Royal Family urged to lead rewilding efforts and transform estates | Preservation
More than 100 academics, experts and public figures have signed a letter calling on the royals to rehabilitate their lands as a public commitment to help tackle Britain’s biodiversity crisis and show climate leadership.
Organized by the Wild Card rewilding campaign group, the letter’s 120 signatories include broadcasters Chris Packham, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani as well as senior environmental scientist Professor Sir Robert Watson.
The letter, addressed to the Queen, Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge, urges them to prioritize biodiversity in their land management and to enable the restoration of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, moorlands , swamps and rivers – both as vital wildlife. habitats and important carbon sinks.
“You have a unique and historic opportunity to dramatically tackle the degraded state of nature on these islands,” the letter read. It highlights the long-standing public commitment to the climate and environment of Prince Charles and, more recently, Prince William, who launched the Earthshot Prize last year, offering £ 50million to support the climate solutions.
“An act of rewilding the royal family would have enormous cultural significance,” said Joel Scott, co-founder of Wild Card, “and would show that the royal family is ready to implement climate commitments.”
The Royal Family is the UK’s largest landowning family. Their estate includes land held by the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as the Queen’s personal estate including Balmoral in Aberdeenshire and Sandringham in Norfolk. According to a calculation that includes the domain of the crown, which officially belongs to the Queen but is not controlled by the Queen, the Royal Family owns 1.4% of England.
The huge expanse of land owned by a family reveals the inequality of land ownership in the UK, Scott said. Half of the country is owned by less than 1% of the population.
But it also offers an opportunity to make big changes by targeting a single landowner, said Dr Alexander Lees, senior lecturer in biodiversity at Manchester Metropolitan University and signatory of the letter. The royal family “could lead the restoration and rewilding on a landscape scale,” he said, “rather than being dragged along”. Currently, for example, the Duchy of Cornwall only has 6% tree cover compared to 13% in the UK (the EU average is 38%).
The campaign wants the royal family to focus first on degraded land that has very little biodiversity, Scott said.
Balmoral, owned by the Queen, covers around 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres), almost double the size of Manchester. Much of the land is used for deer stalking and consists of intensively managed grouse moorlands. “There would be massive gains in biodiversity if you rewild it,” Scott said.
Dartmoor, where the Duchy of Cornwall is the largest landowner, was once covered in temperate rainforest. Only fragments remain and much of the land is “ecologically barren,” Scott said. “[With] a little change to this land management, ”he said,“ you are taking back the rainforests. Activists have also included the Crown Estate which is independently managed, as they argue that it directly benefits the Royal Family.
According to a UN report released in June, the world needs to re-wild at least 1 billion hectares (2.47 billion acres), an area the size of China, by 2030 to meet its commitments in climate and nature.
Despite claims by the UK government to protect around 28% of land, a 2020 report by conservation charity RSPB suggested that in reality only 5% of land is effectively managed for nature. The report found that the UK had failed to meet 17 of the UN’s 20 biodiversity targets, calling the past 10 years a ‘lost decade for nature’.
Despite some success in protecting individual species, the overall trajectory of UK biodiversity is not positive. Since 1970, the populations of the country’s most important fauna have declined by an average of 60% and about a quarter of native mammals are threatened with extinction.
For large landowners, Scott said, there is a “moral responsibility” to act. Wild Card, which also plans to target the Church of England and Oxbridge universities, says the ultimate goal is to see 50% of the UK rescued.
It is hoped that a first engagement of the royal family will encourage other large landowners to favor nature. A commitment to “supporting the return of lost wildlife to their lands could literally change the course of our country’s natural history,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall, “and play a major role in combating the alarming loss of biodiversity and the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
A spokesperson for the Royal Estates told The Guardian: “As the letter indicates, members of the Royal Family have a long-standing commitment to conservation and biodiversity and, for more than 50 years, have championed preservation and development of natural ecosystems.
“Royal Estates are constantly evolving and looking for new ways to continue to improve conservation, biodiversity and public access to green spaces, while also hosting thriving communities and businesses that are part of the fabric of the local community.”