The Weekend Wonk: Rewilding the UK

May 7, 2021


….a growing number of people believe that the only way to bring back what we’ve lost is through trusting natural environments to recover themselves- a process called rewilding. For some, it can be a contentious issue with worries about the reintroduction of apex predators like wolves and the Eurasian Lynx.

The progressive conservation movement, however, has found particular resonance with one European nation.

Rewilding is based on the principle that nature knows best when it comes to protecting itself.

But due to the damage we have already done to the natural world, it needs a helping hand to recover to the point where it can do that. Across Europe, we’ve lost massive amounts of native flora and fauna that are essential to keeping our ecosystems balanced.

To rewild our environment, we need to create the correct conditions. This can be done through actions like reintroducing species that have disappeared, allowing forests to regenerate and preventing the fragmentation of rivers.

The theory goes that by giving nature a little push and then stepping back, we can put a stop to the incredible loss of biodiversity and worsening climate crisis.

A classic example of the success of rewilding can be found in Yellowstone National Park in the US. When wolves were hunted to near extinction at the start of the 20th century, their prey multiplied. Elk took over and their exploding numbers overgrazed the land.

It prevented trees like aspen and willow from reaching maturity. That in turn meant songbirds lost their habitat and beavers no longer had materials with which to build their dams. Riverbanks started to erode and water temperatures rose without the natural shade of the trees. The loss of Yellowstone’s wolves had a cascade effect on the park’s entire ecosystem.

Then, in 1995, 14 wolves were captured in Jasper National Park, Canada and transported across the border by wildlife officials. They were acclimated to their new surroundings and then released into the park to replace those lost in the preceding centuries.

Within 20 years, their numbers had boomed and the renewed presence of this apex predator had started to bring balance back to Yellowstone. Now the reintroduction is considered a model for how seemingly small steps like these can help to heal the natural environments we’ve ravaged.

So could steps like these work for another ecosystem suffering from the impact of centuries of humanity’s destructive actions?

Rewilding has become an increasingly popular movement in Scotland over the last few years. Politicians are being called on by the Scottish Rewilding Alliance (SWA) to create policies that would see the country become the world’s first “rewilding nation”.

Ahead of the Scottish parliamentary election next month, the SWA want to see a solid commitment from political parties to tackle the nature and climate crisis as well as bringing employment to rural communities. Rewilding, the alliance believes, should be a part of those commitments.

“The parties and the public face many choices at this election, including major decisions which will shape the future of Scotland’s lands and seas,” says Steve Micklewright, convenor of the SWA.

He explains that they are urging all political parties to commit to five different measures to protect nature and boost the economy:

  • Commit to rewilding 30 per cent of public land.
  • Establish a community fund to support rewilding in towns and cities.
  • Backing the reintegration of keystone species such as rehoming beavers and reintroducing the Eurasian Lynx where there is local support.
  • Create a coastal zone where dredging and trawling are not permitted
  • Introduce a plan to control deer populations, allowing land to recover from overgrazing.

The Scottish public is behind the idea too. Last year the SWA commissioned a poll across Scotland which found widespread support for the principle of rewilding. More than three-quarters of people who expressed an opinion backed the concept, ten times as many as those who objected to it.

National Geographic:

This week a United Nations working group responded to a joint statement posted online in December by some of the world’s largest conservation organizations calling for 30 percent of the planet to be managed for nature by 2030—and for half the planet to be protected by 2050. But exactly what counts as “protected”—and how countries can reach those goals—is still up for debate. (direct download)

Conservationists say these high levels of protection are necessary to safeguard benefits that humans derive from nature—such as the filtration of drinking water and storage of carbon that would otherwise increase global warming. The areas are also needed to prevent massive loss of species.

Humans and their domestic animals are squeezing the rest of life on Earth to the margins. Today, only four percent of the world’s mammals, by weight, are wild. The other 96 percent are our livestock and ourselves. Since 1970, populations of wild mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians have, on average, declined by 60 percent.

Habitat loss is widely regarded as the top cause of species extinction around the world and these dramatic population declines are a red flag that many species are on thin ice—but the good news is that there is still time to save most species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species lists 872 species as extinct, but a whopping 26,500 species as threatened with extinction. To save those species, their homes and the other species with which they depend must be protected—and quickly.

“We’ve got a really tight clock,” says Brian O’Donnell, director of the Wyss Campaign for Nature, based in Durango, CO, who advocates globally for more conservation areas. “Every year we wait, we put more species in peril.”

2 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Rewilding the UK”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Small TV doco recently about European beaver reintroduced into Britain about a decade ago. Not known who or how it was done! Worked well!

  2. Keith McClary Says:

    Céline Keller

    Discourses of Climate Delay

    This is a comic adaption of the ‘Discourses of Climate Delay’ study by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change

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