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‘It’s going to be our way now’: the guerrilla rewilder shaking up British farming

Derek Gow is winning over doubters in his bid to reintroduce storks, beavers, wildcats, water voles and much, much more

I am sleeping in a shepherd’s hut 30 metres from a dozen wildcats. It’s an unusual way to spend a Monday night, especially in rural Devon. In the valley are the familiar sounds of dogs barking and foxes shrieking, as well as the unfamiliar sounds of storks clapping their beaks together, a noise that has been absent from Britain for 600 years. Beavers, iron age pigs, mouflon (wild sheep), Heck cattle and Exmoor ponies also live on this 120-hectare farm near Lifton, owned by rewilding specialist and farmer Derek Gow.

This unassuming old dairy farm with its small whitewashed barns is a hub for covert species reintroductions. In 1995, Gow started working with water voles – his first species of interest – after buying a batch from a fish farm in Hampshire. Then he noticed restored wetlands were naturally silting up and realised another keystone species was missing: beavers. Bereft of beavers, ponds require huge amounts of management to keep them open, so in 1997 he drove to Poland to get some.

If we keep on course with this we’ll be left living on a planet full of pigeons and dogs on the beaten-down crust of our own excrement

I think we’re going to see more and more [species reintroduction] as the years go by

If they make it worthwhile and pay you to keep beavers, why not?

Related: ‘It’s good for the soul’: the mini rewilders restoring UK woodland

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