The Benefits of Wilding

Wilding is an exciting vision with great potential for reengaging people with nature and energising communities and conservation practice. But it is also a land use choice amongst several, and we recognise that widespread support for and adoption of wilding requires that it provides benefit as well as revenue to landowners. This section will focus on highlighting the benefits wilding can provide for landowners, and the explain eco-systems and wider-society.


We look specifically at flood protection, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and various sources of revenue for wilding sites.

The Benefits of Wilding

Wilding is an exciting vision with great potential for reengaging people with nature and energising communities and conservation practice. But it is also a land use choice amongst several, and we recognise that widespread support for and adoption of wilding requires that it provides benefit as well as revenue to landowners. This section will focus on highlighting the benefits wilding can provide for landowners, eco-systems and wider-society.

 

We look specifically at flood protection, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and various sources of revenue for wilding sites.

Flood Protection

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Flooding costs the UK economy on average 1.1 billion annually. As extreme weather events are predicted to increase in frequency and severity as a result of climate change, the number of properties at risk is predicted to double by 2050.

 

Past land and river management choices, such as wetland draining for development, canalisation of river courses, streambank erosion from overgrazing and the proliferation of impermeable surfaces have all increased flood risk. Flood mitigation projects are increasingly recognising the multiple benefits of naturalistic flood management. A number of Defra schemes working with natural processes to reduce flood risk, such as ‘Slowing the Flow’ in Pickering, Yorkshire, have reduced flood peak heights by up to 25% whilst providing other benefits like reduced soil erosion and water pollution.

 

Wilding plots do not have to border or include rivers to provide flood mitigation benefits. Research at the Pontbren project in Wales has shown that water infiltrates into the soil under trees much faster and is held there for longer than soil under pasture, significantly slowing and reducing run off into nearby water courses.

 

This kind of process-based restoration of river catchments provides better habitat for wildlife, whilst also being an effective, lower-cost flood mitigation option than hard engineering approaches.

Carbon storage and sequestration

Various habitats from peatland to dense forest capture and store great volumes of carbon. This is a vital function in the context of the greatest collective threat we face: climate change. There is widespread recognition that addressing the climate crisis requires not only drastic emissions reductions, but also sequestering carbon already present in the atmosphere. This can be done with huge infrastructure projects for carbon capture and sequestration, but ecosystems do this for free in perpetuity as part of their normal functioning. For example, Forest Carbon, an organisation supporting the creation of new woodlands for carbon sequestration in the UK, has co-funded the planting of 7 million trees across 130 new woodlands since 2006, capturing over 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 in the process.

 

Wilding a plot of land, even a relatively small one, can be an incredibly rewarding and significant way to reduce your own carbon footprint and contribute to broader efforts to mitigate climate change. The average annual CO2 footprint of an adult in the UK is around 9 tonnes, and the amount of CO2 sequestered by just one acre of mature deciduous woodland is estimated to be around 13.6 tonnes. Of course, this process takes time, but the long term benefits will be great. There is surely no better moment to get started than now.

Biodiversity

Providing a space for nature and natural processes to take over unsurprisingly produces enormous benefit for biodiversity. The open-ended, dynamic nature of wilding projects makes space for surprising outcomes and developments. Existing projects are full of accounts of new and unexpected inhabitants. At the Carrifran wildwood in the Scottish borders, the sheer sound and diversity of birdsong is astounding compared to the surrounding upland sheep pasture, and a breeding population of the rare black grouse has established itself on the reserve. At the Oostvardersplassen wilding site in the Netherlands, a pair of white-tailed sea eagles unexpectedly arrived to breed, whilst the Knepp Estate has become a vital stronghold for turtle doves and nightingales in southern England.

 

Aside from the likely inhabitants, who knows what wondrous creatures may establish themselves on your land. Wild places of whatever size will provide ample opportunities to observe wildlife, for children to explore and learn, and for quiet contemplation. However you like to enjoy wildlife, the knowledge that you are providing a range of species with a place to live is incredibly satisfying.

Revenue - payments for ecosystem services

Wild land does not necessarily mean a trade-off with productivity. One potential revenue stream may be from wild produce, which can be sold at a premium as a specialist product, supported by an established body of research on the health benefits of wild grown foods. Productive naturalistic systems are in many ways a distinct land use choice to wilding, as they require deliberate and careful design, but once established the costs—in terms of labor and energy inputs—are low. A wild produce approach could also be pursued on a portion of the total wilding plot, with each area benefiting the other in a symbiotic relationship.

 

Martin Crawford’s pioneering forest garden in Totnes, Devonshire, demonstrates the possibility of a highly biodiverse woodland to also produce a large and diverse array of crops including fruits, nuts, mushrooms, vegetables and timber.

Livestock raising is also possible, particularly on larger plots, with additional benefits as a land management tool. Knepp Estate raises cattle, pigs and deer in a naturalistic grazing system at very low densities, with the livestock helping to maintain a diverse mix of habitats on the estate and the ‘wild’ meat providing a welcome additional revenue stream. This is an approach shared with numerous wilding projects in the Netherlands.