Rewilding is not simply the reintroduction of wolves and bears but also a way for farmers to boost their biodiversity through the grazing of large species.
Knepp Castle Estate owner Sir Charlie Burrell set the scene at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Cirencester Sixth Form College’s Rewilding conference last week, telling delegates how a move to introduce the Tamworth pig and Longhorn cow enhanced the natural environment on his home farm at Horsham, West Sussex, and helped plants flourish.
Rewilding for him meant recognising how the vegetation in the area was formed and which species would help drive its natural systems.
Mr Burrell said: “When we were looking at what we were going to put onto the estate, we started to think about proxies that would suit the project and that we could bring back into the landscape.
“The Tamworth pigs have given us the only growing population of turtle doves in the UK; they have given us the biggest population of purple emperor butterflies in the UK, they have given us space for bees and wasps, and they have given us space for all the different annual and bi-annual plants that then can come back.
“Old English Longhorns move 230 different plant species around. They are huge vectors in this environment.
“They eat differently and they browse differently. So all these traits you are then just using as your driver to create new habitats in this environment.”
Mr Burrell told of his ‘extraordinary exuberant explosion of plants’ in old arable fields, with the landscape – in terms of nature – ‘rocket-fuel’ for animals.
Alastair Driver, specialist adviser at Rewilding Britain, added: “What is [rewilding] not about? It is not about wolves and bears at this moment but we need to focus on what is do-able and likely to be socially acceptable.
“It is not about abandoning forestry and farming or imposing anything on anyone.”