Wednesday, 23 March 2011

FW: Wildwood e-news March 11


Wildwood e-news March 11

1) The great British land heist by Peter Smith
2) Wildwood on Inside Out
3) Play park update - see the drop slide in action
4) Fundraisers of the month
5) News from the Conservation Team
6) Plant dyes & playdough craft event
7) Animal of the month - Wild Boar
8) New otter enclosure news
9) Wildwood goes Fairtrade
10) Official opening of the Kent Bat Grout bat flight centre
11) Stuff we need - can you help?

1) The Great British Land Heist

by Peter Smith

Peter Smith


The recent political turmoil provoked by the Government proposal to sell the nation’s woodland was a travesty of public policy. Unfortunately even though the Government has now ‘U turned,’ the sad fact is it will continue to sell off public woodland, but just at a slower pace. The historical trend of the loss of public land will continue, the taxpayer will continue to be burdened and wildlife will suffer because of the greed of the few. To understand the catastrophe that has befallen us we must first learn of the powerful political and economic forces that have been behind this policy.

The calamity of the land continues, as it has generation after generation, and whenever a strange political idea or tax break comes to be public policy you have to ask who will gain from this. Politics, as so well put by Ambrose Bierce, is best described as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principle” and “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. So which interests want to see public woodland sold into private hands?

The answer is of course that a few rich and powerful people could gain enormously if the nation’s woodland is sold into private hands. The main beneficiaries are financial companies offering tax dodges to Britain’s wealthiest people, who can avoid paying inheritance tax and certain liabilities on capital gains. Woodland ownership will then allow their wealth to increase, tax free, above the rate of inflation as the hard work and innovation on mankind is capitalised into the value of all land. One can only speculate at the lobbying and shady deals that all political parties indulge in that sees them agreeing to such a policy. Often politicians do not understand the long term economic forces at play but are persuaded by very slick PR firms and lobbyists, but unfortunately some politicians are all too aware and seek to obfuscate or hide their true intent from the public.

The problem

The problem we see today is the same problem that has befallen our nation for a thousand years. When the Normans invaded they created laws which robbed land from the common people and gave it to the elite. The descendants of those Norman invaders are still very much in control of the land and the assets they stole.  Today, control is maintained by cleverly shaping our taxation, agricultural and legal systems to favour this continued privilege.

Over the last thousand years slowly but surely common land has been appropriated, without compensation, and put into the hands of private individuals for their private profit.  The huge political battles that have been fought over the ‘corn laws’ and ‘enclosure acts’ have really been about the theft of land from the people and its privatisation into the hands of the privileged few.

What many historians do not know is that alongside the human tragedy of the theft of the land from people has been the theft of the land from wildlife. With every major extinction of a mammal in the UK you can follow how changes in the laws of land and taxation have created that extinction.

They hang the man and flog the woman,
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.

- English folk poem, circa 1764

The extinction of the wolf and brown bear and the near extinction of the pine marten and red squirrel have all happened as a direct result of changes to the laws of the land. Even today the humble water vole has been driven to the edge of extinction by our agricultural policies that have seen taxpayers fund huge subsidies to convert our rivers into drainage channels and flood plains into intensively farmed land. On top of these taxes we see massive subsidies given by taxpayers to landowners, effectively robbing from the poor to give to the rich. All the income that is created by taxes and subsidies is effectively capitalised into the value of the land. This land value goes largely untaxed, passed on generation to generation, with its wealth stolen forever from the descendants of the people who were thrown off the land and the wildlife it used to nurture.

This history of political and economic theft of the resources of the nation by the few has continued to this day and the policy of the sale of woodlands we see today and the massive system of agricultural subsidies and tax breaks is a continuation of the exploitation of the land by the few at the expense of the many.

The solution to the problem

We have some great examples today of how a change in laws of the land and taxation could revitalise habitats for wildlife. Across Kent often the best land for wildlife is common land or land that has been owned by the Church or State. Often this land has complex ownership systems with commoners’ rights. Because of these rights the land has maintained its character, often sheltering our most endangered plants and animals.

This can be witnessed at the nature reserves Wildwood is helping to manage in partnership with local councils, public bodies or held in public trust.  We need a new wildlife movement to take back the land from private exploitation and reinvigorate commoners’ rights in a modern legal framework.

Land reform is a very difficult issue and has often led to civil unrest and even civil war. It is therefore very important that solutions to land reform do not create political problems. Thankfully, the world’s leading economists have expended their energies and created economic models that can solve the land question.

The model favoured by most leading economists and Britain’s leading statesmen, such as Sir Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George and even by some forward thinking politicians such as Business Secretary Vince Cable , was to make a rental charge on the value of all land. This rental charge would be equal to the rental value of the land and would allow the Government to then abolish all the bad taxes we pay, such as income tax and VAT.

Such a public policy would allow landowners to retain their land and allow farms to pass from father to son. Economically, such a policy would vastly reduce unemployment, and stimulate a huge growth in rural and environmentally friendly jobs and industry. It would have a major impact on the division of incomes and provide the community benefits that more equality brings, such as lower crime, better health and better education. But, to those of us who love wild land and wild woods, it would systematically increase the amount of land given over to wildlife protection. Wild land would be free from tax and those that would seek to destroy it would then face paying taxes. Much of our economically unproductive land could be bought by charities and community groups cheaply and turned into community forests and nature reserve for us all to enjoy and share.

I have been working very hard over the last year assisting leading economist Fred Harrison, to write a book on this very subject; the book will be published later this year. We have also filmed a short documentary, which will be available for sale in the Wildwood shop, a trailer of which can be seen on YouTube (see the link below).

The documentary will be launched in a few months at a special screening and we will be inviting all of Wildwood’s supporters to their own special screening at the same time.

Peter Smith
Chief Executive of the Wildwood Trust


If you wish to explore further the ideas of a rental charge on land to our economy and wildlife please visit these websites:

The history of the enclosure acts:



2) Wildwood on Inside out – featuring our wild horses

Kaddy at Wiidwood

Wildwood was recently featured on the BBC’s Inside Out in a story about our conservation work using wild horses. Kaddy Lee Preston visited our horses at the park and then accompanied our keeper team on a horse move to a conservation site in Dover. If you missed the film you can watch it here.


3) Play park update - Drop slide test

Wildwood staff test the new drop slide


Work on the new play park is coming on apace, with the Tree Top Drop Slide now ready for its first rider, naturally, Wildwood’s Chief Executive Peter Smith was the first to try it out. The play park is still under construction but remember to watch this space for news of the opening day.

Watch the video of Alistair Guy, Master Artisan and Peter Smith talking about the building and inspiration of the Tree Top Drop. Made from natural, sustainable, materials the tree top drop will challenge young and old to face their fears through safe play. The tree top drop will form part of the special adventure that we hope to give to every visitor, whatever their age. Don't miss some of the bigger kids at Wildwood putting the drop slide through a rigorous testing program before its opening day.


Watch the test runs and interview with the slide’s architect here


4) Fundraiser of the month – Chestfield Golf Club ladies

Chestfield Golf Club

We would like to say a huge thank you to our fundraisers of the month; the ladies at the Chestfield Golf Club, near Whitstable. Together they have raised over £2000 for Wildwood by organising fundraising activities such as bake sales, tombolas, raffles and other events. We are extremely grateful for all of their hard work, all of the money raised will be used by Wildwood to take care of our animals at the park as well as contributing towards our conservation projects.
For more information regarding the club visit:


5) News from the Conservation Team – Baby water voles come out to play 

baby water vole


One of Wildwood’s main conservation projects is the protection of the water vole, Britain's fastest disappearing mammal, to try to halt its decline through captive breeding and reintroductions to restored wetland habitats. Wildwood has a special conservation centre set up behind the scenes where rescued water voles are looked after and encouraged to breed.  This month our Senior Conservation Officer, Hazel Ryan, tells us about the first baby vole of the year.

“We are delighted to have seen the first baby water vole of the year in the water vole conservation area at Wildwood.  We estimate from its size that it is about two weeks old. As water voles have a gestation period of 3 weeks its parents must have mated around the beginning of February.

We have not seen it swimming yet but it should do in the next few days.  The keepers have put bricks in the water bath so that the baby can climb in and out easily. Water voles have litters of up to 7 so it is likely to have brothers or sisters who have not been brave enough to venture out yet.

The baby’s father is an old vole, he was wild caught from Crossness sewage works in London in 2008. The mother was born in captivity at Wildwood in 2009 from wild caught parents. Water voles usually only live for up to 3 years in the wild so these are old breeders.

We are hoping the young will be released back at the Crossness sewage works later in the spring in a new area of habitat that has been created.  The voles had to be moved while the old disused sewage lagoons that they had colonised were rebuilt. Wildwood Conservation officers will visit the site in April to check that it is ready for the voles to return. In order to be able to survive in the wild, voles have to be under a year old to be released so we are very hopeful that this new litter will thrive in the wild”


6) Plant dyes & playdough – last few spaces available

We still have limited space available for our Plants Dyes and Playdough event this Saturday (26th March). Have fun making natural dyes from plants, fruits and vegetables which you can use to colour your own freshly made playdough! 2-3pm, £2 per person, one adult free per family (please note that membership fees or park entry fees apply). To book call the office on 01227 712 111.


7) Animal of the Month – the Wild Boar

Wild boar

Wild boar were once found throughout Britain but became extinct here due to over-hunting by humans and habitat loss as forests were felled. In recent years they have been accidentally reintroduced to southern England and appear to be doing well – with around 500 believed to be living and breeding in woods on the Kent/Sussex border, however they are highly intelligent animals and avoid humans wherever possible so you are unlikely to see one in the wild.

Wild boar are omnivores; meaning they eat meat and plants. Their preferred habitat is woodland, although if food is scarce they may venture onto farmland and root up crops. Wild boar can be very beneficial for woodland, using their flexible snouts to root in the ground, bashing down scrub and turning over the seed bed which lets in light and rain allowing woodland plants and flowers to grow.  Visitors to Wildwood will notice that the floor of our wild boar enclosure is constantly being churned up as the boar root around.

Wild boar males lead fairly solitary lives but the females usually live in large groups, known as sounders. Males may fight for females during the breeding season, using their tusks as weapons. Females can give birth to as many as 15 piglets in one litter, although in the wild six would be about average. The piglets are born with striped fur which gives them extra camouflage against the woodland floor. The stripes gradually fade as the piglets get older and they reach full size when they are two years old.

Wild boar at Wildwood

The wild boar enclosure at Wildwood is divided into three sections and the wild boar are moved between these at regular intervals, usually occupying two sections at a time to allow trampled, muddy ground to dry out and plants to grow.  Wild boar piglets tend to be born in January or February and stay with us until they are nine or ten months old before they are rehomed elsewhere to make room for the next litter.

Our wild boar can spend a lot of time asleep, so if you can’t spot them straight away, look carefully and they will be curled up somewhere in the enclosure. They will get up during the day when their food arrives and the piglets can often be seen playing in the daytime.

Fun facts:

  • Wild boar are the ancestors of domestic pigs.
  • They can weigh as much as 200kg or 400lbs.
  • If danger threatens, they push their young into the centre of the group and then face outwards to defend them.
  • When a boar is alarmed or hunted, the crest of hackles on its back stands up. Bronze age grave ornaments and artefacts usually depict boar with raised crests - probably the because only time our ancestors saw them was when they were alarmed
  • They have tusks which were once believed to glow red when they were being hunted.
  • Their heads were carved on Celtic war horns to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies.
  • The bodies of boar have been found buried in stone-lined graves outside ancient settlements to bring luck to the villagers within.


8) Wildwood celebrates donation for otter enclosure

Otter with fish

Wildwood is celebrating a generous donation of £21,000 towards a new wetland wildlife discovery centre at the park. 

The funds have been donated by the W.G. Harvey Discretionary Trust, a charitable trust dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals and the preservation of wild animal and bird life. 

The donation will help the Wildwood Trust create a new area at the park which will be centred around a new otter enclosure, with a water shrew enclosure, water vole viewing area and simple aquariums for British aquatic creatures. The area will be used to educate visitors about the animals that live in British wetland habitats, to help protect them in the wild and encourage their re-population of our rivers. 

As a conservation charity, Wildwood is dedicated to the study of threatened British Wildlife and promoting awareness and education through allowing people to see our native animals in as natural habitats as possible. 

Visitors will be able to view into the otter holt and the nest areas of the water shrew and water vole, and see the animals swimming in a near natural enclosure. 

The otter enclosure will be the central feature, and will have a hospital area to keep otters separate should they need vet treatment, or when new otters arrive at Wildwood. The main enclosure will have a filtered pond and a large otter den. The otter den will have special chambers with one-way glass, to assist behavioural studies without disturbing the otters, aiding research and giving our visitors the chance to see and learn about these beautiful and elusive creatures. 

Peter Smith, Chief Executive of Wildwood said  “We are extremely pleased to receive these vital funds that will allow us to highlight the plight of the otter and help us in our campaign to make our rivers a safe place that will once again harbour our wetland wildlife.”


9) Fair Trade fortnight in the Beaver Lodge Restaurant


It was all fair in the Beaver Lodge Restaurant this month as we took part in this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight. The annual event promotes Fairtrade products that help workers in the developing world and was such a success that we have decided to continue to stock Fairtrade products in support this amazing cause. Amy Bushnell, our restaurant supervisor said “It’s great that we can do something to help people in the developing world, I would recommend the chocolate bars and the cookies, although in fact it’s all lovely.”
Our restaurant now stocks Fairtrade chocolate, muffins, cookies and tea, don’t forget to pick some up on your next visit!


10) Kent Bat Group launches new bat centre at Wildwood 9th April

Wildwood will be hosting the official opening of the Kent Bat Group’s bat flight centre at the park. The bat flight centre has been specially designed to help bats learn to fly again after injury. The opening ceremony will include a talk from a Kent Bat Group member and a demonstration of bats in the flight cage.

The event will run from 11am - 1pm. If you would like to attend the opening please call the office on 01227 712 111 (please note that membership or park entry fees will apply). 

To see the flight centre in action on a recent episode of Inside Out click here.


11)Wildwood equipment appeal - can you help?


As a conservation charity, Wildwood needs to watch the pennies and we love to recycle, so if you have any of the following items that youwould like to donate please let us know:


 Large plastic storage boxes with lids - To help our Education to sort out their skulls from their scissors.

Laptop computers less than 5 years old - for use around the park.

New kitchen units and worktops - we need unused kitchen units and worktops to furnish our new conservation building (for looking after endangered animals).


If you can help at all please contact the office on 01227 712 111, many thanks.


Fiona Paterson
Wildwood Trust
Tel 01227 712 111