I spend a lot of my holidays hillwalking in the National Parks of England and Wales and I'm starting to take the view that many areas of the parks are overgrazed, particularly by sheep. In my experience much of the hills have a sparse cover of vegetation and I often end up seeing more biodiversity in the hedgerows on my return to car park in the valley than I do on the hill. Of course this doesn't apply everywhere - there are parts of the parks where grazing appears to be better managed as I observed on a recent walk through the beautiful Cwn Tryfan.
I'm noticing that increased vegetation cover tends to lead to not just more plants but more wild animals such as insects, birds and mammals, so I believe limiting grazing could help to protect wildlife and reduce climate change.
In a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains National Park in the US (yes, I appreciate the irony of mentioning climate change and a journey to the US in the same post) I saw huge areas of land that I was told were publicly owned and managed and not subject to any grazing with limited human activity. With the presence of large predators huge areas appeared to be functioning as a balanced ecosystems. I saw such diversity in the flora and fauna on my walks in contrast to my walks in the UK. The value that the locals placed on these wild places and the approach to their protection and management was inspiring. I couldn't help but think we had a bit to learn about protecting wildlife in our green spaces.
Could additional management from the National Park Authorities and where necessary, additional financial assistance for farmers from public funds help to limit grazing and restore nature in the hills? Any thoughts?
Apart from the odd NNR, pretty much all of British nature is either over overgrazed pasture, or isolated monocultures of plantation trees. Only 2.5% of our ancient woodland still exists, and HS2 has been ploughing through what's left of it. People will moan about the deer, but humans have killed all the deer's natural predators and left such a small amount of wild land that it can barely even support existing populations of red squirrels and wildcats, let alone lynx or wolf.
The only realistic solution is a large, state sponsored, buyback of land to restore into wild ecosystems. But that will tread on farmers toes, apparently 97.5% destruction of nature isn't enough.
You could fill an entire public library of shelf space with a properly considered response to this!
Just some of the tricky problems you will have in rewilding parts of the UK are:
- In England at least, that just isn't much space that the population doesn't directly use or rely on, stand in one village and fire a crossbow and it'll probably hit a house in the next village.
- Getting rid of the sheep and cows is a great idea environmentally. But trying to persuade the population to stop eating meat? I mean, it's maybe _slowly_ moving that way but it isn't even glacial, it's more like plate tectonics.
- The Western half of the USA has just masses and masses of wilderness that is barely touched by humans, it's easy to create giant wild areas with only a minimal number of people and organisations needing to sign off on it. The only place I know of in the UK that would be even close would be North Scotland.
- Food security. We don't produce enough anyway and while food security isn't the same touchpaper news perennial as energy security, it is something the government keeps tabs on, there is a limit to how big you want your net food imports to become.
- Economy - we have a conservative government, not a green party one. They worship the ability to make money above everything else, rewilding is not a great generator of GBP.
So in an ideal world, I like your idea, it's just that in this world I can see it as being extremely hard to push forward.
Broadly speaking you're right; many of our upland area are (or have been) overgrazed. Agri-environment schemes aim to reduce grazing pressure with some limited success but some landscapes are still maintained in their overgrazed state eg the Lake District which is more due to it's cosmetic appearance rather than the profitability of farming Herdwicks. If it wasn't for such schemes and farming support a fair % of the moorland area might become under-grazed which woud have its own negative consequences if unmanaged.
It's important to remember that UK National Parks are National Parks in name only. They are Category 5 IUCN protected areas and so have been designated primarily for landscape rather than biodiversity.
That is not to say that some landowners within National Parks are doing nothing to address the biodiversity crises by changing land management practices but are doing so within the context of the protected landscape designation.
It's well known in the lake district that it ecologically bleak compared to what it would be without the presence of hill sheep farming.
Personally I don't buy into hill sheep farming contributing much to the food supply vs more modern lowland farming methods. So is the damage worth it?
A wide scale long term experiment with re-Wilding farmland (like an entire valley or two) would be very interesting. But as you can imagine there's some extremely entrenched views on the subject.
We’ve got a half acre paddock which has lain fallow for at least 20 years. Our garden below it which is the same size has loads of Oaks, Ash, Beech etc and managing the saplings is quite a task. The paddock however is barren except for brambles. The difference is that the paddock doesn’t have deer fencing and the herds around here strip everything, I’m just starting on that job and it won’t take long to recover but it does give a sense of perspective
Have a read of "Regeneration the rescue of a wild land". It deals with the topic in detail looking at the steps and strategies Mar Lodge estate have used to encourage natural rewinding and biodiversity, whilst maintaining hunting activities (grouse, deer etc). Really interesting to see what can be achieved if there is a will to do it!
The above mentioned book is well worth reading. Also worth reading, and specifically relevent to the Lake District, is "Wild Fell" by Lee Schofield who is the RSPB's site manager at Haweswater.
There are a few interesting rewilding-type projects currently ongoing in the Lake District including the Wild Ennerdale project, the Hardknott Forest project in the Duddon Valley, and the RSPB's work at Haweswater and Swindale, although they are tiny projects compared to what is going on in parts of Scotland, which themselves are still tiny drops in the very large ocean that is the ecological desert of the UK's uplands.
In "Wild Fell" Lee Schofield describes a conversation with a farmer about the related issue of river flow and how changes in mangement of the river channels to make them more natural could assist with issues of downstream flooding as has happened in Carlisle. He quotes the (annonymous) farmer's words, "The thing you need to understand is that we don't give a f*** about the people in Carlisle. If people are stupid enough to live on a floodplain, then they deserve to get flooded, don't they". Perhaps the people of Carlisle could express similar views about sheep farming in the uplands.
In contrast I recently had an interesting conversation with a farmer about how the lovely semi-natural woodland in the Duddon Valley would benefit from mangement practices that encouraged the development of more understorey. I love the Duddon woodlands although I'm a bit biased as I live beside the estuary, but they could really do with a bit more understorey, and I'd love to see the trees extend much further up the fellsides as well.
The finest Lake District valleys, in my not particularly humble opinion, are those where the trees clothe the slopes of the fells, and where Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts can be found in something that at least vaguely resmembles the natural woodlands that developed centuries ago when the ice retreated. The farmer was very sympathetic to my views and the conversation left me feeling a lot more positive than I had after reading parts of Lee Schofield's book.
I started my hillwalking journey on the high tops of the Scottish Highlands and only progressed to walking the Lake District Fells some years later. At first I thought they were wonderful wild landscapes as so many people seem to think, but it was only when my interests took me in the direction of the flora and fauna that should be present that I realised what a depressingly barren landscape the Lake District Fells actually are.
Where the right balance lies I really don't know. My personal preference would be for something that would be unnacceptable to some elements within the hill-farming community; that is a 'wild' landscape rather than a 'cultural' one. I don't want to turn the clock back to some imagined age of perfect wilderness but I would like to live to see the landscapes of the Lake District NP (and other NPs) to at least show some semblance of real wildness. I don't have enough time left to witness that but it would perhaps be nice to know that things were progressing in that direction. I won't be holding my breath though.
So, to answer the question, "Could additional management from the National Park Authorities and where necessary, additional financial assistance for farmers from public funds help to limit grazing and restore nature in the hills?", yes it could. Will it though? Probably not.
Can't edit this now but when I say, "specifically relevent to the Lake District" I'm responding to the original posters comment, "I spend a lot of my holidays hillwalking in the National Parks of England and Wales".
About Scotland rather than the Lakes but this video by Dave Macleod featuring Andy Wightman might be of interest as many of the problems are similar.
(I think there's also a shorter version )
Yes the UK is over grazed, ironically sometimes most in national parks. Its not that practical here to have extensive areas of wild land but that doesn't mean we can't have (reasonably) healthy ecosystems. Believe it or not farming doesn't have to be as detrimental to the environment as most people will have you think. Yes it's never going to be as good as the real thing, but we can have agricultural ecosystems with high biodiversity and top soil growth (important for carbon sequestering).
The main problem is that modern farming techniques are horrifically outdated and flawed. Where farming systems should work to emulate healthy ecosystems for maximum yield, they're currently destroying the ecosystem by taking as much from it as possible.
By using domestic animals that occupy similar niches to historic fauna you can do a pretty good job of having a stable habitat that supports and is supported by wildlife. We humans then take a healthy amount fron this artificial ecosystem. And because healthy ecosystems have a much larger biomass than depleted ones the yield won't be drastically less. For more of an insight James Rebanks 'English Pastoral' gives an optimistic and realistic view on this method.
So where I can see hope is through regenerative agriculture rather than pure rewilding.
Example of the impact of re-wilding: https://twitter.com/RewildScotland/status/1552369705167605760
HS2 is reported to have felled almost 100 acres of ancient woodland, if not levelling entire sites then cutting through them.
When we have almost nothing left, destroying even a metre is disgusting. The fact that it's government sanctioned just demonstrates their complete oblivion, or worse - tacit approval - for the continued decimation of our planet.
They'll spout hot air all day in parliament about metric tonnes of sequestered carbon because climate change causes problems for humans. They couldn't give a shit about the wider ecological destruction.
> HS2 is reported to have felled almost 100 acres of ancient woodland, if not levelling entire sites then cutting through them.
There are some massive ecological benefits to HS2 however.
One of the real problems in the UK is the lattice of farm boundaries, railways and roads all mean that animals are segregated in their small patch of land making them vulnerable to lack of food, in-breading, and local extinction.
HS2 has very wide green corridors that will run parallel to it and they'll connect up all the pockets of habitat on a level that's we've not had in a long time in the UK. They will also use green bridges at strategic points.
Loosing ancient woodland is of course a great loss but we're talking 0.01% (76 acres out of 760,000 acres in the UK). The reason the figure is as low as it is is because of the immense engineering solutions to avoid loosing ancient woodland, like tunneling under Long Itching Wood for example.
I'm not sure if I'm remembering this figure correctly but I believe they need to plant 30 acres of new forest for every acre of ancient woodland lost.
So with the loss does come some gain.
And if the above means we can get freight on rails instead of clogging up motorways and local journeys to fit in a timetable along the west coast main line I think it's a price worth paying.
I think you would enjoy Wilding by Isabella Tree, about the Knepp estate in Sussex. It really opened my eyes, and I now perceive nature and beauty very differently.
My own garden is more of a haven for wildlife than it used to be and the best part is it takes less effort!
This is an interesting project where rewilding a third of a country estate is trying to generate commercial interest - https://www.broughtonhall.co.uk/journal/rewild-the-land-rewild-the-self. Yes, it's all very yoga/ forest bathing/ gong bathing (no idea!) but a lovely idea and, if it can be shown that rewilding can make money for the landowner, that could be the jump start it needs. https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding-projects/broughton-sanctuary
> It's well known in the lake district that it ecologically bleak compared to what it would be without the presence of hill sheep farming.
Britain’s greatest national park is a sheepwrecked monument to subsidised overgrazing and ecological destruction
The designation protects sheep farming, and nothing else. This blatant assault on nature turns the area into a Beatrix Potter-themed museum
(Yes, it's The Guardian - in the Comment is Free section, not an editorial - and yes it's George Monbiot. But that doesn't mean that it's automatically all wrong.)
it's a shame most forest in Britain is quick growing trees, I'd been told by someone that the wood from these is only good for paper. They could turn it into Deciduous British forest and still use it for furniture. It would just take longer to grow.
This isn't true. Much of the timber from plantations, particularly from first thinings of a forest might be pulp wood used for paper but certainly not all of it.
China is the biggest importer of timber which isn't surprising given its size and rate of development. The second biggest importer of timber is the UK. Given our size this is astounding. I much prefer the idea of the UK producing as much of its own timber as possible knowing that the forests have been well managed and in accordance with the UK Forest Standard.
A shift to more environmentally friendly forest management systems is already happening such as continuous cover forestry.
We still need productive, well managed non-native plantations growing along side native woodlands.
> A shift to more environmentally friendly forest management systems is already happening such as continuous cover forestry.
I reckon about half of the coniferous monocultures to have been felled around us over the last 15 years have been re-planted as mixed deciduous, the other half as coniferous. It must be a funny business planting some trees and wondering what will be in demand 30 years from now when you're retired. Seems to me like a diverse planting mix offers more protection against future diseases, and modern tree harvesters are phenomenal beasts that open up selective harvesting as an alternative to clear felling, giving more options for mixed plantations to generate revenue at multiple timepoints.
On that note, regardless of the forest type, it seems like clear felling should be well on its way out by now, but it really isn't.
> We still need productive, well managed non-native plantations growing along side native woodlands.
Timber for construction is changing - new Tesco supermarkets near us use giant building spanning compound timber girders made from many different small timbers bonded together where previously one might have seen steel girders. Called "Glulam" and apparently can use soft and hard wood, and doesn't need giant sections. Seems like a way of getting productive use out of plantations shifting towards native trees?
Good point regarding Glulam. I have heard some people say that in the future, it won't be trees that are harvested but cellulose. The point being that cellulose can be made into lots of different things (including windows) whereas the need for large bits of timber may be smaller as you suggest.
The problems with planting native trees are that with a changing climate and an increase in different pests and diseases, native trees might not be resilient enough to cope. This is debated though. The second is that with grey squirrels and deer, but particularly squirrels, it is almost impossible to establish commercially viable native productive woodlands. The squirrels just destroy them.
The timber market is probably the most complex of all agricultural land use because it's spreads over generations and not just one or two. I worked for a timber dealer (I was building a yacht for him) and we were pulling out Kaiser trees which where a larch species planted on the orders of Kaiser Wilhelm as part of his plan to build a fleet to oppose the British naval domination. Then came steel......
Hopefully the glulam suppliers know you can only mix woods to a limited extent, each piece has to be tested for it stiffness before it goes in the beam unless you really want a stiff point where it will break first. The only real use for mixed rubbish is in chipboard or built-up solid panels for timber buildings, they were the coming thing twenty years ago but weren't really economic. Glued together they didn't breathe and aluminium nailing is expensive (and not particularly eco).
Every Bavarian farmer has a wood and I know a fair few, if they could they'd rip the lot out and plant something useful, mixed decidous they'd give them away. My neighbour has one and tried to give it to me, I took the timber rights for ten years for firewood as a hobby then gave them back!
Interesting, thanks. I hadn't realise greys were such a problem for manage forestry. I've noticed a couple around here since my hazel trees started to grow nuts.
By coincidence I read an article the other day on the latest escalation in the war on greys - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-62096272
On the cellulose front, at least one firm has now landed commercial scale investment for a plant for the microbial digestion of wood, with the bacteria being processed in to a high-protein ingredient for human and animal feed.
If this succeeds, I hope it is just used to recover value from brash, sawdust and other waste, not to make ancient woodland in areas not suitable for farming in to another cash crop.
> The problems with planting native trees are that with a changing climate and an increase in different pests and diseases, native trees might not be resilient enough to cope.
The way I see it, we're only going to find out if we plant the trees, and they're only going to have a chance to evolve if they're cycling the generations themselves. I suppose there's something to be said for planting a forwards looking mix of species, as I've been doing with the apple trees...
Just to add a little hope. We live in the national forest area, it is amazing the difference 10 years has made to many parts of the woodland. Areas that were open are now dense new trees and have a completely different and wild feel. If we can make some of the mountain bikers a bit more responsible ( they like to dig and sculpt the terrain ) then these areas can serve both leisure and nature very well.
People are far too attached to their familiar bare hillsides and whatever you think about the need for stratification of the sheep industry I would be in favour of rewilding the lakes and north wales.
Combining 2 elements of this thread - Lake District and Forestry - why oh why when they fell an area do they leave the ground in that state, it's a complete bas***d to get across, all those micro-ditches and stumps and brashings.
Maybe leaving it like that is better for regeneration, I don't know. But if that's the case then leave some properly cleared flat routes (maybe a quasi-grid pattern) across those felled areas so that they can be comfortably traversed on foot.
And while we're on it, boy do I hate grass tussocks.
> People are far too attached to their familiar bare hillsides
Although intellectually I fully agree with the need for getting more bio-diversity back in the Lakes (the lack of birds and other fauna is the other depressing thing when walking in the Lakes, presumably the flora is similarly un-diverse), emotionally I love the open vistas when walking in the Lakes - I've obviously been subjected to the wrong conditioning - not enough time in forests when I was a youth 😁
> emotionally I love the open vistas when walking in the Lakes
I know. 50 years of 'happy places' for me, it's a tough call.
> The timber market is probably the most complex of all agricultural land use because it's spreads over generations and not just one or two. I worked for a timber dealer (I was building a yacht for him) and we were pulling out Kaiser trees which where a larch species planted on the orders of Kaiser Wilhelm as part of his plan to build a fleet to oppose the British naval domination. Then came steel......
Apparently the solitary oaks growing in the middle of fields in England (to keep the trees symmetrical for cutting into ships timbers) were planted to equip the future Royal Navy 200 years later (again superseded by steel ships).
> Apparently the solitary oaks growing in the middle of fields in England (to keep the trees symmetrical for cutting into ships timbers) were planted to equip the future Royal Navy 200 years later
Sadly I think that is a myth. The hassle of keeping track would be horrendous and considering how much timber was imported specifically for the navy if they had gone for that approach they would have asked for more than one or two here and there.
There is a story about an Oxford college which found the beams in its great hall had got rotten. After lots of anxiety about the cost one of the fellows thought to ask the forester in charge of all their estates whether he could find enough good oak trees. He answered that the first forester had planted some oaks with this need in mind and all of his successors had carefully cultivated them.
On random tree related facts and related to the oil and gas issues currently. The English need for yew for longbows resulted in depletion of yew trees all over Europe since any ships docking had to pay a tax of bow staves.
La forêt de Tronçais has a stand of oaks planted in the 1670s to give a supply of appropriate timber for the French navy. Impressive trees. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/For%C3%AAt_de_Tron%C3%A7ais
The absence of birds in the Lakes is striking. It is encouraging to see deciduous trees being planted wholesale though, e.g. Scandale and Harter Fell. Long may it continue, even though I won't see much benefit.
> Sadly I think that is a myth. The hassle of keeping track would be horrendous and considering how much timber was imported specifically for the navy if they had gone for that approach they would have asked for more than one or two here and there.
Thanks, I did wonder about the veracity of it
> There is a story about an Oxford college which found the beams in its great hall had got rotten. After lots of anxiety about the cost one of the fellows thought to ask the forester in charge of all their estates whether he could find enough good oak trees. He answered that the first forester had planted some oaks with this need in mind and all of his successors had carefully cultivated them.
> On random tree related facts and related to the oil and gas issues currently. The English need for yew for longbows resulted in depletion of yew trees all over Europe since any ships docking had to pay a tax of bow staves.
That's really interesting, Liz Truss would be outraged at these european imports.
I was in the alps a few weeks back in a lower level area, there was tall grass, flowers, and loads of bees everywhere, and not a sheep to be seen, was very nice.
I was running in the lakes at the weekend, nothing but sheep and ticks.
Personally I think the hill farms need to go, they don’t really provide any value and just trash the area.
> Although intellectually I fully agree with the need for getting more bio-diversity back in the Lakes […] emotionally I love the open vistas when walking in the Lakes
When you’re walking in hillside woods, you really appreciate the moments a clearing opens up and you get an expansive view across the valley. Something I’ve experienced far more of abroad. Nothing to stop reforesting efforts from leaving clearings in the best places. When we walked about Innerleithen a decade ago, there were some great deliberate clearings in the forests there.
I’m lucky to have a 500 acre ancient woodland within an hour’s drive and a 100 acre established oak forest not so far away. Both are lowland locations and are staggeringly beautiful, varied and interesting places to visit. I can only imagine an English forest like that on a fell side with the occasional open view and routes that top out above the forest. Loch Maree has some coniferous ancient forest on its western shore and it’s a magnificent pace to visit, and has plenty of expansive views.
> Sadly I think that is a myth. The hassle of keeping track would be horrendous and considering how much timber was imported specifically for the navy if they had gone for that approach they would have asked for more than one or two here and there.
Well, the New forest was planted to provide timber for ships so it's not completely out of the question.
> Well, the New forest was planted to provide timber for ships so it's not completely out of the question.
From memory there was protection/planned growth of woodlands in order to support shipbuilding (although references to forests are generally misleading since it mixes up the modern meaning with the original) its just the single trees which dont make sense. For a ship of the line you need about 2k trees and they also really need to be close to a good transport route. Some nice trees near me but they would be a bugger to get somewhere they could make a decent ship one by one.
There was lots of planting done post ww1 and 2, there was a realisation it had been stripped back, with shortage for basics like pit props and telegraph poles.
> Personally I think the hill farms need to go, they don’t really provide any value and just trash the area.
The shepherd's life, and English Pastoral by James Rebanks are well worth reading for his view on different farming practices with different levels of ecological benefit.
He's a hill farmer turned unesco heritage adviser, if I remember rightly, so hill/sheep farming is in his blood, so not a completely impartial view but very interesting reading (especially for a born and bred city dweller like me)
They do maje sense. For building a wood ship you need "knees, ribs, stems" . Big nicely curved pieces of wood, the best with the grain following the curve. Not easy to come by. Close packed trees don't grow lije that.
The new Australia trade deal is surely an environmental policy un disguise.