The network’s latest member has community involvement at its heart. Through habitat and species restoration work it is reconnecting people with nature, while revitalizing an ecologically impoverished landscape.
Cambrian Wildwood (Coetir Anian) is the first European Rewilding Network (ERN) member from Wales, UK. The 140-hectare site situated in the Cambrian Mountains is dominated by moorland, with far-reaching views towards the sea. It is an area that contains precious remnants of ancient woodland known as Celtic Rainforest, as well as expanses of blanket bog. The grassroots initiative began as an idea in the minds of a handful of local residents. With a background in forestry, its Director Simon Ayres witnessed the thinning out of wildlife first hand and decided that something had to be done. He put on public talks in the area to shine a spotlight on the problem, and gradually got a group of volunteers together who began to raise money to buy some of the land.
Letting nature lead
Wild Konik horses have been introduced as a proxy for the extinct European tarpan. Their grazing helps to restore areas of heathland and meadow, and creates more favourable conditions for the natural regeneration and colonisation of the native woodland, with their principles of land management rooted in minimal intervention. Two thousand native trees have already been planted as a seed source without fencing or guards on steep ground, or under the cover of vegetation to evade herbivory. Over time, woodland will reclaim the slopes of this treeless landscape. Drainage ditches have also been blocked to allow swathes of purple moor grass to revert gradually to blanket bog.
Simon Ayres, Director of Cambrian Wildwood, expressed the initiative’s enthusiasm about joining the European Rewilding Network: “We are very proud to be the first initiative in Wales to be in the ERN. Acceptance to the Network is a massive boost to our project, giving us valuable recognition and connecting us to a network of really inspirational rewilding initiatives around Europe.”
Reinstating missing species
This initiative is unique for Wales in its holistic approach to ecosystem restoration, and there are ambitious plans for species reintroduction, pending feasibility studies and the regeneration of suitable habitat. Species being considered include water vole, red squirrel, mountain hare, beaver and wildcat. Wales’s pine marten population has also been reinforced in recent years, with releases at sites not far from Cambrian Wildwood. The return of horses and cattle as wildlife species in their own right – not simply as habitat management tools – is a novel perspective in the area, and all internal fencing has been removed.
The Cambrian Wildwood team introduced wild horses in April and June 2018 and now have a herd of nine roaming the land, breaking up tussocks of grass and opening up the soil. During the summer months, Highland cattle join the horses to assist with grazing. Other large herbivores are part of a longer-term plan and subject to proper investigation of the appropriateness and practicalities. Restoring habitat to create the right conditions for bringing back some of the lost animal species is key. This may be achieved by natural regeneration; for example, it is expected that bird species will be attracted to the area as the habitats are restored and expanded.
Engaging with nature
Connecting people of all ages and backgrounds with nature is of deep importance to Cambrian Wildwood. It is first and foremost a community resource, where local people can participate in an activity set in their local landscape, or use the site for recreation, in a place where they can feel they belong, where they do not need to pay for the privilege. Many people are cut off from the land and have a longing to engage with nature, but often feel like intruders in the landscape. This initiative seeks to redress this imbalance in Wales – connection with the land should not be the preserve of an elite minority, it is the right of all people.
Cambrian Wildwood runs education and wellbeing activities on-site, with an emphasis on being immersed in a wilder landscape. They work with local schools, holding day events and longer camps for teenagers, young carers, people from deprived urban areas, asylum seekers and people in addiction recovery.
The initiative brings people to the site who do not normally experience wild nature. Cambrian Wildwood consistently observes the restorative power of nature to improve mental health and fill people with optimism and admiration for the natural world. With the considerable and invaluable collective experience of the ERN, their inspiring work can be amplified in the years to come.
A platform for exchange
Today rewilding is gaining momentum as a progressive and effective approach to conservation in Europe. Underpinning this trend, the burgeoning European Rewilding Network continues to foster collaboration and amplify results.
Founded by Rewilding Europe in 2013, the aim of the ERN is to enhance the efforts of each member by facilitating the exchange of skills, insight and experience. Members meet regularly, usually via webinar, while nature-based businesses can also apply to Rewilding Europe Capital, Rewilding Europe’s enterprise loan facility.
Rewilding Europe extends a warm welcome to all European rewilding initiatives that focus on practical, result-oriented rewilding and encourages them to apply for ERN membership.