Launching the Natural Capital Atlas of Norfolk
Updated: Sep 16, 2022
How much of Norfolk is being rewilded? That was the question that ultimately kick started the creation of Rewilding Norfolk. Several rewilding projects were popping up, but we wanted to get an idea of the bigger picture - exactly how much land was being rewilded, and would this be enough to help slow or reverse the catastrophic decline in wildlife abundance and diversity being observed across the UK? Ecological restoration is really about scale: the more land you return to nature, the more natural habitat is available for wildlife to live in. Clearing natural habitat to make way for farming, on the other hand, is terrible for wildlife: the UN’s Environmental Program recently highlighted the global farming system as the primary driver of biodiversity loss worldwide. Rewilding a few acres here and there in Norfolk isn’t going to solve the problem - so we built the Rewilding Norfolk map, allowing us to calculate exactly how much of Norfolk is being rewilded. We can therefore gauge where we are vs where we need to be.
This question almost instantly begat more questions: how do these rewilding projects fit into the broader picture? How much of Norfolk’s land is already put aside for nature, and how much needs to be rewilded to stem the decline in our beloved wildlife?
The new landowner led conservation initiative WildEast aims to rewilding 20% of East Anglia by 2070. The nationwide Wildlife Trusts have set a target of 30% of land nationwide to be protected for nature’s recovery by 2030, a figure they believe is sufficient to halt nature’s decline. However, The county-specific Norfolk Wildlife Trust has not yet set a local target, so it's hard to know what they think should be the percentage figure in Norfolk.
We should bear in mind that the East of England (i.e. East Anglia) represents one of the most important agricultural regions in England in terms of value and output. In 2021, Norfolk and Suffolk produced 16.6% of the UK’s fruit and vegetables, from just 4% of its land area. So whilst there are many areas of marginal output in Norfolk that are ripe for ecological restoration, it is likely that rewilding efforts should focus on areas of the UK that produce less food (such as the Northern upland areas), in order to protect food security. 30% may therefore be too ambitious a target for Norfolk, and as such we would err towards the WildEast target.
How far do we need to go to protect 20% of Norfolk’s land for nature? Our mapping project has only really just started, however as of August 2022, Rewilding Norfolk had identified environmental projects covering 57,200 acres of Norfolk. 5,600 acres of these relate to ‘rewilding’ projects. Norfolk’s total acreage is approximately 1,360,000 acres, meaning that our current research suggests 4.2% of Norfolk is protected for nature. This is obviously an underestimate, as there are many natural capital assets that remain unmapped. We hope to work with other conservation bodies, specialists and locals to bridge the data gap in the upcoming months and years.
The Natural Capital Atlas of Norfolk is similar to WildEast's Map of Dreams, though it provides a more delineated view of Norfolk's natural capital assets, their size and their boundaries. It will also look to include existing National Nature Reserves and other selected nature protection areas, where the Rewilding Norfolk team is comfortable that these are genuine and managed appropriately. The Map of Dreams is about democratising environmental action, whereas the Natural Capital Atlas of Norfolk is about democratising environmental information, and in that sense the maps compliment each other nicely.
We will also look to include nature friendly farms in this map, where they can prove they are not using pesticides and have created significant buffers around rivers / streams / wetlands.
The Natural Capital Atlas, as it stands, can be seen below:
If you look at our map and think that important natural capital assets are missing, please tweet us at @WhoOwnsNorfolk or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see the specific Holkham Estate Map, follow this link.
The larger Who Owns Norfolk map can be seen below: