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Can rewilding effectively combat climate change? According to a UK expert, yes! They believe that nature has the potential to both mitigate climate change and support agriculture without causing harm.
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Can rewilding effectively combat climate change? According to a UK expert, yes! They believe that nature has the potential to both mitigate climate change and support agriculture without causing harm.


The Knepp estate, located in West Sussex, has become the birthplace of the first white stork to be born in the wild in Britain in more than 600 years. This area is home to many endangered species such as bats, turtle doves, and nightingales, and even large tortoiseshell butterflies, which were previously declared extinct, are now breeding here. Each year, tens of thousands of people visit this site to witness the inspiring tale of nature’s resilience in the midst of the worldwide climate crisis.

Since 2018, Knepp has seen numerous thrilling transformations. Isabella Tree’s acclaimed book Wilding, which details the process of rewilding a 3,500-acre farm that was previously unprofitable for arable and dairy farming, has sparked these changes. Tree has now released an engaging illustrated guide titled Wilding: How to Bring Wildlife Back, providing updates on the remarkable progress at Knepp and offering practical tips for rewilding in smaller spaces.

One of Angela Harding’s illustrations from Wilding.

To view the image in fullscreen, please click on the expand icon.

According to Tree, many people are experiencing eco-anxiety in our world today, leading them to ignore the daunting environmental issues. It can be overwhelming to think about how one person can make a difference in the face of climate change and loss of biodiversity. However, upon visiting Knepp, one can witness the remarkable rebound of nature within just two decades. This serves as a story of hope and inspiration, reminding individuals that they have the power to take action and make a positive impact.

On March 7, the book will be released and it is intended for older children (9 years old and up) and adults. It details the story of Tree and her husband, Charlie Burrell, who made the decision to sell their dairy cows and farm equipment in 2000. They stopped using ploughs and chemicals for fertilizers and pesticides, removed their barbed wire fences, destroyed their Victorian land drains, and stopped clearing their ditches. Instead, they chose to “let things go” and work in harmony with nature, rather than constantly battling against it. Tree explains, “We wanted to shift the focus to working with nature instead of constantly fighting against it.”

Angela Harding, a talented printmaker and fine artist, showcases stunning illustrations that depict the gradual return of nature and wildlife to Knepp. This serves as a reminder that when given the chance, nature has the ability to rebound and thrive.

Tree with one of her oaks on the Knepp estate.View image in fullscreen

Some of the rarest creatures in Britain have now made Knepp their home, including kingfishers, hazel dormice, scarce chaser dragonflies and purple emperor butterflies. The river has returned to its natural course and the soil is now storing as much carbon per hectare as a 25-year-old plantation of trees does, according to recent tests.

“This is quite thrilling, as rewilding has been hailed as a remarkable solution for promoting wildlife and restoring biodiversity. However, some argue that it does not address the issue of climate change. In fact, we can now confidently say that it does. By allowing an area to rewild, the soil can be restored and its carbon storage potential will be equivalent to that of a plantation.”

According to Tree, it is crucial to consider the impact of using a spade to plant trees on biodiversity. This method results in a single generational plantation with a closed canopy, which lacks diversity in species. In comparison, Knepp has a diverse ecosystem including wetlands, scrublands, mature trees, deadwood, mycorrhizal fungi, and root systems underground. This variety of elements plays a larger role in carbon storage than simply planting trees.

However, back in 2000, Knepp was considered a “hopeless plot of land located under the Gatwick stacking system”. The saying “If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere” still applies.

Two years ago, the introduction of two breeding beavers was of great significance. In the following year, they produced two offspring, marking the first time in centuries that beavers were born in the wild in Sussex. The impact of these beavers has been remarkable during recent storms and floods, as they have managed to control approximately four or five acres of standing water and reduce the risk of downstream flooding.

In 2022, the beavers’ dams produced a small green oasis resembling an African savannah, which is now bustling with activity.

Tree expressed frustration over the fact that beavers still require licenses to be kept in enclosed pens in England, while they are able to live freely in Scotland and other parts of Europe. She and Burrell have been advocating for the reintroduction of beavers in England for 15 years, emphasizing the important role they play in cleaning polluted water and promoting biodiversity. They believe the UK needs to take more risks and reintroduce keystone species in order to help restore nature, especially in light of the current global environmental crisis.

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Beavers by Angela Harding from Isabella Tree’s new book.View image in fullscreen

Beavers living in the wild were recently granted protected status in England. However, there are concerns among farmers that reintroducing this native species, which was previously hunted to extinction in the 16th century, could pose a threat to their crops and livestock. This may occur through the alteration of river paths and the potential flooding of agricultural land. Critics of rewilding also argue that the government’s decision to incentivize farmers to rewild their land, with the goal of restoring 741,000 acres of wildlife habitats in England by 2042, may be jeopardizing food security. This is especially concerning as the UK already heavily relies on global food supply chains.

According to Tree, there is a common belief that rewilding is not possible in all areas and this raises concerns about food production. The National Farmers’ Union is a major opposition to the idea of allowing nature to thrive.

Although she acknowledges that rewilding may not be feasible in all areas – as land is necessary for food production – she believes it can still serve as a means of safeguarding crops and offering farmers a much-needed “life-support system.”

“We must cease the practices of ploughing and utilizing chemicals and artificial fertilizers. We are aware of the pollution these cause and the depletion of our soils. In order to ensure sustainable food production in the future, we must transition to regenerative agriculture. Additionally, we must incorporate rewilded areas into our food production to support vital species such as dung beetles, pollinating insects, pest control, clean water, water storage, and protection against extreme weather events.”

Encircling farmland with natural land is the sole viable solution. “Restoring wildness complements food production. We can achieve both,” she explains. “There is enough room for both to coexist.”


Isabella Tree and Angela Harding have teamed up to create an illustrated guide called “Wilding: How to Bring Wildlife Back” which will be released by Macmillan on March 7th, 2019.

Source: theguardian.com