Rewilding can help create a healthier, more resilient natural world. As we become ever more aware of the threats to our planet and the need to safeguard its future, rewilding offers us a crucial opportunity. But what do we mean by rewilding? The term is controversial and often misunderstood. It's frequently thought to refer to the reintroduction of apex predators, like wolves, to a landscape. Though this is often a piece of the puzzle, rewilding is about much more. Here we answer the question "What is Rewilding?"
For thousands of years, humans have changed landscapes and disrupted natural ecosystems. We've cleared large swathes of forest for agriculture, removed large carnivores from much of their range and changed the course of rivers. We're the ultimate ecosystem engineers and the natural world has suffered at our hands. In the face of climate breakdown and global extinctions, it’s now more urgent than ever that we not only protect what we have left but also restore and rewild the ecosystems that we have destroyed.
This is where rewilding comes in. Rewilding is based on the premise that nature knows best how to take care of itself. We can give it a helping hand and create the right conditions by restoring vital ecosystem processes like predation, grazing, regeneration and decomposition. For example, carnivores like wolves and lynx shape ecosystems in their role as top predators. They affect the numbers and behaviour of prey species and this has a knock-on effect on the other species in the ecosystem. The impacts of these carnivores can be felt as far down the food chain as the plant species, a phenomenon known as a trophic cascade. Today, initiatives across the globe are bringing these top predators back and restoring the species and natural processes that keep the Earth’s ecosystems healthy.
Rewilding & Us
Ultimately, within a rewilded landscape there shouldn’t be much need for active management. Nature can look after itself better and more cost-effectively than we can. Rewilding is therefore about reducing human control over the land. It does not mean removing people from the land entirely. In fact, in these wilder landscapes, people and planet can flourish together.
Benefit of Rewilding
When nature is healthy, it can provide us with abundant products and services, from food and medicine to flood defences and cool air. It offers rural communities economic opportunities through things like wildlife-based tourism. It makes us feel better too. Connecting with nature is good for our mental and physical health. Of course, it's good for the non-human animals that inhabit our earth too. Top predators and grazers are reclaiming lost ground across the globe while rare plants and insects are making a comeback in regenerating forests. These healthier, more intact ecosystems can also help us fight against climate breakdown by keep carbon stored in plants and soil.
Rewilding focuses on restoring ecosystem processes. Landscapes are not restored with a fixed set of end goals in mind. It’s not about rebuilding what once was, but about supporting a constantly evolving, ecologically dynamic landscape. Through rewilding, we can create a future in which our natural world can work uninterrupted in all its rich complexity to shape our landscapes. We can help bring wilderness back from the brink.