Letter coordinated by Wild Card A rewilding campaign group
OPEN LETTER: IT’S TIME TO REWILD ROYAL LAND
c/o The Private Secretary to Her Majesty The Queen Buckingham Palace London, SW1A 1AA
The Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB, OM The Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, KG, KT Clarence House London, SW1A 1BA
To the Private Secretary to Her Majesty The Queen; the Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB, OM; the Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, KG, KT; The Estate Managers of the Royal Estates,
As concerned members of the public, scientists and experts, we respectfully call upon you to rewild your lands.
The UK ranks 189th in the world for the intactness of its living systems. As Britain prepares to host world leaders for COP26 in Glasgow, the ecological paucity of our country makes hollow our claims of global environmental leadership, while also undermining the morale and wellbeing of its citizens.
Taken together, the Royal estates — the Crown Estate, the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and lands owned privately by the Sovereign — are larger than those of any other single landowner in the UK. HRH The Prince of Wales has spoken of a ‘duty to the planet that is absolute’ and HRH The Duke of Cambridge has said it is our ‘responsibility’ to avoid ‘crucial... tipping points’, while Sir David Attenborough has called on us to ‘rewild the earth’. The Royal Family, as figures of moral stewardship and as ambassadors for our nation, is perfectly positioned to now lead the charge in the great task of our age: planetary repair.
We believe therefore that you have a unique and historic opportunity to radically address the degraded state of nature on these islands. Making a public commitment to restore the biodiversity of the Royal estates through rewilding would send a signal that a new chapter has begun: a chapter in which nature is honoured and cherished rather than eroded and exploited. Of the biggest UK landowners, you are already amongst the leaders of habitat restoration, with a number of inspiring projects already being undertaken on Royal land, notably in the Duchy of Cornwall estates. But committing publicly to the idea of enriching biodiversity, as a first principle of long-term land stewardship throughout your lands, would be both ground-breaking and game-changing. Others would undoubtedly follow.
To take but two examples, large parts of Dartmoor, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, and of Balmoral, owned privately by Her Majesty, would, if nature took its course, be covered by rare temperate rainforest. Today, only tiny fragments of this precious, diverse habitat remain in places like Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor and Ballochbuie at Balmoral. We are a rainforest nation bereft of its rainforests – and in desperate need of leadership that shows how it can be restored. Across Britain, in lands owned by the Royal estates, we could also see the restoration of flower-rich grasslands, bird-filled heathlands, swamps, fens, and meandering rivers.
Anywhere else in the world we would recognise many of the exhausted landscapes in Britain today for what they truly are: ecological disaster zones. How can we consistently condemn the destruction of nature in Brazil, New Guinea or Indonesia, and urge them to keep their remaining forests intact, whilst in England, only 10% of our forests remain – the lowest figure of any country in Europe? We despair when we see palm oil plantations and beef ranches in what was once pristine tropical forest, yet romanticise the bio-bereft mono-cultures of our own deforested grouse moors and sheep-grazed uplands.
The good news is that recent detailed analysis by Friends of the Earth and others has demonstrated that significant proportions of the Royal estates are perfect for rewilding and restoration. Even after excluding Grades 1-3 high-quality agricultural land, Priority Habitats and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), the Royal estates contain thousands of hectares of Grade 4 and 5 land ideally suited to being relinquished to self-willed wilderness, or managed for low intervention habitat restoration. Their research also suggests that these major benefits could be brought about without significant impact on food productivity.
There is growing consensus that rewilding and restoration are critical tools in mitigating global heating. In addition to sequestering carbon, the biodiversity benefits would be enormous. In an analysis of 89 habitat restorations across the world, restored sites had one-and-a-half times more biodiversity than degraded sites, and had nearly as much biodiversity as pristine sites (86%). Even as we wait for our Government to deliver on its oft repeated promise to incentivise such an enlightened approach in its new agricultural policy, committing to take such positive action on Royal land would set a powerful example for others, both in the UK, and all around the world, to follow.
We recognise that restoring ecosystems to a historical baseline will not always be possible. Self-willed ecosystems may take many centuries to find equilibrium and in certain circumstances a more active land management approach may achieve biodiversity and carbon capture benefits in the shorter timeframes demanded by today’s crises. As such, more research is needed to measure the comparative gains for people and planet of differing rewilding and restoration pathways. The Royal Estates could be instrumental in developing this evidence base and leading others.
Increasing research has also demonstrated beyond all doubt the mental health benefits of access to wild nature. Rewilding the Royal estates would perfectly complement the good work being done by their Royal Highnesses to address the mental health epidemic.
Collectively, we are in danger of forgetting the all-but-lost natural wonders of these lands. But today’s young people are urging us not to let this happen. With clarity of vision and purpose they are determined to tackle climate change, and build back the beauty we all need to help us thrive. But they cannot do this without the help of those who own and control the land and can deliver this change.
As our nation recovers from the Covid-19 crisis, and we look to the world outside our windows to nourish and inspire us, we call on you to lead the way in healing our land. We ask you to seize this moment to restore and rewild the Royal estates, bringing the hope of renewal and regrowth to the people of this country. Protect us, guide us, rewild us.
Dr. Rowan Williams - Former Archbishop of Canterbury Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - Author, Cook and TV Presenter Kate Humble - TV Presenter and former President of The RSPB Chris Packham CBE - TV Presenter and Commentator Sir Michael Morpurgo OBE - Author and Co-Founder of Farms for City Children Prof Sir David King - FRS, Former Govt CSA and Climate Envoy, Chair and Founder, the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University Sir Ian Boyd - Ex-Chief Scientific Advisor to DEFRA and Professor in Biology at the University of St Andrews Sir Mark Rylance - Academy Award Winning Actor Prof Alice Roberts - Professor of Public Engagement in Science, University of Birmingham, Author and Broadcaster and President of Humanists UK Prof Dave Goulson - Ecologist and Author Sir Robert T. Watson - CMG, FRS, ex-Chief Scientific Advisor DEFRA, former chair IPBES and IPCC Prof Danny Dorling - Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, University of Oxford Sarah Raven - Gardener, Cook and TV Presenter Anita Rani - Broadcaster Josh O’Connor - Golden Globe Winning Actor George Monbiot - Author and Columnist Sir Jonathon Porritt - Environmentalist and Writer Andy Goldsworthy - Artist Liz Bonnin - Science and Natural History broadcaster, President of The Wildlife Trusts Dr Mya-Rose Craig (AKA Birdgirl) D.Sc. h.c - Founder and President Black2Nature Prof Ben Garrod - broadcaster, author, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement, University of East Anglia Satish Kumar - Peace activist, Founder of Schumacher College and Editor of Resurgence & The Ecologist Simon Amstell - Comedian, Writer and Director Andrea Arnold, OBE - Academy Award & BAFTA Winning Filmmaker Dr Mark Avery - Scientist, Author and Former Conservation Director at the RSPB Fehinti Balogun - Actor and Climate Activist Laura Baldwin - Olympic Sailor and WOA Environment Committee Member Dr Amy-Jane Beer - Biologist and Writer Prof James Bullock - Ecologist Dr John A Burton DUniv, FLS, FRAI, FRGS - Visiting Fellow, University of East Anglia Lucy Bright - Music Supervisor Simon Potts - Professor of Biodiversity, University of Reading Dr Richard Carmichael - CPsychol, Researcher in Societal and System change for Net Zero, Imperial College London Mark Cocker - Author and Naturalist Emma D’Arcy - Actor and Theatremaker Prof Keri Facer - Educational and Social Futures Researcher Dr Charlie Gardner - Interdisciplinary Conservation Scientist Dr Alison Green - Executive Director, Scientists Warning Foundation Dave Hampton - former GB lightweight rower, carbon coach, co-founder of Champions for Earth, a team of Olympians and Athletes speaking out about the climate emergency Dr Jason Hickel - Anthropologist and Author, London School of Economics and Goldsmiths, University of London Professor Wendy Hollway - Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Open University Erich Hoyt, Author; Research Fellow, Whale and Dolphin Conservation; and Co-chair, IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force Prof Rob Jackson, BIFoR Chair in Tree Pathology, University of Birmingham Lucy Jones - Author Dr Patrick Kennedy-Williams - Clinical Psychologist and Co-director, Climate Psychologists Megan Kennedy-Woodard - Coaching Psychologist and Co-director, Climate Psychologists Mark Lynas - Author and Environmentalist Prof Gordon MacGregor Reid - Conservationist and Past President Linnean Society of London Hannah Mills, MBE - Team GB Gold Medalist, Sailor and 2 time World Champion Prof Martin Milton - Professor of Counselling Psychology, Regents University London Annie Mitchell - Clinical and Community Psychologist Clare Morpurgo - Philanthropist and Co-founder of Farms for City Children Stephen Moss - Naturalist & Author Adam Nicolson - Author and farmer Danielle Paffard - Head of Organising, Green New Deal UK Prof Ann Phoenix - Professor of Psychosocial Studies, UCL Nick Powell - TV Producer and Author of ‘Poppy Goes Wild’ Ian Rickson - Theatre Director, Former Artistic Director at the Royal Court Theatre Chris Robertson - Psychotherapist and co-founder of Re.Vision Laurence Rose - Author and Conservationist Emma Smart - Ecologist Anna Souter - Writer and Curator Jonathan Thomson - Rewilder, Underhill Wood Nature Reserve Marian Titley - Clinical Psychologist Prof Frederick Toates - Emeritus Professor of Psychobiology, Open University Prof David Uzzell - Emeritus Professor of Environmental Psychology, University of Surrey Tony Wainwright - Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter Prof Andrew Watterson - Public & Environmental Health Researcher, University of Stirling, Scotland Jerusha West - Artist and Filmmaker Melissa Wilson - World-Championships A-finalist for Rowing, and core member of Champions for Earth, a team of Olympians and Athletes speaking out about the climate emergency Iolo Williams - Naturalist and Broadcaster Music Declares Emergency - Climate Action Organisation Re-Peat - International Youth Organisation focusing on Peatlands Professor Susan Page - Professor of Physical Geography, University of Leicester Anne Magurran - Professor of Ecology Steve Tombs - Professor of Criminology, The Open University Professor David Burslem - School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen Prof Rob Wilson - School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of St Andrews Professor Heiko Baltzer - Director of Centre for Landscape and Climate Research NERC National Centre for Earth Observation, University of Leicester Matthew Paterson - Department of Politics, University of Manchester Prof Kate Jeffery, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience, UCL Paul Chatterton - Professor of Urban Futures, University of Leeds Dr Christopher Hassall – Associate Professor of Biology, University of Leeds Sally Weintrobe - Author and Chair of the International Psychoanalytic Association's Climate Committee Prof Simon Joss - Chair in Urban Futures, University of Glasgow Professor Catherine (Kate) Rigby - FAHA, Bath Spa University Dr Alexander Lees - Senior Lecturer in Conservation Biology, Manchester Metropolitan University Dr Nathalie Pettorelli - Senior scientist Matt Sewell - Illustrator and Author Paul Ekins, OBE - Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy, University College London Dr Mia Gray - Dept of Geography, University of Cambridge Dr Matt Watson - Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Sheffield Dr Christopher Sandom - Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex Bill McGuire - Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards, UCL Prof David Humphreys - Professor of Environmental Policy, The Open University Prof Martin Price FRSE - Professor Emeritus, University of the Highlands and Islands Prof Alistair Jump, FRSB - Professor of Plant Ecology, University of Stirling Prof Nigel Willby - Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Stirling Neil B. Metcalfe FRSE - Professor of Behavioural Ecology, University of Glasgow Jens-Arne Subke - University of Stirling Andrew Simms - Co-director, New Weather Institute Professor Carrie Lear - Head of the Centre for Resilience and Environmental Change, Cardiff University Prof Yadvinder Malhi CBE FRS - Professor of Ecosystem Science, University of Oxford Professor Eric Verspoor - Chair in Aquatic Biodiversity Conservation and Management, Rivers and Lochs Institute, UHI Peter Cairns - Executive Director, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture Dr Andrew D. Friend - Plant ecologist and Earth system scientist Danny Renton - Founding Director, Seawilding Professor Joy Carter CBE DL Cgeol FGS - Emeritus Professor of Geochemistry and Health, University of Winchester Dr Steve Carver - Co-chair IUCN CEM Rewilding Thematic Group Professor Andrew Pullin - Conservation Biologist Prof John Marsham - Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds Prof. Dominick Spracklen - School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds Professor Joseph Holden - Director of water@leeds and Chair of Physical Geography, University of Leeds Dr Peter GH Evans - Director, Sea Watch Foundation Simon Lewis - Professor, Global Change Science, University of Leeds Prof Raimund Bleischwitz - Chair in Sustainable Global Resources, UCL BSEER James Fair - Wildlife conservation journalist and author Stuart Parkinson - Executive Director, Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) Jeff Waage, OBE - Professor of International Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Liza Adamczewski - Artist Stephanie Gooding - Chartered Counselling Psychologist Michael Pawlyn - Exploration Architecture / Achitects Declare Jaime Winstone - Actress