Rewilding: Turning Back The Clock For Nature

Picture of By Aidan O’Reilly

By Aidan O’Reilly

What You Need To Know About Rewilding

Rewilding is a concept that truly began in earnest a few decades ago with the goal of reintroducing keystone species (primarily apex predators) back into ecosystems and ranges where they can no longer be found. One of the most famous cases of this manner of rewilding is that of Yellowstone National Park through its reintroduction of wolves in the 1990s. This has enabled wolves to reclaim some of their historic range in surrounding areas while additionally reversing some of the effects of ecological degradation in Yellowstone. Creating more bio-diverse and stable ecosystems.

This manner of rewilding, much like Yellowstone National Park itself, has undergone some changes since the reintroduction of wolves there over 20 years ago. Modern concepts of rewilding, while similarly concerned with the reintroduction of keystone species into environments where these species once lived, will take the process further. Rather than reestablishing the environments within small pockets of nature, modern rewilding wants to expand those pockets of nature. Restoring these environments to how they were before the advent of human intervention and allowing natural processes to unfold on their own.

If an ecosystem can manage to survive in a place like Chernobyl, it can do so in other places where we have intervened.

Rewilding need not be a complicated process, and when done right can lead to dramatic changes in relatively short periods of time with little-to-no management or oversight. To see this process in action look no further than Chernobyl, the worst nuclear accident to have occurred. Despite the still dangerous levels of radiation in the Exclusion Zone, wildlife & biodiversity in the area have increased dramatically in the 30 plus years since the disaster. If an ecosystem can manage to survive in a place like Chernobyl, it can do so in other places where we have intervened.

What Does Rewilding Do For Us?

So far it may seem that I have talked about rewilding solely as a process of giving. Giving up land, jobs and even safety if we simply go about reintroducing animals such as wolves, which surely mean us harm. Rewilding is not this, and when done correctly promotes a system where people and nature are mutually supported, and places the needs and concerns of local communities and people at the front of any discussion. Done incorrectly, rewilding can lead to cases such as Oostvaardersplassen here in the Netherlands, where poor management and planning such as an absence of nature corridors and predators in the endeavour resulted in mass starvation among the wildlife and the area becoming little more than an expensive nature trail.

We are entering the 6th Mass Extinction event

This is not the inevitable conclusion of rewilding. That thought process ultimately takes us nowhere and distracts us from the genuine positive impact rewilding can have. I am sure many of you have heard at some point of the increasing number of species losses caused through human interference, with a concern that we are entering the 6th Mass Extinction event in approximately 500 million years multicellular life has existed on earth.

However, this does not mean that this disaster has to occur. Many species have unfortunately been lost to us, and unless we are able to invent technology straight out of science fiction by cloning animals from DNA samples encased in amber, they will sadly remain lost to us. But, there are still many animals out there we can save and even provide homes for. By reducing the amount of human interference on the landscape and allowing natural processes to occur, plants and animals that were struggling, or had been pushed to small pockets of wild are suddenly given greater space and resources to flourish and regain numbers they might not have seen in centuries.

Rewilding, while as much a process of restoration, is also a process of connection. Something that not only connects ecosystems to one another by promoting diversity in wildlife, but also connects people with nature in a manner that is largely absent for many of us in the present day and age.  Nature has always been and will continue to be an important component of people’s lives. There is a reason why walking and visiting parks became a popular pastime for many people during the past 2 years of lockdowns. Yet we continue to lose more and more of nature each year. Either from urban sprawl, deforestation or pollution, we are losing so much through a loss of nature, including our connection.

However, this does not have to be how things go. Through rewilding we are able to restore that vital connection of people to nature in addition to restoring the land itself. Access to nature should not be something limited to national parks for reserves, but should extend as far as it can. Rewilding is able to return to us not only species that we otherwise would lose, but also meaningful experiences that can only be found by interacting with nature.

What We Can Do For Rewilding?

Rewilding begins first and foremost by acknowledging the importance and value that nature and wilderness have to us as a society. And just because we are able to impose our will on our local ecosystems, it does not mean we have an inherent right to. Land use and land ownership are discussions that are too emotionally charged and complex to have at this moment. But they are discussions we should be having. Historical land use may have designated areas into farmlands, settlements, or other such purposes at the time, but this does not mean we have to abide by those designations in such a strict fashion anymore.

The few pockets we designate as being protected or for human use are too few and far between. If we actually want to make a difference for not only the species with which we share our planet with, but also for ourselves, then we should talk more about rewilding. These discussions may not be easy or simple to have, but they need to be had. There is only so much space left that we have not left an irrecoverable trace of. I would hate to think what would happen once those spaces are gone.

Cover: Jayne McMaster

Edited by: Alexa Ciociu

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