Rewilding is a relatively new approach to conservation that is incredibly important. The term was coined by Dave Foreman, an activist, and conservationist who founded Earth First and also helped establish the Wildlands Network and Rewilding Institute. The term first appeared in Newsweek’s “Trying to Take Back the Planet” in February 1990.
Foreman’s work was then built upon by Michael Soule and Reed Noss, who published a paper on rewilding and biodiversity in 1998.1 By the early 2000s, the idea had gained a lot of traction, and some major rewilding projects—including government-supported ones—had begun.
Why Does Rewilding Matter?
Rewilding is important because it takes a unique approach to tackling biodiversity, working on the idea that large predators are important for supporting the health of the planet. It considers that the resilience and diversity of ecosystems can be maintained through a top-down approach and connectivity is important to ensure the long-term viability of the ecosystem.2
If predators are taken away, then the whole ecosystem is thrown out of balance. The predator’s traditional prey can grow unchecked, which leads to more problems since those prey will then put too much stress on anything lower than them in the food web, depleting resources. This is essentially what happened in the Oostvaarderplassen rewilding project. A lack of predators for the Heck cattle and Konik deer allowed their populations to grow so large that there was not enough food for them. After a difficult winter, the Dutch government found themselves in a position where they had to shoot thousands of cattle to save them from dying of starvation.3
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In properly managed rewilding projects, such decisions are not necessary because the idea behind rewilding is that nature is allowed to do its job.
Helping Nature Recover
In many developed countries, ecosystems are broken. Even in the United Kingdom, which could be considered to be relatively intact, 56 percent of species are in decline and 15 percent are on the verge of extinction.4 Rewilding can help bring balance to those delicate ecosystems and allow plants and animals that were once under threat to thrive.
Though humans cannot force natural processes to happen, they can choose to stop interfering. Every time humans chop down trees, hunt big animals, kill weeds, or dam rivers, these actions interfere with natural processes. Weeds feed birds and help stop erosion; the river is home to fish, which provides food for other animals. The trees provide animals shelter. In short, everything in nature is connected and all parts of nature, even the one that humans don’t think are beneficial, really are.
Rewilding in the News
There are many high profile celebrities that are interested in rewilding. George Monbiot is a huge supporter of it, although it took him a long time to really understand the idea. Monbiot was fortunate enough to live and work in Brazil for a time, and when he returned to the U.K. to live in Wales, he noticed that the areas around where he lived in Cambria and Snowdonia, while beautiful, were void of life.
There were nature reserves but the reserves were managed with cutting, burning, and grazing keeping the land pristine. It was learning this that led him on the path to discovering the idea of rewilding. He came to realize that a more hands-off approach would bring his corner of Wales (and much of the rest of the UK) back to life.5
The late Paul Martin took a similar view of the United States, in his book, titled Twilight of the Mammoths he describes how Americans live in a land of ghosts and that working to reintroduce some extant species could bring life back to some of the more barren areas.6
Though climate change is the issue that is getting the most attention when it comes to the environment, it is definitely not the only issue that the planet faces.7 Deforestation is depriving animals of their habitats and there are many species that are threatened with extinction because of deforestation.8 On the other hand, many species have been hunted to extinction, others are so under threat that humans have resorted to breeding them in captivity, and some species may have already gone extinct without people even realizing they existed at all.
Rewilding matters because it represents a huge shift in how people think about the planet. Instead of trying to manage absolutely everything, it encourages humans to take a more hands-off approach. Whether it is something that takes place on a large scale over decades (such as the Great Green Wall, or something that can be done in your own back garden, it will all make a difference.9
Reconnect with Nature
The rewilding that Foreman wrote about focused on specific habitats, but there is a lot to be said for rewilding on a personal level as well. Though most people can’t simply quit their jobs and live off the land, it’s possible to buy fewer processed good or and walk instead of taking the car for short journeys. People can buy fresh vegetables from a local farmer instead of supermarket goods imported from far away and turn off the computer sometimes and go out to talk to people.
Small changes can make a big difference to your current quality of life and for the planet as well. Rewilding is just one part of these changes, but it is a very important part.
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