In the second instalment of our rewilding series, Oliver Tufft explains how adopting a harmonious relationship with nature can be a profitable endeavour.

The speed with which Homo sapiens rose to the top of the food chain can be cited, anthropologically speaking, as a cause for the ecological catastrophe that has fallen upon the planet. When other apex predators, such as sharks and lions, reached the top of the food chain, they did so over millions of years. During this time, they evolved the essential qualities that make them the undisputed kings of the land and sea respectively. However, because it was such a gradual process, nature was able to evolve checks and balances of her own. Gazelles became faster, hyenas became smarter and rhinos became angrier. Conversely, Homo sapiens became the apex predator in the evolutionary blink of an eye, giving nature no time to devise new defences.

However, as a species, we are being shown that the checks and balances are coming. The climate crisis can be seen as nature’s way of keeping us in line. If Homo sapiens is going to survive these tests, we are going to have to change.

“The climate crisis can be seen as nature’s way of keeping us in line.”

The climate and biodiversity crises are first and foremost a human crisis. They are the direct result of human action. All of these actions have sought, in some way, to improve the lives of humans. Our motivation for action is the same as every other species on the planet, it is just that since the cognitive revolution we have exercised a disproportionately larger impact on our environment than other animals do. It is safe to assume that if humans are going to reverse the climate crisis it must be in our interest to do so; it must make life better for us. Despite the fact that our planet is burning, our motives haven’t changed.

Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to state the obvious, that we might not have a hospitable planet in a couple of hundred years because humans massively discount the future. Fortunately, we can demonstrate that the solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are beneficial to humans here and now. This series seeks to present rewilding as a solution to the climate and biodiversity crises, and this article seeks to explain how it can benefit humans and the community from a purely financial perspective.

The population of the United Kingdom has an undeniable appetite for nature and outdoor spaces, as reflected in the more than 5 million National Trust members that exist. More than 5 million members in a country that is overwhelmingly depleted in terms of biodiversity and iconic fauna. There are no large predators in the UK — the largest perhaps being the fox or the golden eagle. When compared with the packs of wolves and the solitary lynx that call mainland Europe home, it is astounding that we have any support for nature at all.

Despite the lack of biodiversity in the UK, the species that have been able to hold on have demonstrated how much value they bring to us. In Loch Garten, 50,000 people visit every year for the chance to see two ospreys (two!). If each person were to spend £100 — no more than the price of one night in a B&B and a couple of meals — the income generated from this single pair would come to £5 million. Likewise, 23% of the Isle of Mull’s 350,000 annual visitors cite the island’s eagles as a reason for visiting. 52,500 people spend a night on the Moray Firth annually to see Dolphins and 240,000 people every year visit western Scotland to watch whales. All told, nature-based tourism is responsible for generating £1.4 billion per year in Scotland alone. Just imagine how this number would swell if iconic species were brought back and ecosystems were restored to their former glory.

If 50,000 people visit a single pair of ospreys each year, then it would not be unreasonable to estimate that perhaps 200,000 people would be interested in searching for an elusive lynx or tracking a pack of wolves in the Cairngorms. If the average spend per person came to £50, then these animals would be generating £1 million per year by simply existing.

Realistically, however, the average spend would be far more than £50. Ecotourism models work by offering an array of services. Some people would camp in the mountains alongside the animals, some would take up beds in more luxurious yurts and some may want to pay even more for a private safari. The Knepp Estate has used this model to good effect and managed to generate £800,000 in turnover annually. Though even at Knepp, no predators exist — this huge turnover for what was once a farm is thanks to the Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs and Longhorn cattle that call Knepp home.

In the few examples I have given, I have made no mention of carbon or biodiversity credits. While the carbon market is far more mature than the market for biodiversity credits, both will serve as important income streams for landowners in the future. Rewilding has been shown, through the restoration of natural processes and ecosystem services, to sequester large amounts of carbon (especially when compared to agricultural uses of land), meaning the financial argument for this progressive approach to conservation is becoming as strong as the environmental and ethical arguments.

Whether or not you believe that finances should be the deciding factor in how land is used, it is. Fortunately, with the development of natural capital markets and growing ecotourism opportunities, rewilding is becoming a more promising and more profitable endeavour. As other forms of land-use become ever more unprofitable, landowners must begin to question whether the way they treat their land is best for people and the planet.

Reading recommendations

If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and Rebirding by Benedict MacDonald.