New research has shown how rewilding – an umbrella term for various processes that allow nature and wildlife to reclaim areas of land – could prove an essential tool in helping to reduce emissions while enabling targets to be met both locally, and potentially nationally.

In a paper published a year ago, researchers from universities and institutions across the globe submitted a paper to the scientific journal Nature that claimed, while ambitious targets had been set by various governments worldwide, ‘priority areas’ for natural reclamation had not been identified.

The researchers then set about identifying these areas alongside the benefits that would come with through their restoration, and what they discovered demonstrated how important a role this type of action could play in combatting climate change.

Their data suggested that restoring 15% of lands in these priority areas, namely areas that had been converted from natural ecosystems to croplands or pasturelands, could avoid 60% of expected extinctions while sequestering 299 gigatonnes of CO2, which is the equivalent of 30% of the total CO2 increase in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

This sounds promising, but what would it look like on a local level?

One local example of a rewilding success story is the Cornwall Beaver Project, which saw an area of woodland stretching approximately two hectares fenced off in order to create a beaver enclosure.

The land, located on the Nankilly water, a stream flowing through Woodland Valley Farm near Ladock, was the location in which two beavers were reintroduced in June of 2017 and quickly got to work building dams, starting their work just two nights after having been released.

Chris Jones, a farmer who currently runs the project with help from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the University of Exeter, is optimistic about the role the beavers could play in helping re-invigorate the area and, more broadly, mitigate the effects of climate change.

Read Next:

Chris said: "There’s absolutely no doubt that getting more beavers into our streams would help on a whole range of environmental issues.

"They’ll make our rivers and communities much more resilient to flooding, which is becoming more of a risk as climate change kicks in.

"It’ll make us more resilient to drought as these animals help hold more water in the landscape, whether it rains or doesn’t.

"As they wet the land adjacent to streams, the land and soil itself becomes much more able to hold carbon and indeed within the dams themselves there’s a lot more scope to collect carbon in the silt that collects behind the dams."

Ladock was one of the areas in the UK that saw severe flooding back in 2012 and Chris and the teams working within the area wanted to find a way to hold more water on the land for as low a cost as possible.

The solution to this problem, as it turns out, was the reintroduction of beavers.

Chris continued: "I can tell you now that, in high rainfall events, the flow coming away from the dammed beaver site is half of what it was before.

"It’s had a significant impact.”

"There’s no doubt at all that local authorities could do a very great deal to actively and constructively support this kind of thing.

"I know for a fact now that they’re beginning to look at this, but it’s no longer enough to say ‘this is a good idea,’ they need to put their money where their mouth is and really get behind it."

Read Next:

Martyn Alvey, Cornwall Council Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment, has said the council is absolutely in support of rewilding as a process, saying: "Rewilding is clearly a very important element of our flood resilience and to help tackle climate change.

"We’re looking at, for example, tree planting in parts of the estate and general rewilding as well as linking with ELMS (Environmental Land Management Scheme) which is the new government funding stream.

"Linked to that, Cornwall has been the location for some of the trials for ELMS, and in particular they government have run some trials in Cornwall AONBs, particularly on The Lizard.

"In terms of the general reintroduction of species, the council is actually about to launch a consultation to measure public attitude to the reintroduction of species, with six species being considered of which beavers are one.

"The council is always looking at opportunities for rewilding on land, within its control, and will be consulting with the public and the possibility of the reintroduction of some species within the coming weeks."

However, rewilding schemes are not without their flaws.

Areas such as Cornwall suffer from severe housing shortages, meaning that land that could be used to set up rewilding schemes are often earmarked for sales to developers in order to build the housing that is so desperately needed.

Another potential issue with rewilding is its need to be done in a controlled manner, with the risk of species needing to be culled if their population numbers become out of control.

Melissa Benyon, one of the organisers of the Helston Climate Action Group also worries about "the risk of using rewilding as an offsetting tool to carry on business as usual (or worse), rather than recognising the remedial work that needs to be done to recover biodiversity loss and restore carbon sequestration potential."