A departure from land-squandering industrial agriculture and an over-reliance on resource-hungry livestock would allow a mind-blowing resurgence of nature.
Farming in harmony with nature, combined with rewilding less productive land, holds the key to the restoration of wildlife. Habitats can be restored through the collective actions of neighbouring farmers. Marginal lands and uplands can be reforested, restoring wildlife and climate-stabilising trees to our hillsides and accelerating the return of wildlife.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity for rewilding relates to our depleted farmland soils, which present a massive canvas in desperate need of restoration. Soils are such rich habitats with so much biodiversity that they have been described as ‘the poor person’s rainforest’. A healthy soil depends on a vibrant range of life forms below the ground, from bacteria and fungi to insects, earthworms and moles. Soil organisms represent around a quarter of all biodiversity on Earth, yet they receive relatively little attention from conservationists.
The secret to rewilding the soil lies in moving free-ranging animals around the land in rotation. Ruminants like cattle and sheep should be rotational grazers, followed by clover-fed pigs or foraging chickens, and maybe with ducks, turkeys and even goats added into the mix.
This, together with keeping soils covered, having a rich diversity of crops as well as animals, is vital. Keeping the patchwork of different plants and animals moving round the farm, with a wide diversity of plants and animals, goes a long way to encouraging more biodiversity below ground.
So, ending factory farming and rewilding the soil instead would give us a game-changing opportunity to transform our food system into one that is genuinely healthy, humane and regenerative. It would restore farmed animals to the land in their ecological niche as rotational grazers and foragers. It would boost soil fertility, bring back biodiversity both above and below ground, and would give us the power to save the food system for future generations.
For animals, people and the planet, why would we want anything less?