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Back from the Brink!

This week’s blog post is all about rewilding through re-introduction of species into an environment they formerly inhabited but have been driven from due to human activity. It’s a delicate business, rebalancing ecosystems, requiring lots of background research, collaboration between stakeholders, and ensuring the environment is still suitable for the species to be brought back. But when rewilding works, it can create wonders!

One of the most successful wildlife reintroductions in the UK has to be the red kite. These birds were driven to near extinction in the early 1900s and are subject to the longest continuous conservation project in the world! In the 90’s, red kites were transported from hotspots in Wales, Sweden, Germany and Spain and released in specific locations suitable for rewilding in Scotland and England. Since then, the birds have established successful breeding populations and have become a welcome sight across our skies!

Red kite in Oxfordshire ©Lawrence Eagling

More recently, the rewilding of beavers has been hitting the headlines, with trial reintroductions of these large herbivores taking place at sites across the UK. The species was hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th century, and aside from the initial joy of being able to return a native species to our landscape, there are many other benefits from bringing this species back! Beavers are natural architects of their landscapes, creating wetland habitats through building dams. These are hugely beneficial to wildlife, boosting biodiversity and improving water quality, but they also reduce flooding risks and help slow the movements of water downstream avoiding drought and flooding boom and bust cycles. Beavers have been reintroduced now across parts of Scotland, Wales and England. Most of these are licenced and managed within large pens to monitor their effects on the landscape, but a couple of areas have wild beavers (from accidental or unlicensed release) including the River Otter in Devon. The initial signs from the semi-wild and wild beavers so far is highly encouraging and hopefully it won’t be long before we are seeing them more widely across the UK and Ireland!

Another recent reintroduction that has potential to help sustain a species driven to near extinction is that of the pine marten! Pine martens were once an important and widespread species in UK and Irish woodlands. In Gloucestershire, new reintroductions are taking place as the last recording of a pine marten in the Forest of Dean was 1860! In later 2019, 18 martens were relocated from Scotland to Gloucestershire and are now living wild in the forest, with successful breeding already noted. The long-term monitoring programme will follow them closely (using radio collars) to assess the population recovery!

The reintroduction of these formally common species is a major step forward in our green recovery, increasing biodiversity and maintaining ecological balance. But it’s a challenge to introduce the right species to the right locations and to ensure that the scientific research has been done so that the animals can again flourish in their native habitat. These amazing success stories highlight how conservation really can make a difference, offering real inspiration and hope for a more environmentally friendly future!

Appreciating some of our native birds this week! ©Lawrence Eagling


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