Saturday, October 10, 2020

Rewilding the Somerset Levels

With things so grim at the moment, it's good to look for hope. And I find it in the Somerset Wildlands project:

The Somerset Levels were once England’s Okavango Delta. From pelicans to lynx, beavers to sturgeons, it would have teemed with wildlife. While what remains is wonderful, too much is now gone. We will buy land to create space for nature and natural processes, and support the reintroduction of lost species.

I had to look up the Okavango Delta and it turns out to be in Botswana.

A parallel closer to home might be Germany's lost Oderbruch, as described by Neal Ascherson:

Today, we would treasure the lost Oderbruch as one of the marvels of Europe. On its way to the Baltic, the river frayed into countless shallow channels and lagoons, into swamps, shoals and muddy islands. Twice a year, it flooded up to ten or twelve feet deep, nourishing a dense cover of waterlogged bushes. 
Here lived ‘an almost unimaginable range of insect, fish, bird and animal life’, including wolves and lynxes. Blackbourn has the sense to rely heavily on the travel writings of Theodor Fontane, the most lovable and observant of German writers, who explored the drained Oderbruch in the 1850s and collected memories of pre-reclamation times. 
Fontane was told of the enormous shoals of countless species of fish, of pike hordes so dense that they could be scooped up in buckets, of crayfish which escaped the hot summer shallows to swarm in trees from which they could be shaken down like plums.

And he wrote also about the old inhabitants. They were not Germans but Wends, Slavs who had survived in the marshes since the Germans colonised the fertile land almost a thousand years before. The Wends lived on mounds hidden in the swamp, their huts encircled by ramparts of cow-dung which kept out the floods and served as pumpkin beds.

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