In its infancy, rewilding focused on the three C’s: Cores, Corridors and Carnivores. This theory focused on large scale restoration of landscapes through the conservation of core habitats, such as national parks, linked up with corridors of viable habitat that allow animals to move freely throughout large swathes of land. Carnivores were envisaged as a vital component to driving trophic cascades (interactions that can alter entire ecosystems).
Yellowstone is often heralded as the most impressive and ‘complete’ example of a rewilding project, where reintroducing grey wolves to the national park led to a series of changes throughout the landscape – even changing the flow of rivers. Their absence had widespread impacts – the booming elk (Cervus canadensis) populations overgrazed trees, leading to a decline in bird species and prevented beavers damming the rivers. In turn, river flow sped up and banks began to erode. In 1995, wolves were returned and within 20 years, the ecosystem was flourishing again. Elk populations subsided and with that, willow and aspen trees recovered. Songbirds, eagles, foxes, badgers, and beavers returned. The latter began to dam the rivers again, changing their flow, slowing the speed of the water, creating vital wetland habitats in which a diverse range of species could thrive. A trophic cascade in action.
When you mention rewilding, however, I dare say not many urban landscapes spring to mind. While its original intention of landscape-scale restoration using grazing herbivores (and carnivores) may not be feasible in our towns and cities, by sticking to its core principles of increasing connectivity and restoring ecosystem functionality, we can make a big difference and help our wildlife to move through complex cityscapes.
In much the same way that the three C’s originally focused on connecting core habitats across vast rural areas, we must begin to look at our cities as a microcosm of this. Instead of agricultural fields and pockets of woodland connected by hedge lined A-roads and rivers, cityscapes contain a complex mishmash of ecosystems ranging from our windowsill planters right through to the 2500 acre Richmond Park, all interlinked with the web of networks we use to traverse the landscape every day. By managing these spaces with wildlife in mind, we can bolster their populations at each scale and help wildlife move through the cityscape with ease and hopefully bleed out into the wider countryside.
Simple acts, like planting wildflowers can provide a valuable food source for many insects, including the early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) on the thistle flower photographed here © Ben Stockwell