Hunting is a contentious subject and can raise a lot of emotions on both sides. But moving aside from the morality of hunting, what is the effect on the environment of releasing captive-bred gamebirds like pheasants and red-legged partridges?
Our friends over at Wild Justice have been working for years for tighter controls on gamebird releases close to protected sites, because of the hugely detrimental effect that a large amount of non-native gamebirds can have on our ecosystems. They have been looking at why licences are being granted for release, against the recommendations of environmental experts.
Native or not, dumping a lot of birds all at once in an area can overwhelm ecosystems. Estimates range up to about 60 million birds just for shooting a year. For reference, we’ve lost 73 million wild birds since 1970. If our countryside can sustain so many, then why is it that we have 60 million pheasants and grouse instead of beloved native species like the turtle dove and the hen harrier?
This amount of birds can overwhelm native wild populations by taking food that other birds or mammals would have eaten, and also by eating frogs and lizards, which are in decline across the UK, and specifically linked to pheasants. Our small mammal, reptile and amphibian populations are being decimated.
Along with taking food that could be feeding our British wildlife, pheasants and grouse are themselves food for mid-range carnivores such as foxes. The abundant numbers mean that the numbers of these midsize predators has sky-rocketed, artificially inflated by the captive-bred birds. The large amount of predators are then able to predate on other species, such as curlew.
Lead ammunition used in shooting contaminates and pollutes the soil and water, as well as the droppings. With avian flu around, having such a vast amount of free-ranging birds, especially near Special Protected Areas, means that diseases are more likely to be spread.
All of these things make it clear that the way and the scale at which pheasant and grouse shooting is done at the moment is incompatible with rewilding. If we want healthy habitats capable of sustaining native species, with balanced levels all along the predator / prey range, then this can’t continue. If we want to rewild, that means putting natural processes in place that will benefit many species. Releasing 60 million non-native birds into that doesn’t work.
There have been arguments that habitats maintained for gamebirds can have positive ecological effects by maintaining woodlands and hedgerows. However, if we as a country delivered on our commitment to rewild 30% of the country, then woodlands and hedgerows would be abundant without the necessity of releasing invasive species just to be shot.
There needs to be a serious review of what is happening with these licences and what our priority as a country is. Is it rewilding our habitats and restoring native wildlife? Or hunting?
DARTMOOR IS DYING, ITS WILDLIFE IS DECLINING AND DISAPPEARING, AND THE TIME TO DO SOMETHING IS NOW. WILL YOU BE A VOICE FOR NATURE?
Let's march for a wild Dartmoor on SATURDAY 30th SEPTEMBER!
Most of the land on Dartmoor is owned by Prince William. We need the Prince to publicly commit to restore nature on his land.
So, on Saturday 30th September you are invited to gather together with thousands of local people to lay down the gauntlet to REWILD YOUR LAND, OR RELEASE IT TO PUBLIC OWNERSHIP!
And guess what... our efforts are starting to make a difference already!
This July, a petition with over 71,000 signatures (and counting), triggered a response. The Prince agreed to double the size of Wistman’s Wood! But...
...Wistman’s Wood accounts for just 0.01% of the Dartmoor land under Prince William’s control. In a climate and nature emergency, 0.01% isn't leadership, it's just small potatoes.
With your help, we can encourage the Prince to show true leadership and commit to restoring nature on all his land.
LET'S CELEBRATE NATURE WITH A DAY OF...
~Music & dance
~Storytelling & performances
~Face painting & family fun
~Local mythology & folklore
~Talks from the scientists & local experts
~And much more!
PLANS FOR THE DAY
We want the day to be inclusive, rewarding and enjoyable for everyone. We’ll add more information here for where and when to meet, what to bring and crucially… what costume to plan!
WHAT DO WE WANT?
We're calling on the Prince to publicly commit to:
Without a public commitment to take these steps to restore nature on his land, we ask that it be released into public ownership.
Click here to attend the Facebook event.
Following our 100,000 signature petition, the Crown Estate has made its first tentative steps towards rewilding! But, as the nature crisis worsens, there is still a long, long way to go…
Whilst the role of Big Energy is now well understood in the climate and nature crisis, the role of Big Landowners still is not - but their role in averting a planetary catastrophe is just as crucial. One of the most important of the UK’s top 10 biggest landowners is an ancient and extraordinarily wealthy institution called The Crown Estate. The Crown Estate is legally speaking owned by the reigning monarch, but is ultimately a public body making it, at least in principle, answerable to the public. The Estate includes half the UK coastline, 200,000 acres of land (which is half the size of Greater London in Wales and England), and is worth £14 billion. Profits from the estate are split between the Royal Family in an annual payment known as The Sovereign Grant and the Treasury where the value is fed back into general public expenditure. In 2022/23, the Sovereign Grant, was a whopping £83.6 million, but with the other costs of the Queen’s passing, the coronation and works on Buckingham Palace, spending went up to £107.5 million, and is due to rise to £125 million in 2025!
Since 2021 we at Wild Card have been campaigning to “Rewild the Royals”, previously presenting a 100k+ petition with Chris Packham to the Queen at Buckingham Palace in October 2021. Following this, Wild Card and Chris Packham had a very positive meeting with The Crown Estate followed by a number of genuinely exciting meetings with members of the Estate’s sustainability team in which the Estates agreed to meet with the rewilding and climate experts we suggested to them.
Unfortunately since then our attempts to meet with them again, as was agreed, have been unsuccessful. We did however receive an email from them, detailing everything they’ve been up to in their annual report. We decided to wade through this rather large document and double-check that they’re doing what they claim to be doing!
And… in short: there are small reasons for Wild Card to celebrate! But there is also a massively long way to go.
Here’s our analysis of the main points:
Where The Crown Estate is Showing Progress
In a very exciting win for rewilding, The Crown Estate have announced that they will be releasing beavers in the Nene Wetlands in the winter of 2024/25.
Wild Card’s Take: This is a clear win for the Rewild the Royals campaign and the 100,000 people who supported it. Beavers are vital keystone species. Now the Estate needs to completely turbocharge this and work on getting hundreds of beavers releases and doing more ambitious species reintroductions such as pine marten, lynx, bison, cranes and eagles. We propose that the Crown Estate created a new post for an Executive Director of Rewilding and Species Reintroductions.
The Crown Estate set a target to reduce emissions, and have decreased across all their holdings by 2.5%, obtaining 98% of their energy (where they had control over the source) from renewables. They also have moved into the operational phase of their offshore windfarm, generating 11.8 GW in 2021/22.
Wild Card’s take: The Crown Estate are genuinely doing really great things for clean energy - particularly wind power - and as owners of much of the UK’s seabed, are making ever increasing profits from the green revolution. But their progress here throws into sharp relief their seeming blindness on the importance of land, the role of natural climate solutions like rewilding and the seriousness of the ecological crisis. By almost exclusively focusing their environmental efforts on energy and carbon emissions, they ignore the joined up nature of the climate and ecological crisis: something that can only be solved with large scale rewilding.
With the current trajectory of emissions, we are likely to hit the 1.5 degree barrier in 2034, with a 66% chance of hitting it in 2027. The Crown Estate is aiming for net zero across the business by 2050.
Wild Card’s Take: Net Zero by 2050 simply is not good enough, or fast enough. If we are going to reach Net Zero across the economy, landowners need to be carbon sinks not just carbon neutral. The Crown Estate should be working towards being a carbon sink by 2030 and aiming for much more than just balancing emissions.
The Crown Estate have purchased 21 eco-moorings to restore and protect Studland Bay’s seagrass and seahorse population (and enhance carbon sequestration).
Wild Card’s take: This is laudable, but, excuse the pun, a drop in the ocean. The Estate urgently needs to commit to an area based target Marine restoration ideally aiming for at least 50% of its seabed to be protected for nature and free from commercial fishing.
Rural - Natural Regeneration
At Windsor, The Crown Estate have a favourable status for all their SSSIs, and have committed to a ten year restoration plan, including planting shrubs and trees, creating new ponds and wetlands, managing invasive species and dead wood habitats, along with sustainable soil management.
Wild Card’s take: Nowhere in their annual report is natural regeneration mentioned, it is all tree-planting and creating wetlands (presumably with a digger). In the 156 page report the word “tree” in fact is mentioned only 4 times. By relying only on human intervention, it perpetuates the notion that nature needs our help to recover. Tree and hedgerow planting are great to get things moving, but The Crown Estate also needs to be able to step back, fence off areas and allow nature to do its thing.
Rural - Farming
The Crown Estate is establishing an environmental ‘Farm Business Tenancy’, to pivot nearly one third of land to regenerative farming techniques in next 5 years, and deliver ‘at scale habitat enhancement and restoration’.
Wild Card’s take: This is fantastic, but it’s not clear where the funding, support and advice is coming from. Moreover, “Regenerative farming” is notoriously undefined and as such has no necessary correlation with improved results for nature. What is urgently needed for nature is a land sparing approach in which large areas of land are fully relinquished from all extractive industry including farmings.
Rewilding - Area Based Targets
There is no mention of an area based target for rewilding and nature restoration as a percentage of the Crown Estate’s holdings.
Wild Card’s take: The UK has committed to protecting 30% of its land and sea by 2030 but according to figures by the House of Lords, is currently only protecting 6.5%! To meet this huge and ambitious target, large landowners like The Crown Estate must pledge at least 30% and ideally 50% of their land and seabed to rewilding.
In there own words;
“Tackling the nature and climate crises goes hand in hand and demands joined-up, rapid action to protect our natural environment and deliver long-term benefits. [...] Leading in stewarding the UK’s natural environment and nature is at the heart of our purpose and strategy. Our distinct portfolio – covering the seabed, urban and rural assets – provides a unique opportunity to promote nature recovery.”
The contrast between The Crown Estate and The Duchies is stark - where the land is being managed at least nominally for public good, we see real desire to implement policies and practices for change. Though these may fall short, these far outweigh what we see elsewhere in the royal landholdings. There’s poisoning and shooting of rare birds of prey at Sandringham, silence from the Duchy of Lancaster and insultingly small potatoes from the Duchy of Cornwall.
We applaud and support The Crown Estate for their efforts so far, but the behemoth of The Crown Estate still needs to be far more ambitious in its targets to be able to respond to the growing climate and biodiversity crisis, and stop ecocide. As an archaic institution with many layers of bureaucracy, the systems that are in place are not fit for purpose and clearly need to be completely overhauled to be able to respond efficiently to the biodiversity and climate crises.
Wild Card staged a protest at Kensington Palace this morning in response to the Duchy of Cornwall’s announcement earlier this month regarding the expansion of Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor.
The announcement from the Duchy to double the 3 hectares Wistman’s Wood by 2040 came after a petition launched by Wild Card and hosted by 38 Degrees reached over 70,000 signatures. The petition called on Prince William to ‘bring back Britain’s rainforests’ in His Royal Highness’s newly inherited estate, but the campaigners argue the recent announcement was underwhelming in the context of the climate and nature crisis.
According to our calculations, the 3 expanded hectares of Wistman’s Wood would therefore account for just 0.01% of this land - an area equivalent to less than 5 football pitches. Duchy of Cornwall land has some of the lowest tree coverage of any major UK landowner, with just 6% tree coverage compared to the national figure of 13%.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, one of the celebrity backers of the Wild Card campaign, said: “In inheriting the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince William has an enormous opportunity to resurrect one of the world’s rarest habitats and to walk the walk on his long standing environmental advocacy. Decisive action by the Prince to expand the rainforest fragments still remaining on Dartmoor would be an act of boldest optimism in the face of the ever worsening nature crisis.
I really think he could inspire a wave of rainforest restoration in Britain and beyond. By protecting and expanding these areas, the Prince could become a world-leading example of rainforest restoration.”
Megan Bentall, Head of Campaigns at 38 Degrees, said: “Prince William has the opportunity to do something incredible with the land that has been left to him. But taking seven years to restore just three of his 27,300 hectares is hardly the urgent action our environment needs.
At 38 Degrees, we campaign for a country that is more sustainable for everyone, for people and wildlife. Unlike Prince William, most of us don’t have the opportunity to rewild thousands of acres of land, but the 71,566 people who signed this petition are doing what they can to fight for a Britain where nature can thrive - and they won’t be fobbed off with a token gesture. It’s time for Prince William and the Royal family to do their part too.”
Ecologist and spokesperson for Wild Card, Emma Smart, said: “We’ve taken action today to highlight the disconnection between Prince William’s words and his cowardly actions. As the founder of the Earthshot prize he has shown he understands the urgent need to act on the nature and climate emergencies.
Prince William has said that ‘now is the time for each of us to show leadership’ and he was right. But addressing just 0.01% of his vast estate on Dartmoor, with a timeline of 2040, is not leadership, it’s just small potatoes. The British people deserve better from the royal family, who earn a substantial private income from their land every year, farmers deserve real consultation and future-proof planning, and local communities - thousands of whom signed our petition - deserve to be taken seriously.”
This Autumn hundreds of local people will march on the Duchy of Cornwall offices with Wild Card, to demand urgent action to rewild Dartmoor. This comes after Chris Packham and hundreds of school children marched on Buckingham Palace in 2021 delivering a 100,000 petition calling on the Royal Family to rewild their estates.
Hi, I’m Elena and I’ve just joined the Wild Card team, and I’m proud to now call myself a Wild Cardigan! I’m a writer and an artist, and currently retraining as an ecologist after years spent working in international events.
It’s a harsh world, the events world, that creates a lot of pollution and adds a heap of carbon to the atmosphere with all the flights and shipping of equipment, not to mention building events on land better left to nature. Unable to ignore the fact that the world my career was built on was an environmental disaster, as well as being complicit in sports-washing and green-washing, I decided that I needed to step back and forge a new path.
I’m lucky that I’ve come to Wild Card at such an exciting time, with ongoing discussions with the Crown Estate, and a well-supported campaign to get the Duchy of Cornwall to agree to rewild their land in Dartmoor, allowing our native temperate rainforests to spread their gnarled roots and twisted, lichen-covered branches up hillsides and along river valleys.
Nature has always been a grounding place for me, as it has for many of us. When the stress of the job got too much, going and planting my feet on the grass or splashing my face with wild river water allowed me to come back to earth. Walking to work in Switzerland across wildflower meadows early in the morning, and having close encounters with foxes, deer, mice and owls lifted my heart even as I headed to the office, and washed away the long day as I walked home again.
The science behind the effect that nature has on our nervous systems is well documented, with studies done looking into the benefits of forest bathing*, walking barefoot**, being by water*** and the calming and healing effects of the colours blue and green****. Being in nature and around animals has even been shown to help those suffering from severe mental health issues, such as being in the presence of bees to help veterans with PTSD*****.
But our connection to nature should be more than just breathing in the chemicals of the trees or feeling bare feet on the ground. We have lost our enchantment of the natural world. Sharon Blackie, author of The Enchanted Life, says that, “our growing modern malaise – anxiety, depression, disease and dis-ease, a multiplicity of dysfunctions – springs in good part from our alienation from the natural order of the world and from our natural selves.”
Once, every bird call, every flower, every tree would have held meaning for us as we went about our daily lives. Story, myth, legend and history was woven into the world around us, the big stone we pass on our way to work that the devil dropped, the river we cross where river sprites live. A rejuvenation of our folklore can help us connect more deeply to nature.
Dee Dee Chainey, folklorist and author says, “Folklore is often used to restore a sense of tribal identity based on quite a selective view of the past. Often this can be positive – tying people to the land around them, providing a sense of environmental responsibility and producing a social cohesion that leads to supporting others in the community”. There has been a big resurgence in recent years in folklore and folk custom, as a response to our growing disconnection from the places we live and the wonder of the natural world.
It can be hard in our modern world to switch off from our phones, the tech that pulls our focus. And with ever increasingly busy lives (despite the promise of industrialisation to give us more free time), finding time to go outside and simply be can seem impossible. There’s an old zen proverb that says, “you should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” We can say the same about spending time in nature. When I’m at my most frazzled, most busy, that is when I need the calming sound of the ocean or the sun and wind on my skin.
We can all reconnect to our local area and the nature there through spending time identifying our wildlife, our animals, plants, trees and flowers. We can read signs and tracks, and forage wild food. Even something as simple as gathering a few herbs and adding them to some home-cooked bread can ground us and connect us to the natural world around us. We can learn our local folklore and see what it tells us about the area, what animals and plants feature in them? Perhaps there are places named for the type of tree that used to make up a woodland in the area, or hints that owls once filled the night sky.
As I feel the call of the wild, I am trying to shift course and put all my skills and experience into leaving the world, in some small way, better than when I arrived. And considering the depletion of nature since the eighties, it would take some doing even just to leave it as good as when I arrived!
A part of my journey is taking part in the flagship rewilding training at Embercombe, with heavyweights of the field such as Derek Gow (the man that reintroduced beaver to the UK), Alan Watson Featherstone (founder of Trees for Life), Alastair Driver (Director of Rewilding Britain) and Cain Blythe (CEO of Ecosulis). With tutors like this, I am a sponge waiting to soak up the skills and knowledge I need to go out into the monoculture fields, empty skies and polluted rivers of the UK and start undoing some of the harm we’ve all contributed to.
So what could the future look like, if we returned our peatlands, temperate rainforest, fens and chalk river valleys to their natural state? What would it look like if we all had access to them? What would it look like if everything around us in the natural world had meaning for us, conjured stories and myths and histories? A future where Sherwood was a forest again, where we could hear the song of the nightingales, the call of the curlews, where we could see the dams of beavers and the footprints of lynxes?
We can have a future filled with the wonder and enchantment of nature, with better mental and physical health, a feeling of guardianship over the land and waters that we can all access, a sense of belonging and community, a new Merry Old England.
As each day passes, as we head towards the Coronation, we learn about more and more announcements coming from Buckingham Palace about actions that WE can take in honour of the King. These actions are increasingly shifting the responsibility to us, the "loyal subjects", to take action against the climate and ecological crisis.
Here at Wild Card we've pulled together a couple of small actions to help remind the King that whilst he's encouraging us to take action, he too, has a responsibility to act!
Print Some Bunting
If your street is having a street party, why not print out some Wild Card q̶u̶i̶c̶h̶e̶ s̶l̶i̶c̶e̶ bunting and start awkward conversations with your neighbours about how the Royals aren't doing enough! Don't forget to take a photo and tag us on social media using the #rewildtheroyals hashtag!
Update Your Social Media Avatar
Let's flood social media with little reminders of what King Charles III should actually be doing. Don't forget to tag us on social media using the #rewildtheroyals hashtag.
Send The King A Postcard
Let's send the King a little post card reminder. Don't forget to take a photo and tag us on social media, using the #rewildtheroyals hashtag.
1. Download and print this file
2. Fold it in half and glue it together
3. Write a little message introducing yourself
4. Sign it
5. Stick a stamp on it and post it
Our petition to William, Prince of Wales, asking to “Bring back Britain’s rainforest” has nearly reached 30,000 signatures, which is a great start.
Here’s a selection of the comments…
“I know Dartmoor well, having been brought up on its edge. Don't fall for the hill farmers' patter! Dartmoor farms produce negligible quantities of food and its farmers' incomes comprise almost entirely of taxpayer-funded subsidies. It would be far better to pay the farmers to manage the land for wildlife. Currently most of Dartmoor is just a bland desert of molinia grasses supporting very little wildlife of any kind. It's time to regrow the temperate rainforests and re-wet the peat bogs.” John L.
“Rewilding and recovery of lost ecosystems and biodiversity is proven to have wide ranging benefits to the environment and society. It also unlocks local employment in rural areas of the UK. Huge support for the Duke of Cornwall to show the rest of the UK landowners what they should all be doing.” Oliver W.
“If Prince William wants to be seen as being truly eco-friendly then allowing these lands to become rewilded makes obvious and environmental sense to help alleviate the climate crisis we are suffering worldwide. This small island needs all the rainforest we can manage to help restore its rich biodiversity that is being continually destroyed with impunity.” Jason S.
“Rewilding in other areas has brought back rare species and produced wonderful benefits for wildlife and humans alike. What’s not to like?” Helen W.
You can view and sign the petition here… LET’S GET IT TO 100,000
You might have noticed that the Wild Card website has had a little revamp. As part of this makeover we’ve now got a blog area where we’ll be inviting our core team to post their latest thoughts, updates and news as well as inviting guest bloggers to post on specific subjects.
This new addition should hopefully make the site a bit more dynamic and engaging whilst giving you a reason to keep checking back!
It’s been an exciting beginning of the year for us and lots of work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure that 2023 has the greatest positive impact it can for wildlife and humans alike.
Last weekend we joined 3000 other nature lovers on Dartmoor to demand the right to wild camp (thanks for the photo Eddy). We believe having a strong connection with nature instills a desire to protect it. We firmly believe that everybody should be able to access truly wild places.
Whilst on Dartmoor we took the opportunity to explore some of the last remaining fragments of temperate rainforest in the area. Yep, you read that correctly - RAINFOREST!
Temperate rainforests occur in mid-latitude, temperate zones, in places which receive heavy rainfall due to an 'oceanic' climate. Put more simply: temperate rainforests are very damp woodlands – so damp that plants grow on other plants.
A UK temperate rainforest is one of the rarest and most diverse ecosystems that we have in the UK. A good example of this habitat could contain up to 400 different species of bryophytes and lichen and the tree canopies can support a rich diversity of birds; wood warblers, pied flycatchers, redstarts, treecreepers, green woodpeckers, jays… the list goes on.
Since the death of the Queen, Prince William is now the largest single landowner in England and as the new Prince of Wales, he is now officially the custodian of ⅓ of Dartmoor. Despite always being outspoken about the environment… much of this land is an ecological disaster.
Dartmoor falls under Britain’s ecologically significant ‘rainforest zone’ and believe it or not, should be covered in ancient lichen and moss covered trees, just like Wistman’s Wood.
We’ll be launching a new campaign very soon; together, we can help encourage Prince William to take simple steps, like fencing off existing areas of rainforest and allowing it to spread naturally without being grazed by domestic animals.
More on that coming very soon. For now please enjoy and explore our new website.