Thorny scrub and floodplains, rather than manicured fields, should be seen as "beautiful", the head of Natural England has said.

Tony Juniper, chair of the government’s environmental adviser, said a "cultural revolution" was necessary to help people appreciate the beauty in a messier countryside.

"Rewilding" projects are increasingly popular among landowners, and involve allowing nature to restore degraded landscapes in the interests of tackling climate change and providing better habitats for wildlife. 

Ecologists have urged the public and local authorities to leave lawns unmown and verges unclipped in an effort to help flowers and insects thrive.  

Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, Mr Juniper, a former head of Friends of the Earth, said that traditional British countryside characterised by dry stone walls, sheep-grazed fields and traditional villages was "human-created" and were often  "ecological deserts" which left wildlife "homeless or starving".

He added: "The manicured fields and neat villages brought food, wealth and prosperity. They gave people certainty, and we loved it.

"The irony is that this desire for orderliness has undermined the health and resilience of nature. To ensure our future security, it will be necessary for us to let nature take back some control."

People should learn to see "aesthetic value" in "hillsides covered in unruly riots of thorny scrub" and see "wild marshy coasts as visually superior to engineered concrete defences," he added.

Such interventions are also beneficial to humans, he said, with coastal areas left untamed providing natural flood defences.

Rewilding has been pioneered by historic landowners such as the Burrell family, who have owned the Knepp estate in West Sussex for more than two centuries, and farmers, corporations and wealthy individuals are also increasingly restoring land to nature, in some cases buying it for this purpose.

There are also increasing financial rewards for carbon-storing projects. A post-Brexit plan to reward farmers and other land managers for improving water quality and helping plants and wildlife is expected to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The Environmental Land Management schemes are beginning pilots this year, though there is still some uncertainty about exactly how they will work, and there are concerns that the level of available subsidies will be less than under the previous scheme.

The push for "rewilding" has caused some tension, with some arguing that it diminishes Britain’s ability to be self-sufficient in food production and undermines historic farming communities.

Tony Juniper: Green and pleasant – but also rough around the edges

Close your eyes and imagine England’s green and pleasant land, as William Blake put it. What springs to mind? For many it would be neat rows of trimmed hedges, flowery borders, pristine lawns – a homage to ordered nature.

Yet from our plunging emerald downlands to the patchworks of farmed fields and from orderly gardens to woodland plantations, our country is certainly green, but far from natural.

Indeed, the progressive decline of wildlife across our islands has led the UK to be one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. This is why nature recovery is an increasingly prominent Government priority. Bold new targets are being set, including to have 30 per cent of the country protected for nature by 2030, and new policies are being designed, for example to incentivise farmers to help wildlife thrive in the countryside. 

Targets and policies will, however, take us only so far: also necessary is a shift in popular culture. 

Much of what we now consider to be beautiful green environments are often actually ecological deserts, where most wildlife is either homeless or starving, or more often both. Mowed verges, trimmed hedges, straight lines and smooth surfaces are preferred to the untidy chaos of nature, lest the land look messy, abandoned or wasted. 

Our National Parks, which in most other countries are so named for their wildness, are in England protected for their beauty as human-created landscapes, with their drystone walls, sheep-grazed fields and characteristic villages. These landscapes have great value, but they are not wild. 

There are simple, human reasons why over centuries, as we moved from a wild, uncertain and dangerous existence, we celebrated the safety, and security and productivity offered by our changing landscapes. The manicured fields and neat villages brought food, wealth and prosperity. They gave people certainty, and we loved it. 

The irony is that this desire for orderliness has undermined the health and resilience of nature. To ensure our future security, it will be necessary for us to let nature take back some control. In the modern context, taming nature is not the survival imperative, but putting it back is.

It will require something of a cultural revolution, based on a modernisation of our conception of natural beauty: where safe, to see un-mowed road verges and lawns full of wildflowers as attractive, aesthetic value in hillsides covered in unruly riots of thorny scrub; to regard wild, naturally-regenerating woodland as preferable to saplings in straight rows of plastic tubes, rushy wet floodplains with meandering rivers as more desirable than canalised drains, and wild marshy coasts as visually superior to engineered concrete defences.

If we can embrace that, then the scale of the opportunity is huge. For example, research from the University of Exeter found there are over 2500 square kilometres of road verges in Great Britain – equivalent to over one per cent of land area. Another 500 square kilometres of land lies next to railway tracks.

Reactions to wilder rural and urban landscapes are beginning to change, and must do more so if our national ambitions for nature recovery and addressing climate change are to be realised.

We can’t go back to a fully wild world, not with nearly 8 billion people, more than half of whom live in cities, and who all need to be fed, homed and supplied with energy and water. What we can do though, is to embrace a new conception of beauty, and to blend that with the practical and moral drivers of change that are upon us. 

Those drivers include the role of wilder nature catching carbon from the air, reducing flood risk, protecting water and food security (both of which are underpinned by ecosystems) and the huge contribution to public health that comes with access to vibrant natural areas. Imagine for a moment how that might look. Increasingly people can, and are seeing great beauty in the new wilder green environments that the targets and policies are setting out to create.

Our vision of what is green and pleasant needs to be a bit rougher round the edges. We must learn to let nature take its course. 

Tony Juniper CBE is the Chair of Natural England