‘It’s like winning the lottery’- Lincolnshire rewilding plan welcomed by some… others not so happy
The rolling fields south of Grantham are scenic, but these huge expanses of wheat and beans are almost bereft of insects in summer. In autumn, a few skylarks sing and the occasional buzzard soars, but there is precious little life in the landscape.
But soon a 1,525-acre swath of this productive Lincolnshire farmland will be brimming with wildlife, according to a new company that aims to restore biodiversity and make money by rewilding farmland.
Conventional arable cultivation at the £13.75m Boothby Lodge farm is being halted in order to return the land to nature along the lines of the rewilded Knepp estate in West Sussex.
‘It’s incredibly exciting and it’s got the potential to transform a lot of people’s lives via access to a wonderful, nature-rich site,’ said Charlie Burrell, the owner of Knepp and co-founder of Nattergal, a rewilding business that has purchased Boothby.
But the Boothby Wildland project is controversial in Lincolnshire, known as the bread basket of England. Critics say it is taking food-growing land out of production just when Britain should be producing more food. Other fears include weed seeds drifting into gardens and large herbivores causing chaos.
‘We’ve lived there for 28 years and we like it as it is,’ said Colin Boother, a resident of Ingoldsby who visited the farm on an open day. ‘We like seeing the crops growing. When we’re importing 50% of our food, it may be low-grade land but it’s still thousands of tonnes of wheat and barley.’
However, many locals are delighted by the potential transformation. ‘It’s like winning the lottery as far as we’re concerned,’ said Clive Carr, who lives in Lower Bitchfield. ‘It’s marvellous. I just hope I’m around to see its full fruition.’
Rather than making money from conventional farming, Nattergal – which is backed by environmental financier Ben Goldsmith, solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggatt and Peter Davies of hedge fund Lansdowne Partners – will generate revenue from the sales of carbon credits and new biodiversity credits awarded for the restoration of nature.
Other potential income streams include money from new ‘biodiversity net gain’ payments by housebuilders; funds for flood alleviation, improving water quality and soils and ecotourism as at Knepp, which receives more than 10,000 visitors each year, many paying to see wildlife like beavers, kingfishers and purple emperor butterflies.
‘If we can get planning permission for low-key tourism at Boothby we’ll have lots of employment for local people,’ said Burrell. ‘We’ve had such a lovely response from lots of locals.’
Kate Green, whose property adjoins the farm, said- ‘There is a lot of hostility to it locally. But we are very much in support of it. It’s like a green desert here. We don’t see any ground-nesting birds, we don’t see any kestrels hovering. People see it either as going along the way we are or total chaos – that’s the mental picture of rewilding – but it’s not like that.’
Nattergal says that Boothby, which is ‘Grade 3’ farmland including heavy clay soils – not more productive Grade 1 and 2 land – , was only generating moderate yields of crops that were fed to animals. According to Neil Perry, chief executive of Nattergal, the biodiversity crisis is a greater threat to food security than short-term problems linked to the war in Ukraine.
‘If biodiversity loss continues and all our pollinators disappear, we’re going to have a much bigger food crisis globally in 10 or 15 years’ time,’ said Perry. ‘We set up the company to address biodiversity loss. While we’re doing that we’ll make contribution to carbon sequestration too, addressing the twin existential problems we have as a country – biodiversity loss and carbon emissions.
‘A lot of philanthropists are doing projects like this and there are government funds to do things like this but that in itself is not going to deliver enough change. We want to provide a commercial model that will attract mainstream investors.’
According to Nattergal, funders will receive a mid to high single digit financial return on their investment. The company says its model can work without any government subsidies but they will receive money from the government’s new environmental land management (Elm) schemes.
Boothby Lodge farm was purchased last year and the restoration process has begun. One third of cropland has been taken out of production. The farm’s final harvest will occur in 2024, after which wildflowers and trees will begin to cover the land.
Boothby Wildland will take what Burrell has learned from Knepp but quicken the restoration process with ‘ecological kickstarters’- field drains will be blocked to rewet the land, the riverbed will be raised to restore its natural floodplain, and it is hoped that residents will help grow trees from local seed sources that will be planted in the middle of currently treeless fields.
‘Ghost ponds’ drained and ploughed up over the centuries will also be excavated and recreated, and wildflower seeds collected from local Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves spread on the land.
Baseline surveys have been conducted of plants, insects, birds and soil microbes, with the restoration of soils an important part of the project. Even the dawn chorus has been recorded to measure how this increases in volume and variety as birdlife returns.
Once wildflowers and trees are established on the former arable fields, free-roaming livestock such as cattle and ponies will be introduced to mimic the grazing of extinct herbivores – rewilding tactics used so successfully at Knepp. The cattle will provide income from high-quality free-range meat. Biodiversity improvements will be measured in terms of abundance, species diversity and rare species, with the land likely to become a sanctuary for birds such as cuckoos and turtle doves. Nattergal expects to deliver more than a 400% uplift in biodiversity.
The company is actively looking for at least two more large farms in Britain. Once they prove that restoring nature can deliver profits to investors, they hope to expand the model into Europe. They are also considering whether areas of seabed could be leased to restore degraded marine life.
Potential funders, including representatives of high net worth musicians and large landowners, have visited the farm but local reaction is mixed.
As a conventional farm, Boothby Lodge employed just 1.5 full-time staff but Nattergal says Boothby Wildland will create much more employment, including site managers, tourism jobs and scientific monitoring of biodiversity and carbon gains.
Perry said- ‘Natural capital is going to be a growth industry. Our exit from the EU has given Britain the opportunity to think carefully about how we use land and create space for nature and at the same time generate an important new knowledge economy.’
Some of Nattergal’s team have worked in the solar industry and there has been speculation the land will be used for solar farms but Burrell said no solar would be put on fields.
‘This is about biodiversity, not about producing fuel in any form from this land,’ he said. ‘We’re not saying ‘give up food production’ but we’ve got to think about where nature sits in that. Recover nature to this land and everything else follows.’
(News Source -Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by Times Of Nation staff and is published from a www.theguardian.com feed.)
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