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Rewilding

Greg Devine

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Sunset over the Peak District National Park taken from Stanage Edge

Up and down the country different councils are turning their efforts to ‘rewilding’—but what is it?


Rewilding is essentially taking an area of land and allowing nature to restore itself. It’s typically applied to large areas, though smaller rewilding projects take place. For example, Rotherham Council planted naturally occurring flowers across numerous central reservations, which has proved a huge success. Not only does rewilding make an area look more attractive than cut grass or concrete, it also encourages wildlife to return and helps to save the bees.


More intensive rewilding can include the reintroduction of apex predators, such as wolves, in the hope of controlling animal populations and bringing them to natural levels. Such efforts have been implemented in Scotland and national parks in the United States with high levels of success.


It sounds like a no brainer, but rewilding has its critics. Some believe it’s simply a fad for wealthy people and landowners to save face, others believe it’s used to justify the removal of humans from the landscape—particularly farmers and indigenous groups.


Many people are choosing to ‘rewild’ their gardens by changing the way they mow their grass and providing areas for animals to live, such as hedgehogs and birds.


One in five county councils are planning or launching rewilding projects. Given that they represent some of the largest landowners in the country, they have the opportunity to rewild places such as former golf courses, abandoned industrial areas, damaged waterways and floodplains. North Somerset Council, for example, has decided to rewild ‘as much land as possible’; they plan to improve the biodiversity of their parks, waterways, agricultural land and coastal areas by 2030.


As things stand, most of the UK’s land is ‘tamed’. True wildlands don’t really exist. I spend a lot of time in the Peak District National Park, and even there, most areas are farmed. Livestock is always grazing there. It’s mostly sheep—which, of course, will eat any grasses and plants they have access to. Rewilding an area would allow wildflowers to return in places where livestock normally destroys them. And, if wildflowers returned, animals that would normally feed on them would come back. This leads to greater biodiversity, which is the whole point of rewilding.

Closeup image of purple wild flowers

Closeup image of purple wild flowers

Livestock can actually be really important in rewilding efforts. A fully functioning, diverse ecosystem will require an apex predator. Where this would be a wolf or a lynx in a naturally occurring ecosystem, there are clear safety issues if reintroducing these in certain areas. Bison and elk tend to be next in the food chain; however, bison have only just been reintroduced to the UK under controlled measures. Elk and deer are rarely wild outside of Scotland; other rare breeds, or cattle, can be introduced as a substitute. These replacements will still allow natural regeneration to occur.


Rewilding can also be good for the economy. Landowners operating rewilding projects have created job opportunities. A single, heavily landscaped estate may only require one person to maintain it; rewilding, in many cases, requires a team of people to manage such a project. One example of this is in Scotland; ‘Trees for Life’ bought Dundreggan, a former shooting estate employing one groundsperson. Thanks to its rewilding project, it now employs eight people and will employ a further fifteen when it opens its education centre.


Further help for the economy can come from ‘eco-tourism’. When done right, this allows for picturesque walks and animal spotting without damage to ecosystems. If anything, correctly managed eco-tourism has a positive impact on rewilding efforts, as profits can be used towards the further funding and improving of more rewilding projects.


It’s not just land that can be ‘rewilded’ but also the sea. Though not as high on the political agenda, according to many experts, this would be a lot simpler. Rewilding land takes work to ensure an area can be properly restored; however, with the sea, once the seabed is restored, it can be left to do its own thing.


Would you like to see rewilding in your area? I’m a fan of what I’ve seen in Rotherham and I always appreciate any efforts made to protect wildlife when I go walking in the Peak District. It’s difficult to see any downsides.

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