of overstocking.Water Science and Technology , 39(12)
13. Marshall, M. R., Francis, O. J., Frogbrook, Z. L., Jackson, B. M., McIntyre, N., Reynolds, B., Chell, J. (2009). The impact of upland land management on flooding: results from an improved pasture hillslope. 
Hydrological Processes, 23(3), p.464–475.
14. Dadson, S.J. et al. (2017). A restatement of the natural science evidence concerning catchment-based ‘natural’ flood management in the UK.
Proc. R. Soc. A 473: 20160706.
15. Muscutt, A.D., Harris, G.L., Bailey, S.W., Davies, D.B (1993). Buffer zones to improve water quality: a review of their potential use in UK agriculture.
Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment45, p.59-77
16. Anbumozhi, V., Radhakrishnan, J., Yamaji, E. (2005). Impact of riparian buffer zones on water quality and associated management considerations.
Ecological Engineering24, p.517–523
17. Naiman, R.J., Decamps, H., Pollock, M. (1993). The Role of Riparian Corridors in Maintaining Regional Biodiversity.
Ecological Applications3(2), p.209-212
18. WWF 2015. Living blue planet report. ISBN 978-2-940529-24-7 [Online]. Avilable at: 
https://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/living_blue_planet_report_2015.pdf(Accessed 27/08/2018)
19. Gell, F. R., Roberts, C. M. (2003). Benefits beyond boundaries: the fishery effects of marine reserves. Trends in Ecology & Evolution18(9), 448–455
20. Reuchlin-Hugenholtz, E., McKenzie, E. (2015). Marine protected areas: Smart investments in ocean health. WWF, Gland, Switzerland. ISBN: 978-2-940529-21-6

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Hedgerows and Verges Aims
Upland Ecology Aims
 

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Monday, 18 November 2019