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Oceans and land
Somerset police dog praised for successfully tracking suspect
On the track to the moors
Initiative to improve sustainable fish labelling unveiled
Protection of grey wolves may be ended by Obama administration
RSPCA comes under fire for badger cull protests
The rain released from the parched ground that glorious earthy perfume
May's diverse wildlife finds hedgerows the perfect home
The pink-footed geese seemed restless, as if uncertain what they were doing
Study links insecticide use to invertebrate die-offs
Has the internet killed the Loch Ness monster?
Waitrose pledges to source all seafood from independently certified providers
It's the first time I've heard the chiffchaff's song this year
Edinburgh zoo's pandas help boost visitor numbers by 51%
Their bombastic majesties begin the nectar frenzy
Pandas have saved Edinburgh zoo from extinction but what for?
Insecticide spraying will be expanded to control pest caterpillar
This is the EU's best chance in a decade to reduce fish discards
Fish company investigated after salmon farm pollutes Scottish loch
Poachers kill 26 elephants at central African world heritage site
New to nature No 103: Tinkerbella nana
Sand martins dig tunnels in the dunes
World's tallest dam approved by Chinese environmental officials
Justin Bieber 'owes thousands' after leaving monkey hanging in Germany
A brief stillness before the damselfly's short life on the wing would begin
  My manifesto for rewilding the world
Until modern humans arrived, every continent except Antarctica possessed a megafauna. In the Americas, alongside mastodons, mammoths, four-tusked and spiral-tusked elephants, there was a beaver the size of a black bear: eight feet from nose to tail. There were giant bison weighing two tonnes, which carried horns seven feet across.

The short-faced bear stood 13ft in its hind socks. One hypothesis maintains that its astonishing size and shocking armoury of teeth and claws are the hallmarks of a specialist scavenger: it specialised in driving giant lions and sabretooth cats off their prey. The Argentine roc (Argentavis magnificens) had a wingspan of 26ft. Sabretooth salmon nine feet long migrated up Pacific coast rivers.

During the previous interglacial period, Britain and Europe contained much of the megafauna we now associate with the tropics: forest elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions and hyenas. The elephants, rhinos and hippos were driven into southern Europe by the ice, then exterminated about 40,000 years ago when modern humans arrived. Lions and hyenas persisted: lions hunted reindeer across the frozen wastes of Britain until 11,000 years ago. The distribution of these animals has little to do with temperature: only where they co-evolved with humans and learned to fear them did they survive.

Most of the deciduous trees in Europe can resprout wherever the trunk is broken. They can survive the extreme punishment hacking, splitting, trampling inflicted when a hedge is laid. Understorey trees such as holly, box and yew have much tougher roots and branches than canopy trees, despite carrying less weight. Our trees, in other words, bear strong signs of adaptation to elephants. Blackthorn, which possesses very long spines, seems over-engineered to deter browsing by deer; but not, perhaps, rhinoceros.

All this has been forgotten, even by professional ecologists. Read any paper on elephants and trees in east Africa and it will tell you that many species have adapted to "hedge" in response to elephant attack. Yet, during a three-day literature search in the Bodleian library, all I could find on elephant adaptation in Europe was a throwaway sentence in one scientific paper. The elephant in the forest is the elephant in the room: the huge and obvious fact that everyone has overlooked.

Since then much of Europe, especially Britain, has lost most of its mesofauna as well: bison, moose, boar, wolf, bear, lynx, wolverine even, in most parts, wildcat, beavers and capercaillie. These losses, paradoxically, have often been locked in by conservation policy.

Conservation sites must be maintained in what is called "favourable condition", which means the condition in which they were found when they were designated. More often than not this is a state of extreme depletion, the merest scraping of what was once a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem. The ecological disasters we call nature reserves are often kept in this depleted state through intense intervention: cutting and burning any trees that return; grazing by domestic animals at greater densities and for longer periods than would ever be found in nature. The conservation ethos is neatly summarised in the forester Ritchie Tassell's sarcastic question, "how did nature cope before we came along?"

Through rewilding the mass restoration of ecosystems I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it. Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It's about abandoning the biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.

The only thing preventing a faster rewilding in the EU is public money. Farming is sustained on infertile land (by and large, the uplands) through taxpayers' munificence. Without our help, almost all hill farming would cease immediately. I'm not calling for that, but I do think it's time the farm subsidy system stopped forcing farmers to destroy wildlife. At the moment, to claim their single farm payments, farmers must prevent "the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land". They don't have to produce anything: they merely have to keep the land in "agricultural condition", which means bare.

I propose two changes to the subsidy regime. The first is to cap the amount of land for which farmers can claim money at 100 hectares (250 acres). It's outrageous that the biggest farmers harvest millions every year from much poorer taxpayers, by dint of possessing so much land. A cap would give small farmers an advantage over large. The second is to remove the agricultural condition rule.

The effect of these changes would be to ensure that hill farmers with a powerful attachment to the land and its culture, language and traditions would still farm (and continue to reduce their income by keeping loss-making sheep and cattle). Absentee ranchers who are in it only for the subsidies would find that they were better off taking the money and allowing the land to rewild.

Despite the best efforts of governments, farmers and conservationists, nature is already starting to return. One estimate suggests that two thirds of the previously forested parts of the US have reforested, as farming and logging have retreated, especially from the eastern half of the country.

Another proposes that by 2030 farmers on the European continent (though not in Britain, where no major shift is expected) will vacate around 75m acres, roughly the size of Poland. While the mesofauna is already beginning to spread back across Europe, land areas of this size could perhaps permit the reintroduction of some of our lost megafauna. Why should Europe not have a Serengeti or two?

Above all, rewilding offers a positive environmentalism. Environmentalists have long known what they are against; now we can explain what we are for. It introduces hope where hope seemed absent. It offers us a chance to replace our silent spring with a raucous summer.
Japanese firm stops selling endangered whale pet treats
Comment of the week: why rewilding 'the wild' isn't so wacky
Humaneness of badger cull to be judged on noise of dying animals
Jean-Jacques Annaud: 'People who make films are in danger every day'
An oystercatcher rises surreptitiously, suggesting that it has a nest nearby
Short-haired bumblebee queens hoped to boost UK population
Badger vaccination 'would be cheaper to implement than cull'
Atlantic puffin population is in danger, scientists warn
Jellyfish surge in Mediterranean threatens environment and tourists
Lord's Resistance Army funded by elephant poaching, report finds
Why did dinosaurs evolve feathers?
Why the celebrity status of badgers is a problem
'Badger-friendly' milk to be sold in just three UK supermarkets
Labour fails in attempt to stop badger cull with Commons vote
Orange tip butterflies are so fragile, yet survive violent rainstorms intact
A cetti's warbler bursts into violent exclamation
Tammy the anteater to greet fans in London Zoo late-night walkabouts
Cod stocks recover after years of overfishing
Are some animals more worth saving than others?
Thai police discover 14 albino lions in warehouse near Bangkok
White lion breeding at UK wildlife parks linked to 'canned hunting'
Is the rise in antibiotic use on farms a threat to humans?
Stop using birdsong apps, nature reserve tells visitors
Cheetahs 'more powerful than a motorbike'
Meet Ming, the panda who left China to boost Britain's wartime morale
Badger cull activists can 'bend the rules' during protests, say police
RSPB accused of hypocrisy for killing hundreds of birds on its reserves
Wolf walking in Cumbria: the new leaders of the pack
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Marine Harvest agrees to limit pesticides and seal killings
Schmallenberg vaccine available to UK farmers this summer
Cat wars break out in New Zealand
Racing pigeon sold for record £260,000
Most UK species in decline, wildlife stocktake shows
Hedgehogs are disappearing fast gardeners to the rescue
I've often seen bees infested with mites, but rarely one so heavily laden
Government licensed secret buzzard egg destruction, documents reveal
Hedgehogs have everything they need in this garden
China reports rise in humans encountering wild Siberian tigers
New to nature special: the top 10 new species
Zoo keeper mauled by tiger 'broke safety rules'
Industry, fires and poachers shrink Sumatran tigers' last stronghold
The swift is a bird that screams of the Earth's intricate interconnectedness
Tiger that killed zoo worker 'dragged her into its enclosure'
Culls risk illegally exterminating badgers, animal expert warns
Counting the cost: fears badger cull could worsen bovine TB crisis
My manifesto for rewilding the world
Ban Ki-moon to warn UN security council of dangers of wildlife trafficking
Beaver kills man in Belarus
GM 'hybrid' fish pose threat to natural populations, scientists warn
The beaver from Belarus and other deadly animals
Ants in Germany repeatedly ring woman's doorbell
A nightly procession of pheasants, ducks, deer and badgers in the garden
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