As Head of Nature Restoration for Real Wild Estates, I have had a lifelong passion for the natural world. From the tender age of five, I was raising small tortoiseshell butterflies in my rural garden and bringing them into school to release them, an early form of ‘rewilding’, as it were. Since that time, I have studied wildlife across all areas of the British landscape, from the Norfolk Broads to St Kilda, specialising in ornithology, but growing increasingly aware that the entire organism of the British countryside was in a state of collapse. Whether working as volunteer studying nesting birds for the BTO, or in my ten years working in 60 countries, as a wildlife film-director for the BBC, Apple & Netflix, the conclusions I came to were the same: Britain has only a fraction of the biodiversity and abundance it once did, and could have again.
In 2014, I began work on my first book, Rebirding, which was published in 2019. The inaugural winner of the Wainwright Prize for Global Conservation, it galvanised interest across the UK, from farmers to larger landowners and NGOs, as to the urgent need to restore nature at scale. In the past two years, I have now taken the next step in that journey, driving the nature restoration narrative forwards. Working for Real Wild Estates has provided a unique opportunity to fuse nature restoration with ethical investment and financial returns, ensuring we can now partner with landowners to return far larger areas to nature than was previously possible through charitable actions alone. With over 30,000 acres coming online for us before the end of 2022, we now have a privileged opportunity to help restore ecosystems in the UK, as our client base continues to grow week by week.
In spite of this, restoring wildlife is only one driver for me. My own family descend from ‘cleared’ farmers in Scotland, on one side, and Pembrokeshire potato farmers, on the other. Restoring people to our ever-quieter rural landscapes, often devoid of young people, is an absolutely critical part of my mission. Whether working with farmers on naturalistic grazing that still delivers a great return on meat, or gamekeepers on deer-management in the Highlands, exciting conversations are already underway, involving both existing employees of land-holdings and potential new employees who can benefit from ecological restoration. And already one thing is clear – we need never apologise for restoring land to nature. Indeed, the greatest beneficiary of this process is not Real Wild Estates, or even our clients – but local people, and the rich diversity of jobs that a restored landscape creates.
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