Meeting at Chapel en le frith Golf Club, Friday 10 Sept 2021
Back together, face to face.. same venue but smartly redecorated, new big digital TV (hooray), new caterer (Lucy, Celebration Catering) .. we all felt a little giddy as we shimmied round each other to the coffee, pastries and fruit. It’s 19 months since we were last able to do this. Seems like a lifetime ago.
As if to emphasise we are in a new worldit’s three years since the dam nearly burst and 1,500 people had to be evacuated. And though climate change has happened before (ask the dinosaurs) this is the first time it’s been caused by human activity.
Part of the problem, however, is that we’re accustomed to seeing the Peak District as beautiful. Yet compared with recent centuries, it’s barren – a denuded green desert, with very little flora or fauna. Derbyshire is one of the most treeless counties in the country, and the UK is one of the most treeless countries in Europe. Change perceptions, and rewilding is no longer crazy or extreme, but urgent and necessary.
Ben Carter, Director of Income Generation at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and his colleague Dave Savage, Regional Director (“Good name for my job” he quipped), joined businesswoman Rachel Evatt of Sunart Fields, the land backing onto Eccles Pike. “Rewilding is making nature do the work,” Dave explained. “We used to spend hours of volunteers’ time clearing and managing land. Now we realise that we can let nature do the job – not just sitting back but for example letting animals in.”
From left: Nick Sharpe, Rachel Evatt, ECJ, Jaime Llull, Dave Savage, Phil Stanyer, Ben Carter.
That’s both wild and domesticated animals. Beavers are soon to arrive around Willington in south Derbyshire (where the coal-fired power station cooling towers, which once dominated my home landscape and polluted its air, were recently demolished). Beavers make a mess: damming streams, creating wetlands, retaining water, so that flooding further down is reduced. They’re already back in the West Country and Scotland, we are next. Pine martens have been reintroduced in Gloucestershire; in the right habitat they’re useful predators, as well as beautiful to see.
A picture of the high Pyrenees flashed up: in countryside as empty as much of the Peak District roam bears and wolves, and golden eagles, which I saw soaring above a restaurant there one long hot summer’s day. As for local farmers, the Spanish government recompenses them for any livestock losses. Our government can do the same.
Domesticated stock are also useful. Rachel rears pigs; they root around, churning up the topsoil, enriching it naturally. Long-horned Highland cattle are hardy enough for our tough winters and require a lot less work than sheep. Both can provide a good income stream. A portfolio approach to revenue pays dividends: learn drystone walling, (day course for £65), Children’s day camp (£42 per child per day), or Walk on the Wild Side, a guided tour for £20 – sold out, repeatedly. “Our cost base is low,” Rachel explained – no fertilisers, pesticides or heavy equipment. Sustainable foliage is sold to florists. And so on.
Increasingly, post-Brexit, grants are available. “Farmers don’t mind how land pays, as long as it does – the younger generation are very interested,” said Dave. You need to know your acronyms – ELMS is the government’s Environmental Land Management Scheme, and by 2023 farmers will be paid by BNG – not the Big Nature Giant, but Biodiversity Net Gain.
The aim locally is to restore 30% of wild spaces by 2030, a short timetable. So they’re linking up sites and talking to landowners in between, to help create larger areas. Research matters too, as projects are monitored, to see how nature-based economies can flourish.
That’s a huge change in thinking. I looked out of the window at the manicured golf course below us, and thought, “All that mowing is expensive. Maybe here‘s another opportunity..?”
You can find out more at https://www.sunartfields.com/events