Rewilding in Portishead: Tree Planting and Rewilding are not the same

As we have all become more conscious of the environment, one of the tools that has become more popular is the concept of rewilding. Here, the emphasis is on reducing human management and leaving an area to nature. On some occasions this is confused with projects such as tree planting which, while laudable in its own aims, is not the same as rewilding. Unfortunately, North Somerset Council is one of those bodies which seems to confuse the two concepts.

Many residents across North Somerset tell me that they are extremely concerned by the “rewilding” being carried out by the council. In Portishead 500 trees have been planted at Battery Point and there are plans to plant 700O more on the old golf course. This is not rewilding. It is tree planting. It would be sensible for North Somerset to consult residents about its plans making clear where there is going to be genuine rewilding and where there is going to be planned widespread planting of trees. The council may well find that the public are supportive of the concept of tree planting but unhappy with the currently planned locations.

The old golf course in Portishead is a good example. I have found widespread support for a genuine rewilding project – by allowing grass to grow and with simple footpaths being cut. The quantity and quality of wildlife such as butterflies, insects and small mammals has been growing and it seems we have a sound basis for continued growth next year. The mass planting of trees, as proposed by North Somerset Council, will disrupt this natural habitat and will change the nature of the landscape whose openness has been so prized for many years.

I think it would be greatly preferable to use tree seedlings and saplings found under existing trees, whether in private gardens or public spaces, and replanting them in suitable locations. In particular, we should consider existing wooded areas, allowing “the wood to step out” rather than imposing new woods on open spaces. This could be combined with genuine rewilding of other open spaces, though this should not be used as an excuse to fail to maintain grass verges, for example. Portishead has a number of charitable community groups and there is a tremendous ethos around volunteering but North Somerset Council has failed to harness this and many residents resent the fact that they have not been properly consulted by the council about genuine rewilding programs or the tree planting initiative. Handled well, and with proper public consultation and support, North Somerset could set an example to other parts of the country in environmental management. Instead, the lack of differentiation between mass tree planting and genuine rewilding, coupled with a sense that some of the measures may be more about cost-cutting than environmental improvement, means that a great opportunity is potentially being lost.

I have written to the leader of the council, Don Davies, in these terms and, if you agree, I would urge you to do the same.