Some of your frequently asked questions answered.
Are you getting rid of farming at Broughton?
No. Sheep and dairy farming will continue for the foreseeable future on app two-thirds of the 3000 acre estate in accordance with existing long-term tenancy arrangements. Additionally, most of the tenant farmers who were grazing the site before rewilding commenced, also graze their livestock elsewhere, which reduces the business impact on them as individuals.
In addition, the rewilding areas will in time, contain grazing animals in order to enable natural processes to prevail – a key principle of rewilding. The ancient wild cattle - aurochs - and the ancient wild horse – tarpan - are both globally extinct and we no longer have bison and elk in Britain and licences are not yet available for releasing wild boar and beavers into the wild. We therefore need to find proxies for those wild herbivore species, which in most rewilding projects, are suitable rare breed cattle, pigs and ponies. In due course, when the young trees and scrub is reasonably well established, we will be bringing in some of these rare breeds in small numbers to roam and graze across large areas and when we do, it will be necessary to control their numbers, in the absence of formerly native predators such as lynx, wolf and bear.
Overall, there will certainly be a significant reduction in sheep numbers and thus an overall reduction in the amount of lamb produced on the estate, but there will be an increase in beef cattle numbers and potentially a few pigs as well. So there will be a greater variety of meat production, but it will be of high quality.
Over time, the rewilding will also increase the amount and variety of wild foods available including fungi, honey, nuts and berries, which fits nicely with the planned development of our wild food foraging activities.
How does rewilding at Broughton fit with the need to feed the nation?
Not all land is equally suited to food production, and from a food security perspective it makes sense to produce most food on the best land – instead of trying to compensate for altitude, weather or soil conditions through ever-more expensive inputs, such as fertilisers, pesticides, medication and machinery. We believe that the best option in many upland areas like Broughton is to manage land for a combination of public goods and low-intensity, high quality meat production. Many rewilding projects are now supporting such approaches and it is working.
It is also important to remember that in the UK we waste 40% of the food which has been produced for us to eat. If we are really serious about food security, then that is the area we should focus on as a society.
Will rewilding reduce the numbers of jobs associated with managing the land at Broughton?
No. Quite the opposite in fact. Evidence from other rewilding projects of this kind in England shows that the numbers of jobs associated with managing large-scale rewilding projects increases by almost 50% compared with the numbers when the site was being farmed traditionally. This is because rewilding inevitably means diversification which requires a greater range of skills and also because it often generate new sources of income.
In addition, the data gathered from other projects shows that the numbers of volunteers involved with a site increases tenfold with rewilding – which is yet more evidence of the health and wellbeing benefits of such projects, because this volunteering gets people out exercising in increasingly nature-rich environments.
What has tree planting got to do with rewilding?
Rewilding is defined as the large scale restoration of ecosystems to the point where nature is allowed to take care of itself. If we were prepared to wait a century or more this could happen naturally, but given that we have a climate emergency and a biodiversity crisis, we need to kick-start the rewilding process by carrying out various interventions to allow nature recovery to happen far quicker. Our specialist rewilding advisor Prof Alastair Driver describes this approach as a “marathon with a sprint start”.
Rewilding interventions include the re-wetting of peat bogs, restoration of watercourses, wetland creation, removal of intensive grazing, reintroduction of key missing species, allowance of natural regeneration and tree planting. Natural regeneration is an essential element of any rewilding project, but in tree-sparse upland areas, tree planting is also very often desirable – in fact 10 of 23 large-scale English rewilding projects assessed by the charity Rewilding Britain in March 202, included tree planting.
Why are you planting so many trees?
We need many more trees in Britain to tackle biodiversity decline and climate change. Although natural regeneration would be the preferred solution for establishing trees, tree planting does have a key role to play in tree-sparse rural areas like Broughton and also in urban areas where seed sources are scarce.
We have relatively few native trees and shrubs here at Broughton, so we are carrying out lots of tree and shrub planting, but we will also be encouraging assisted regeneration and natural regeneration in suitable areas too and we are encouraging monitoring and research to assess the relative successes of each technique, to help inform similar projects elsewhere in future.
Why are you using plastic tubes to protect the trees at Broughton?
This was a difficult decision for us and we considered our options very carefully. The plastic shelters are essential to stop the trees being eaten by the deer, rabbits, voles and hares which share the estate with us. A possible option was to use biodegradable tree shelters but unfortunately a cost-effective, deer-proof, biodegradable tree shelter has not yet been invented. Current costs are something like 10x those of plastic tree shelters and on such a huge project this makes this option completely unaffordable. In addition, it is not yet clear that these biodegradable alternatives, such as cardboard tubes, are as effective or that they have any less impact on the environment overall. We would be very happy to work with the manufacturers and run some trials here though!
Affordable biodegradable spiral rabbit guards do exist, but these fragment as they degrade, making them very difficult to re-use and requiring significant resources to collect up unsightly plastic debris on such a large-scale project.
One alternative way of protecting the trees would have been to install many kilometres of deer and rabbit proof fences across the estate and undertake intensive rabbit and deer control within the planted areas, but it soon became clear that this approach would not fit with the broader ethos of the estate being a sanctuary for wildlife and people.
We know that certain tree species (such as alder, willow and hawthorn) can tolerate some wild herbivore grazing, and so we have opted for the smaller spiral guards to protect them to reduce our plastic use. We have also left 50 trees per ha in each planting plot unprotected with plastic tubes or spiral guards. Some of these unprotected trees are near the edges of the planting plots and some are in the centre. We will monitor the survival rates and adapt our future planting accordingly if appropriate. Early signs are that even while the planting is still being carried out, there is already browsing damage to these unprotected trees.
Also very importantly, at Broughton we always adopt the principle of reduce – reuse – recycle and this situation is no different. The tubes and spirals will all be removed in around 5 years’ time. In the majority of cases, we expect to be able to remove the tubes in one piece without damaging the tree and re-use them. Where we have to cut them to separate them from the tree, the plastic will be recycled.
In addition, we will leave some areas unplanted to allow assisted regeneration and natural regeneration to see if we can use less, or no plastic in future schemes. We look forward to seeing how these fare.
When we consider the longer term impacts of the scheme, as well as all the biodiversity, water quality, natural flood management and social benefits, each tree which becomes successfully established, will sequester and store well over 1 tonne of CO2. The protection we’re installing here will make sure that this happens as soon as possible and as we know, time is of the essence when it comes to tackling climate change.
It is really important to us that we apply best practice across all aspects of the rewilding interventions at Broughton and so we are intending to maintain the young trees without using any chemicals (eg glyphosate) or fossil fuels (eg strimming).
Why are the trees uniformly spaced and in rows ?
All major tree planting funding schemes have specifications attached to them, including spacing requirements and survival rates. With regard to planting in rows, this is inevitable on large scale tree planting projects like this, due to the sheer number of trees to be planted (over 200,000 at Broughton in the winter of 2020/21 alone) and the efficiencies required for ground preparation using machinery. We have done our best to minimise the appearance of regularity by planting in wavy rows rather than straight lines, but of course the row effect is exaggerated by the tree guards. Once the guards are removed in around 5 years’ time and different tree and shrub species are growing at different rates, it will look far more natural.
Where do people fit in here?
Here at Broughton, people will be at the very heart of the rewilding – both to help make it happen and to enjoy its benefits. We want to enthuse, inspire and inform people of all ages and from all walks of life. Rewilding will bring nature back to life here in a way that will excite our visitors whether they are just accessing the site via the public footpath network, working in one of the many offices on the estate, staying in the estate accommodation or taking part in the many health and wellbeing activities on site. Rewilding will enable all of these people to connect with nature – to find peace or adventure, relax or re-energise, explore or rest.
What about the impacts on the local community in and around Broughton?
Rewilding and flourishing nature offer opportunities for exciting, resilient new enterprises in rural communities. Places that enjoy rich wildlife and healthy landscapes are attractive for the people who live and work there and for visitors. We hope that through rewilding at Broughton we can provide new opportunities for diversification, low-impact tourism and recreation, and for businesses offering quality foods and natural products.
Are you planning to introduce missing species at Broughton?
No. We have no plans to reintroduce any species at Broughton for the foreseeable future. However the reintroduction of key missing species is an important aspect of rewilding in Britain, and so if other organisations were planning to reintroduce species such as the Beaver or Pine Marten into the wild in this part of the country we would be happy to consider how we might support their reintroduction when the time is right and where it makes sense.
With places like Broughton attracting big grants, isn’t this just another case of wealthy landowners making a profit out of government schemes?
No. In reality, the taxation and rental income impacts are such that the landowner will be no better off financially through converting intensively sheep-grazed and arable land to woodland, scrub and wood pasture in this way. However, finances are not the driver here. The landowner, whose family have owned the land for 32 generations, stretching back to the 9th century, considers himself to be a “custodian of the land” and is intent on that land providing multiple benefits to society as a whole, rather than just food, both now and for future generations.
The grant funding for the tree planting at Broughton covers the costs of the raw materials (trees, guards, stakes etc) and for the maintenance until the trees have become established (5 years in this case), but any future income from the land will be generated through business investment and activities associated with the management of the estate as a whole, just as they are with any other farm or estate.
Given that government policies and funding mechanisms are seeking to encourage large scale restoration of nature to help tackle the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis, it is entirely logical that large sites like this should attract such funding. That’s not to say that smaller scale landowners could not do the same, but to have the same impact, would require many neighbouring landowners to have the same degree of ambition at the same time and that scenario is much more difficult to find.
Why are we rewilding at Broughton?
Rewilding at Broughton will transform the existing landscape from one that is dominated by intensive sheep grazing, with only app 6% tree cover and of limited wildlife value, to a rich mosaic of multi-textured, multi-coloured habitats, with over 20% tree cover and teeming with wildlife. This will provide multiple benefits - not only for wildlife and for visitors to Broughton, through health and wellbeing, access and education opportunities, but also to the wider communities in West Yorkshire through reduced flood risk, better water quality, improved carbon sequestration etc. This will require several years of fairly intense activity to help kick-start the recovery of natural processes, but over time it will mean reducing management of the land and allowing nature to take care of itself.
Initial interventions will include cessation of sheep grazing and arable cultivation in some areas, followed by the planting of trees and the allowance of natural tree and scrub regeneration. We have also agreed that the Environment Agency can implement natural flood management interventions on the estate, because they will help with the recovery of natural processes and thus contribute to rewilding. This includes the introduction of leaky woody debris dams in some of the smaller watercourses, the creation of earth dams on the deep gullies on the moorland and the excavation of ponds and scrapes in selected areas to create wetland habitats.
All of these interventions help to slow the flow of water off the steep hillsides and thus contribute to reducing flood risk in peak rainfall periods further downstream. We will also be removing fencing where appropriate to help provide a greater sense of wildness on the estate, and in a few years’ time we expect to be introducing small numbers of large native breed cattle and possibly pigs and ponies. These animals will be allowed to roam across large areas to help create a rich mosaic of habitats, as they have done successfully in other rewilding projects. Intensive sheep farming will still continue in some parts of the estate in accordance with long-term tenancy agreements. So the estate will still be producing food – as all English rewilding projects do – but it will be a greater variety of food and very importantly, it will also be producing a wide range of other public benefits as described above.
Nature Recovery at Broughton
Channel 4 News
The Nature Recovery programme at Broughton was recently featured on Channel 4 news, click the link below to watch.
The Broughton Hall Estate is home to a magnificent Historic House, a collection of unique Holiday Homes and an off-grid Shepherd’s Hut.
Our 3,000 acre Estate is a wondrous mix of rolling meadow pastures, ancient woodland, wild reservoirs and meandering rivers.
The Broughton Hall Estate has been the home of the Tempest family since 1097 and enjoys a rich history stretching back over the Millennium.