An article from Do or Die Issue 8. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 174-188.
This is not an exhaustive survey of the ecological restoration projects taking place in the UK, nor is it intended to be. Wales and the West Country are pretty much unrepresented, and Scotland is over represented - and there's probably a Sussex bias too! Fears over the disappearance of Scotland's 'Great Wood of Caledon' have built up a real head of steam in recent years, and this has translated into both a high level of activity and the existence of various umbrella organisations, which makes it a lot easier to find out what's actually going on. Without being completely representative, this Roundup is meant to act as an introduction to the huge range of restoration work - some good, some not so good - currently underway. Hopefully it will be a useful resource to help you get involved with those projects that you find most inspiring - or better still, set up your own! (The featured projects are listed in no particular order - and for any number-crunchers (mmm, tasty!) out there, to convert acre figures into hectares, divide by 2.471.)
"Imagine being able to visit before you die a wilderness in lowland Britain" - Tony Whitbread, Sussex Wildlife Trust.(1) This is a proposal for a 5-10,000 hectare 'near-natural forest' in the Weald of West Sussex - gradually filling in the gaps between two existing, largely unmanaged woodland reserves, by encouraging farmers to take their low-grade agricultural land out of production, and allowing natural regeneration to take over. The emphasis will be on giving natural processes free rein, through windblow, erosion, grazing herbivores, and so on. Some grazers - eg. wild boar or pigs, and hardy feral cattle and horses (as in the New Forest, or Holland's amazing Oostvaardersplassen reserve) - will have to be introduced, and allowed to develop natural herd structures. It is to be hoped that the project will begin to progress from its current 'vision' stage towards lush reality in the near future.(2)
Sussex Wildlife Trust
West Sussex BN5 9SD
Tel: 01273 492630
The once vast and varied swampy landscape of the Fens is one of the most thoroughly devastated ecosystems in the country - its original features almost entirely erased by drainage and subsequent cultivation, with only about ten Fenland fragments surviving in the overall area of 1500 square miles - 99.5% lost since 1820!(3) And all for what? The drainage and flood control is tremendously expensive to maintain, and the peaty soils acidify, erode and simply blow away when farmed - causing the land to visibly sink. Nor have the remaining fen oases escaped unscathed - it's near impossible to stay wonderfully wet in this parched landscape. To reverse this dessication and decline comes the proposal to recreate a 12,000 acre expanse linking remnant habitat at Holme Fen and Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserves. A feasibility study into hydrological and other factors is currently underway, with the project envisaged as starting within the next five years, and taking up to twenty five years to acquire all the necessary land. The area will still support economic uses - 'rewetting' is seen as a cost-effective form of flood management, 'biomass crops' like reeds and willow may be harvested (as in the historic Fenland economy), tourism will be encouraged - and it will entail substantial manipulation of water levels to be viable. However, it will herald the re-emergence of a lost landscape in a part of the country that, while once so vibrant, is now described as "a black hole for wildlife". Similar work is going on at the National Trust's Wicken Fen, and the RSPB's Nene Washes, in Cambridgeshire.(4)
c/o The Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs, Northants and Peterborough
3B Langford Arch
Cambridge CB2 4EE
Tel: 01223 712400
The Caledonian pine forests of Scotland are "believed to be closer to the original natural conditions than any other woodland type in Britain"(5) - they are also one of the most badly abused, having been exploited down to a tiny fraction of their former range (see "No Evolution Without Revolution", Do or Die 6.) They are in a critical state, consisting primarily of aged Scots Pine (this habitat's 'keystone species') that are coming to the end of their seed-bearing life-span. Glen Affric, in the North-central Highlands, harbours one of the core fragments, "the largest native forest area least affected by the hand of man in the UK".(6) Trees for Life have been working here since 1989, motivated by a compelling wilderness vision of reforesting the whole 600 square mile roadless area and reintroducing missing species like beaver, wolves, lynx, moose and bears. Alongside Forest Enterprise, the National Trust for Scotland and others, they have been installing fencing (to allow natural regeneration free of deer grazing), planting trees where there is no seed source, felling non-native conifers, removing redundant fences, surveying and so on. They also run a programme of volunteer work weeks - well worth going on, especially if you're partial to midges and (my personal favourite) ticks. Bloody wild nature! Just one criticism: accepting sponsorship off BP suggests a motto of "Never Mind the Death Squads, Here's the Tree Planting". (But what do you expect from a bunch of apolitical hippies anyway?)
Trees for Life
Scotland IV36 3TZ
Tel: 01309 691292
Chalk grassland is an almost entirely man-made habitat carved out of the original wildwood, several thousand years ago - but its fragrant springy turf does "encompass very high biodiversity at a small scale. Indeed, it is probably the richest habitat at this scale in northwest Europe."(7) Like most other such 'semi-natural' landscapes, it has suffered appalling losses - around 80-95%. Between 1991 and 1996, Eastbourne Borough Council in Sussex took over 300 acres of its downland estate between Beachy Head and the Belle Tout lighthouse out of arable production, sowing the site with a characteristic grass/wildflower seed mix. Work to 'defertilise' the nutrient-enriched farmland has helped the mix to establish well, and it is hoped that this will be supplemented by long-suppressed species from the soil's seed bank, as well as by colonisation from neighbouring undisturbed areas. Still, there's a long way to go: mature, ancient chalk grassland communities are notoriously difficult to recreate, taking "at least 150 to 200 years to become established",(8) with some species possibly needing a thousand years to recover!(9)
Tourism and Community Services Department
Eastbourne Borough Council
East Sussex BN21 4JJ
Tel: 01323 415267
The Scottish Borders (or 'Southern uplands'), although less well-known than the Highlands, are possibly even more deforested - with "less than 0.1% of Peeblesshire... covered in anything approaching natural woodland - one of the lowest figures in Britain."(10) However, the Wildwood Group of the Borders Forest Trust now plan to restore an entire denuded watershed, the 1500 acres of the Carrifran valley, "to its original wilderness state as an example of the 'Wildwood'".(11)
It is not just the bold wilderness scope of this project, juxtaposed with its deeply degraded setting, that captures the imagination. Carrifran's altitude ranges from 180m (594 ft) up to 820m (2706 ft), so that ultimately "a 'natural' transition from woodland through montane [mountain] scrub to montane heath could develop, with the possible establishment of tree line and scrub line"(12) - a continuum, from watershed to waterfoot. This encompasses three features which are severely restricted in the modern British context: natural woodland to the treeline, with distinct woodland types and their associated fauna as you progress up the hill; 'ecotones', or soft-edged 'interims' between one habitat and another; and the reappearance of the important but admittedly rather dull sounding 'montane willow scrub' habitat. (Work to restore this is also taking place at the Creag Meagaidh, Ben Lawers and Ben Wyvis National Nature Reserves in Scotland.)
The project needs to raise 350,000 by late 1999 for the land purchase, with over half the total raised so far. Then they will establish the wildwood "in a large part of the site within ten years"(10), and coax it into becoming a self-sustaining system.(13)
Borders Forest Trust
Scotland TD8 6TU
Tel: 01835 830750.
Otters' range has been drastically reduced throughout the UK this century, by a combination of pollution, hunting and the loss of suitable habitat - eg, the 'canalisation' of most British rivers, especially in the lowlands. (This has also been the downfall of water voles, at least as much as the presence of mink.) Otters are slowly beginning to bounce back, spreading east and south from their strongholds in the West Country, Wales and Scotland. They are a good 'indicator' species for the health of riverine systems, as they require relatively pure water and abundant riparian (riverside) vegetation.
The River Severn Otter Project are supporting this recovery with the purchase of twenty hectares of floodplain land in the Avon valley, near Pershore, Worcestershire. From a barren, 'improved' and drained field they intend to create the new Gwen Finch Wetland Reserve: "a mosaic of wet habitats",(14) with the largest reedbed in the county, four artificial otter holts, deep open water, wet grassland and willow carr. Carr - wet woodland - is perhaps the most notable of these. Once covering "most floodplain habitat in the UK",(15) it is now "almost entirely lost".(16) As with other projects engaged in raising "the water table... to restore the relationship between the river and its floodplain"(14), the many problems of carving out an isolated wet haven necessitate "significant land-forming works"(14) and extensive regulation of water flows. Work started early in 1999.
Andy Graham/River Severn Otter Project
c/o Worcestershire Wildlife Trust
Lower Smite Farm
Worcester WR3 8SZ
Tel: 01905 754919
"In ecological terms, the inner city is a desert. We need to relearn the techniques of sustainable, permanent household agriculture and apply them to places like Salford."(17) Strangely for a nation of city dwellers, urban ecological restoration is often passed over. The Apple Tree Court estate in Pendleton, Salford, illustrates some of the best and worst characteristics of its current practice. Over the last three years, a tower block under a (limited) form of community management has demonstrated "how previously derelict housing and landscape and demoralised communities can be transformed through local community action."(18)A wasteland of concrete and rubble around the block has been "fenced and transformed into... community gardens, with a three-tier orchard, vegetable allotments, ponds, mini-wildlife reserve, native species woodland coppice, wildflower meadows and a large... geodesic community dome."(18) A food co-operative sells the organic produce cheaply to the tenants, and supplies the community café in the dome. The residents now also "plan to use the waste heat from the building to grow food in polytunnels on the roof".(19)
Who can argue with this? It is the sort of local self-governance that lies at the heart of many an anarchist's vision. As the administrator of the tenant-managed company points out, this "urban oasis has changed lives already... We have our own space, somewhere secure we can sit and almost believe we are in the country. We will soon be able to look out of the conservatory on our beautiful gardens and orchards, where only a few years ago there was concrete and car parks".(18)
Unfortunately, such projects are usually tainted with Blairite, state-sponsored (and state-sponsoring?) communitaran dross, including collaboration with the New Deal and making use of "help" from people on community service [non-custodial sentence]. Still, despite these regressive aspects, in essence they contain the seeds of so much more.
Tony Milroy/John Watts
Arid Lands Initiative
W. Yorkshire HX7 8AU
Tel: 01422 843807
The Woodland Trust are embarking on an ambitious reforestation project at their newly acquired Glen Finglas site in the South-central Highlands. "One of the largest hill farms in Scotland",(20) Glen Finglas covers 10,300 acres, only 620 acres of which are hard-pressed native woodland fragments, heavily grazed by an incredible 3,400 ewes and 100 cattle! The plan is for a massive expansion of tree cover up to nearly 7,500 acres of the site, with an impressively high proportion (nearly 6000 acres) envisaged as arising from natural regeneration. This will link "the dispersed fragments of ancient woodland to create in 30-40 years time possibly the largest native broadleaved wood in Scotland".(21) As of autumn 1998, 880 acres had already been planted or allowed to regenerate within new deer fencing. However, it does seem hard to reconcile the undeniable need to scale down the grazing pressure with the Trust's avowed intention to "realise the area's potential for recreation and livestock farming to retain employment in the glens".(20) Also, in common with Abernethy (see Profile, p. 179) and others, their desire to "reduce the deer population to a level compatible with natural regeneration by 1999" suggests that a heavy cull is on the cards. (For a discussion of this issue, see "No Evolution Without Revolution", Do or Die 6, p.39 - views on culling and the 'deer question' are still invited!)(22)
The 223 acre Pound Farm, near Saxmundham in Suffolk, was the Woodland Trust's first 'Woodland Creation Scheme' site. Previously in arable production, and with only 11 acres of existing woodland, between 1989 and 1993 160 acres of new woodland were created at Pound Farm with the planting of 70,000 trees. Part of the planted area has been left open to allow sunny, grassy 'rides' to develop. A further 50 acres were sown with a species-rich meadow mixture, grubbed out hedgerows replanted, and five ponds restored - reflecting the desirability of having a mixture of habitats, and variety in the woodland structure.
Without belittling these achievements, there is a general cautionary point to be made: obviously, rich habitats do not spring fully-formed into being. First, efforts to reconstruct most 'semi-natural' habitats on ex-arable or other 'improved' land must tackle the perennial problem of 'defertilising' the soil. Second, a related issue which specifically affects woodland creation is that while it is fairly straightforward to 'install' the trees, the distinctive ground flora lags a long way behind.(23) Lacking this, and perhaps other essential components, a new wood can seem like a bit of a hollow shell; a roof without a floor. But this is something that should change with time.(24)
The Hucking Court Estate, purchased by the Woodland Trust in 1997, is 390 acres of arable land and 180 acres of woodland in the North Downs near Maidstone in Kent - unfortunately sandwiched between the M2 and the M20 motorways. By combining natural regeneration with the planting of 200,000 trees from October 1998 onwards, the Trust intend to expand the woodland by over 200 acres. Hedgerows will also be reinstated. Another 106 acres, through the dry valleys, will be sown and maintained as chalk grassland, linking up with adjoining scarp slope areas outside the estate. The remainder will be kept as more conservation-friendly, low intensity arable farming. Hucking Court, Pound Farm and many other projects contribute to the Trust's goal of creating 1600 hectares (3850 acres) of new native woodland between 1998-2003.(25)
The Woodland Trust
Lincolnshire NG31 6LL
Tel: 01476 581111
The closure of Greenham Common Air Base in 1992/3, and its purchase by a public/private sector partnership in 1997, has set the scene for an unparalleled programme of deconstruction and revegetation. With most of the base infrastructure razed, and "one of the largest runways in Europe"(26) ripped up, it should provide a happy contrast to the building of Manchester's second runway. By the end of 1999, 950,000 tonnes of concrete (covering 235 acres) and the 8 million gallon capacity underground fuel system will have been removed, and the ground decontaminated. The vision is then to regain the original matrix of grassland, heathland, wood pasture, wet alder woods and mossy mires - making up a natural complex with Bowdown and Chamberhouse Woods SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and Thatcham Reedbeds nearby. (So at least one side of Newbury will be worth living in!) Substantial areas levelled or infilled by the base are to be relandscaped, to give an irregular topography of hollows and humps with a range of microclimatic niches. Resumption of grazing by the commoners and others over most of the 1200 acre site will maintain it as heathland, the huge almost entirely roadless expanse providing "a rare and impressive experience in lowland England".(27) Under the INF Treaty, the missile silos must remain under the control of the Ministry of Defence until 2006. Although this is allegedly "an important heritage site",(28) unconfirmed rumours suggest that the silos could be converted into bat caves - fulfilling their true vocation at last, the only worthwhile memorial to the lunatic idiocy of the Cold War, making irresistible poetic sense. Please lobby the Project (see address below) to make sure this happens.
It aims not to "eliminate the site's history as an air base but to soften the remains by removing all but the most significant buildings and clothing the runways and mounds with heathland vegetation".(27) The runway control tower is to be retained, standing forlorn and incongruous, now presiding over nothing but sand lizards and stone curlews.
(Disappointingly, the restoration is contingent upon the 140 acre 'New Greenham Park' business development - in a somewhat unlikely arrangement, this will "pay all of its profits to the [Greenham Common] Trust for use in the restoration... and for distribution to good causes in the area".)(29)
Greenham and Crookham Commons Project
West Berkshire Council
63 Cheap Street
Berkshire RG14 5BT
Tel: 01635 519347
Urban environmental restoration at the Wren's Nest Estate, Dudley, embodies many of the same possibilities and limitations as the work at Apple Tree Court (see p. 176). After doggedly pressing the local council for years to upgrade their atrocious housing stock and inadequate facilities, the residents finally won a variety of environmental improvements. For instance - shades of Claremont Road (M11) perhaps? - "many tenants gave up derelict areas of long back gardens - covered in tonnes of rubbish and infested with rats - to create communal areas including an orchard, allotment and even a vineyard."(30) The allotments will help to tackle the severe health problems of many of the residents, "by providing both good exercise and healthy food at low cost",(31) distributed through the estate by a food co-op. A garden tools library is also planned. One local says "I feel the whole estate has changed for the better and people have a sense of belonging."(30)
While it would be patronising and fatuous to begrudge them this, I have a queasy feeling that this is empowerment for the purposes of control - conditional - to go this far but no further. They have implicitly laid collective claim to political and physical space - the first tentative flowering of mutual aid? - but under the watchful patrician eye of the authorities. Not all communities will be able to attract Wren's Nest's 100 million funding - but then again, is such money (and the tier of 'consultants' et al that goes with it) absolutely necessary to bring about change? In Wren's Nest's case the consultants are Groundwork. They boast of their "major role in helping to deliver New Deal" and of their importance "as a partner" to the government.(32)(I'm sorry, I seem to be having trouble keeping my lunch down.) When their 'Partnership Officer' Graham Bould says "The secret [at Wren's Nest] has been to earn the trust of local people",(33) I can't help but shiver.
Groundwork Black Country
Groundwork Environment Centre
West Midlands DY4 9AL
Tel: 0121 5305500
Landlife currently practice what they call 'creative conservation' on around 120 acres in Knowsley, also in Liverpool, St.Helens and at Glass Park near Doncaster, among other places. Principally this consists of transforming urban and industrial sites, through initial ground preparation (for example, by stripping the topsoil to reduce fertility), followed by sowing a carpet of - usually common - wildflowers, and then allowing natural processes to kick in - giving rise to unfamiliar assemblages of species. They also harvest and market the seed, through their base at the National Wildflower Centre. Their unorthodox approach to restoration, while 'devolving' wildlife out of the centralised nature reserve ghettos, prompts some tricky questions. What value do these sites have as habitats - are they little more than glorified municipal landscape gardening? Should we rethink the rigid classification of what comprises a 'habitat'? Whatever the answers, "on wildflower fields created by Landlife in Knowsley, bird species... listed as being in rapid decline... such as skylarks, lapwings and grey partridge have been commonly seen, and at least two of these species have bred successfully, close to housing areas. This has happened in a time scale of three years."(34)
National Wildflower Centre
Court Hey Park
Liverpool L16 3NA
Tel: 0151 7371819
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) enormous 12,450 hectare Abernethy Reserve on Speyside in the Cairngorms protects "most of the largest remaining tract of native Caledonian pinewood"(35) - some 15% (1070 hectares) of the total. As with most of the other widely scattered pinewood fragments, overgrazing is keeping it in a poor and declining state of ecological health. The RSPB's objective is to reverse the downward spiral, recreating "a self-sustaining native pine forest over the whole potential woodland area, by leaving existing... woodland unmanaged [and]... encouraging natural regeneration of pine and associated broadleaves".(36) Ultimately this should see trees and scrub creeping back up to and beyond the natural tree line. Grazing by sheep is no longer permitted, and plantations of exotic conifers are being removed. Most of the extraneous tracks and drainage operations are now being rehabilitated, "encouraging vegetation to spread over... track surfaces by replacing soil and plant material... and blocking and infilling drainage channels to restore water tables in mires."(37) However, the RSPB don't approve of deer fencing (one of the main aids to forest recovery in Glen Affric - see above, p. 174), partly because it kills black grouse and the extremely rare capercaillie. Thus they have relied upon implementing a very heavy deer cull, which began in 1989. (For comments on this, see Glen Finglas profile, p. 176) Whatever the merits of this policy, the first signs are that the forest is starting to flourish again.
RSPB Abernethy Forest Reserve
Invernesshire PH25 3EF
Tel: 01479 821409
The Trust bill themselves as "guided by Muir's charge to 'do something for wildness and make the mountains glad'", acting to "show that the damage inflicted on the wild over the centuries can be repaired".(38) They own five large estates: three interlocking properties in the Cuillin mountains of Skye (almost 30,000 acres), one near Cape Wrath in Sutherland (11,500 acres) and another on the rugged Knoydart peninsula (3,100 acres), sometimes referred to as the 'last wilderness in Britain'. Their Coille Srath na h-Airde project is creating over 200 acres of native woodland on Skye. On Knoydart, they are facilitating another 215 acres of woodland expansion, using both natural regeneration and planting inside three deer-fenced enclosures, with a fourth planned. They are also a member of the Knoydart Foundation, which, after a series of more than usually deranged lairds, has just triumphed in its community buy-out bid for the entire 17,500 acre estate. This is the latest in a growing trend in the Highlands, pioneered by the Isle of Eigg and the West Assynt Crofters, and opens up some very exciting possibilities. One notable feature of the Trust's work is the level of input from the local crofting communities into the management of their estates. Regrettably, the Trust have decided to retain a large hill farm as part of their Strathaird estate on Skye - presumably therefore continuing to contribute to the grazing problem in the Highlands. They run volunteer work weeks, including tree planting, footpath maintenance, litter clean-ups, seed collection for their tree nurseries, fencing and derelict fence removal, and machair grassland conservation.(39)
John Muir Trust
41 Commercial Street
Scotland EH6 6TY
Tel: 0131 5540114
The orchard has been evocatively described as a "halfway state between domestic gardens and the wild countryside... a physical and philosophical gateway"(40) to the fruitful space between nature and culture. "In the last 30 years the total orchard area has declined by two-thirds - around 150,000 acres have gone."(41) Simple figures disguise an accompanying loss of quality. In a testament to local inventiveness, more than 6000 varieties of cooking and eating apple are known for the UK, not to mention hundreds of cider apples, and other fruit; commercial production now concentrates on just two varieties of apples. Intensification has given us "oversprayed fruit factories inimical to wildlife",(42) whereas the great Victorian naturalist Richard Jefferies likened the bird life of a traditional orchard to "one of these Eastern marts where men of 50 different nationalities, and picturesquely clad, jostle each other in the bazaars: so here feathered travellers of every species have a kind of leafy capital."(43) The orchard's demise also means the loss of "knowledge of local recipes, songs, customs, wassailing, cider making... the social gatherings for work [labourers were part paid in cider!] and informal exchange of knowledge about the place and the skills of pruning, grafting and growing. The intricacy of community... is diminished."(44) Now, with the preservation of the old, the planting of new "Community Orchards" throughout the country, and Apple Day (October 21st) festivities, Common Ground are trying to revive this convivial edible landscape.
Since fruit production is not their prime purpose, they can serve as "a communal asset... the focal point for the village - the moot, the open air village hall".(45) "Freeing orchards from the simple economic imperative to create wealth can liberate their wider environmental potential and allow them to become foci for new community values".(46) As one local says of their orchard in Lustleigh, Devon, "it is not run as a commercial enterprise: it is there for the enjoyment of all"(47) - a serendipitous blend of production and play, the functional and the 'frivolous'. Apples, cherries, pears, plums, cobnuts, greengage, mulberry, damsons, medlars, gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries have all been planted, wildflowers sown, ponds and vineyards created - and in Lewisham, a hardy cosmopolitan mix of Loquat, Chinese Quince, Asian Pear, Olive, Japanese Pepper, Tea Plant and Cork Oak, corresponding to a multicultural community. The list of activities the orchards can play host to is as long: beekeeping, feasting, games, gifting and sharing of produce and varieties, storytelling, poetry, concerts, plays, tug of war, picnics, climbing, cider making, juice pressing, skill sharing, wood turning, establishing 'Mother Orchard' archives of local varieties, the painstaking detective work of uncovering 'lost' varieties - "Unravelling the names".(48) Lustleigh again: "If we cannot find the original names for these trees, we will rename them ourselves".(49)
PO Box 25309
London NW5 1ZA
Rivers are an excellent barometer of overall ecosystem health, not least because the "quality of the river environment directly influences the diversity of flora and fauna on a catchment and regional scale", and any "loss of habitat continuity [on the river] disrupts the ability of wildlife to thrive throughout the river catchment".(50) If even Scotland's "superficially healthy" rivers are in fact "severely degraded",(51) imagine the picture in the lowlands: riparian (bankside) vegetation suppressed, polluted and suffering from eutrophication (nutrient overload), regimented within flood banks and uniform courses, drunk dry by water abstraction and drastically overdeepened.
Although the picture is a gloomy one, the pivotal role of rivers in the landscape means that their restoration can unlock great potential rewards. While it can't solve all of the above problems, reconstructing a river's physical form enables the "re-establishment of in-stream and riparian physical processes... [creating] suitable ecological conditions for plant and animal communities to come back."(52)
The River Restoration Project has done just this, in pilot projects on 2 kilometre stretches of the River Cole (near Swindon on the Wilts/Oxfordshire border) and the River Skerne (Darlington, County Durham) between 1995 and 1998. At both sites, it has 'remeandered' formerly straight courses and profiled the banks, while retaining deeper backwater pools. It created wetlands on the Skerne, planted 20,000 trees and moved 20,000 cubic metres of soil, lowering the artificially raised floodplain "to allow the river to overspill its meandering banks but still protect surrounding houses".(53) The Cole was reinstated to its original buried course, a reedbed planted, the seasonal flooding regime restored, and a new hay meadow created from arable land adjoining the river. "Some scope for self-adjustment" was allowed for, giving it "the chance to form the small irregularities present in all rivers, as well as the more regular pools and riffles, vertical riverbank cliffs and gravel beaches."(54)
The project has now metamorphosed into the River Restoration Centre, a networking organisation for practitioners, researchers and others, to encourage and advise future projects - there are at least 20 underway in the Environment Agencys Thames Region alone. They are compiling a database and produce a newsletter.
The River Restoration Centre
Beds MK45 4DT
Tel: 01525 863341
Reedbed is a very restricted habitat, even rarer than the Caledonian pinewood. A 1993 survey of the UK found only 6,500 hectares dispersed across 922 sites - with only 56 of these larger than 20 hectares. Only the bigger sites are really capable of accommodating all the habitat niches necessary for the characteristic reedbed species: birds like the bittern, marsh harrier, bearded tit, reed warbler and water rail, and also unusual plants, moths and butterflies, otters and water voles. Being highly dynamic, reedbeds are a classic example of a 'plagioclimatic' habitat: like other favoured conservation landscapes, they are arrested at an early stage of natural succession by management, which prevents them from drying out and developing into woodland. But they can also emerge spontaneously and cover a large area when drainage lapses, as happened at Leighton Moss (Lancashire) and Minsmere (Suffolk).
Bitterns are exceptionally rare and elusive creatures, with only 20 'booming' males recorded nationwide, requiring large, wet reedswamps for courtship and breeding. As part of the new 'biodiversity target' of '100 territorial bitterns by 2020' ('boom or bust'!), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are creating over 400 hectares of new reedbed (Bittern Barratt homes), including: 160 hectares (ha) on ex-arable land at Lakenheath Fen (Suffolk), 54 ha on old peat workings at Ham Wall (Somerset), 100 ha at Malltraeth Marsh (Anglesey) and 20 ha at Mersehead Farm (Dumfries and Galloway). Various techniques are utilised to create " 'nodes' of wetland vegetation, from which natural encroachment can take place, and so fill the gaps." (55) Extensive land-forming works are also required, including excavation of pools and ditches, and at Mersehead "the channelised river has been diverted back to its original meandering course across the floodplain".(55)
However, as with Gwen Finch and the Fenland project, (see above, p. 176 and 174) we run up against the perils of working within the (drainage) system. The RSPB's preferred approach is to "simulate natural hydrological dynamics",(55) but this has proved impossible - at Lakenheath for instance, it "would have needed wholesale removal and reconstruction of existing flood banks for the whole Internal Drainage District"(56) (no bad thing, some might say.) Because "virtually all the lower reaches of river and coastal floodplains in Britain are... extensively drained, new wetlands need to be isolated from surrounding areas"(56) - even going to the absurd lengths, at Wicken and Woodwalton Fens, of insulating reserve boundaries "with clay or butyl rubber" linings(57) - 'for their own protection'. ('Boil in the bag' wetlands?) In the name of resurrecting untrammelled natural flows, the RSPB must reinforce the compartmentalisation of the landscape, by constructing its own flood banks, greatly manipulating water levels, etc. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - management begets management.
As with ground flora in new woodlands (see Pound Farm profile, p. 177), "it is not clear exactly how long a new wetland may take to develop a full complement of bird, mammal, amphibian, fish, invertebrate and plant species. The reed cover may develop relatively quickly, perhaps within 5 years, but colonisation by other species may take considerably longer".(58) I have a vision of conservationists sitting twiddling their thumbs, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the guests at their carefully laid-out habitat-party.(59)
Bedfordshire SG19 2DL
The woods of Orkney have been in retreat for around 5000 years, probably as a result both of climate change and human activities such as burning and stock grazing. Today the islands are almost treeless and exposed to salt spray, with only one tiny tract of true relict woodland surviving: Berriedale on the island of Hoy, the most northerly natural woodland in the British Isles. Its only companions are scattered trees and small groups in steep gullies and ravines, areas of low willow carr, and aspen clinging to the cliffs overlooking Scapa Flow. Berriedale, although no more than a couple of hectares in size, is still a "remarkable and atmospheric woodland",(60) with birch, hazel, aspen, rowan and willow, and "a dense understorey of Roses and Honeysuckle and a ground flora of tall herbs and ferns".(60) Ungrazed since 1984 when it was acquired by the RSPB, natural regeneration is now beginning to take place - albeit at a slow pace because of Orkney's very short growing season. Since a single fire could easily wipe out the entire wood, seed is being collected and planted out in enclosures and gullies elsewhere on the reserve.
The Orkney Islands Native Tree Restoration Project is overseeing the creation of new small woodlands on "up to 50 sites",(61) totalling at least 20 hectares. Along with the work of the new Orkney Native Plant Network in propagating trees, shrubs and wildflowers, these new woods, sheltering along the line of a burn or in the lee of a hill, should become seed sources themselves in turn - thereby safeguarding the unique genetic material of the Orkney woods. Beyond this, "it is very likely that the stimulation of local interest and the increasing availability of native plants will lead to the ongoing planting of many other sites... well into the 21st century".(62) Volunteer opportunities are available at Berriedale and with the Restoration Project.(63)
Orkney Islands Native Tree Restoration Project
3 Manse Lane
Orkney KW16 3BX
Tel: 01856 851322
Orkney KW16 3NJ
Tel: 01856 791298
Shetland Community Woodlands
Shetland Amenity Trust
22-24 North Road
Shetland ZE1 0NQ
Tel: 01595 694688
(Similar to the Orkney Project, but in an even more hostile setting.)
The following story expresses some of the best, most salient themes of ecological restoration. As Barry Lopez says, "I know of no restorative of heart, body and soul more effective against hopelessness than the restoration of the Earth".(64) The word 'ecology' comes from the Greek 'oikos' ('home'). You can become reconciled with the world by restoring 'home', determining and making your own space, drawing sustenance from it, and welcoming other creatures into it - a bit like a bower bird perhaps. What is refreshing about Mr. Parsons is that he acted unilaterally - he didn't devise a complex strategy or go cap in hand for magnanimous "permission". Unassuming, he just got on and did it, because it was something he needed to do.
Former engineer and plant-hire manager Tony Parsons returned home to Cullompton, Devon in 1990, after years of wandering Europe. Here, on a railway embankment, he set about carving out 'Parson's Kingdom'. He slept in a barrel in a shack built from scrap materials, and put up a wind generator with car batteries to power his radio, tape recorder and lighting. He also "cleared an acre of swamp of generations of farmers' junk, creating ponds, flower glades, and a sanctuary for birds and animals". He explains that "I had a lot of psychiatric treatment in hospital, on drugs for six months with silly nurses making me sit down. Society aggravates me and I got away from all that here. I don't take medication at all now... I'm totally self-sufficient here and harming no one... Here there's no aggravation. When you go a bit wobbly with the mental health you can go in the barrel for two days, shut the door and stay there. When I come out I feel a damned sight better."
But of course it couldn't last. In 1993 his shack was valued at up to £120,000 under the council tax, and British Rail, at the behest of the local authority, proposed to evict him for living without planning permission. This was accompanied by the usual chorus of hand-wringing, depersonalised 'regrets' - British Rail talking of "this legal nonsense", and Parson's spineless local councillor saying "I personally wouldn't want to see the poor guy removed", but that "New Age travellers might be encouraged to park where they please if [he] is not made an example of."(65)
Within a couple of weeks, a reader of the newspaper that reported on Parson's plight had offered to buy the land for him - but by then he had already fled, his reign having been brought to an end.
The same old story is repeated in many different places. In "Transitory Gardens, Uprooted Lives", Diana Balmori and Margaret Morton show "how the homeless and dispossessed of New York use odd scraps of greenery and discarded junk to create small enclaves of peace and beauty amid the city's trash dumps and vacant lots, knowing that cops or bulldozers will soon move in to flatten their Arcadias." (666)
[IMAGE] Tony Parsons: He's My Hero!!!
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust are engaged in what has been called "the most exciting and complex habitat creation project in Europe"(67) on the disused 150 acre Barn Elm reservoir site in London. Highly sophisticated land-forming and regulation of water levels over 70 acres is creating a mosaic of wetland habitats: lakes and lagoons, reedbed and carr, grazing marsh, mudflats, and islands, "topped with different substrates to provide the preferred habitat for a wide range of birds".(68) (You want terns with that?) A network of new ponds attracts dragonflies and amphibians, as well as the already high population of Pipistrelle bats. 250,000 aquatic plants and 27,000 trees have been planted, with half the area left to natural colonisation.
However, the project is celebrated as an example of "conservation and commercial interests work[ing] in harmony",(69) proof that "Business enables wildlife to flourish".(70) As with the work at Greenham Common, (see above, p. 178) the project was contingent upon initial funding of £11 million from "a prestigious housing development"(71) on 25 acres of the site, which has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1974. (We must fowl the mudflats where the wealthy live!) Like cynical 'planning gain', here the concept of "an enabling development - a rarely used principle of UK... planning law"(72) helped to put it on a fast track through the planning system.
The project also features a Discovery Centre, intended to "enthuse visitors about wetland conservation"(72) through state of the art interpretive facilities like touch-screen computers and multi-media presentations. It is slightly reminiscent of Groundwork's gratuitous, cargo cult-like "Green IT" programme - reconnecting children with the real world via the (ultimately sterile and controllable) virtual one. "Fibre-optic cabling has been laid throughout the site",(70) (digitised ducks are go!), conveying images of "birds roosting, feeding and nesting in the wilder parts"(73) back to monitors in the Centre via CCTV. The birds must perform and not disappoint - 'seen and not bird'.(74)
Commenting on this 'disneyfication' of the natural, Chris Clarke contrasts the "gradual appreciation of the wonderful, elusive subtlety of nature" with the induced experience of "nature that has been strapped to the procrustean bed of industrial time." He asks: "What happens when people accustomed to this industrial nature are faced with a natural environment in unenhanced form? Where... the animals mostly hide or run away before you can see them? By comparison to nature in its disneyfied state, the simple swamp will seem a flaccid lifeless thing, its resident wildlife uninteresting and devoid of musical accompaniment".(75) Accentuating the theme park feel (admission is charged), "from the Arctic to the Tropics, fourteen different ['branded'?] wetland habitats have been created in Wetlands of the World".(71)
The punters are also exhorted to use public transport, dutifully "playing their part as 'green consumers' [consuming 'green' birds?] in the new millennium."(69)
Once you strip away all the bullshit, a worthwhile core remains - it is a staggering practical achievement, an undeniable improvement, and it's uplifting to know that lapwing and ringed plovers are now breeding again, only 4 miles from central London. On the other hand, is this the future, "show[ing] what sustainability is all about":(76) wildlife privatised, sponsored by business in 'innovative partnership', and instantly reproduced in widescreen format?(77)
Volunteer opportunities are available. (Don't let me put you off - check it out for yourself.)
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
The Wetland Centre
Barn Elms Lodge
Queen Elizabeth Walk
Barnes, London SW13 0DB
Tel: 0181 8768995
The Scottish Isle of Rum, whose Gaelic name means "Kingdom of the Wild Forest" is a National Nature Reserve of 26,400 acres wholly owned by Scottish Natural Heritage. Its history is the familiar story of the Highlands, re-enacted in microcosm. Since acquisition as a reserve in 1957, its treatment has been guided by a desire to "carefully resuscitate habitats and entire communities and let them show us how they choose to function".(78) The vision is of "a wild land set apart and the aim is to transform a man-made desert"(79) into an island "lush in native wild plants and animals in a continuous natural progression from the shallow sea, over the machair and grasslands of the shore, up through the wild woods covering the slopes, up into the mountain scrub and up onto the open mountain tops."(80) Since 1958 over a million trees have been planted in two large deer-fenced enclosures (approximately 1600 and 1800 acres in size) on the north and south sides of Kinloch, Loch Scresort - as well as in a further 9 small trial plots around the island. Because soils in some parts have become "so poor that trees could not regenerate naturally",(81) nitrogen-fixing species like whin, broom, and alder have been utilised, and "artificial fertilisation of every tree planted with... rock phosphate is standard".(82)
The earliest trees are now 50 feet high, woodland birds are recolonising in large numbers, and there are currently moves to recreate "the ground flora from now very restricted native Rum woodland plants".(83) Sheep grazing and 'muirburn' have been stopped, and Scottish Natural Heritage are instituting a substantial deer cull. (See Glen Finglas Profile for comments on this, p. 176)
Spurred on by the highly successful reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle (exterminated by 1912, 82 released on Rum 1975-1985), they are looking into the reintroduction of other plants and animals, "to speed up the recovery process and replace those that have been lost".(84) The soil restoration and other work has also helped to "illustrate how the carrying capacity of the West Highlands and Islands can be improved".(85) Finally, in a region still smarting from the bitter blows of the Highland Clearances, they wish to advance Rum as a "vibrant, self-reliant community within the comity of the Small Isles",(86) but "without compromising the island's environment".(84)
Visitors and volunteers are welcome.
Scottish Natural Heritage
Rum National Nature Reserve
The White House
Isle of Rum PH43 4RR
Tel: 01687 462026
The 171 hectare swathe of flood meadows at Pulborough Brooks suffered horribly in the 1960s. In common with many other such areas, the canalisation of the local River Arun and the improved drainage works that went with it enabled rapid agricultural intensification on a site that had been lightly managed for centuries. "The dry conditions and applications of fertiliser and herbicide virtually eliminated the characteristic wet grassland fauna and flora".(87) It was all for nothing - the arable land swiftly fell derelict as "nothing could improve the soil beyond poor quality agricultural land".(88) The RSPB purchased the site in 1989, and reinstated summer grazing and hay cutting, reprofiled banks of the grazing marsh ditches, and created both permanent and temporary shallow pools. The fields were "reseeded with a mix as close as... [they] could get to the surviving patches of original grass under hedges".(88) Around 80 hectares of the floodplain are inundated every winter - and these silvery sheets of water thronging with cacophonous legions of birds are an awe-inspiring sight. The result for both flora and fauna is a dramatic turnaround in their fortunes. The numbers of breeding and wintering waders and wildfowl have rocketed. "The nice thing is being able to bring people here and prove to them that you can restore diversity, not in a lifetime but in less than a decade", says Tim Callaway, site manager.(89) (Similar work has been carried out on the internationally important Nene Washes reserve in Cambridgeshire, which in the late 1970s was 75% intensively cropped.) As with most RSPB reserves, there are opportunities to visit or volunteer.(90)
Upperton's Barn Visitor Centre
West Sussex RH20 2EL
Tel: 01798 874042
Situated on the floodplain of the River Calder near Nelson in Lancashire, Lomeshaye was designed as a Robert Owen-style model village in the early 17th century by 'enlightened' industrialist Richard Ecroyd, to house the workforce for his new mill. In the 1980s, the river was recklessly diverted and a vast industrial estate built on the floodplain just a hundred yards from Ecroyd's cottages. The heavy flooding that came as a result of the development in the winter of 1991/2 united the villagers against it: "[After the floods] I spoke to people that I didn't speak to before, but we're all in the same mind - we've just had enough here - they're spoiling our village and we must do something about it." They negotiated better flood defences, but two years later, adding insult to injury, came a proposal to demolish the mill's old weaving shed and build a 24-hour industrial car park in its place. After they defeated this, they carried on the momentum by forming the Lomeshaye Villagers' Group, with the novel idea of giving themselves some control over their own surroundings for a change. They created their own 'Loamy Wood' nature reserve on the site of the old river course, "to try and provide some screening from the metallic vista that we now had in front of us." They planted a traditional hedgerow and 250 trees, and built footpaths and dry stone walls, all of which meant learning new skills. The centrepiece was a pond to replace the marshes infilled by the estate, including every wetland plant historically recorded in Lancashire, and a dipping platform and boardwalk for the children from the local nursery. The reserve was complete and "looking idyllic", when along came another proposal: for a permanent flood alleviation scheme (which they needed), but with the typical sting in the tail of a road, car park and loading bay straight through the middle of the reserve, threatening everything they had created. But they have now defeated this too, and their final project is for a much larger pond on top of a flood barrier, with some very large reedbeds, purely for wildlife. One villager says of the reserve that "I feel peaceful, and I feel as though I'm Queen of the Earth when I sit up there." Another says that "We're certainly not environmentalists, but we are people who believe that we could empower ourselves and make very, very positive changes. Basically believing in each other and yourselves, that you can achieve something, you don't need to rely on others to achieve anything."(91) Nuff said.
Lomeshaye Villagers Group
c/o Andrew Clifford
29 Ecroyd Street
Pendle BB9 7BJ
Tel: 01282 692647
Council for National Parks
246 Lavender Hill
London SW1 1LJ
Tel: 0171 9244077
In 1997 the CNP published the groundbreaking report "Wild by Design in the National Parks of England and Wales". They hope to follow its recommendations through in 1999 by setting up a 'Wilder Areas Action Group'.
Habitat Restoration Project
English Nature (boo hiss)
Peterborough PE1 1UA
Tel: 01733 455101
For the "Habitat Restoration Project: Factsheets and Bibliographies", Rob Dryden, English Nature Research Report 260 (1997), and other literature. Overly managerial, but a helpful starting point. Don't forget to let them know that they are the Neighbour of the Beast.
Movement for Compassionate Living
47 Highlands Road
Surrey KT22 8NQ
Wonderful vegan organisation extolling the virtues of a tree-based culture and world-wide reforestation, as opposed to the "second population explosion" of livestock. Produce "Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree", "Growing our Own" and lots of other pamphlets.
21A Coates Crescent
Edinburgh EH3 7AF
Tel: 0131 2262496
Not really engaged in hands-on restoration work, but they know a few people who are! A catalyst for a growing movement, at the forefront of agitating for ecological and social regeneration in Scotland since 1989. Produce an inspiring magazine of the same name.
Society for Ecological Restoration
The White House
129 Andover Road
Winchester SO22 6AY
Tel: 01962 884400
A useful networking point for information on ecological restoration in the UK and abroad. Organising a major conference for 2000 to promote concepts and practice of restoration.
(BOX) [IMAGE] The only half-decent thing to come out of the horrific M3 extension through Twyford Down was the ripping up, re-contouring and grassing over of the old A33 Winchester bypass. It gave the people of Winchester easy access across the flood meadows of the River Itchen to St. Catherine's Hill for the first time in decades. A mere 5 years after the work was done, however, and the local council already wants to re-tarmac 20 acres of the site as a park-and-ride facility. There is strong local opposition to being robbed of their precious green space once more.