What Is Rewilding?
Rewilding… does it always work? Science holds the answer. Data-driven rewilding efforts can strengthen execution and planning, resulting in successes. Science also demonstrates that rewilding doesn’t have to battle with agricultural productivity.
By Kirti Ramesh
November 24, 2020

Rewilding has the potential to restore nature to her majestic natural beauty. For instance, when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, their predatory behaviour brought a much needed balance to the environment.

This is a textbook example of conservation success and one of my favourite examples of successful human intervention to help the environment. However, despite its best intentions, rewilding is often the subject of controversy. For instance, in the UK, the release of beavers has sparked tremendous debate. You may wonder what is controversial about beavers - fluff balls that make twig dams hardly seem contentious. However, beavers were absent from English wildscapes for 400 years after being hunted for their meat, fur and castoreum. In this time, landowners had gotten used to beavers not affecting their farming practices. Additionally, people had concerns over beaver population viability, non-native diseases and water flow patterns.

Many similar rewilding efforts are underway globally to reverse the human-induced extinction of organisms from various habitats. Rewilding is a new type of conservation strategy that aims to let nature take care of nature, a self-sustaining environmental tactic. Species that have been lost as a result of human activity are reintroduced, enabling natural forest regeneration, or even providing connectivity (corridors) between areas that have seen human development such as dams or dykes.

Over in the Netherlands, the rewilding of a marshland at Oostvaardersplassen to obtain a dynamic landscape where meadows and wooded groves are ever-changing was met with resistance and offers the opportunity to learn conservation lessons. Key here is the scope and scale of the management strategy because rewilding is not an effective or easy intervention everywhere. According to the True Nature Foundation, the Dutch Oostvaardersplassen scenario “is not a failure of rewilding as a concept, but a failure in its execution.”

Rewilding is also met with resistance by farmers because of abandoning productive farmland. To both these points of proper execution and productivity, science holds the answers. Data-driven rewilding efforts can strengthen execution and planning, resulting in successes. Science also demonstrates that rewilding doesn’t have to battle with agricultural productivity. 

Lands less arable or suitable for farming can be utilised for rewilding efforts and such strategies can offer alternative sources of productivity. For instance, rewilding has been proposed as a strategy to minimize flood risks. In the UK, the restoration of bogs — which act like sponges and hold tremendous volumes of water — is a rewilding strategy applied to reduce the impacts of floods.

Rewilding in itself is an inspired idea and elicits thought processes about our surroundings and the infinite ways in which environmental parameters can interact with each other. However, by itself, it is not the golden ticket that solves all our current environmental tribulations. To finish, I’d like to end on a quote that evoked this article, a tweet by Greta Thunberg.

One of my greatest sources of hope lies in the huge potential of rewilding and restoring nature. This, together with climate equity and stop burning fossil fuels, is the key towards a sustainable world.


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