New Natural Areas: Investing in nature-based economies

I’d like to see a new sort of land designation in the UK to sit next to National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I’m calling these ‘New Natural Areas‘, for want of a better term. Or maybe just Natural Areas.

These New Natural Areas might initially take the form of rewilding pilot sites, capturing a representative sample of biogeographical situations (coastal areas, connecting floodplain-river systems, grassland-woodland mosaic etc). They would probably occupy the most marginal lowland and upland farmland, areas that are farmed purely to yield farm subsidies.

As well as facilitating the recovery of near-natural landscapes, New Natural Areas would host new nature-based economies.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) as an interesting piece exploring such opportunities. The EIB has established a Natural Capital Financing Facility to help finance just these sorts of nature-based enterprises. I assume that UK entrepreneurs will not be able to tap into this facility post-Brexit, so the UK government will need to consider how it can provide such support itself.

 

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Solent Ospreys

Mark Avery carries a short piece today about the translocation of ospreys from Scotland to Poole Harbour, part of the Solent estuaries system on the English south coast. Given that ospreys fly through the area in some numbers during their spring and autumn migrations, and a few hang around in summer, why do we need to re-introduce them? I gather that they are site-faithful, so birds passing through to or from the north are unlikely to stop short to nest on the south coast. And the few hanging around in summer are not yet ready to nest, or just can’t be bothered. So, on balance, I’m all in favour of this project. White-tailed eagles next?

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Wildly uncertain

We know very little about wild nature. What might happen if we step back and let nature ‘do its thing’ in a given area? We’re not sure. We can state expectations, based on current understanding of ecosystem assembly, compositional changes through time, structure, function, etc, but it’s difficult to set precise targets unless we’re creating habitat with a specific species in mind – to deliver bittern habitat, for example.

We’ve been able to observe some of the consequences of defaunation, particularly changes arising from the loss of larger-bodied species from a landscape. That’s the science of ‘trophic cascades’.

We know that larger-bodied species can have large and disproportionate effects on ecosystem structure and function.

But, as yet, we’ve been unable to observed what happens as larger-bodied species recover and come to re-occupy landscapes from which they have been extirpated, except in a few instances and with a few species.

It can be difficult to set targets. But it’s easier to state expectations. I.e., given what we know, this is what we might expect. I think it’s OK to set a few specific targets for rewilding and natural recovery projects – say ”We aim to subject 10,000 ha to rewilding by 2030′. But we should accompany these explicit targets with stated expectations – or hypotheses. Then we set the scientists the task of watching what happens, so we can build an evidence base for the future.

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