Rewilding “marginal” land boosts jobs and volunteering opportunities while helping nature and allowing food production to continue, research shows.
The study by charity Rewilding Britain looked at 23 projects covering more than 75,000 acres of land being rewilded, which involves large scale restoration of natural systems and in some cases reintroducing species.
Analysis from 22 of the sites reveals a 47% increase in jobs, from 151 before projects began to 222 over an average of 10 years, with more varied roles covering areas such as nature tourism, monitoring and education.
Data from 19 sites showed an almost nine-fold increase in volunteering, from 50 volunteers to 428 as a result of rewilding activities – a “volunteer engagement boom” which Rewilding Britain’s director, Alastair Driver, said would bring physical and mental health benefits to people.
And all the sites continue to generate income from food production on more productive land, livestock, and other enterprises, the research shows.
Rewilding land to boost nature and help tackle climate change has proved controversial in some quarters, amid concerns it involves abandoning land that should be used for food production, and the study found mixed views on the projects from neighbouring landowners.
But Rewilding Britain said its findings punctured myths that it was about land abandonment or halting food production.
And Professor Driver, who gathered and analysed the data, said: “Our findings on green jobs should be music to the Government’s ears.
“They spotlight rewilding’s potential for creating economic and other opportunities for people – while restoring nature and tackling climate breakdown.
“Many of us knew that real-world rewilding projects produce food and create new job and volunteering opportunities alongside offering major biodiversity, flood risk, water quality, health and carbon sequestration benefits – but even we underestimated the extent to which they do so.”
At one of the sites in the study, Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk where rewilding marginal land is taking place alongside regenerative farming, project manager Dominic Buscall said it had helped unlock better income streams.
“Marginal farmland typically needs more chemical inputs and also generates less yield; prior to rewilding we were causing environmental damage to produce a poor farm yield,” he said.
“Now we are simultaneously delivering public goods and generating healthy profits for our business from this land, while still producing pasture-fed meat from it, as well as farming our adjacent, good quality land with environmentally-friendly techniques.”
A variety of farms, estates and land managed by private landowners, charities and public bodies, including Upcott Grange Farm, Devon, Pirbright Ministry of Defence Ranges, Surrey, RSPB sites at Haweswater and Geltsdale in Cumbria, WWT Steart Marshes, Somerset, were included in the study.
In total they cover 122,547 acres of land, three fifths of which, 75,261 acres, have been focused on rewilding, mostly on poorly productive or non-agricultural land.
All the sites were allowing natural regeneration, most were introducing small numbers of different grazing animals and many were reducing or removing sheep grazing, taking down fences, creating wetlands and planting trees.
The number of farm animals on 15 sites for which there is data has nearly halved, entirely due to a large reduction in sheep, from 22,410 before rewilding to 1,420 animals.
But numbers of cattle, pigs and ponies, which are used in rewilding to mimic the natural grazing behaviour of missing wild native species such as elk or wild boar in the landscape, increased slightly.
And wild species are being reintroduced at a number of sites, including beavers, white stork and water vole.
Rewilding Britain wants nature restoration across 30% of Britain’s land and sea by 2030, with a core 5% rewilded into native forest, peat bogs, moorland, grasslands, wetlands and reefs, and with no loss of productive farmland.
The organisation has created a new network to bring landowners, farmers, community groups and local authorities together to support rewilding.