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Rewilding has been in the news a lot recently, from further releases of beaver (albeit mainly in enclosed pens) through to politicians vying for theirs to be the party promising the greatest number of trees planted to tackle climate change. Rewilding has even featured on The Archers, indicating that it has fully entered the consciousness of the Radio 4 listeners and is not just limited to Guardian readers and the topic’s core supporters. Rewilding was in fact so popular this year that it was shortlisted along with bopo, deepfake and entryist in the Collin’s words of 2019. It was pipped to the post by “climate strike”.
Despite its apparent popularity it remains toxic in some sectors. Call it anything you like – restoration, regeneration, nature recovery or whatever – just don’t call it rewilding in front of most farmers, land managers, shooters or the right-wing press. Several authors have written about this effect in previous editions of ECOS including ourselves, and this year saw the unfortunate retreat of Rewilding Britain from its £3.4m flagship Summit to Sea project in Wales. We were due to feature an article detailing progress in this issue but had to pull this at the last minute as local farmers and community groups accused the project’s leaders of eco-colonialism and signs appeared in fields proclaiming “Dweud NA I Ailwylltio” (Say NO to Rewilding). Despite the aims of the project being to increase biodiversity, restore ecosystems and build a resilient nature-based economy, the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) maintains “There’s no room for working with those who wish to see land abandoned on a huge scale”. Lack of meaningful engagement leading to poor community relations have been blamed, so there are lessons to be learnt. Meanwhile the other project funded by the Endangered Landscapes Programme at Cairngorm Connect, resolutely refuses to call itself a rewilding project, preferring on “habitat restoration” and have carefully avoided any suggestion that they are looking to reintroduce large predators such as wolves and are cautious about lynx and beaver, preferring to concentrate on existing species.
In this issue we have brought together a varied and interesting collection of articles covering issues of scale and connectivity, movements of animals and shifts in meaning, building a social movement, the return of the beaver, a view from America, a critique of the fated Oostvaardersplassen experiment, and the return of the wolf in Europe. Three reviews of recent books on rewilding are also included, although why one of these shows an urban fox curled up on a doormat, I’m not sure. Perhaps, in the end, this is what rewilding is about and the fox is just a metaphor for the wild returning to our homes?
As we live with a new government and continued uncertainty over Brexit and beyond with the ongoing climate and extinction concerns, one thing is certain… rewilding (like or not) is here to stay and may well turn out to be the planet’s last hope, be that by design or be that forced on us as we have to retreat from hostile landscapes that can no longer support us. Yet, nature abhors a vacuum and though we may leave these abandoned lands in a state of extreme degradation, something will move in and claim it. Given time, nature-led recovery may well be our long-term hope. That is rewilding’s future.
Alison Parfitt and Steve Carver