Pine marten (Martes martes), Black Isle, Scotland, UK. July 2010. 4-5 month old kit. - Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

All of us are witnessing global political, socio-economic and environmental changes on a scale which screams at us the importance of conserving habitats and species which form the life support systems of our planet.
Chough © Wildwood Trust

Chough © Wildwood Trust

Conservation in the UK has been based upon the management of nature reserves for specific habitats or species. This has been a necessary way of ensuring species losses and declines are minimised by safeguarding the remaining refuges of many of the UK’s rarest wildlife. Yet we are still losing species in this country at an alarming rate; species we considered common just 10 years ago are becoming rarer. Land use change, the fragmentation of landscapes, development, and demands on water resources have all contributed to this rapid decline.   At the same time we are seeing more extreme climatic events such as flooding and the destruction of the natural systems which regulate the landscapes we live in.

There is now clear, compelling evidence supporting a new approach in conservation, one which focuses on nature and society in equal measure, to restore the natural processes vital to our wildlife and people. This has a number of names of which rewilding is the most well-known.

Red squirrel © Wildwood Trust

Red squirrel © Wildwood Trust

At the heart of the rewilding approach is the restoration of natural processes, moving back to less intensive ways of managing our landscapes and emphasising the importance of nature to the health, well-being and prosperity of people.

At landmark rewilding projects, such as the Knepp Estate in Sussex, we have seen a return to a more ‘natural’ grazing regime including the use of Tamworth pigs to replicate the role once played by wild boar, turning over soil when foraging which in turn creates shallow ponds. As a result, breeding turtle dove and nightingale numbers have rocketed.

Kent Wildlife Trust has always attempted to diversify the grazing animals we use on our sites, but the introduction of pigs or wilder breeds such as Longhorn cattle are exciting propositions for us to explore as we see how this approach can be implemented on nature reserves and within the wider landscape.

Kent Wildlife Trust are actively seeking to apply these principles and approaches to both how we manage our own land and influence the wider landscape in Kent and across the South East. Broadly this falls into two main areas of focus.

Restoring Natural Processes

Heavily engineered flood defences, river canalisation, land drainage and land-use change have drastically altered the functions of our river systems and floodplains, contributing to the sort of catastrophic flooding seen in Kent during 2014. This is where Natural Flood Management (NFM) techniques become essential, restoring the natural flow of water through river catchment systems. The principle is very simply slowing the flow of water which can be done through a variety of means.

In river systems, beavers are capable of changing the landscape and the ecosystems in which they live. There are now significant numbers of beaver living wild in the UK where they have been shown to reduce flooding and improve water quality.

Re-stocking Kent’s Ark

Our ambition is to also look at bringing back species that were once present where appropriate conditions allow, these can include species of cultural significance to Kent. Chough can be seen on the Canterbury coat-of-arms and are synonymous with Shakespeare and the white cliffs. It is our intention to see this evocative species return to the county.

Bison © Wildwood Trust

Bison © Wildwood Trust

Planning of a south-east release programme for pine marten as a pre-cursor to red squirrel reintroduction is being led by Kent Wildlife Trust with partners and colleagues in other neighbouring Trusts.

Where red squirrel, pine marten, chough and beaver all come together is as species which were once present in our landscapes and, if you were to add to the list other currently absent species such as Eurasian crane, white stork which may provide significant attraction to eco-tourism visitors and a more natural, wilder Kent.

Moving towards a Wilder Kent is challenging and continues to rely on sufficient, appropriately managed habitat. However, the restoration of natural processes, alongside well-considered programmes of reintroducing species, will not only benefit the wildlife of Kent but work to reconnect us with nature and its benefits to our own health, wellbeing and prosperity.