Longhorn cattle in an English rewilding estate.

Photo credit: Christopher Sandom

By Katarzyna Mikołajczak, Nikoleta Jones, Christopher Sandom, Sophie Wynne-Jones, Antonia Beardsall, Suzanna Burgelman, Lucy Ellam, and Helen Wheeler.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Our research shows that English farmers’ opinions of rewilding practices range from strong opposition to enthusiastic support, yet all this diversity in attitudes is related to differences in perceptions on just five core issues. These issues include questions about: 1) the necessity of restoring nature, 2) how effective rewilding would be at restoring nature, 3) how rewilding could impact food production and supply, 4) whether rewilding could impact rural livelihoods and countryside heritage, and 5) whether rewilding projects would be fair and just to everyone.

Rewilding is an increasingly popular approach to nature conservation, focused on re-activating natural ecological processes, without a particular end state in mind. In the UK, rewilding often involves the reintroduction of lost animal species and the reduction in human management of an area. Such rewilding actions can have large effects on the land and people who live locally.

One of the main groups who may directly experience rewilding’s effects are farmers. We interviewed 36 English farmers and farmer representatives across different farming systems. Our questions were based around three common types UK rewilding projects: the release of beavers in a single place, rewilding of a single farm, and a multipartner project to rewild a landscape, for example, a river valley.

Farmers expected rewilding projects to have a wide range of material, social, psychological and ecological consequences. Differences in farmers’ opinions on rewilding projects were related to their beliefs and assumptions about these consequences, such as whether rewilding would have positive or negative impact on rural businesses, as well as to their values and preferences, for example for ‘neat and tidy’ or for wild looking rural landscapes.

‘Wilder landscapes’ are likely to soon be promoted in the UK through new, post-Brexit agricultural subsidies. Understanding the opinions of people that may be affected by rewilding can help to make it more socially equal and acceptable. The five core issues we identified can help conservation managers and policy makers make sense of the diversity of farmers opinions on rewilding in trying to find a way forward which benefits everyone.