There is almost nowhere in Britain where you can escape from extreme human impacts. To experience wild nature, you must go abroad.

This is not because our population is so high. The 66 million people of Britain are confined to 7% of its land area*. Parts of this country, such as the Scottish Highlands and the Cambrian Mountains, have some of the lowest population densities in the temperate world. It is because our land and seas have been systematically trashed.

In the infertile uplands, where you might expect to find wild and thriving ecosystems, sheep farming has scoured the land of almost all wildlife. By nibbling out tree seedlings and other edible plants, sheep create a wet desert. Upland sheep make a loss: we pay for this destruction through public subsidies. And the few places not wrecked by sheep are ravaged for grouse shooting estates or deer-stalking. Our upland national parks offer no protection from these three forms of destruction: all of them are ecological disaster zones.

Commercial fishing is excluded from just 0.01% of our marine territorial waters: three pocket handkerchiefs of sea, amounting to 7.6 km². Most of our marine reserves are nothing more than paper parks**.

It needn’t be like this. We should rewild at least 10% of our uplands. We should re-establish some of the magnificent native species that once lived in this country, including beavers, boar, lynx, cranes, storks, white-tailed eagles and pelicans. We should help species now confined to a few tiny enclaves, such as wild cats, pine martens, capercaillies, goshawks, hen harriers and golden eagles, to spread across the United Kingdom.

We should rewild river corridors, creating buffer zones that provide  continuous habitat while preventing pollution from entering the water, stopping floods and building ecological connections between the countryside . and our cities. This will let wonderful wild animals, such as otters and dippers, to move between the two.

We should declare 30% of the UK’s seas off-limits to commercial fishing and other forms of extractive industry. This will allow fish and crustaceans to breed and reach large sizes, before spilling over into surrounding waters. When fish numbers recover, we expect humpback whales to resume their historical migrations up the Irish Sea, and bluefin tuna, fin and sperm whales once more to follow the herring around our northern and eastern coasts. 

Britain will again become a magnificent place in which to see wildlife. Ecotourism and associated businesses will boost jobs and income. The catastrophic decline of our ecosystems will be reversed.

GEORGE MONBIOT, ENVIRONMENTAL CAMPAIGNER, COLUMNIST AND AUTHOR

*More than 6.8% of the UK’s land area is now classified as ‘urban’, with more than 10% of England,L1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales contributing to this habitat (UK national ecosystem assessment 2011)

**Many marine protected areas exist on maps and in legislation but offer little real protection in the water. Often referred to as “paper parks”, these sites represent a failure of efforts to protect resources and ecosystems