The Beaver Trust is all about the large-scale restoration of our river system. The Trust is so named, Wallace tells me, because the beaver is a “highly productive, hard-working, communal, familial organism” – all qualities that Wallace clearly admires. But the buffer strip is as integral to his vision for rivers as the charismatic little ‘ecosystem engineer’ that has so caught the public’s imagination.
Buffer strips are areas along riverbanks that are left to go wild – free from farming, intensive livestock grazing, or any other interference. On a map, think of them as making two ‘green’ strips alongside the ‘blue’ length of the river corridor.
Wallace has a dream: he wants to create 10,000ha of river buffer strips – that is a 20m-wide strip along both sides of 2,500km of river – within two years. What’s more, with the Beaver Trust and partners, he thinks he has assembled the team to do it.
“That might sound like an insanely huge idea, but that is what we are thinking about at the moment.” says Wallace, of a concept that could completely change the look of our landscape. “There’s no point going at things half-hearted, is there?”
‘Insanely huge idea’ it may be, but it just might be the right time for it. We are in a climate and biodiversity emergency. Our withdrawal from the EU means that our whole way of funding agriculture is changing, from one largely based on subsidy to one of rewarding farmers for ‘public goods’ – for services to society such as providing clean water, habitat creation for wildlife, carbon sequestration and general space for well-being.
The Environment Bill currently passing through Parliament will enable Nature Recovery Networks. All the talk in conservation circles is now about connecting landscapes and connecting people with nature. It is within this climate of disruption to agricultural funding that Wallace is hoping to make his river buffer strips a designated Nature Recovery Network, and so a reality.
He and the Beaver Trust are developing innovative funding mechanisms to bring private money into nature conservation, so that it works for farmers and landowners, too. Wallace and his team, which includes financier and environmentalist Ben Goldsmith and ex-government minister Richard Benyon, are currently in talks with Defra about getting that first project off the ground. After that? Wallace’s big-picture thinking kicks in again: “100,000ha in the next 10 years, that is what we would like to see. That is 25,000km.” says Wallace.
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