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Rewilding Britain’s lost landscapes

The opportunity to visit locations where rewilding projects to bring back native habitats and species are in action is an idea to consider this year.

In particular, at Knepp Estate in West Sussex, where the concept of rewilding has been most significantly developed, you can encounter herds of wild ponies, cattle, deer and pigs as they roam 3,500 acres of Sussex, driving the forces of habitat regeneration. Vehicle-based safaris or guided walking tours allow you to experience a profusion of birds, mammals, butterflies, beetles, reptiles, plants and fungi in a setting that feels as wild and dynamic as the African bush. Bespoke three-hour safaris can be offered using two vehicles, both seating a maximum of 13 guests. Alternatively, three-hour walking safaris cater for up to 15 guests per guide.

There are 16 miles of public and permissive footpaths within the Knepp rewilding project and five tree viewing-platforms, close to public footpaths, offering wonderful panoramas of the surrounding countryside. There is also a bird-hide overlooking Knepp Lake. You can even stay in one of a collection of treehouses, shepherd’s huts, tents and yurts, or simply pitch your own in an exclusive Wildland campsite. For reasons of safety and to ensure quiet observation of the wildlife, the site operates a 12yrs+ policy on safaris and within the campsite.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust has a wider Wilder Sussex campaign aiming to highlight the serious decline in British wildlife and set out a plan for recovery. Part of this is to encourage simple rewilding initiatives like cutting the 250,000 miles of road verges across the UK less often to allow roadside meadows to be created where wildlife can thrive. Sites within the Trust which have been allowed to develop into wilder landscapes with less management include The Mens, a large area of ancient woodland in the Low Weald, and Ebernoe Common, dominated by old wood pasture where people would once have turned out their cattle or pigs to graze. The site became overgrown and over the last 40 years or so, Sussex Wildlife Trust has tried to open up the glades once more and restored grazing to the reserve.

In South London, the Wandle Trust is restoring the river it is named after from an urban sewer poisoned by bleach and dyes from the 90 mills along its length in the 19th century back to its former glory as a beautiful chalk stream. Almost all the world’s chalk streams are found in England, and they are rare and threatened habitats. The Trust has been putting back features that harboured life in the river, which had been pulled out by overzealous engineers. It runs community cleanups every month, enlisting people to remove the junk dumped in the water, and creating passages through the weirs to enable eels to migrate upstream. Children in local schools have been raising trout to restock the river and they have been encouraged to start playing in it once more.

Cambrian Wildwood (above) is a local community initiative dedicated to seeing the return of the natural wonders of Wales. The project aims to restore native habitats and bring back lost native animals including pine marten, red squirrel, and eventually wild boar and beaver. The initial focus is on 750 acres of degraded upland valley and moorland. The project aims to reconnect people with nature by providing rich experiences in wild landscapes. Trails and wild camping zones are planned, with a range of activities for everyone to enjoy, including programmes for schools and groups who don’t normally engage with nature.

You can find out more about the variety of rewilding projects in action across the UK at www.rewildingbritain.org.uk

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