Rewilding is one of those trendy terms that anyone who buys orange wine, drinks oat milk and owns a high maintenance Spanish hunting dog will know all about.
It doesn’t mean not having your roots done, giving up on bikini line maintenance or leaving your chin hair to sprout.
Rewilding is a fashionable term describing the determined campaign by high profile toffs and wealthy landowners to return a large part of our countryside to a fake past, untouched by industry, farming or any kind of maintenance.
They want to create a place where native animals and nature rule, and visits from humans are limited at best. Hunting and shooting is banned and moors and farmland where cattle once grazed are allowed to return to their natural scrubby state.
The movement started out as a hobby for very wealthy property owners who have bought huge estates in isolated parts of the UK.
The largest landowner in Scotland is a Danish billionaire who is busy returning his holdings in the remote Highlands to wilderness areas where you can rent beautifully restored crofters cottages and lodges for luxury breaks.
Other huge rewilding fans are the Goldsmith millionaires, Ben and Zac, pals of Carrie Johnson, who is the PR for millionaire Damian Aspinall’s Foundation in Kent.
Aspinall owns Howletts Zoo (he prefers the term ‘nature park’) where the public can pay £20 to gawp at gorillas and cheetahs who are being reared to eventually return to Africa.
Ben Goldsmith is a rewilding-mad financier who owns 300 acres in the West Country, and wants to return his estate to a ‘species-rich scrubby wood’, planning to introduce polecats and glow worms.
JANET STREET-PORTER: Other huge rewilding fans are the Goldsmith millionaires, Ben and Zac, pals of Carrie Johnson, who is the PR for millionaire Damian Aspinall’s Foundation in Kent (Zac and Carrie pictured left)
Unfortunately, 32 red deer he’s already unleashed on the property have escaped, forcing him to apologise to neighbours.
Ben holds a non-executive role as an advisor at Defra, giving him a good chance to bend the ear of government with his rewilding crusade. To be fair he hasn’t taken a salary – then again he doesn’t need to.
Older brother Zac, a charming man but a failed Tory MP, now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Goldsmith of Richmond Park, personally appointed by Boris, holding the environment brief.
Zac and Ben are old pals of the Prime Minister- they all attended Eton. Last autumn the Prime Minister borrowed the Goldsmith’s family house in Spain for a short holiday.
Another rewilding fan is movie star environmentalist Leo DiCaprio, who is spending this week on a billionaire’s super-yacht moored off the coast of St Barts (doesn’t sound like a very eco-friendly vacation to me).
You might be astonished to discover that a charity which Leo launched last year (Re: Wild) has just managed to scoop a £28,000 grant for ‘development assistance’ from the British government.
Which seems questionable use of public money, since Mr DiCaprio is worth a reputed £200 million.
The influence of the rewilding movement is growing stronger by the day and it has fans at the highest level of government.
With supermarkets struggling to fill shelves since the pandemic, and with all the extra bureaucracy imported goods have to comply with since Brexit, you might expect the government to back British farmers and increase the amount of food produced within the UK.
Instead, they seem to have been seduced by the trendy rewilders – favouring scrubland and ponds over green fields full of dairy cattle or beef herds.
This week, the government announced it was changing subsidies to farmers (as a result of Brexit), launching two major schemes aiming to create more nature reserves, where plants and animals can flourish.
JANET STREET-PORTER: Ben Goldsmith (pictured) is a rewilding-mad financier who owns 300 acres in the West Country, and wants to return his estate to a ‘species-rich scrubby wood’, planning to introduce polecats and glow worms
Using existing funding of £28 billion, they want farmers to sign up to ‘make space’ and plant thousands of trees, open up ditches so that wetlands can flood again, turning fields which previously were used to produce food into empty acreage.
This is called Landscape Recovery, and you might wonder why – when Britain only manages to grow 60 per cent of the food we need (compared to 78 per cent thirty years ago) – farmers are being encouraged to step away from food and turn large parts of the country into glorified theme parks.
Surely farmers go to agricultural college, spending years learning about rearing cattle, understanding how to get the best out of the soil and what crops to grow, because they have pride in their job – which I thought was feeding the nation.
Now, they are being encouraged to apply for government help to actually stop farming and become game wardens. It’s a weird world.
As for planting such a huge amount of trees – turning large parts of the country into managed forest has to be approached with caution. I’ve walked right through the biggest forest in the UK – Kielder – and it’s a dispiriting experience.
10 per cent of England is already covered in trees (up from five per cent in the early 1900s) which may not sound much but which is more than at any time since 1300.
The government wants to get it up to 12 per cent by 2060 which will be more trees than England has had since the Sheriff of Nottingham was chasing Robin Hood around Sherwood Forest in 1200 AD.
If more forestry is planted, will the public have access? Should public money be used for schemes which might be on private land?
And shouldn’t the government do more to protect farmland and forestry by refusing to allow unrestricted housing development on rural sites?
Instead, every small town in England is becoming surrounded by building sites churning out identikit estates of noddyland housing on land which once produced food. Meanwhile, town centres are full of vacant sites and unused buildings.
JANET STREET-PORTER: The influence of the rewilding movement is growing stronger by the day and it has fans at the highest level of government (Pictured: A rewilding project in the Scottish Highlands)
Many government policy choices have already desecrated our precious landscape.
The British countryside is scarred with hideous wind turbines which ruin some of our most iconic views, emitting horrible noises and scaring birds.
These turbines are anchored in concrete pads, which don’t seem very environmentally acceptable.
Thousands of acres lush green pasture are being turned into hideous ‘solar farms’ – instead of contented livestock, serried ranks of ugly panels sit there in mute lines, adding absolutely nothing to the landscape.
Are we so committed to renewable energy that we’re prepared to ruin our gorgeous landscape with these energy factories? The government says it wants to protect 30 per cent of all land for nature by 2030. But what does that really mean?
As a former President of the Ramblers, the last Big Ideas I want to see are rewilding schemes shutting out walkers.
Near my house in Norfolk, a local landowner has denied access to a beautiful lake. Signs proudly announce the area is being ‘rewilded’ with animals which could be dangerous, so he’s erected miles of fencing and locked the gates.
When landowners start introducing wild boar (or some breeds of pigs), walkers are best advised to steer clear. I should know, having reared a pair for a TV series a few years ago.
Thousands of wild boar – intelligent and sneaky animals – have already escaped from secure pens in many parts of England, where they cause havoc in woodland and are dangerous if cornered.
The best custodians of our countryside are farmers, all the evidence exists that government interference usually results in devastation and destruction.