What is rewilding?

The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘rewilding’ as “the process of protecting an environment and returning it to its natural state, for example by bringing back wild animals that used to live there.” It goes on to suggest that ‘Rewilding runs directly counter to human attempts to control and cultivate nature.’

Rewilding involves more than just ‘letting land alone’ and it can require the careful reintroduction of species that are no longer living in the area; both flora and fauna. In fact the term rewilding is often misunderstood, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This can lead to more harm for biodiversity and the local community than good. It undermines a concept that could be beneficial.  

Experts have drawn up ten principles for rewilding. Rewilding:

  1. uses wildlife to restore food webs and food chains. 
  2. plans should identify core rewilded areas, ways to connect them, and ensure outcomes are to the mutual benefit of people and nature.
  3. requires local engagement and community support.
  4. focuses on the recovery of ecological processes, interactions and conditions based on similar healthy ecosystems.
  5. recognises that ecosystems are dynamic and constantly changing.
  6. should anticipate the effects of climate change and act as a tool to mitigate its impacts. 
  7. is informed by science and considers local knowledge.  
  8. recognises the intrinsic value of all species.
  9. is adaptive and dependent on monitoring and feedback. 
  10. is a paradigm shift in the coexistence of humans and nature.

What does this mean in practice? 

Rewilding Britain provides some examples of how this concept might work. Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve in Scotland is a large-scale project that aims to reverse centuries of land degradation in the area. Sheep and deer had caused extensive damage to foliage. Trees were bent and misshapen and simply not growing. The project used deer control to allow trees to regenerate naturally over more than thirty years. 

Wild Ken Hill is a newer project in Norfolk. It aims to do three things; reintroduce species, conserve natural habitats and introduce regenerative farming practices. They stopped intensive farming and the results in the first few years are dramatic. There has been a doubling of plant diversity, including some rare species. Wild Ken Hill plans to reintroduce wild beavers to create natural flood management. 

Why is rewilding important?

Human activities are affecting our ecosystems faster than ever before (IUCN). Here in the UK, we have lost almost half our biodiversity in the last fifty years. Rewilding has the potential to reduce the impact of climate change and reduce carbon emissions. It can help reduce flood risks and soil degradation. 

Rewilding can also provide socio-economic opportunities. For example, the Wild Ken Hill project has plans for camping and tourism. This will be an enjoyable and healthy activity for local communities. It will also provide an income to the local area. 

The Serengeti Rules (a book) explores an idea that the removal of one species has a knock on effect on all the others around it. This is a keystone species. Common examples of keystone species are big predators. If predators are removed then grazing species abound. But Rewilding Britain says that not all keystone species are predators. Beavers are keystone species. They fell trees, change rivers and create wetlands. They’ve been extinct in Britain for 500 years. 

What can we do to help?

As well as supporting rewilding projects in our local areas, we can ‘rewild’ our own gardens. If you want to increase the biodiversity of your garden plants, Blue Patch members Habitat Aid and Kabloom can provide wild flower seeds and plants for your garden. Tips from the RHS & Springwatch include mowing our lawns less, allowing selected weeds to grow to increase biodiversity, giving wildlife like hedgehogs a home and feeding the birds. 

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Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.