MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has warned against any headlong rush to ‘rewild’ Exmoor National Park.
He says the park authority could be laying the foundations for an environmental disaster if it went ahead with rewilding without fully considering all the possible consequences.
Some 26 square miles of the park – 10% of its total area – could be allowed to revert to wetlands, scrub and woodlands under a scheme already approved by Exmoor’s nature conservation advisory panel, drawn largely from external wildlife organisations.
There are also suggestions of reintroducing species such as beaver and even European lynx.
Plans were unveiled late last year much to the anger of farmers who say they have not been fully consulted about what is being proposed.
And Conservative Mr Liddell-Granger, whose Bridgewater and West Somerset constituency includes two-thirds of Exmoor, said it would be deeply irresponsible to commit to a rewilding programme without considering all the long-term implications.
A pair of beavers has already been introduced on the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate, near Minehead, and conservationists want to see more colonies established across the park.
But said Mr Liddell-Grainger: “They should be careful what they wish for. Beavers were re-introduced in Scotland and have now become an absolutely menace to farmers.
“There are far too many of them and their activities are weakening river banks and increasing the flood threat to adjoining fields – often areas where farmers have been given taxpayers’ money to carry out drainage and improvement work.
“A lot have already been culled but now we have reached the ludicrous situation where wildlife charities are resorting to the law to challenge any more shooting.
“There is the additional risk that many European beavers carry a tapeworm which can infect other mammals, including foxes and dogs and even humans, with potentially fatal effects.
“I assume the National Trust has tested the beavers at Holnicote prior to their release but this disease shows the hidden risks that come with rewilding.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger said rewilding had become ‘flavour of the month’ for Exmoor National Park authority.
“It’s a shame it has never shown the same enthusiasm for creating affordable housing and attracting employment – two things which would have been far more beneficial to local people than turning hundreds of acres of farmland into a wilderness.
“Rewilding represents such a fundamental change to the way a large segment of the national park is going to be managed that it simply cannot be rubber-stamped by a committee dominated by outside interests.
“Particularly when so many of its members appear more concerned about creating a safari park than they are about the long-term survival and prosperity of the farming community which at the end of the day, carries the sole responsibility for keeping Exmoor beautiful.”