Releasing the Wild
I have t ied to argue the case in the last two chapters that we need to think more creatively about conservation. We need to understand and work to sustain the linkages between species and ecosystems that comprise biodiversity, and underpin the natural beauty of the countryside, and we need to use techniques of habitat creation and reconstruction innovatively and on a large scale. In the past fifty years, conservation in the UK has been restricted in its imagination. -411 the enormous energy sunk into conservation efforts has been focused on a small conceptual and spatial canvas, addressing in particular the many complex problems of protected areas. We need to begin to envisage conservation anew, working at the scale of the landscape. We should capture some of the spirit of the Wildlands Project in the USA, a proposal for creative conservation on a continental scale. This argues, in unashamedly emotional terms, that we need to "heal" the land, to "allow the recovery of whole ecosystems and land~ca~es".~
I have spoken in Chapter Eight of the potential for work of this kind. On a small scale, existing measures such as Countryside Stewardship or Tir Cymen (or even set-aside if it was managed differently) allow some measure of habitat reconstruction. We can also begin to create specific habitats, on nature reserves or degraded land, or in cities. There is no reason not to see these ideas grow in boldness and extent. Existing measures are already being put together at the scale of the landscape, for example in the Countryside Commission's National Forest. This will not recreate the forest where an apocryphal squirrel could run from Severn to Wash without touching the ground, but there are going to be a great many trees. In theory there will be about 30 million of them, planted on private land (by private landowners) across 500 square kilometres of the English Midlands. The result will be a patchwork, still a fragmented landscape, but with every piece of the mosaic that is improved, the space for nature is increased. It is still early days, but this idea shows boldness and imagination.3 Other initiatives offer a similar promise. In the fenland of East Anglia, for example, a project to re-create fenland habitats, Wet Fens for the Future, is being developed collaboratively by local authorities and governmental and non-governmental b ~ d i e s . ~ Conservation needs more such imaginative thinking.