Sunday, 21 April 2019

Rewild Britain now to avert impending environmental and human catastrophe

North York moors, Yorkshire, England.
North York moors, Yorkshire, England.

Remnants of the Wildwood

Britain’s vast areas of wild and wuthering moorland and heath certainly have their appeal, and some of the land, such as the North York Moors, has been designated as National Parks. While many upland areas are devoid of all but heathland shrubs and grasses, thankfully there are still many fertile valleys and man-made plantations managed by the Forestry Commission.

However, if we look further back in history, we can see that what we are now left with are – by comparison – a few grotesquely-stunted remnants of a great and diverse, natural “wildwood” that covered much of Britain.

The first trees began to colonize Britain in the late glacial period following the Ice Age, around 10,000 BC. At the beginning of the Neolithic Age (New Stone Age) which began 6,500 years ago, natural woodland in Britain covered everywhere that trees could grow, limited only by waterlogging, high altitudes, and severe wind exposure.

Deforestation – and the associated degradation of the wider natural environment – began in the Neolithic Age, between 4500 and 2000 BC. This process was continued in the Bronze Age, between 2000 and 600 BC. The Bronze Age settlers would cultivate and exhaust areas of land and then move on, leaving the land so infertile and increasingly acidic that it was incapable of supporting anything other than heathland vegetation such as heather, gorse and coarse grasses. Then the Iron Age Celts who arrived on our shores around 400 BC completed the task of felling and burning the trees on a vast industrial scale, clearing the land, and grazing animals. And later, between 1400 and 1750 AD, there was further, massive clearance for agriculture, sheep grazing, timber-framed buildings, merchant and naval shipping, and the like.

The Greenhouse Effect

Heath on the North York Moors.
Heath on the North York Moors.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, and it is responsible for much of the global warming that the world is now experiencing. This is leading to major, damaging climate change, and endangering the natural environment, its animal and vegetation species, and threatening our global, human civilization on an unprecedented and irrevocable scale. CO2 is not the only dangerous greenhouse gas: there are also vast quantities of methane buried under the tundra and ice toward the poles, and this is also in danger of being released into the atmosphere with the advance of global warming, hugely exacerbating its effect. Not only will the melting of the ice lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, it will also lead to further extreme weather events, and the global flooding of vulnerable coastal areas, leading to mass evacuations and further exacerbating tragic human migration and civil unrest. The growing crisis may even lead to future wars.

Each person generates approximately 2.3 metric tons of CO2 per year, and an acre of forest can absorb and safely-contain 100 tons of CO2 over time. That stored carbon is once again released into the atmosphere when trees or other hydrocarbon fossil fuels such as coal, gas, oil, petrol and diesel are burnt.

Lowering our industrial, agricultural and domestic carbon emissions is vital, and we only have a short window of opportunity – perhaps a decade or two at the most – before the global warming process spirals increasingly out of control. However, such actions are likely to be too little, too late, unless we can develop and more fully-utilize various means of carbon capture.


Woodland near Penrhyndeudraeth.
Woodland near Penrhyndeudraeth.
 This is why the re-planting of trees and rewilding (restoring vegetable and animal species, and improving environmental features such as drainage; etc) – on a necessarily industrial, national and global scale must be our number one priority, along with the action of individuals and communities to reduce their carbon footprint by throwing away less food, eating less meat, not flying, using less plastic, and many other such environmentally-friendly measures. Not only that, but rewilding will help restore and increase bio-diversity, and assist with drainage, hence reducing the risk of flooding in some cases.

This re-planting is by no means the only option we should take up, but it is one of our more palatable and more easily-achievable options open to us, and it will yield results in a relatively short period of time – which is the only time we now have left to us.


Arbor Environmental Alliance: Carbon and Tree Facts

Future Trees Trust: A Brief History of Our Forests


See also

The natural world can help save us from climate catastrophe

Climate Change: The Facts review – our greatest threat, laid bare

Lord of the Rings: The scouring of the Shire (sadly missing from the film)

◇ Let the UK government know that you're in favour of nature restoration and rewilding!

Live graph of petition signatures

Image credits

North York moors, Yorkshire, England
Author: Howcheng
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Licence:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Heath on the North York Moors
Author: Colin Grice (4wd)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Licence: Public domain.

Woodland near Penrhyndeudraeth
Author: David Medcalf
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Licence:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rewild Britain Now!
Author: Etienne de L'Amour (own work)
Licence: Public domain.

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