The nation’s latest rewilding project promises an ‘alternative future’ for the UK’s uplands. Red squirrels are among the species that could benefit from the initiative in Yorkshire
The barren fells of the Yorkshire Dales attract many a neoprene-clad rambler, but the celebrated scenery is not as nature intended. Overgrazing has maintained a state of oddly beautiful bleakness in parts of the uplands, and left nature with limited opportunities to flourish. A similar story has played out elsewhere in the lofty reaches of the UK.
Offering an “alternative future” for the nation’s fells is a large-scale nature restoration project led by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT). Launched last week, the project looks to turn 3,000 acres of heavily-grazed hills in the Yorkshire Dales into a biodiverse ecosystem where native wildlife, including red squirrels, cuckoos and black grouse, can thrive.
The project, called Wild Ingleborough, will see the restoration of depleted peatlands and the expansion of native woodland, both of which act as vital carbon sinks. Around 30,000 trees will be planted in total, but most of the new woodland will be realised simply by giving nature space to reclaim the land – also known as “passive rewilding”.
As well as sucking up CO2 and boosting biodiversity, Wild Ingleborough could help protect the region from flooding, as trees and shrubs act as a drag on floodwater. The project is also likely to amplify the region’s tourism potential, amid growing interest in nature restoration projects, as highlighted by the popularity of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex.
“Ingleborough is one of the most iconic and cherished landscapes in our great county,” said Rachael Bice, CEO of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. “By intervening carefully, we will see the landscape of the dales transform; restoring natural process and communities of plants and animals, which will help to secure and enrich the future of Yorkshire’s residents and visitors too.”
Wild Ingleborough is a partnership between YWT, Natural England, The University of Leeds, the United Bank of Carbon, the Woodland Trust and WWF. It is one of the first projects in the UK that seeks to re-establish the tree line in the nation’s uplands. The WWF described it as a “blueprint for restoration”.
“Through this project, we want to show that a wilder world is a more stable one, with nature more resilient and able to adapt to change,” said Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF. “We hope to create a rich, diverse landscape for people and wildlife to thrive.”
Rewilding the tourism sector
Tour guides in Europe are being taught about rewilding through a new training initiative, launched in response to increasing interest in species reintroductions. The programme is being led by Rewilding Europe, which hopes to spur economic opportunities for remote communities in regions that have benefited from rewilding.
They want to help attract visitors to remote spots, such as the Carpathians in Romania and the Velebit mountains in Croatia, with the lure of encountering wild animals such as lynx and wolves.
Main image: Kulli Kittus