Rewilding has become a passionate priority for many conservationists.

Hardly a day goes by without it being mentioned in mainstream and social media and there are many rewilding schemes here in Derbyshire - such as those currently being undertaken by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust across the county - that few would deny will provide positive and essential societal and wildlife benefits.

Successful projects in our county include Thornhill Carrs Reserve, in Edale – a 30-hectare area of former farmland which is now home to a wonderful variety of wild woodland, scrub and wildflower meadows; a real triumph.

But rewilding isn’t all milk and honey. It’s influence on Britain’s forestry programme can have serious negative environmental and economic costs that are either not recognised or being deliberately overlooked.

Advocates of rewilding promote the planting of native, predominantly broadleaved tree species with the expectation of little, if any, commercial timber production.

They argue that the long-term benefits to society of forests dominated by native trees (such as birch, hazel, oak and alder) outweigh the future benefits of commercially productive species (such as spruce and firs).

Great British Life: Research shows conifer forests are three times more efficient at fixing carbon than plantations of native trees Photo: Getty ImagesResearch shows conifer forests are three times more efficient at fixing carbon than plantations of native trees Photo: Getty Images

But discussions within the media on expanding environmental forests never seem to mention the source of the more than 50 million tonnes of wood products that we use each year in Britain.

With only 13% of land occupied by trees, Britain has the second smallest area of forest in Europe and is the world’s second biggest importer of wood products after China.

Ironically, the growing demand for timber is influenced by environmental pressures to replace polluting or non-sustainable materials with ‘environmentally sustainable’ wood products, and arguments around carbon and ‘embedded energy’ are increasingly used to support the greater use of wood in construction.

With worldwide demand for timber increasing at around four per cent per annum, global wood supply/demand balances are anticipated to change from surplus to deficit by the middle of this century. That will inevitably precipitate an expansion of logging in natural/semi-natural forests.

In essence, we are moving towards a scenario where we increasingly use our land for conservation tree planting while importing the huge quantities of wood products that we need from elsewhere in the world, including from already threatened natural and semi-natural forests.

Great British Life: A spruce tree forest Photo: AVTG/Getty ImagesA spruce tree forest Photo: AVTG/Getty Images

It is a classic NIMBY (not in my back yard) situation. That apart, the ‘carbon footprint’ of importing timber products over great distances is significant in terms of climate change.

Growing more of our own wood is vital to reduce imports and consequential pressures from logging (often illegal) of the world’s remaining natural forests, improve domestic balance of payments, and to create a sustainable resource that generates wealth and employment, particularly in rural areas.

Despite having had a policy for more than 100 years to decrease the country’s dependence on imported wood by increasing the forest area, in practice the area has only increased by about eight per cent in all that time.

What are the pros and cons of rewilding a domestic garden?

For the past 40 years much of that increase has been represented by non-commercially-productive native trees.

The extensive areas of treeless hill land in Scotland offer the greatest potential for increasing Britain’s meagre productive forest resource.

Scotland’s Forestry Strategy provides for increasing the country’s forest area by 200,000 hectares by 2032.

However, in 2022, 65% (4,100 hectares) of the 6,300 hectares of bare land planted in Scotland, were planted with native broadleaved tree species.

Based on these figures, during the next nine years, 130,000 hectares will be planted with native tree species that will produce little if any usable timber.

The Affric Highlands rewilding project alone, which covers a vast area of the Scottish Highlands from Loch Ness to the west coast of Scotland, will rewild 200,000 hectares of land over 30 years.

Great British Life: Rewilding has many benefits but is nevertheless a complex issue Photo: Getty ImagesRewilding has many benefits but is nevertheless a complex issue Photo: Getty Images

And it doesn’t stop there. Scotland’s long-established commercially productive coniferous forests, frequently derided by conservationists, are impacted by the rewilding fashion.

Of the 8,300 hectares of commercially productive conifers that were felled in 2022, one fifth of the area was replanted with predominantly native broadleaved tree species, further reducing our ability to produce the timber that we need in the future.

Research has shown that conifer forests are three times more efficient at fixing carbon than plantations of native trees. Commercial ‘plantation’ forests are also a highly efficient use of land.

They only cover three per cent of the total global forest area yet produce one third of global industrial timber.

It is also interesting to reflect on the illogicality of conservationists in criticising non-native tree species growing in British forests that cover 13% of the land area when almost the entire agricultural sector covering around 70% of the land area is based on farming non-native plants and animals.

Rewilding may attract a lot of attention by the media, but unregulated, in the context of the overall national interest, it is detrimental.

On average, every hectare of land that could support productive conifers but are instead planted with native broadleaved species, represents a future loss to the economy of some 440 tonnes (20 lorry-loads) of usable wood.

Every tonne of wood that is imported into Britain represents a drain on our economy, a risk to biodiversity somewhere else in the world and adds more carbon to the atmosphere.

Rewilding should undoubtedly have a place in the management and development of the countryside, but it should be constrained in respect of Britain’s forest management and afforestation programmes.

Its negative attributes should be more widely recognised, particularly with regards to the extent that it is indirectly damaging the natural environment elsewhere in the world.