Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Re-wilding – an idea finding its time?

A few months ago I wrote a series of blogs on re-wilding – the idea that we can re-naturalise parts of the British countryside, reinstating natural processes as an alternative to management by people.  This was largely stimulated by George Monbiot’s excellent book “Feral”. 

The idea, however, is not new and discussions about nature versus nurture have been going on in ecology for decades.  It could, however, be an idea finding its time. 

In 1995 Bill Jenman and I wrote an article called “A Natural Method of Conserving Biodiversity in Britain”.  This contained many of the points that are being made today.  The Sussex Wildlife Trust has reprinted it with the kind permission of British Wildlife (Volume 7, Number 2, December 1995).

Re-reading it today I find that many of the ideas being discussed today were already well-advanced 20 years ago.  Some of the terminology might have changed (we didn't use the term “re-wilding”) and conservation management, rather than the promotion of natural processes, was perhaps more prevalent then than it is now.  Also some emphasis might have changed slightly.  We recognised the importance of top predators but today we would probably give even more prominence to the role that predators have in influencing grazing animals and through this the way that vegetation develops (the so-called “trophic cascade”). 

The article was, perhaps, too optimistic in promoting new wildernesses in Britain as we have not seen large areas reverting to nature.  However, progress has been made with some major areas of re-naturalisation being delivered by private landowners as well as charities (see my last article in “Natural World”). 

I also remain optimistic that a greater appreciation of natural processes has worked into the thinking on conservation management throughout nature conservation.  20 years ago management planning started from the perspective of managing nature, today we work from the perspective of how nature works before implementing management regimes.   Our whole Living Landscape theme is based on the idea that by working on a landscape scale we have to think about the processes that deliver a rich and varied wildlife – natural processes as well as human processes like agriculture and forestry. 


Take a look at this British Wildlife article today.  I don’t think we were either mindless dreamers or way ahead of our time.  It promoted many of the things that are being put forward today under the title of Rewidling Britain - perhaps the difference now is that there is a strong momentum building behind re-wilding, with more people involved and more people pushing for it.  Hopefully it really is an idea finding its time.