The idea of rewilding is not a new one, but within the last couple of decades, it really has come to the forefront of wildlife and habitat conservation.
At Rewilding Britain, they define rewilding as "the large-scale restoration of ecosystems to the point where nature is allowed to take care of itself. Rewilding seeks to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the landscape and the habitats within. It’s focused firmly on the future although we can learn from the past".
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "rewilding is the process of protecting an environment and returning it to its natural state, for example by bringing back wild animals that use to live there: rewilding runs directly counter to human attempts to control and cultivate nature".
Rewilding is one of the best tools we have to restore nature and combat the climate crisis. But there are many other reasons why we should rewild. We know how valuable nature is but unfortunately, it is in decline, and around 15% of UK species are threatened with extinction.
Believe it or not, the UK used to be a patchwork of temperate rainforests and around 7,000 years ago, 75% of our land was covered in trees. This coverage of trees plummeted to an all-time low after World War One (WW1) as timber was used in the war efforts.
In the last 100 years, things have improved slightly but nowhere near their historic levels. Only 13% of our land is covered in trees, but rewilding isn't just about trees. It is about wetlands, peatlands, bogs, flower meadows, and all the other habitats that nature needs to thrive. These habitats also play a role in absorbing and storing carbon, and in the midst of the climate crisis, we are desperate for solutions nature can provide.
When we talk about rewilding, we often get caught up in larger projects and automatically start talking about bears and wolves, but rewilding isn't just about reintroducing species, it's more innovative than that. It's about restoring the habitats mentioned above, but also restoring our seas and seeing ourselves as part of nature again. It's really about rewilding people, and protecting nature while connecting with it.
It is worth mentioning that like most conservation, there are barriers and different stakeholders will have different views, and perhaps agendas. The key is to work in partnership and create a compromise in which both humans and wider nature win.
Some of the barriers to rewilding include public perception. How many people would like wolves potentially rummaging through their rubbish? Perhaps not as many who would like to see the big blue butterfly become widespread. Stakeholder conflict is a major issue within the UK. We have some of the highest land ownership in the world. For rewilding to be more widespread, land owners need to be on board. Releasing animals is perhaps the easy part, but for releases to be successful we need to ensure that the habitat is suitable and indeed, available.
Then, there is the question of animal welfare. Do we have the moral duty to protect the welfare of the animals that we release and the prey/vegetation they may consume? There are potential conflicts with livestock and the issue of culling released animals if their populations become too big. Above all, we need political will. Rewilding needs to be included in policies and seen as a strategy to halt the decline in nature and combat the climate crisis.
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