I HAVE just been to an inspirational conference at Chester Zoo about rewilding.

Now, I know what you’re thinking - we don’t really want animals like wolves, bears and lynx re-introduced to Britain.

But it is not all about that.

I agree, we live in a densely populated island and we are afraid of top-predators that prey on our livestock – and us!

And that’s partly why they were hunted to extinction hundreds of years ago. But it doesn’t have to mean that.

We have lots of projects to re-introduce historical animals to our lands. Beavers are VEGETARIANS, so they are not going to have any impact on fish stocks; but what they do is dam up rivers in the highlands so that flooding is not so common further down the valleys.

Golden eagles prey on rats and other rodents – they will not attack new-born lambs that are now habitually kept indoors anyway by Welsh farmers- and how are we going to sell lambs into the EU after Brexit with 40 per cent tariffs anyway?

Pine Martens have been re-introduced to Wales (but they were still there anyway) and suppress grey squirrels so that our native red squirrels can prosper; yes they take eggs and chicks from our native birds, but on a small scale.

Bees, butterflies and moths and other essential pollinators of our food crops are in freefall decline on our farmland due to insecticides and the loss of wildflowers that are essential for their survival; we need farmers to include pollinator margins.

Every eco-system has a ‘keystone species’, and that does not have to be a top predator. In a rock pool, if the starfish are taken out the diversity of all the other creatures there soon declines as the mussels that were eaten by the starfish completely take over.

If the kelp forests around island coasts are not patrolled by otters that eat a lot of the sea urchins and other grazing animals, the kelp disappears.

If the wildebeest have died because of disease or drought, but then are allowed to come back and breed, they eat off the grasses which were a wick for any wild fires and so trees are able to re-generate as well as the plants in their shade, so many other animals, birds and insects start to come back into a nearly destroyed ecosystem with surprising speed.

There are many examples now documented from all over the world where the ultimate keystone species - Man – has interfered with natural ecosystems so that the system cannot work naturally any more.

These examples and more are described in a wonderful short film (find it on YouTube) and a book called ‘The Serengeti Rules’ by Sean B Carroll.

But it happens all around us here too.

When I stopped gazing or mowing my fields every year in order to allow butterflies that hibernate in the dead grasses and other plants from the previous year, I inadvertently created the perfect home for mice and voles to breed in the undergrowth. This in turn led to breeding barn owls, tawny owls, kestrels and buzzards to come to my fields to hunt. These in turn keep down rats and mice that may get into peoples’ homes and animal food-stores.

Also not using fertiliser or weedkiller means lots of our disappearing wild flowers are coming back into my fields which not only provide larval food and nectar for our crop and fruit-tree pollinators, then that means more insects and seeds for the wild birds to eat. But also it means the wild herbs that have medicinal qualities for our grazing animals are also there.

A farmer who used to rent my field for cattle once told me they would blare at the end of the barn for the hay from my fields before they would eat any of the bought-in hay.

And there is new research now that shows that cattle will self-medicate by eating plants from certain areas of a field if they can.

So it is all beginning to fall into place for me, what ‘re-wilding’ can mean in our gardens and fields.

There’s a marvellous project on the Knepp estate in Sussex and four big projects in the Netherlands you can also find out about online.

With that in mind, I have been researching a talk I am to give to the Pennant Society on his contribution to our knowledge of natural history, and have discovered the joys of Flintshire record office in Hawarden – it is free, it has a massive ancient library, you can request to view anything from historic deeds, maps, books and lots more!

I can see I will be spending a lot more time in there now.

Jan will be giving a talk ‘Thomas Pennant’s contribution to our knowledge of Natural History’ at a later date than originally published, and the Flintshire Record office is currently closed due to the coronavirus situation.

But the North Wales Wildlife Trust is still keeping all its reserves open for free where you can walk in the lovely spring bluebells and other wildflowers in April and May.

See www.northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk and search for nature reserves to find one near you.

Jan Miller