Rewilding the Peak District

An internet entrepreneur brings nature back to a former dairy farm.

Welcome to Inkcap, a newsletter about landscapes, creatures and conservation in the UK. Every week, Inkcap monitors 160+ newspapers, blogs and websites to uncover the nation's most important stories. Thank you for subscribing!

Each edition of Inkcap starts with original journalism, followed by curated news from around the country. This week:

  • In-depth: Rewilding the Peak District

  • National news: Bees, eagles and HS2

  • Around the isles: Derbyshire, Scotland & Northamptonshire

  • Driftwood: An assortment of butterflies, storks & blanket bogs

  • Reports: Economics, climate adaptation, wild salmon

  • Science: Dotterel and climate change

  • Happy days: The dawn chorus

  • Other stories: Raptors, botanists, mental health


Internet entrepreneur brings rewilding to Peak District farm

In the Peak District, an old dairy farm is returning to nature. Rachel Evatt, an internet entrepreneur, purchased the 125-acre plot – called Sunart Fields, after a distant Scottish loch – for a Knepp-style experiment in rewilding. Over the coming years, she hopes to transform this expanse of fields into a carbon-rich landscape that is bursting with life. 

“We have nesting buzzards, a couple of breeding hares and a badger sett, so that’s a good starting point – but there isn’t anything particularly unusual,” says Evatt. “We think there’s massive scope for improvement. The majority of the site is very uniform in appearance because it has been farmed with different goals in mind over the years.”

For Evatt, the project is not about abandonment, but rather improving the condition of the land then letting nature take its course. “We will seek to replicate what might happen naturally through some very low intensity grazing,” she says. That will probably mean around ten cows and a few pigs to turn up the ground, with the impacts of these animals closely monitored and the numbers adjusted if necessary. But the site, she stresses, will not be managed with any particular species in mind.

Scientists hope to monitor how the ecology evolves as the project unfolds. There are already plans to monitor the site acoustically, a cheap and easy way to assess biodiversity. “There aren’t that many projects out there,” says Alex Lees, an ecologist at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is interested in surveying Sunart Fields. “Some people say you can get perverse outcomes from rewilding, so it’s nice to be able to monitor what’s going on.”

The rewilding movement is still young, yet it has reshaped how conservationists see the future of the British landscape, including the Peak District. With much of the countryside in the hands of private landowners, it will be projects like Sunart Fields (and, of course, the much larger Knepp Estate in Sussex) that propel the trend.

“We’ve clearly come to the view that taking a rewilding approach is an important new tool in the toolbox,” says Tim Birch from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, which works in the Peak District and has been in close contact with Sunart Fields. “Convincing landowners that there are new and exciting opportunities is going to be key.”

Related news:
Norfolk farm fights climate change and impact of Brexit by rewilding – Eastern Daily Press
Isle of Wight set to get wilder – Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust


National news

Bees | What’s the most concerning virus right now? For bees, it’s probably the Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus. Both the Guardian and the Telegraph report on new research about this disease, which is marching across the beehives of Britain, leaving bees with shiny, hairless abdomens and struggling to fly. The original research was published in Nature Communications.

HS2 | Contractors clearing ancient woodland in Warwickshire for HS2 have come under fire for felling trees during bird nesting season, reports Bird Guides, and for taking inadequate measures, like trained hawks, to prevent birds settling in the woods, according to Byline Times. HS2 says the claims are “wrong and misleading”, according to ENDS Report. Meanwhile, the BBC reports on protesters spending lockdown in trees to prevent the felling of ancient woodland. 

Eagles | Some garden birdwatchers have encountered more than the usual sparrows. “White-tailed eagles reintroduced on the Isle of Wight have been seen flying over gardens across England during the coronavirus lockdown,” reports the BBC. The birds have been spotted in south-west England, the Peak District and the North York Moors.


Around the isles

Derbyshire | Chatsworth House, a mansion in the Peak District, has refused to remove anti-swallow nesting nets from the house – an intervention that it says is to protect its stone sculptures from bird poo. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is fighting against the decision, but the estate has refused to meet with conservationists to discuss alternatives. Read the correspondence on the DWT website

Scotland | A devastating fire broke out last week at the Tay Reedbeds between Dundee and Perth. This is the largest area of continuous reedbed in the UK, and an important site for breeding birds. The BBC reported the news. Separately, a moorland fire in the Peak District was extinguished after seven days, in an effort supported by the RSPB, reports the Sheffield Star

Northamptonshire | A 400-year-old oak tree is to be cut down in Northamptonshire to make way for roadworks, despite more than 5,000 people signing a petition to save it. The BBC and ITV both carry the story.


Driftwood

Butterflies | The UK could be about to witness the largest ever emergence of long-tailed Blue butterflies. While they are beautiful creatures, the influx is believed to be because of climate change, according to Butterfly Conservation. 

Storks | You have probably heard the news that wild storks are due to hatch in Britain for the first time in centuries on the Knepp estate in Sussex. But while this has been widely celebrated in the press, there has been an active debate on Twitter about the value of the reintroduction effort. “It feels more like a vanity project,” tweeted Lizzie Bruce, director of the British Birds journal. Botanist Sophie Leguil saw it as a “Disneyfication” of nature.

Blanket bog | Moors For The Future is trialling a new technique to improve the condition of blanket bog habitat. This involves building long, low mounds, planted with sphagnum moss, to reduce the flow of water from the hills. The trial is being carried out on the National Trust’s Marsden Moor estate in West Yorkshire.


Reports

Climate | Natural England and the RSPB have published the second edition of the Climate Change Adaptation Manual, a phenomenally detailed guide to helping the habitats and species of the UK adapt to rising temperatures and changing weather patterns. 

Economics | The government has released the interim report of the Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity, a Treasury-commissioned investigation into the economic benefits of biodiversity and the economic costs of biodiversity loss. This interim report sets out the economic and scientific concepts that will underpin the options set out in the final report.

Salmon | Salmon farming is harming Scotland’s wild salmon populations. The Salmon Interactions Working Group has released a report featuring 42 recommendations to improve the situation, and will be considered by the Scottish government. 


Science

Dotterel | A new paper in Global Change Biology examines the population decline of dotterel in the Scottish mountains. This species is being pushed up to higher elevations; however, the paper concludes that climate change “did not seem to explain the species' uphill retreat and decline.” There is a nice write-up of the study and its context in the WaderTales blog.

Happy days

Birdsong | There’s lots around this week on how to enjoy the dawn chorus, prompted by International Dawn Chorus Day on 3 May. But the music didn’t stop there. Inkcap recommends this blog by wildlife expert Nick Acheson on how to recognise the song of each bird, complete with recordings. If that sounds too stressful, the RSPB has a blog containing ideas for how to mindfully engage with the morning’s cacophony. 


Other stories

Successful Highland wader project continues to grow – Bird Guides
Black Country green belt consultation could be delayed due to coronavirus – Express & Star
National parks should be made more accessible to promote mental health benefits – Yorkshire Post
MPs urge chancellor to protect nature to avoid future pandemic – ENDS Report
The Government must protect nature as the UK looks to move beyond the coronavirus crisis – The Telegraph (a shorter, but free, version was published on the Green Alliance blog)
'Not just weeds': how rebel botanists are using graffiti to name forgotten flora – The Guardian
Coronavirus: National Trust pauses conservation programmes – ENDS Report
Birds of prey still being killed despite lockdown – Raptor Persecution UK