These three models of land management can all yield huge benefits in terms of biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and can sometimes overlap to such an extent as to be indistinguishable from the outside. The main differences between them lie in their objectives. Conservation aims to protect a specific species or habitat, while rewilding steps back, allowing natural processes to be re-established, and regenerative agriculture seeks to produce a valuable commodity such as food, at the same time as supporting and restoring natural ecosystems. Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk use all three models.
When we undertake land management for conservation, the outcome we are aiming for is usually the recovery or preservation of a specific species or habitat. This strategy may require a high level of intervention, and can sometimes come at the expense of greater overall biodiversity, but is often essential in the fight to save extremely vulnerable species from extinction.
Endrick Water, which passes through Carbeth Home Farm, is one of 244 Special Areas of Conservation in Scotland – a designation owed to its populations of River Lamprey, Brook Lamprey and Atlantic Salmon. As custodians of this special place, we have a responsibility to protect these species from disturbance and protect their habitat from deterioration. In practice, this requires us to control invasive weeds such as giant hogweed and Himalayan balsam, that grow along the riverbank.
The goal of rewilding is the re-establishment of natural processes, and in particular, a dynamic relationship between vegetation succession and disturbance, that creates a diverse mosaic of different habitats. In rewilding we minimise our intervention, allowing nature to take over, and trusting that the resulting environment will be more biodiverse, more resilient, and more sustainable. Organisms and processes that have co-evolved over millenia have been unable to adapt to the rapid change humans have brought about in very recent times, so in order to be successful, a rewilding approach often requires us to replace or recreate some keystone species and processes. In the Scottish Highlands, large scale rewilding is gaining momentum, with the 23,000 acre Alladale Wilderness Reserve, among others, working to restore the damage done by centuries of over-grazing by deer. Knepp Estate in Sussex have pioneered lowland rewilding in the UK, inspiring millions with the success of their project, which has turned a large, intensively farmed estate in to a thriving, biodiverse wilderness.
At Carbeth, we do not, at this stage, have plans to create extensive wild areas with free roaming animals, as they have done at Knepp. Even if we were to do that, we have only around one tenth of their land area, and rewilding would look quite different at our reduced scale. We have a responsibility to control predators such as foxes, that would otherwise threaten endangered species such as curlews, that call Carbeth home, and to control invasive plant species such as rhododendron, giant hog weed and Himalayan balsam. We also plan to continue working the farm to produce lamb, and indeed to diversify in to other products, on a regenerative farming model.
But we are excited to learn from rewilding’s pioneers and to integrate its principles in all of our activities. In practical terms, this means we will:
- Facilitate the re-establishment of natural processes, such as vegetation succession
- Expand and enrich our existing woodland and species-rich grassland
- Wherever possible avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers
- Work with our neighbours as well as within our own boundaries, to create connected areas to allow species to recover and expand their range
Regenerative farming produces valuable commodities such as food and raw materials, in a way that has a neutral or positive, rather than a negative overall impact on biodiversity and the climate. At present our primary product is lamb from our sheep flock. The production of this lamb has a carbon footprint that is favourable when compared against similar farms, but leaves plenty of room for improvement. More about this here. We are developing some exciting plans that will simultaneously diversify our production, improve the efficiency and carbon footprint of the sheep production, and have a positive impact on the biodiversity and overall carbon sequestration on the farm. These include:
Growing fruit and nut trees to harvest their produce, sequester carbon, provide habitat for birds and invertebrates, improve soil structure, and provide shelter for sheep. This provision of shelter improves the animals’ welfare, and by reducing mortality and the need for supplementary feed, improves efficiency and reduces their carbon footprint.
Species-rich hay meadows
13% of our carbon emissions in 2018 were attributable to feed purchased for the sheep. By growing our own hay, rich in wild flowers, we will be providing an important habitat and source of pollen, as well as reducing our costs and our carbon footprint.
Pigs and cattle
We can use the different grazing habits and behaviours of other animals, in addition to the sheep, to promote natural processes such as vegetation disturbance, while naturally fertilising the soil. Plans for pigs are already underway!