Changes on the land have always happened and are still happening. Some changes have been caused by biology, botany and technology – the advance of science – and some changes have been caused simply by changing farming fashions. In addition there are some people who have become totally detached from the land and nature and they want a sort of Disneyfied countryside where the whole of the natural kingdom lives in harmony while we eat various vegetarian delights. Sadly the latter is a total mirage; nature really is red in tooth and claw and if things were left with little human interference, two things would happen – we would all go hungry and wildlife would disappear at an even faster rate than it is disappearing now.
Re-wilding is given as an option and what is going on at Knepp Castle in West Sussex is given as a superb example. I have been there and I like the place and its rolling acres, as well as the owners Charlie Burrell and his wife Isabella Tree. But in my view it is not “rewilding”, it is “extensive farming” – the complete opposite of “intensive farming”. Yes, visitors like it, the free range meat produced there is delicious and some wildlife likes it – particularly the fantastic colony of purple emperor butterflies – but if the whole of Britain was farmed like it, what would happen? Well the most obvious answer is that Britain would have to import far more food and we must remember that in a hungry world the era of “cheap food” is quickly coming to an end. Already Britain produces less than 60% of its own food according to the experts. Unfortunately I believe the experts are being optimistic and we are producing less than 50% of our food with the figures for over-populated England being even worse.
Some people are now saying that our hill farmers and all their knowledge and culture has to go for rewilding and forestry – in my view that is pure nonsense. The Countryside Restoration Trust and I have not been “rewilding”, but we have been “wild farming” for the past twenty-five years; we have been producing quality food and quality wildlife. We have seen the return of the Grey Partridge, Barn Owl, Skylark, Water Vole, Otter, and Brown Hare and at Lark Rise Farm we have 26 resident species of butterfly – fantastic – my favourites being the Brimstone, the Orange Tip, the Marbled White and the White Letter Hairstreak.
But our work hasn’t stopped. The Turtle Dove needs desperate help as does the Dormouse and Lesser-spotted Woodpecker on one of our Herefordshire farms and the Curlew on our other one. But all I hear is we want “rewildling” we want “the lynx”, “the wolf”, and the “sea eagle”. Then from the same direction comes “predator control” must stop – “the raven must be allowed to breed unhindered like the buzzard” – and with every such wish the future for British wildlife declines.