Many of the forgotten places of the world are full of life as nature revives abandoned man-made structures from a former airfield to a disused explosive factory.
By Bella Bathurst; Murdo MacLeod’s photos
It has usually been seen as a rural activity involving the retreat of farmland so that animals and plants can reestablish their own ecosystem since the concept of “rewilding” originated.
In its most herbivorous form, it means allowing unregulated flourishing of hedgerows or scrub.
It includes the deliberate release of animals such as beavers or wolves in its most primitive form, in the belief that the reintroduction of a single alpha species would bring a cascade of ecological benefits.
Whether at Knepp Park in Sussex or the 18,000-acre Glenfeshie Estate in the Cairngorms, “rewilding” is synonymous with vast tracts of land. The impression is that it is costly, distant and sometimes unreachable.
It’s probably not something everyone can do.
But what if right under our feet were the wildest places of all? Rewilding”rewilding”
Ecology thrives in the margins and demilitarized areas, the deserted dams, the parts we don’t like, or the land that is already polluted beyond human tolerance.
In some areas, plant and insect life, such as the land around the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, has adapted to extreme conditions: wild boars have moved in, a new radiation-eating fungus has been discovered, and leopards and Asian black bears have been seen in the narrow strip of no-land man’s between North and South Korea’s borders.
Over the past century, Greenham Common in Berkshire has developed from an open heathland of grazing land to the birthplace of the United States. Trident rockets with a weedy airstrip to an SSSI nature reserve.
In Scotland, not only for coal, but also for stone, gravel, lead and even gold, the 40-mile strip between Glasgow and Edinburgh has always been mined.
Parts of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire look like they’ve been mined from scratch after centuries of hard exploitation. What was underground is now up, and what was up is down, with old drift mines overthrown by houses and bridges and spoil heaps terraced by carriageways. Wild birds nest in lakes created from old coal mines and only the finest iron ore is favored by an orchid named Young’s helleborine, discovered in 1975.
The Ardeer Peninsula in Ayrshire is home to the unusually stimulating combination of the Alfred Nobel Company’s once owned and run nudist beach and explosives factory. There are still parts of the property in use, but much of the 330-acre site was abandoned a long time ago.
It will be easier to mention the native plants that are no longer there than those that are along the gaps in the old pipes and through the rotting buildings.
Industrial and mining firms are, in principle, expected to stick to remediation plans for abandoned areas, but they instead advocate poverty in practice.
In addition, often, ecologists find themselves trapped in a paradox. The public claims that corporate business should be forced to pay for what it has taken, but human efforts are often amateurish to reclaim property. It may be a fast fix to plant a few conifers and scatter a mix of wildflowers, but often it seems like nothing is the right thing to do.
Along the Front of Scotland, past modern wind farms and World War II prisoner of war camps, the M74 freeway passes. Castle Risky is not far from Broken Cross, the biggest open-pit coal mine in Europe.
By enabling mining nearby, the 13th Earl of Home tried to reduce local unemployment in Douglas in 1913. The castle was uncovered and destroyed by mining, and the flooded mining sites (locally known as the Black Hole) are now so inhabited by commuting birds that they resemble Heathrow, like a bird.
The old wooden ponds further up the highway, near Port Glasgow, draw birds of the seafaring variety. Formerly used to sort and store logs for shipbuilding, the ponds are shallow estuarine mudflats separated by ancient wooden piles (or pilings).
It is an atmospheric spot,