Reintroducing life into National Parks

2 August 2018

Derek Gow, farmer ecologist and reintroduction specialist, looks at the case for reintroducing beavers and other species in our National Parks to restore the missing stanzas in the song of life. #summerofbeauty

Beavers are the bringers of life. Linger by a dam system on a warm sunny day. Relax in the long grass and set free your mind. Keep your eyes open for at least a little while to delight in the tumbling pastel of butterflies. Revel in the metallic iridescence of demoiselles as they whir through the air.  Marvel at a myriad of flowers. Smell their infused scents on sighs of warm air. Close your eyes and while the perfume still lingers its significance is soon subordinated by sound.

Trilling, thrumming, cracking, croaking, chirruping, gnawing, splashing, buzzing, tinkling, slithering and mewing all together combine in a vibrant harmony to sing a song.

The song of life.

Beavers in our National Parks?

Could we soon be seeing beavers in our National Parks? Photo credit: Steve Rubenstein, via Pixabay

While the song sounds strange in our modern world for most who care to listen its surprisingly familiar. It’s an ancient rhythm. Our ancestors knew that the song meant life and that they could live and hunt well where its rhythm beat loud.

Pollution, drainage, overgrazing, deforestation and vicious persecution have globally ensured that it’s once ubiquitous crescendo is reduced to a near-death ping of life support.  

I believe the rewilding movement is the way forward for National Parks. While I accept the basic premise that on a small island like Britain our land use must be contested. The arguments advanced against the movement by the likes of Rory Stewart both in his blog and at the Rewilding the Uplands conference in July in London to defend the status quo are those of the past. And they don’t stack up.  

But what does re-wilding actually mean? Although it can’t be free roaming moose or bears, it might mean vultures feeding on dead dairy calves provided to them on Dartmoor to the delight of bird watchers who pay to fill farmer’s hides or white tailed eagles soaring above fishing boats in the Solent. The delivered myths that Rewilding is spreading from the rebuilt ‘wildernesses” of Yellowstone like a contagion onto the Cumbrian plain are therefore nonsense. The life-filled landscape of the Knepp Castle Estate in East Sussex demonstrates quite clearly that Re-wilding can accomplish much. This project is measured, sensible and balanced.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

It's a myth that rewilding is spreading the kind of wilderness seen in Yellowstone National Park (pictured), for example, says Derek Gow. Photo credit: Chloe Leis via Unsplash.

Rewilding is scary for some not because of bears, wolves or Lynx but because of a much deeper fear of change.

Our National Parks should be full of life. One of their founding aims after all was to conserve and enhance nature. Can we really say in honesty that we have achieved this goal? From the moors of the north to our lowlands, wildlife has haemorrhaged from the landscape. Look at maps of Dartmoor in the 1840’s and you will find the spots where the golden and white tailed eagles, the spoonbills, the cranes, the bustards, the pine martens, the wild cats and polecats could still be found.

Common species like water voles were not even recorded then but now even these little creatures are like all the others very long gone.

New thinking is essential: there is not much life left and much to do if it is to be restored on a credible scale.

Beavers are a practicable prospect. By rewetting landscapes they not only rehydrate soils, streams, rivers and aquifers they also rehydrate life. While the broadest guild of what survives responds to their restoration with gusto to burgeon miraculous old relationships may also reform. Last year the first black stork which could possibly have fed in the fish rich pools of a beaver generated landscape in Britain in millennia was photographed in Scotland. This near extinct species in a western European context is now following the beavers return there as a breeding bird to recover its range in countries like Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Beavers can transform a landscape

Beavers can transform a landscape says Derek Gow. Photo credit: AliciaJA via Unsplash.

When it finds its mate in a deep, dark forest and they settle on their high beech nest these splendid ebony and ivory birds throw back their necks in adulation and clatter their crimson bills. On occasion with the right wind this sound can be heard for miles. Clattering has been an absent part of Britain’s life song for centuries. Extinguished, vanquished and slain.

If we want to can restore this missing stanza in the life we are living now. We could unearth long lost instruments from their imprisonment in dusty cases to re-play a melody we will recall in its opening chords. It’s the song of life!

Derek Gow,

Follow him on twitter at @gow_derek