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A Brief Encounter with Rewilding

Lucas Bainbridge, a Sixth Form student from London, shares his thoughts on rewilding and why it is an invigorating, exciting and important approach to restoring landscapes. Lucas has an interest in conservation and is planning to study geography at University; he is volunteering for Action for Conservation.

“Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!” – these were certainly a concern for Dorothy and her crew in the Wizard of Oz, but how would local residents in much of the industrialised world, and indeed the UK, feel if such predators and ‘keystone’ species were re-introduced into their local area?

Rewilding is a captivating concept and somewhat of a hot topic in the area of conservation; it essentially involves allowing nature to take back the reins in selected areas or landscapes.

George Monbiot is probably the most prominent contemporary figure in relation to rewilding; he is an English environmental activist and writer. He has a great deal of enthusiasm about the possibility that we could return areas of Britain to a fruitful and unbridled nature. He has a very appealing dream, one where humans and nature are not two separate entities, but irrevocably intertwined. I rather enjoy this idea, and believe there is much to benefit from rewilding. Many of us, living our hectic metropolitan lives are not aware of the significance or, more importantly, the joy that can be had in experiencing a more wild nature. Fundamentally it is this, I think, that is one of the greatest merits of this notion.

There is a certain degree of scepticism, and sometimes hostility, with regards to rewilding. A lot of worry centres on the idea that ‘megafauna’, large animals of all varieties, would be brought back, free to roam the streets, risking the lives and security of communities. However, if we pay close attention to the leading conservation biologists and leading ‘rewildists’, most will in fact sensibly allay these fears and acknowledge that for some species it is not viable to re-introduce them yet or indeed at all. Perhaps it is useful instead to focus on the many positive, current examples of rewilding here in the UK. The reintroduction of the Eurasian Beaver in Scotland[i] is a particularly exciting one. The website for the Scottish Beaver Trial states:

“There are few species which have such significant and positive influences on ecosystem health and function”

These beavers are known as ‘keystone species’, as they are able to create the conditions for other creatures to flourish; not only this, but they have been found to boost local tourism and in some cases their damns have actually reduced flood risk. With this in mind, whilst it may not be the same as re-introducing lions into London, it is a starting point, and one that most will not object to. There is however, a long way to go, with ambitious projects such as Rewilding Europe[ii] pushing the boundaries. This strategy hopes to create 10 new wildlife sites across Europe, or one million hectares of land by 2022.

However, we must address some of the scepticism towards such movements. We, as humans, are part of nature. In such a fashion we should be alive to the fact that without many of the key ecosystems and species that are around us, our stability and security, in the very broadest sense, is at risk. If you take a keystone cog out of the mechanics of an ecosystem, you may just find that it is fundamental to the sustained supply of animals to the remaining levels of the trophic system.

To illustrate this point, I turn again to George Monbiot and his example of how, through many highly complex interconnections, the loss of whales can in fact lead to a decreased amount of sequestered carbon dioxide in the oceans[iii]; this of course threatens us with an increased risk of global warming.

There is a lot more to be said about rewilding, many more stories of successes and I am sure some of failure. It is a contemporary concept, that is not to say the idea has not been around for long, but the physical movement is in its primitive stages. Therefore, I am sure we will see a great many fascinating accomplishments from leading conservationists and environmentalists in the not too distant future.





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