Wildside with Professor Ian Rotherham

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Nature and humanity face big issues in the decades to come, and many relate to very acute problems, which get worse by the year.

What is more, as we saw with the landscape responses to flooding this last winter, the lack of action or vision by leading politicians is compounding matters.

There are various responses to the threats posed by environmental change and extreme weather, some quick mitigation through engineering and others longer-term landscape change approaches.

Many of the latter are attempts to remediate the damage done by ‘land improvement’ in the past. Worryingly, I heard recently of a plan to culvert parts of the open stream of the Blackburn Brook, thus compounding flood risk issues in that part of the Lower Don Valley.

Ironically, this is happening at the same time as the public purse is funding de-culverting and ‘daylighting’ of other lost rivers and streams in Sheffield.

One long-term approach to responding to environmental changes like climate and associated extreme weather is to ‘wild’ the landscape. In essence, this involves a wide range of devices to allow our landscapes to re-connect with their ecosystem functions.

These are probably the best long-term options, though there is much ground to make up in both mitigating environmental change and adapting to extreme weather. We need to make more of our green spaces in the towns and cities, in the suburbs and in the rural areas. It seems that decision makers and politicians just do not get the message. In response to this situation, we held a major conference at Sheffield Hallam University on Wilder By Design, bringing together experts from across the UK to debate issues and to consider solutions. This event was the build up to a major international conference next year, September 2015. The essence of the theme is that we want a wilder landscape – to deliver many essential benefits and to support a rich wildlife resource and heritage or historical features.

However, for success, this requires careful assessment, planning and design. In this important respect, our advocated approach is not abandonment but planned ‘wilding’ and can work from the countryside into the city. Much of it is what we have been doing through countryside management services across South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire for many decades and very successfully, until the national politicians axed them.

n Sightings: swallows and swifts are back in good numbers. A spotted flycatcher at Barbrook is a nice record of what was once a fairly common bird. Pied flycatchers are to be seen with common redstarts around Padley Gorge, and watch out and listen for cuckoos too. Hobbies are around the region with one spotted near Rawmarsh. This species has done especially well in the last few decades. Look out too for feral Canada geese and especially feral grey lags, two species definitely on the up. Both blackcaps and garden warblers are in very good voice – can you tell them apart? Location helps since blackcap is essentially a bird of dense woodland and garden warbler prefers scrub. Garden warbler song is a bit harsher and blackcap more richly melodious, both evolved to suit their habitat.