“We don’t have to fear wolves, we just have to show respect and awareness of their special qualities,” said Frank Grütz, European representative of the International Rangers Federation.
Since wolves were hunted down hundreds of years ago in most of Europe, people have lost their capacity for awareness in the countryside, said Frank, as he passed a party of teenagers checking social media on their way to Mam Tor.
“But when you’re aware again, you might say, OK, there might be a wolf in this area, I won’t stroll around without thinking.”
That might mean making a little more noise than usual so they hear you coming and get out of your way, he said. “In Germany, stray dogs are much more likely to injure you than a wolf.”
Frank and countryside rangers from around the UK were addressing the global decline in wildlife at the 50th anniversary conference of the Countryside Management Association in Castleton recently.
Frank said the motto of many continental national parks is ‘let nature be’ with large areas set aside without traditional farming to ensure wildlife can develop on its own without disturbance.
“But in the Peak District there are lots of small villages and land users and farmers. Here I’ve learned that the meaning of nature protection should be in the service of the people.
“For 2,000 years western societies have put a distance between nature and themselves, but now I think the key is for people to become sensitive again to the nature around them and think if I do something for nature protection, I do it for my health, for my wellbeing.
“I’m not separate, I’m part of the whole thing.”
Following successful reintroductions, wolves are moving across Germany again to the areas Frank oversees in the south of the country, and he meets schools and families to pass on the facts about the animals, and how such top predators help restore a natural balance.
Attitudes are changing, he said, and the disquiet resulting from many generations of Brothers Grimm stories is misplaced. “We say there’s no need to have fear, fear makes you angry and not open to the real facts.”
Wolves would not be a good idea in the Peak District, he said, due to the high levels of sheep farming and settlements.
“But lynx would not be such a big problem in local forests if there are plenty of deer about.”
There are no plans for wolves or lynx in the Hope Valley, but managing the protected upland landscapes of the country’s existing wildlife and people is a challenge in an uncertain financial climate, said rangers at their Castleton conference.
Cuts to countryside budgets in local authorities and National Parks ignore the value of health, tourism, flood management, carbon capture and the public’s simple enjoyment of nature, said conference speaker Professor Ian Rotherham, who added that as a necessary evil, he may reluctantly call trees, moors and meadows ‘ecosystem services’ to help budget managers include them on their spreadsheets.
Frank and his fellow rangers walked along the Great Ridge between Castleton and Edale discussing the issues of sheep farming, paragliding licences and the warning that there may only be 50-100 harvests left in UK areas of intensive arable farming if current rates of soil erosion continue.
“I think we need to ask what are the most valuable assets of our upland landscapes,” said Ted Talbot, National Trust countryside manager for the Peak District.
“Is it farming and forestry or is it wildlife or recreational access and all the benefits that brings for the health and wellbeing of the country, or are these landscapes more valuable for storing water and carbon?
“I think the balance has shifted dramatically due to our understanding of the impacts of climate change and loss of wild places.
“People often say that farmers are the custodians of the countryside, but I think all of us need to be countryside custodians now.
“The recent UK State of Nature report was pretty damning about the effect of intensive agriculture on our wildlife.
“We need to ask does our upland farming really need to be so intensive when we export 70 per cent of our lamb to France?
“Could farmers and land managers be paid to undertake grazing for conservation and planting more trees, for keeping places wet to hold back flood water and keeping carbon on the moors?”
It’s another period of change for the British landscape in both town and country, he said.
“Brexit will bring change to farm subsidies in rural areas. Urban fringe parks and countryside have been looked after by public servants, charities and volunteers, and all are seeing cuts that will impact on the green spaces you know and love.
“So if you use and value your countryside, why not learn about it and get involved, just please don’t take it for granted.”