At least 300,000 acres of land could be “rewilded” in the next three years with the help of a project being launched to tackle the nature and climate crisis, its backers said.
Campaign group Rewilding Britain is launching a network later this year to support and connect people including landowners, farmers, community groups and local authorities who are rewilding land or considering doing so.
Rewilding involves the large-scale restoration of natural habitats and systems to help wildlife thrive, and can include bringing back missing species such as beavers to naturally manage the landscape.
The network initially aims to catalyse and support the rewilding of at least 300,000 acres of land – an area almost the size of Greater Manchester or the North York Moors National Park – in the next three years.
There has been a boom in interest in the approach to managing land, but many people who want to rewild do not know how to get started, lack information or do not know if others in their area are also rewilding land, the organisation said.
It is hoped the network will provide resources, connect people up and help collaboration, and will also give advice on how to rewild in ways that boosts livelihoods, for example by enabling landowners to diversify into ecotourism.
Rewilding Britain is already receiving large numbers of requests for guidance, it said, including more than 50 landowners and partnerships with almost 200,000 acres between them in the last year alone.
Major rewilding projects include Wild Ken Hill farm in Norfolk, which is rewilding 1,000 acres of marginal land, including bringing in beavers to an enclosed area, alongside 2,000 acres of nature-friendly agriculture and 500 acres of freshwater marsh.
In Dumfries and Galloway, the Langholm Initiative charity aims to create a new nature reserve on Langholm Moor by purchasing 10,500 acres of land – valued at £6 million – from Buccleuch Estates.
Rewilding Britain said bold action to restore nature is needed to reverse a crisis in which 56% of studied British species have declined and 15% are at risk of extinction.
Large-scale increases in woodland and restoring peatland are also needed to curb greenhouse gases which cause climate change, and will help rebuild the economy in a greener way after the pandemic.
Rewilding Britain warns that species from red squirrels to capercaillie are at risk, and wildlife making a comeback, from pine martens to sea eagles, are doing so only slowly.
Rewilding habitats including native forests, rivers, moorlands and saltmarshes, and boosting wildlife-friendly farming, can be achieved without losing productive farmland, the organisation argues.
Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s chief executive, said: “We need to hit the reset button for our relationship with the natural world, and rebuild our lives and economies in ways that keep nature and us healthy.
“Our Rewilding Network will help propel rewilding to a whole new level – so we can all begin to enjoy a Britain rich in wildlife again, with healthy living systems soaking up millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, and our lives enriched by wild nature and strong resilient communities, regenerative farms and nature-friendly businesses.”
A £25,000 crowdfunding appeal has been set up for the start-up costs of the network, which will be launched later this year.