Where are the wildest places in Britain

Identifying and preserving wilderness

Whether approaching the subject of wilderness in Britain from a biocentric or anthropocentric perspective, it should be understood that the wild areas of the British countryside are worth preserving, regardless of past histories. Indeed, in some locations the changing fortunes of the agricultural economy may give rise to opportunities for the regeneration of near natural landscapes with the emphasis on recreation and habitat. In other words, it may be possible to actually recreate wilderness. Nature is never static and neither is landscape, cultural or otherwise. Both are in a constant state of flux, and we need to recognise this in any discussion of wilderness and "re-wilding" initiatives.

The idea of recreating wilderness areas in the British countryside is relatively new. Two basic approaches have been suggested, namely those of letting go and wild by design. The first idea suggests that if a landscape is left unmanaged for a long enough period, nature will take over and produce its own entirely natural landscape. This may not necessarily be the same landscape that existed before human settlement, but it will be, in most senses of the word, "natural". The other view is that we may need to actively design wild landscapes by assisting the regeneration of native species to recreate a more natural looking landscape. Within this concept, limited economic activity in the form of low intensity grazing and recreation is still possible and indeed desirable. This particular approach has been well developed by the Council for National Parks.

There are many conflicting views on whether it is possible to recreate wilderness by either route. In conservation terms the question arises as to whether re-wilding is not only possible, but as to whether it is desirable. Re-wilding is not necessarily good for rare/endangered species as it may lead to an overall reduction in biodiversity and loss of locally rare species and ecosystems. As we mentioned earlier the idea of wilderness is subjective, and it can be viewed from a humanistic or ecological perspective. If we are to attempt to define what we mean by wild areas and if policy makers are to make informed decisions about wilderness we require a means of establishing where these areas are.

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