It was a great pleasure to welcome rewilding experts Julian Matthews and Benedict Macdonald as speakers at our recent webinar on 1st February: Natural Profits: Restoring Britain’s Wild Landscapes.
Julian and Benedict are part of the team at the Real Wild Estates Company, pioneering new models of nature restoration in the UK. Julian has over 30 years’ experience working on preservation and rewilding in Africa, India and the UK. Benedict is author of the Wainwright Prize-winning book Rebirding (2019) and serves as the Real Wild Estates Company’s Head of Nature Restoration. Together, they set out their vision of a ‘nature pays, nature stays’ system of restoration and rewilding in the UK – ‘a vision for how the countryside could look in the future, with social gain, economic gain, and cultural gain as a whole package.’ With successful collaboration from farmers, financiers and business owners, they argued, ‘nature restoration should and could be a remarkable profitable business.’
Benedict gave us a thorough outline of the company’s ambitions to take advantage of a ‘unique opportunity in the UK to restore nature at scale, especially on our larger estates.’ Individually tailored to each piece of land, their plan focuses on the creation of ‘large-scale mosaic ecosystems’, combining extensive grazing with the natural regeneration of woodland and peatland and the restoration of some native species. From the generation of diverse yields of free-range meat, wild produce and timber to the creation of traditional and new rural sector jobs in sectors such as ecotourism and hospitality, this approach aims to produce ‘monetary returns, ecological bio-abundance returns, job creation and community engagement’, as well as opportunities for carbon sequestration.
A lively Q&A was chaired by Venetia Hoare. Many guests were interested to learn more about the financial approach Wild Estates is spearheading, and Julian explained how the ‘natural capital assessment’ models that guided the formation of the business plan allows it to take advantage of a rapidly changing landscape of subsidy and credits: ‘Biodiversity credits, soil credits, carbon credits, water credits, and public good payments are all coming down the line and will be best exploited by nature restoration projects in the coming years.’ Managed with skill and sensitivity, Julian concluded, nature restoration presents ‘a sustainable vision for an estate that can be handed down to your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren.’