Rewilding: Restoring the World’s Natural Ecosystems
By Duncan Grossart
Back in June I was delighted to give a talk as part of the Green Angel Syndicate Insights Programme on “Rewilding, and Why It Matters”. Here are the key takeaways for those that missed it!
What is rewilding and why does it matter?
Rewilding is the large-scale, long term restoration of ecosystems. This restoration allows nature to start taking care of itself again. Rewilding can help mitigate global warming and rebuild our defences against climate change. It creates resilient ecosystems, greater biodiversity and contributes to the drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere. There are some remarkable rewilding stories out there which we need to celebrate and champion.
The loss of biodiversity is happening all over the planet, on every continent, and as increasingly interconnected human beings, we cannot help but be affected by it. This was summed up beautifully by Sir David Attenborough in his speech to the UN Security Council in February, where he said:
“We are no longer separate nations each best served by looking after its own needs and security. We are a single truly global species whose greatest threats are shared and whose security must ultimately come from acting together in the interests of us all.”
Sir David Attenborough is an advocate of rewilding. In his recent film ‘A Life on Our Planet’, he shows us the story of his life to date, the forecast of what’s to come and how we can now correct the situation. He ends the film with this phrase: “We must rewild the world.”
We are beginning to take ecosystem restoration seriously on a global scale and on World Environment Day (5th June) the UN officially launched its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to help “end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction.” Of course, as the UN stipulates, this “will only succeed if everyone plays a part.”
There are several initiatives that are now focusing on rewilding. These include the UK’s 30by30 pledge to protect 30% of the UK’s marine and terrestrial wildlife and the world’s first ever Rewilding Day, that took place on 20th March this year. A month before the all-important UN Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow this November (COP26), China will host the COP15 Convention on Biological Diversity.
The wonderful world of rewilding
Rewilding is not just about letting your garden go to seed. Here are a few examples of rewilding on a remarkable scale…
In 1995 the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park curbed deer populations, allowing trees to take hold and flourish, which encouraged more birds back to the park. An increase in vegetation and varying habitats also heralded the return of invertebrates and those great ecosystem engineers: beavers. The dams built by those beavers brought back reptiles, amphibians and insects, expanding the bird numbers even further.
Bringing back the wolves also decreased the coyote population, allowing small mammals, such as mice, voles and rabbits to return. The changing habitat also enticed back the bears, who fed on new shrubs and berries, as well as carcasses left by the wolves. The more the trees, grasses and shrubs took hold, the greater the stability of the riverbanks. And so it went on in a virtuous cycle. The reintroduction of one apex predator set off a trophic cascade that affected the entire ecosystem for the better.
Since this, there have been so many positive rewilding stories, from the reintroduction of jaguars and giant otters in Argentina to bison in Romania to beavers in Scotland. The bison is a keystone species and landscape architect, spreading seeds and burrs in its fur, creating nesting material for birds, attracting insects with its dung and cutting up the ground with its hooves, helping nuts and seeds take root.
Rewilding can also bring about benefits for local economies and communities. For example, recent research by Rewilding Britain has shown that in rewilding areas there has been a 51% increase in employment and a tenfold increase in volunteering opportunities.
The main message I want to leave you with is that, although we, as human beings, have ruined many of the world’s ecosystems, it is not too late to reverse some of the damage. The restoration of our landscapes, habitats and biodiversity will help to mitigate climate change. Not only that, but rewilding also brings vibrancy, hope and positive livelihoods back into communities.
As George Monbiot says in his book Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding: “Rewilding is not about abandoning civilization, but about enhancing it. It is to ‘love not Man the less, but Nature more’.”