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Recreating habitats is not enough!

Updated: Dec 28, 2019

Picture a landscape that's been over-grazed and over-managed to such an extent that most of the species that once lived there have gone and it's now approaching, or past, ecological meltdown.

Yes, that's a description of the UK countryside, where intensive agriculture, aggressive game-keepering, over-grazing and unsympathetic and frankly ignorant landowners have destroyed what we once had.

I'm here in Poland again, where I've just had three ecologists/conservationists wandering the extremely biodiverse landscape with me and being awestruck at the difference to what we have in the UK.

Here, for a keen naturalist, a walk of a mile can take several hours.

There are so many species to be seen here, of plants, insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals, that it's not possible for those of us with an interest in nature to go more than a few feet without stopping to look at more butterflies, cool birds now extinct in the UK, or even the odd mammal - wolves, lynx, wildcats, pine martens, beavers, wild boar, roe & red deer and raccoon-dogs all live here!

We can see, on every walk, what each species needs to survive and thrive and we can attempt to recreate these habitats in the UK. It's actually quite simple to do, just create lots of flower-rich hay-meadows, manage woodland properly and create lots of 'edge' habitats.

But, it's not enough.

When and if we do this, how do we get the wildlife back?

There are miles of amazing habitat along our motorways - continuous meadows full of grasses and wildflowers - but where are the butterflies and other insects going to come from if they disappeared from the county/region/country decades/centuries ago?

Simply put, they aren't.

Not without help, anyway.

Birds such as red-backed shrikes, corncrakes, quail and white storks could recolonise the landscape if it provided the food they needed, but the insects, reptiles and amphibians are long-gone from many areas.

We need more than landscape-scale habitat recreation; we also need translocation of animal species to feed the birds and other creatures we want to attract back to our countryside.

Without a diverse 'base' to build the food-web upon, we simply can't expect our sadly missed bird species to return in the numbers we once had. Sure, we'll get some and it'll be much better than we have now, but we can't expect the whole ecosystem to rebuild itself when large numbers of species are simply unable or unlikely to get there under their own steam.

Projects like Knepp are fantastic and I want to see more of them, but we have to accept that without intervention we cannot ever get back the full complement of species we once had.

We need to move away from reintroducing iconic species like eagles, storks and lynx and start reintroducing the plants and small animals that are now missing from our landscape. When we've done that, there will be a decent food-base for these iconic species to feed on.

It's a glorious sunny day here in Poland and within a mile of where I'm writing this you could see: red-backed shrikes; white storks; golden eagles; black redstarts; lots of yellowhammers; spotted flycatchers; hawfinches; purple emperor, large copper and several species of fritillary butterfly; sand lizards; smooth snakes; mole crickets; corncrakes; quail; beavers; pine martens; wolves and many other species now rare or extinct in the UK (you're unlikely to see the lynx and wildcats).

Next year, I'll be running an extra summer trip in May, so we get a different array of species and more singing birds, though even in late June many of the bird species can be heard singing all day, and the marsh warblers and corncrakes through the night.

There will also be a trip in June.

Email me at if you have any questions about my trips or if you'd like some advice on biodiversity, habitat recreation, etc.

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