There is growing fear that rural areas across the UK have become a magnet for people with money who are buying into the ‘rewilding dream’.
Farming groups raised the alarm as Rewilding Britain launched a £3.4 million project, Summit to Sea, to claim at least 10,000 hectares of land in Mid Wales for rewilding in the next five years.
Vast areas of Mid Wales have already been bought by charities and individuals connected to Rewilding Britain, and in Scotland, the sale of Buccleuch land has made Danish fashion billionaire and rewilding enthusiast Anders Holch Poylsen the largest private landowner in the country.
Several schemes are already underway to rewild other parts of Scotland, including restoring woodland and forest by reducing deer numbers on the Knoydart peninsula.
This project, led by the John Muir Trust, is encouraging the return of wildlife such as pine martens to the area.
NFU Scotland said local farmers seemed keen to help with the concept of rewilding, in terms of protecting native species, carbon capture and the delivery of biodiversity, but species reintroduction – such as the illegal release of the beaver – was an example of ‘how not to do it’.
Communications director Bob Carruth said: “The experience with beavers, along with the impact that sea eagles are having on some sheep farmers and crofters on the west coast of Scotland, must give pause for thought as they shine a spotlight on the problems that reintroductions as part of a rewilding agenda will have on livelihoods.”
Rewilding Britain said it was working on at least three of its own pilot projects across Britain in the next 10 years.
The group has claimed a new subsidy system based on rewilding could financially support farmers to increase carbon sequestration on their land and restore ‘damaged and degraded’ ecosystems.
But Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts said the earmarking of rural Wales was ‘symptomatic of the sort of attitude which led to entire communities being flooded or planted with forestry half a century ago’.
Mr Roberts said: “The people who live in Rewilding Britain’s vast Summit to Sea area are particularly angry that a group of people hundreds of miles away in another country have drawn a line around their communities and decided the area should be a rewilding area.
“It certainly does not look like a coincidence these are the same communities that were so unfairly attacked and earmarked for wilding in George Monbiot’s rewilding book, Feral.”
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said he had confidence that with the right policies and market drivers, British farming could become carbon neutral in no more than a few decades.
“To suggest releasing a few high-level predator species like lynx and eagles is going to be the answer to our problems – when we are told most of our prey species are at crisis point – is contradictory to say the least,” he added.