WATCH: Rewilding Crown Land 'single biggest thing' royal family could do for the environment

Picture: Steve Parsons/PA/via Reuters

Picture: Steve Parsons/PA/via Reuters

Published Sep 13, 2022


The “single biggest thing” the British royal family could do for the environment would be to rewild the approximately 3 500km² of Crown Land, argues environmental campaigner Joel Scott-Halkes.

Rewilding refers to the process of reversing damage to nature through active, large-scale environmental restoration, to the point where the ecosystem can then take care of itself again.

Having grown up in Cornwall, in south-west England, Scott-Halkes found refuge in the rivers and temperate forests of his home town.

“I thought everywhere in the world must have such abundant natural places,” he told Replanet. “Sadly, I realised I was wrong. Most of them had been deeply damaged or destroyed. I worked in the film industry for a few years, trying desperately to become “successful”, whatever that means!”

Eventually, his desire to protect the beauty of where he grew up and help restore nature elsewhere caught up with him and, in 2018, Scott-Halkes quit his job and devoted himself to being a full-time activist.

SkyNews reported that the queen herself held vast tracts of land, some through her position as sovereign, such as through the Duchy of Lancaster, and some owned privately, irrespective of her titles, such as the 50 000 acres (about 20 000 hectares) of Balmoral land in Scotland and 20 000 acres of land at her Sandringham estate.

But the Duchy of Lancaster, which has around 44 000 acres, was an "ecological wasteland dominated by grouse moors that they set fire to promote the sporting enjoyment of a few paying aristocrats", Scott-Halkes said.

The UN says the world must rewild and restore an area the size of China to prevent ecosystem collapse and climate breakdown.

Together, the Royals own 1.4% of England's land, an area twice the size of Greater London, according to research by campaigner Guy Shrubsole.

Rewilding Crown land would send "an immense sign to all other landowners in the country, particularly aristocratic landowners, who look to the Royals for sort of stylistic leadership on what to do with your estate", said Scott-Halkes, who orchestrated a petition to the royal family.

The management of some Crown land may soon change as Prince William, as next in line to the throne, takes over the Duchy of Cornwall, about 130 000 acres of land, from his father.

"He is much more outspoken about the need for restoration," said Mr Scott-Halkes, referring to the Prince's visit to the 3 500 acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex, a poster child for the rewilding movement.

Only around 6% of the 130 000 acres of land in the Duchy of Cornwall enjoys some form of tree cover, according to the Wild Card campaign. This is half the UK national average of 10% to 13%, and far less than the EU average of 39%.

Land cover in South Africa is dominated by open ecosystems which are shrublands covering 40% of the total area, savanna woodlands (33%) and grasslands (27%).

According to 2021 data from GeoTerraImage, indigenous and exotic forest plantations occupy less than 0.3% of South Africa’s land area, while exotic forest plantations occupy about 1% of the overall area.

"Prince William will have to set out his vision for how he manages all of that land," Scott- Halkes added.

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