Back to nature for rewilding charity as Triodos Bank funds opening of its first reserve

January 24, 2023

Triodos UK, the Bristol-headquartered ethical bank, has helped rewilding charity Heal acquire its first landholding with a £3.75m loan.

The funding, which Heal will use to create a nature reserve on 460 acres near Bruton, Somerset, pictured, is Triodos Bank’s first loan to a rewilding project and is believed to be the first commercial loan of its kind in the UK. 

It will help Heal create the first of a planned series of nature reserves in every English county.

The national charity has a mission to take urgent, practical action on nature recovery and climate change by raising money to buy land with nature recovery potential.

Heal said its Somerset reserve would help tackle the nature and climate crises while creating jobs and work for local tradespeople and businesses.

It will be co-designed and delivered with input from the community – with initial ideas including areas for food growing and nature learning for children, wildflower meadow creation and a community orchard.

Triodos Bank UK chief executive Bevis Watts, pictured, said: “As a sustainable bank, we have closely supported the organic, biodynamic and permaculture movements for decades. 

“Now to further restore biodiversity and protect nature in the UK – and to address the climate and ecological emergencies – we must find further ways of financing nature preservation and restoration.”

He said as the bank’s first direct loan to a nature restoration project, it was excited to see how the project progressed.

“We hope to be able to support similar initiatives nationwide that address climate change, adapt to its effects and promote biodiversity,” he added.

“This is going to be critical to meeting net zero goals and reversing nature’s decline, both of which are central to our mission to create positive impact with the money entrusted to us by Triodos customers.”

London-based Heal launched at the start of the pandemic in spring 2020 and, using the Somerset project as a blueprint, has a goal to establish a major nature recovery site in all 48 English counties by 2050 – covering almost 25,000 acres in total.

It plans to acquire land using affordable lending, which will be paid down as quickly as possible with mass public land sponsorship, corporate donations and natural capital investment. 

As well as support from Triodos Bank, its first project is also backed by a loan from insurer Direct Line Group, plus a land fund Heal launched in March 2020 which includes both public and corporate donations and a unique ‘Heal 3×3’ land sponsorship scheme.

It will follow an already proven approach nature-recovery, using rare breed cattle, pigs and ponies in small numbers to help re-establish natural processes on the land. These animals will be ‘ecosystem engineers’ and not farmed produce.

Natural regeneration of trees, improved soil health and other plant growth will help fight climate change by capturing carbon, while scrub, grassland, bare earth and water – as well as trees – will ensure the greatest diversity of plant and animal species.

Heal expects early benefits of rewilding to include an increase in insect numbers, growth of plants, including tree saplings, and a greater abundance and diversity of species. There will be public access across much of the land so people can see rewilding in action.

Heal co-founder and chair of trustees Jan Stannard, pictured, above left, with operations director Hannah Needham, said: “Nature will only recover if it has more space to thrive and we join a growing number of landowners across the UK who are making that happen. 

“The process of rewilding has already begun and though it will take many years for nature to recover, we expect to see positive changes immediately, first small and then more visible within a couple of years.

“The potential for nature to bounce back at Heal Somerset is huge and we want to show that together we can take fast, practical action to benefit nature, climate and people.”

Founded in 1980, Triodos has become a global front runner in sustainable lending and investment and co-founded the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, a network of 60 sustainable banks.

It has banking activities in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Germany as well as the UK, where it employs around 200 staff in Bristol, London and Edinburgh.

It is committed to becoming net zero in 2035 and has also been working on developing new pilot investable business models connected to nature restoration, such as a Natural Flood Management (NFM) project that will invest £1.5m to reduce flood risk to communities in Lancashire.

Top photo and bottom photos courtesy of Heal Somerset. Jan Stannard and Hannah Needham photo, copyright Sam Rose

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