Rewilding plan – just do nothing

If you know the Cambrian Mountains you’ll probably agree that they could do with a few more trees. I spent the last weekend, but one, there and its big views and dramatic sunsets are inspiring, but it’s a landscape that could do with some TLC.

So, a plan to rewild one hillside just south of Machynlleth sounds interesting, and turn out to be something of a blueprint for the future of the more marginal bits of upland Wales.

For it to happen the charities involved (Coed Cadw, the Woodland Trust, and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) need to raise £150,000 by the end of this month. They already have £200,000, but need to find another £150,000.oak seedling

If it works out the land – 142ha (352 acres) of it – will be the first step towards a grand plan to restore the area’s native woodland.

The land has been on the market for a number of years and  hasn’t been grazed. In the absence of livestock natural regeneration is already happening. The plan is to sit back and let that process continue.

Eventually it’s thought that around a third of Cefn Coch will become open woodland. The mix of oak, birch and rowan should be just the thing for a range of birds and animals, including pine martens.

Find out more about the project on the Cefn Coch page on the Woodland Trust website.

So, how much for ‘the best horse’?

You can’t always trust Giraldus Cambrensis (aka Gerald of Wales), the 12th Century clergyman/civil servant who wrote about his travels in Ireland and Wales. Travel writers often put a bit of a gloss on experiences to keep their readers on the hook.

So, you have to take it with a pinch of salt when he says: “Ireland has badgers but not beavers. In Wales beavers are to be found only in the Teifi river near Cardigan.” Not sure about Ireland’s badgers, but it’s interesting to learn a little about beavers and the Wales of 800 years ago.

He might have been wrong that the Teifi was the home of the only population, but I reckon his observation suggests biber-drawingthat Wales didn’t have many beavers left by that time. Which is understandable given that under the laws of Hywel Dda beaver pelts were rated so highly that a single animal was valued as being worth as much as ‘the best horse’.

I do most of my kayaking on the Teifi close to Cardigan. It’s a marvellous stretch of river to paddle, with plenty to see. On just about every trip there are kingfishers and dippers, while from time to time there’s an encounter with an otters.

Beavers would fit in very nicely. Hopefully, Natural Resources Wales will soon approve an application from the Welsh Beaver Project for a trial release of 10 beavers. If it happens, that release won’t be on the Teifi, but is likely to be somewhere in the Rheidol catchment in Ceredigion.

You can have your say about beaver reintroduction in Britain here. I’ve just finished working through the questionnaire myself. It’s part of a project that is being run by the University of Exeter and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

What they’re trying to do is get an idea of how the public feel about reintroduction. That may act as a counter-weight to the landowning and angling lobbies; my guess is that Joe Public is likely to be more positive about the project.

I don’t want to undermine what the Exeter researchers are trying to do, so I won’t critique each point here. But I did find myself responding to questions that I couldn’t really answer in the little boxes provided.

Why should reintroduction happen? For me, it’s because it’s the right thing to do. My feeling is that we should try to make good damage that’s been done to ecosystems is a gut thing. It’s a question of what’s right, and what isn’t.

But when you get drawn into a debate about detail it all gets so… functional. You can’t say that something is right on its own terms, it has to be argued as a ‘good’ in a cost-benefit kind of way.

You know the sort of thing: We reintroduced the birdy or beastie (or whatever) and look how it has boosted the area’s tourist economy. Our B&Bs are doing a roaring trade, so that buys the bird or beast its place in ‘our’ landscape.

I understand why it happens. If you’re dealing with people who know the cost of everything, but are hazy on real value, it helps to speak a language that they understand.

However, my feeling is that when you go down the road of talking about ‘natural capital’ and ‘ecosystem services’ you lose your way. If you’ve a moment, take a look at the transcript of this speech by George Monbiot. It sets out a really cogent argument against a way of thinking that monetises nature.

Mind you, I suppose that’s what Hywel’s lawyers were up to.