Wild and wilder

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I wrote about one approach to revegetating recently – the suggestion was to clone some of the extremely old trees in the UK and offer them to people and groups to plant.

Another approach is taken by George Monbiot. He proposes a small set of changes to the way farm subsidies are handled, adding some local plants and animals to each area, removing some invasives, removing fences and blocking drainage ditches, then standing back and letting nature take its course. This process is called re-wilding, and it relies on the observed fact that nature really does fix itself, if we only let it.

Monbiot’s complaint is that farm subsidies act in reality as an incentive to clear land, even when it can’t be farmed, so what results is a land cleared of all but the most simple grasses and moss. This is because, in order to claim the subsidy, farmers must retain the land in “agricultural condition”, which means bare. So instead of being allowed to let areas unsuitable for farming begin returning to their natural state, farmers are forced to remove trees and other growth, which in turn means that the wildlife that would normally inhabit those areas have nowhere to shelter. In effect, the subsidies act to preserve barren wastes, rather than preserving natural wilderness and wildlife.

Monbiot gives a couple of links to groups that are demonstrating how quickly the wilderness can begin to regenerate once it gets a chance. One, by Trees for Life in Scotland, is attempting to restore the Caledonian forest, while the other, run by the Wales Wild Land Foundation, is working on recreating the Cambrian Wildwood in Blaeneinion in mid-Wales: this one also includes vegetable gardens and fruit orchards grown on permaculture principles.

Both groups, as well as others working in the same vein around the world, understand that left to itself, the natural world will move towards a diverse, stable, ecosystem. Note that those two concepts, diverse and stable, are linked: an ecosystem rich in biodiversity is much stronger and able to cope with threat than a monoculture, as I noted in this post.

Meanwhile, in other news, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono plans to plant 1 billion trees to combat global warming. However, there may be a bit of a bait-and-switch game going here: if you look at the image used in this article which mentions this plan, you’ll see a completely homogeneous palm oil plantation stretching for hundreds of acres and cut by long, straight roads. That’s about as far from a diverse ecosystem as you can get, and glosses over the fact that those trees were often planted in areas that were first devastated by widespread burning that destroys virgin rainforest and the wildlife that lives within. The same burning, in fact, that led to this year’s appalling smog in Singapore and Malaysia.

Comparing the two plans, I prefer Monbiot’s version.

[Featured image:  Endangered Capercaillie, found in the UK only in the Caledonian forest ecosystem. Image by Lomvi, licensed under the GNU FDL.]

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