Counting on …day 1.113

17th May 2023

Yorkshire Rewilding comments “Whether you have a patio, an allotment, a grand estate or oodles of passion, you CAN make a difference. Rewilding works at every scale. The real power lies in joining the dots — connecting the places and people working towards a common goal: a Yorkshire teeming with life at every level.”

The same is true for other areas. Here in Richmond parks and various streams and rivers, including the Thames forms a network of green spaces and green corridors which favours biodiversity. Richmond is also an area with plenty of gardens and allotments and they too could be areas for re-wilding and nature positive cultivation. The London Wildlife Trust writes “There are over three million gardens in Greater London – 3,267,174 to be precise. That’s an area of 37,942.09 hectares*. In the face of climate change and habitat fragmentation, this massive expanse of green space has enormous untapped potential for both people and wildlife. However, worrying research by London Wildlife Trust shows that London’s gardens are changing from green to grey.”

They also have plenty of practical suggestions –

Green Tau: issue 68

Green and pleasant land

6th May 2023

I have recently spent a few days away in Settle in North Yorkshire. Settle is a small and active town, located on the Settle to Carlisle railway so easily accessible by train. Whilst here we have enjoyed exploring the local area follow some of the numerous footpaths. The Yorkshire Dales are traditionally appreciated as vast expanses of open moorland, green fields crisscrossed with dry stone walls, and sheep! And that is certainly what you find here. Being spring, the fields are full of lambs – gambling about in pairs but still keeping in close proximity to mum.

But it hasn’t always been so. In the past farming was more diverse and included beef and dairy cattle,  poultry, and arable crops, as well as the cultivation of trees such as willows for basket making. Diversity in farming lends itself to diversity in the environment. One writer commenting on current biodiversity in the Yorkshire Dales, noted that more diversity is to be found along the roadsides and  verges than in the fields. From my observation that is true – on a roadside I might count as many as a dozen plants (I am no expert) in few meters, whereas in the fields I was seeing just the occasional dandelion and celandine amidst the short cropped grass. Sheep do eat everything! Even more rewarding where the sections of footpath, river and railway banks where all grazing animals had been excluded. Here there were bluebells, primroses, cowslips, violets, lady’s smock, buttercups, daisies, and wood anemones – and in large number!

Sheep farming has become a monoculture form of agriculture and it is to the detriment of biodiversity. In some areas, tree planting is happening which benefits biodiversity. Over the couple of  days we were walking we saw only one pair of buzzards and they were circling above a copse (which may have been coincidental). Elsewhere we came across a notice telling us that trees had been planted on the banks of the Ribble to shade the water to mitigate the effects of rising temperatures. If water temperatures rise above 22C for a week or more fish die! The Ribble is currently still home trout and salmon.

Without sheep the landscape would return to a mix of grass and woodland – and would therefore also be a greater storer of carbon. Such a landscape would be as attractive for walkers. Walkers and tourism is an important part of the local economy, but can it bring in enough money to support a rich and diverse local economy? One of the things that sadden me as we walked, were the disused barns and farm houses. The smaller farms may have ceased to be economic some while ago, and equally with a shift from mixed farming to sheep farming with bought-in animal feed, many of these buildings are surplus to requirement and inconveniently placed vis a vis roads and services. Could they become homes for people who prefer to work remotely? This is apparently one way in which remote islands are gaining an influx of younger people. Or should we accept their decline as part of the natural cycle and see them as potential new habitats in the same way that dead trees support an ongoing stream of life as they decay into their locality?

Should we, as tax payers, pay farmers to become nature wardens? They could enable the rewilding of greater parts of the landscape, repair the dry stone walls – which are as a valid part of our heritage as ancient castles – maintain pathways and mark them at regular intervals to encourage people to use not just the well-known routes  but the lesser used ones too. In essence such people would be employed to maintain the health of our environment and be as important as those in the NHS who maintain people’s health. 

My husband is a railway enthusiast so we took the train to see the Ribblehead viaduct. Now embedded into its moorland environment, where the grasses and mosses have covered over any remaining marks of the building site that enabled its construction, it is a thing of beauty. It is an industrial artefact that has come to lend grandeur to an otherwise commonplace wild landscape. It is probably as much photographed as the nearby Three Peaks. I wonder if this windswept area could also absorb into its identity silvery white turbine blades. Wind farms could generate energy to support the local economy – and maybe too, an electrified railway line. 

For further reading:-

Counting on … day 1.066

9th March 2023

In Scotland a local community has bought land from the Buccleuch estate in order to rewild the land restoring its habitat to support enhanced biodiversity. 


Who: Langholm Initiative: Margaret Pool (former Chair); Jenny Barlow (Estate Manager)
Where & when: Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, from 2019
What: Community buyout of former grouse moor to be managed as a nature reserve
How: Clearing conifer plantations; creating new woodlands; conserving precious habitats and fostering nature recovery, planning new sustainable economic activities
Future potential income: Tourism, educational and research activities, regenerative farming, possible renewable power
Ecosystem benefits: Nature recovery on over-grazed hillsides; conservation of rare valley woodland; peat restoration; wetland conservation; soil recovery; flood prevention.

A different world is possible!

Counting on … day 1:033

2nd February 2023

Support wildlife and rewilding projects to increase biodiversity, and improve the health of our environment and our own selves. The RSPB, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, the National Trust, the Woodlands Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, A Rocha, plus even more local groups such as the Friends of Palewell Common are part of a growing trend to take responsibly our all calling to care for the natural world.

For further thoughts on rewilding –

Counting on … day 423

30th December 2022

12 Days of Hope

Reintroducing previously native species such as the beaver. Beavers are useful members of our natural ecosystem especially in shaping and managing rivers and preventing flooding. Beavers, hunted to extinction 400 years ago, have been reintroduced into the wild in about 20 locations across the UK.

Counting on …day 422

29th December 2022

12 Days of Hope

Rewilding allows nature to re-establish itself in our land and marine landscapes in ways that improves the health of the environment and our health as part of the ecosystem. There are over 80 such projects in the UK. The following website shows the impact rewilding can have.

Counting on …day 419

26th December 2022

12 days of hope. 

Today’s Guardian reported on the rewilding of Swindale Beck: ‘For Schofield, an ecologist who is senior site manager at the RSPB in Haweswater, restoring the natural process to the beck was emotional work. “The stream as it was just looked like a canal, with stone banks and levees built up as time passed from years of dredging and dumping material on the sides. So we had to be quite interventionist ourselves, using diggers, creating a channel, removing spoil. For many conservation projects you do not see the results for a very long time, but with this one, we completed it on a Friday. It rained all weekend and on the Monday when we went to look at the beck, there was just this completely restored river, that curved and meandered and looked like it had been there for ever. It was a really powerfully emotional moment.” Within about three months, the rewards continued as salmon began spawning again in the gravel bed, made possible by the slowing down of the stream and the creation of still pools and shallows. Schofield said the restoration had improved numbers of common sandpiper, kingfishers, dippers and grey herons and increased the diversity of invertebrates in the stream.’

Similar rewilding projects are happening across the country including our nearby Beverley Brook. It’s name means beaver meadows indicating who used to inhabit its waters. 

 Counting on…day 355

21st October 2022

O what joy! The first baby bison in thousands of years has be born in the UK at the Knepp rewilding project. The three female bison arrived at the project in July but unknown to everyone one was carrying a calf.

The Green Tau: issue 53

23rd September 2022

If we all went vegan what would happen to all the cows? 

This seems to be a frequent concern amongst those who are not vegan. If people didn’t eat meat or drink milk, would cows become extinct? 

The question is one of genuine concern but raises some other questions in response. For example what life does a cow have? Dairy cows will commence their milking life aged 2 when their first calf will be removed from her care within hours of birth.  She will then give birth once year, being milked for ten months producing quantities of milk (on average 8000 litres) greatly in excess of what a calf would consume. After 2.5 -4 years, when her milking yields drop, she will be slaughtered. The usual life expectancy of a cow is 20 years. Of her offspring, males calves will have a limited life to be slaughtered as veal at 5 – 7 months. Of her female calves most will follow in this mother’s footsteps unless they are deformed or ill, in which case they too will be slaughtered. 

Very few farmed cattle enjoy a full life. By contrast cattle kept on re-wilded land, although smaller in number, live a much more natural life. In the Lake District re-wilding projects are in place at Haweswater, Ennerdale and the Lowther Estate, whilst in Sussex there is the now famous Knepp Estate. According to Rewilding Britain 112,166 hectares of land are now part of a re-wilding project. 

So no, cows would not become extinct but would be kept in much smaller numbers – just as rare breeds of many farm animals are being conserved. 

In 2020 there were 9.36 million head of cattle in the UK. It was not always so! Originally there were only the early forebears of cattle, the aurochs. Overtime cattle were domesticated and as the human population of the UK grew so did the number of cattle. Selective breeding improved and diversified the      cattle with some favoured for milk production and others for meat. As the human and domestic animal populations increased, so the amount of uncultivated land and wildlife decreased: the auroch was hunted to extinction in the UK about 3000 years ago; the brown bear became extinct in the 6th century whilst the wolf hung on until the 17th century. What is true for the UK is also true world wide. Whilst once humans and domesticated animals were once nonexistent, they now comprise 36% and 60% of the biomass of all mammals, leaving just 4% as wild animals (biomass measures the quantity of a species by its mass rather than its numerical quantity).

Rather than it being a question of ‘what would happen to all the cows?’ perhaps the question should be ‘what has happened to all the wild animals?’ The State of Nature Report of 2019noted that since the 1970s, 41% of UK wildlife has declined, and that 26% of the UK’s mammals are at risk of becoming extinct. Re-wilding more of our land would help reverse this decline and allow for the reintroduction of lost species such as the lynx and the stork.

Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to feed livestock, including both grazing land and the land used to grow animal feed. In the UK 40% of the land (9.74 million hectares) comprisespermanent grazing, 6%  temporary grazing (1 – 5 years) and 5%  rough grazing. Only 20% of the land is used for arable crops. Even so home grown animal feed is supplemented by imports – somewhere in the region of 50%.

Globally the 77% of land used for grazing and feeding farm animals, produces only 18% of the world’s food calories. At the same time this major land use contributes more than half of the carbon footprint of our global food production. If everyone globally were to eat the same amount of meat as the average British person (approx 85g per day), then the amount of farm land needed would have to increase – putting even more pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. And if everyone were to eat as much meat as the average American, we would run out of land.

Reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products would release more arable land for growing more sustainably a great variety of plant-based proteins with the potential to improve the diets and health of billions of people world wide (subject to a radical improvement of trade and wealth distribution systems). Research the by the UN suggests that with fewer cases of lower coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, a global vegan diet would also result in 8.1 million fewer deaths per year worldwide.

Britons have in fact already reduced their meat consumption by 17% over the last decade. The Government’s Food Strategy has the target of reducing that by 30% by 2030. This target has been set  in recognition of the adverse affect meat production has on both climate change and the environment, as well as the link between the consumption of red and processed meat the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Looking to the future, there will be fewer cows – but hopefully they will be enjoying a happier life – and instead more land used to restore greater biodiversity. 

Further reading 

Counting on day 230 

1st July 2022

According to the UN’s Global Climate Action newsletter, declining biodiversity is an increasingly acute problem. “The faster we degrade and lose biodiversity, the worst climate change, and the food crisis, will grow. The sooner we act to protect, conserve, sustainably use and regenerate nature within the 2020s, the stronger our chances of reaching net zero emissions before 2050 and becoming resilient to impacts we can’t hold back.” 

Reducing our consumption of meat will alleviate declining biodiversity by reducing the pressure on the amount of farm land needed to produce the food we eat and freeing up land that can be re-wilded.