The head of Natural England and the chair of England’s largest landowners’ organization are to meet the new environment secretary to urge him not to scrap or water down rewilding schemes.
Tony Juniper, who will meet Ranil Jayawardena along with the CLA chair Mark Tufnell on Tuesday, pointed out that swathes of prime land were being used for golf courses, housing and other infrastructure but political focus was on the small amount that would be rewilded.
There has been concern that the new government might roll back nature recovery schemes put in place by the previous administration, in which landowners and farmers are paid for improving nature.
The business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is said to have pushed back against the schemes, while Jayawardena announced his new role by visiting an intensive chicken farm and made little mention of nature, instead focusing on food security.
Speaking at the Gathering nature festival at Wild Ken Hill in north Norfolk, Juniper said: “Some of [this prime land] is under golf courses, so it is not only nature and other things.”
He said alongside food security “we also need to catch carbon, we also need to avoid flood risk. We also need to have places for healthy outdoor enjoyment and recreation, we need land for biodiversity and nature recovery, you need land for water infrastructure, and housing.
“There’s probably more housing going on land with high agricultural value than there are rewilding projects. And all of this stuff needs to be on the table at once.”
Tufnell, whose organization represents 33,000 landowners, added that he hoped the new administration would listen to them, and that they realized nature recovery was the future.
He said: “We are meeting the secretary of state on Tuesday, and I will be asking the same questions that we have debated this morning. We need to accelerate environmental land management and we need to see a recovery in nature. It’s a totally false narrative that you can have food or you can have nature. You have to have both, and it’s perfectly possible.”
Some at the event were concerned that the government would try to cut the schemes. Lee Schofield, a senior site manager at RSPB Haweswater, said: “I am very concerned, so I’m not sure what else to say. It’s terrifying. And we just have to hope that what they may try to enact does not get through the checks and balances that are in place to stop us going backwards.”
Some conservationists are more optimistic about the prospect of nature recovery as they believe Liz Truss’s government may not be around for long – so it may not be able to cause much damage to the schemes even if it wanted to.
Jake Fiennes, the head of conservation at the Holkham national nature reserve and author of Land Healer, said: “We have a government that potentially is only going to be around for 18 months. We have set this ball rolling. There’s environmental restoration already in place that is happening. I think that actually we are on a trajectory, and I think this momentum is not going to stop.”
Others agree; Benedict Macdonald, who works with landowners to rewild with the Real Wild Estates Company, said his clients disagree with anti-nature comments from government figures.
He said: “The backlash against this government, especially from the landowners and farmers, will be from them saying: ‘Why are you standing in the way of me doing better things and handing down sustainable land to my children?’ And that’s a very powerful thing that I don’t think 18 months of government is going to sink.”
Juniper said: “I don’t see any reason why we need to be making any departures from those policies at the moment. I look forward to working with ministers on finding the very best ways forward during the months and years ahead.”