Rewilding is a form of conservation aimed at restoring the natural processes of the land through reintroducing native flora and fauna and taking a more hands-off approach to conservation. The idea has been practiced for decades, although it originally didn’t have a name. It was Dave Foreman who coined the term “rewilding” in 1990, and it was refined by Reed Noss and Michael Soule when they published a paper on the topic in 1998.1
Conservation vs. Rewilding
Whereas conservation focuses on protecting physical features and vegetation—essentially keeping nature “paused in time—” rewilding emphasizes the restoration of wide-ranging, larger animals and protecting the wilderness so that it can develop in its own way.
There is some conflict between those who support conservation and those who support rewilding but the “cores, corridors and carnivores” approach is becoming more widely accepted. 2 In the last few years, rewilding has improved dramatically as researchers have found ways to use probabilistic models to determine how species will interact with each other, increasing the chances that the careful reintroduction of keystone predators will prove successful.3
Benefits of Rewilding
Rewilding is a powerful tool that can complement traditional biodiversity management. While some countries have managed to implement significant measures to protect biodiversity, internationally, nature is continuing to decline and a significant number of species are under threat. Up until recently, conservation has been about triage and emergency care. Rewilding offers an alternative way of taking care of the planet, a way that puts the power back in the hands of nature itself and allows ecosystems to care for the species that depend on them.4
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Some of the top benefits of rewilding are highlighted below.
The Trophic Cascade
One of the most important impacts that rewilding can have is facilitating a trophic cascade. This is the term that describes what happens when animals at the top of the food chain are able to change the concentration of not just their prey but also species that they are not directly connected to.
Perhaps the best example of this is what happened in Yellowstone National Park in 1994 when 15 wolves were reintroduced to the park. The wolves preyed on the native elk and reduced the numbers of elk in the park. The elk responded by changing their behavior: they stopped going into exposed areas of the park, such as gorges, where they were easy prey.
Those areas then started to regenerate and birds, mice, and bears. Plant life returned to the riverbanks and that regrowth stopped erosion along the edges of the rivers. In short, the reintroduction of the wolves had a far-reaching impact on the ecology of the park.5
Buffer Against Natural Disasters
Since rewilding allows ecosystems to function as they should, it can help protect the planet from natural disasters such as floods and forest fires. A healthy forest has a significant tree canopy, which slows the rate at which rainfall reaches the forest floor.
The deep tree roots act as channels to draw rainfall deep into the ground. This means that the water doesn’t just run overland into streams or rivers. Tree-covered soil can absorb rainwater 67 times faster than grass-covered soil. Trees help stop soil from washing away, preventing the soil from building up as sediment in waterways. This way, tree roots can also act as anchors and stop soil from being eroded.
Just as trees can protect from flooding, they can also protect against forest fires. Older, hardwood trees have thick bark and deep roots that soak up a lot of water. They are less likely to catch fire than younger eucalyptus trees with thinner, drier bark.6
Combatting Climate Change
Climate change is a serious issue, Each year, the world’s population produces 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide, and while developed countries are working to reduce this number, it is feared that by 2030, carbon dioxide emissions could increase to 40 billion tons per year.
However, forests help soak up carbon dioxide. The trees absorb it as a part of the photosynthesis process and each tree could remove one ton of carbon dioxide every 40 years. That may not sound like a lot, but if whole forests were revitalized, it would make a difference.7
Doing Your Part
While the rewilding projects that get most of the attention are the large-scale ones, such as the return of European Bison to forests in Romania, there is a lot to be said for smaller scale rewilding projects as well.8
In fact, there is a growing trend towards community rewilding projects and even to the idea of “rewilding humans.” The idea is simple and sound: if everyone does their part, this will collectively add up to a significant shift in the way that humans and nature interact.
For example, if you own a garden, then you can help with rewilding by giving up a patch of the garden to native plants and animals. Simple things such as leaving a patch of land with some bits of wood and leaves for animals to nest or allowing native flowers to grow in can make a significant difference to the ecosystem in your local area.9
It’s not just gardens that can benefit from rewilding. Humans can rewild themselves too. There are a number of organizations that focus on the rewilding of humanity by teaching new skills and encouraging people to get out there and reconnect with nature.
The idea of rewilding humans is something that is becoming increasingly popular as a way of improving physical and mental wellbeing.10 Human rewilding is about improving physical, mental, and spiritual well-being through living a more natural life.11 Even simple changes can make a difference. For instance, you might not think of it as rewilding to buy local produce and stop consuming plastics, but it is a step forward.
Rewilding in Cities
Even if you live in a city, you can still engage in rewilding. Start by walking instead of taking the car. Put out window boxes full of plants. Hang out bird feeders to support the local bird population. Look for local rewilding groups and join them to share ideas and learn as much as you can.
Globally, rewilding can be an important stride in preserving the environment. On a personal level, rewilding can help reduce stress and improve your feelings of well-being. It can help also help promote new focus and improve mental clarity. Though rewilding will definitely not solve all of your personal problems or all of the problems on the planet, it can still go a long way.
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