THE Conservative candidate for the North East mayoral election has said he intends to “fight” against plans to rewild swathes of land currently used for farming.

Under the 2021 Environment Act, the Government set a number of targets for improving Britain’s depleted natural environment, including increasing tree cover and improving water quality.

The Government has set a target to rewild around 300,000 hectares of farmland within the next two decades.

However, the plans have been questioned by farmers, with the NFU calling targets “irrational” and “unachievable” in 2023. At a mayoral hustings event hosted by Friends of the Earth in Alnwick last week, four of the prospective mayors faced questions on rewilding.

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There was some support for the policy. Independent candidate Jamie Driscoll said: “If you look at the state of our natural landscapes, it’s not massively natural. Forests are mainly monoculture and there is very little biodiversity.

“We want more food production in the UK so we want rewilding in areas where we’re never going to grow much food. In those areas, rewilding is absolutely the answer.”

Labour’s Kim McGuinness broadly agreed, saying she supported rewilding “in the right places”.

Similarly, Liberal Democrat candidate Aidan King said rewilding was “about getting the right things in the right places”.

However, Conservative candidate Guy Renner Thompson had a different view. He feared the impact rewilding would have on tenant farmers and their communities.

Cllr Renner Thompson, who comes from a farming family, said: “I’m not in favour of rewilding. That said, if it is something a landowner wants to pursue that is up to them.

“The people that lose out are the tenant farming sector, not the large landowners. I know families who have lost thousands of acres of their farms to rewilding projects.

“If we remove farms from the communities, you lose the communities. They are what keeps the pubs, garages and schools going. We need to fight against rewilding because we will lose our communities.”

The Tenant Farmers Association warned that some landowners are attempting to regain possession of land rented to tenant farmers to use it for rewilding schemes. Government legislation means landowners can be paid to take land out of food production and rewild it via ending cultivation, planting trees and restoring wetlands.

Around one-third of farmland in the UK is rented, although in Northumberland 80,000 acres of the Duke of Northumberland’s agricultural land is under the custodianship of more than 100 tenant farmers. Many have lived and farmed the same holdings for generations.