Climate Change, Science

Interview with conservation group WildEast’s co-founder, Hugh Somerleyton DL

“We pledge, we educate, we grow”– a simple but profound summary of the pillars of conservation organisation, WildEast, as provided in my interview with co-founder Hugh Somerleyton DL. Similarly to ongoing projects in regions of Brazil, Romania and even Yellowstone, USA, the eastern region of England has its own group dedicated to protecting and restoring the natural ecosystem. In his words, Hugh describes it as “the first, regional scale, multi-sector nature recovery alliance”, a title I found most impressive but he labels as “sounding a bit governmental”. Founded with fellow farmers Oliver Birbeck and Argus Hardy, Somerleyton describes their roles as helping the organisation to reach the three aforementioned objectives constituting its thesis.  

Contrary to environmental initiatives directly targeting major climate change contributors, he goes on to state WildEast’s goals lie in creating “top-level societal change”. They set out to do this via pledging of land to re-wilding efforts, whether it be in your back garden or several acres of farmland, and public outreach. “For most people, they want to know the world is healing, but don’t necessarily want to get a degree in it. Without wanting to dumb down nature recovery we decided it needed to be easily accessible, fun, and relatable to the way we live our lives.” With this reasoning, he elaborates WildEast sees themselves as more a media organisation rather than a scientific one.

Re-wilding, a term popping up more and more with increased public environmental awareness, involves ecological restoration with the potential to create self-sustainable environments, mitigate climate change and prevent biodiversity loss. Mr Somerleyton describes it as “allowing nature to take the lead in conservation, rather than the humans,” which you may find much easier to recall, and aligns with the pledging goals of WildEast. By pledging bits of land to let nature reclaim, anyone in ownership of a potential green space can become a part of the group’s Map of Dreams, a digital map highlighting recovered areas. The software inadvertently allows participants to become their own wildlife trust, as eloquently explained by Hugh.

With an ambitious goal of  20 percent of the region’s inhabitants joining this movement by 2025, WildEast dedicates a significant portion of its time to outreach and education, particularly among younger generations. Hugh talks of the development of a game, hoping to increase engagement and interest without the usual approach of a slideshow sharing “this is in decline” and “you need to recycle that ”. He additionally highlights the importance of working with the youth to encourage schools, such as UEA, to pledge land, stating “10,000 students is more powerful in terms of voice than one farmer, even if together they can only pledge one acre of land”.

The near future goals of the organisation also include creating a Fairtrade-esque badge for farmers and those in the agriculture industry throughout the East of England in collaboration with Co-op and producers. This will allow customers to see whether their goods were produced in an eco-sensitive manner, and empower both customer and producer to speak to one another.

If you’re looking to get involved with WildEast and assist in completing their mission, Somerleyton suggests not just pledging land and money, but also professional skills, (whether at university student-level or professional) or supporting them on social media @wildeastuk.


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08/02/2022

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Mariam Jallow



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