‘Restoring the Forest of Selwood: Reviving Five Rivers’
Earlier this year, Real Wild Estates were approached by the Forest of Selwood Charity based in Somerset to create their application for the second round of funding under DEFRA’s Landscape Recovery Scheme.
This shared ambition for landscape-scale nature restoration comprises a long-term vision and project development plan spanning over 12,000 acres of the headwaters of the Brue, Cale, Frome, Stour and Wylye Rivers, with the aim of restoring the ancient landscape of the Forest of Selwood. In order to fund the proposed actions, as part of the application Real Wild Estates will also be scoping the blended finance opportunities available for sustaining the project beyond Government funding, including biodiversity net gain, woodland carbon credits and water credits amongst others.
The ‘Reviving Five Rivers’ project will restore the ancient Saxon landscape of the Forest of Selwood, creating a diverse mosaic of habitats including wood pasture, species-rich grassland, floodplain and wet woodland. New habitats will be formed and existing priority habitats will be enhanced to provide shelter and food sources for returning species such as Hazel dormouse, Lesser-spotted woodpecker, Mistle thrush, Glass eel, and Marsh fritillary.
The Forest of Selwood team have been liaising with members of the farm cluster to discuss the implementation of regenerative practices in order to mitigate the impact of restoration activities on food production. Where concerns had been raised that yields and outputs might drop, in reality this is not the case. With the introduction of regenerative practices, soil health assessment and monitoring and on-farm habitat creation through tree planting and hedgerow creation along with a new grazing cooperative using rotational, conservation grazing techniques, high quality meat will be produced whilst soil health and plant species biodiversity will be improved across farmed areas.
Ultimately, the project aims to contribute to targets set out in the UK’s 25 Year Environmental Improvement Plan; to reach net zero by providing improved carbon capture and storage and enhanced soil health; to improve biodiversity and bioabundance through the creation and enhancement of existing habitats and associated species recovery; and provide improved natural flood defenses and mitigation through increased water retention in the land. There is exciting potential for expansion of the project as neighbouring landowners are already demonstrating interest in joining, and opportunities to connect with existing projects are emerging.
Finally, the project will reconnect people with the ancient landscape by focusing on locally led actions which create paid and volunteering opportunities for contributing to restoration projects, tourism and ongoing monitoring and scientific research.
The Way Forward
We are thrilled to have been given this opportunity to work with the Forest of Selwood on such an ambitious plan. The next few weeks will prove challenging as we await the decision of DEFRA’s panel, but we are confident that regardless of the outcome, creating this strategy for nature recovery will benefit people, wildlife, food production and the health of the wider environment and we are looking forward to continuing RWE’s collaboration with the Forest of Selwood to realise this vision.
About Landscape Recovery Round Two
Landscape Recovery is one of the 3 Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, alongside the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship. The scheme aims to support farmers to deliver clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and healthy soils, offering them the opportunity to co-create a unique agreement which will produce environmental and climate goods and services at a landscape scale.
Following the oversubscription of round one funding, this round will see £15m made available for up to 25 large-scale, long-term landscape restoration projects, supporting them with a blend of public and private finance. For this round DEFRA are looking for projects which meet criteria around achieving net zero carbon emissions, improving the condition of protected sites, or creating new habitats.
As part of the application process the Real Wild Estates team have been conducting stakeholder engagement activities, site visits and steering committee meetings with members of the Forest of Selwood Facilitation Group (Farm Cluster), and nearby non-profit organisations Heal Rewilding and the National Trust at Stourhead. These meetings have been essential for understanding the needs of the participating landowners, and for providing a platform for open dialogue, ensuring that the responsibilities associated with and the benefits generated by the project will be shared equally.
Completing applications like this take time and resource, both of which are in short supply amongst busy landowners and farmers. Helping our clients to realise their unique ambitions for large-scale nature recovery is what Real Wild Estates are all about, so completing this Landscape Recovery Scheme application for the Forest of Selwood Charity has been an exciting challenge and the start of what will hopefully be a long-term partnership for nature restoration.
About the Forest of Selwood
The Forest of Selwood Charity was set up to realise a vision for the restoration of the landscape. The Charity is aiming to grow a network of landowners committed to nature’s recovery through its Facilitation Group; to restore the nearby Long Ham meadows and reconnect more of the River Frome with riparian and wetland restoration projects upstream to the headwaters and downstream towards the town of Frome; and to promote and champion nature’s recovery, catalyse environmental action in the area and mobilise people to achieve positive environmental change through its Partnership network.