It is perhaps an unexpected call and indeed given that the Government Minister who has made the call is Zac Goldsmith, we may need a bit more clarity to check that his call is genuine. However there are increasingly few opportunities for scientists to carry out work for the Government as we have seen in the process of COVID-19 so this could be a very good start for both the scientists and for our environment. So According to his profile on the Government website The Right Honourable Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park was appointed as Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 13 February 2020. Apparently his role is Minister of State (Minister for Pacific and the Environment). On Tuesday in the House of Lords Zac answered a question that had been presented in written format by John Patten who is Lord Patten. His question was on the subject of Nature Conservation and it was very short “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effects of re-wilding in England on established fauna and flora.” The response from Zac Goldsmith was a great deal longer and this is it in its entirety. There is reference both to a Sussex location and the call for more scientific assessments.
There are an increasing number of examples of re-wilding in England, but limited scientific assessments of their effects.
In 2017, Natural England published a review of large-scale conservation which looked at the effects of a number of re-wilding projects. The review found some indications of positive change in the quality of woodlands, but concluded that definitive assessment was hampered by a lack of data.
It is clear, nonetheless, that re-wilding approaches can deliver benefits. For example, at Knepp Castle in West Sussex, the creation of extensive grassland and scrub habitats, has boosted numbers of declining bird species like the nightingale or the turtle dove.
Re-wilding is unlikely to be appropriate in all circumstances, but natural processes, such as natural colonisation of land with trees for example, could play an important part in connecting and expanding habitats and woodlands, alongside planting.
The Government is therefore keen to understand the potential of re-wilding approaches to provide biodiversity and carbon benefits as we develop our tree strategy and our plans for the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.
So it would seem as though people who are passionate about re-wilding and willing to carry out scientific assessments could be recruited by people like the Minister of State or alternatively maybe some of the scientific organisations that work on environmental issues could offer to assist him. Clearly for those of us who live in Sussex this is particularly encouraging that the Government is aware of some of our facilities. Equally for those of us who want to strengthen the STEM support this is a great way of doing it.