The Future of Landscape Scale Conservation in Europe is a landmark event that is bringing together practitioners from around Europe to form a super brain – a pool of knowledge and experience, which will be used to tackle the most important challenges for landscape scale conservation today.
There are some sharp reminders of the importance of the natural world as fundamental in underpinning our wellbeing. The decline in the number of bees and other pollinators consequences for food supply. The loss of forest and tree cover and the increased risk of flooding and soil erosion. The loss and fragmentation of forests and other habitats leading to an accelerating loss of species.
Trees, woodland and other habitats are vital to wildlife and to our wellbeing. These are all elements of creating resilient landscapes - landscapes which provide the habitat networks for wildlife, but which also support sustainable productive agriculture, protect water resources, reduce the risk of flooding, and help make towns and cities places where we are pleased to live and work.
Two concepts can be seen as particularly important for developing resilient landscapes; diversity and connectivity.
Broadly speaking landscapes with greater species and habitat diversity are likely to be more resilient – more able to absorb and respond to the pressures of the modern world. It’s like the old adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket.
Connectivity is important to the likelihood of the movement of plants and animals across the landscape in response to climate change or other pressures. Much of the habitat of the UK has become fragmented through loss. Many landscapes have become simplified; hedges removed, trees lost from fields and boundaries, species rich and unimproved grassland lost and so on. Diversity and connectivity have suffered.
What does all this mean in practice for wildlife?
Firstly it is vital to protect that which remains. Woodland, trees and other habitats are the reservoir of wildlife and diversity. It is critical we protect and restore those which we still have.
Secondly we need to take opportunities to expand tree and woodland and other natural habitats where it can strengthen and buffer existing areas important for wildlife.
Thirdly we should increase connectivity across the landscape through habitat creation, such as woodland expansion, particularly where this can form part of protecting water resources, reducing flood risk, supporting sustainable farming and developing timber and wood fuel resources.
This is not a hankering for the bucolic landscapes of pre-industrial Britain. We need landscapes which are productive and where we can grow food and the other products we all consume. But these things depend on having a healthy and robust natural world.
It’s time to consider what we can do to reinvigorate our landscapes and support wildlife. We all have a part to play. We want to work with other conservation organisations, farmers and landowners, businesses and communities to be part of that change.