Rewilding – stepping back in time for nature might be the way forward for the planet

It is no secret that the natural world now is one which would be virtually unrecognisable to our ancestors. Not all that long ago, it would have been unsurprising to return from a fishing trip with nets full to bursting – now you’d be lucky if you caught enough to fill one net. However, depletion of wildlife and biodiversity is not a new phenomenon, nor one reserved for the oceans. In the past hundred years reduction in biodiversity and extinction of species have increased at a rapid pace, and we are now starting to feel the effects of this environmental destruction much closer to home.

Indeed, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has created a scale ranging from 1-6 to help determine the extent of wilderness in natural spaces; with 1 being most wild and 6 least, nowhere in the UK reaches above 5 on this scale. In the past few years, there has been an increase in the backlash against this destruction of the planet’s biodiversity, with a huge upswing in the number of rewilding movements cropping up nationwide. 

First coined by Dave Foreman in 1992, the term rewilding has varying definitions. For Foreman, founder of The Rewilding Institute, the term means ‘wilderness and apex carnivore recovery’. Following this, in 1998, Michael Soule and Reed Noss wrote an article for Wild Earth magazine expanding the definition further, and stating that it is ‘the scientific argument for restoring big wilderness based on the regulatory roles of large predators’. Essentially, rewilding is the restoration of natural spaces and ecosystems focusing on the reintroduction of ‘keystone species’ – generally large carnivores which have often been eliminated by human activities – into ecosystems and replenishing core reserves. 

Rewilding Britain is the largest network striving to ‘reset our relationship with the natural world’ and reintroduce a plethora of healthy and thriving ecosystems to the UK. Their goal is to create a world which is once again ‘rich with the incredible hum and thrum of life’. It has been proven that natural initiatives, such as rewilding, are hugely effective in helping us get closer to achieving net zero. Healthy ecosystems absorb carbon emissions and enable species which may otherwise face extinction to thrive and adapt to changing environmental conditions. Many rewilding organisations across the country have demanded a restoration of 30% of land and seas to be rewilded by 2030, a pledge to which the government too has agreed.  

One of the most exciting moments in UK rewilding history is set to be made in spring 2022, with the reintroduction of wild bison to the country for the first time in 6,000 years. The Wilder Blean project in Kent intends for the bison to fend for themselves, monitoring their health from a distance, and allowing them to regenerate the pine wood forest in which they will be living. With projects such as this becoming increasingly widespread, the UK’s biodiversity could begin to recover faster than once suspected. 

In addition to Rewilding Britain and the Wilder Blean project, there are many other organisations including Trees for Life, The Great Fen Project, the RSPB, and The National Forest, which have all been working to increase biodiversity and rewild the landscape for years. There are also initiatives across Scotland, Ireland and Wales working towards the same goal. The Rewilding Network has a map showing locations of rewilding initiatives across the country, as well as providing information on how to get involved, or even start your own rewilding initiative. 

Image by UNDP (Vlad Sokhin) on Flickr

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