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Satellite images show nature thriving at one of UK’s oldest rewilding sites

Satellite images show nature thriving at one of UK’s oldest rewilding sites
The Knepp Estate has been transformed over the past 20 年, but ecologists fear climate change may also be driving the explosion in vegetation.

One of the UK’s flagship rewilding projects is turning into a “lush and thriving” habitat, satellite data has revealed, but also uncovered evidence of the impact of climate change on native flora.

The owners of the 1,400-hectare Knepp Estateウエストサセックス have slowly been returning it to its natural state since 2000, the site having been intensively farmed since the Second World War.

Now ecologists from London Zoo (ZSL), インペリアルカレッジロンドン and the University of Sussex have compiled 20 years of satellite data to map the difference in vegetation since the start of the project.

Part of Knepp site before rewilding (Google Earth/PA)
Part of Knepp site before rewilding (Google Earth/PA)

Images gathered from platforms such as Google Earth found the rewilding process had led to a 40% increase in wooded areas and six times more shrubs between 2001 そして 2020.

The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, with only about 53% of its biodiversity left, according to research from the Natural History Museum.

This compares to a global average of 75%.

Rewilding, where land is helped to return to its natural state, is seen by conservationists as a vital tool to reverse this decline, but has met with resistance in some quarters, including from farmers and shooting estates.

Former crop fields on the south side of the Knepp Estate showed the biggest transformation.

The Knepp Estate after 20 years of rewilding (Google Earth/PA)
The Knepp Estate after 20 years of rewilding (Google Earth/PA)

These areas were left to themselves for long periods of time before the introduction of grazing animals such as Exmoor ponies and fallow deer.

The satellite images revealed the land shifting from brown ploughed fields to grassland, shrubs and trees.

But the growth in green vegetation was found to be above and beyond what would be expected from the rewilding process alone, 研究者は言った.

They said it might be down to the impacts of global warming on southern England’s climate, and warned it would need to be closely monitored in future.

Henrike Schulte to Buhne of ZSL, who led the research, 前記: “This study is the first of its kind to assess the impacts of rewilding on wider ecosystem functions over several decades and at scale, イギリスで.

“The Knepp Estate is becoming a lush and thriving natural habitat, and by using freely available, satellite data, we have deepened our understanding of the impacts made by rewilding efforts.”

Grazing animals such as Exmoor ponies were used to rewild the estate (Hayley Carr/PA)
Grazing animals such as Exmoor ponies were used to rewild the estate (Hayley Carr/PA)

Fellow author Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, of ZSL, 追加されました: “Restoring nature in the context of rapid environmental change is challenging.

“To inform conservation action, we need a range of reliable tools that help us assess and predict the impacts of our efforts in the context of rapid changes in climatic conditions – as this study has shown, satellite data are, in that respect, extremely useful.”

Dr Pettorelli added: “The good thing about satellite data is that you can go back in time and look for data from a time passed, so it presents itself as an ideal tool to help with monitoring the work being done to help restore nature.”

The researchers are calling for governments, landowners and policy makers to put nature “at the heart of decision making” in a bid to stem biodiversity loss, and to recognise its importance in reaching the UK’s net zero goals.