Rewilding offers us an opportunity to turn the tide on the loss of nature around the world. Unlike conventional conservation which works to preserve or prevent species from going extinct, rewilding goes one step further. In the last 50 years, conservationists have come far in preventing some of the most critically endangered species from going extinct. However, it has not been enough. We have lost many more countless species in our never-ending quest for development. Rewilding helps us shift our thinking to look beyond doing only what we can to preserve, whilst forcing us to ask what more we can do to enhance life on earth.
We all know that we are in an ecological and climate crisis. A United Nations (UN) report has said that up to one million species are at risk of extinction. In the UK alone, 41% of species are declining and one in 10 is threatened with extinction.
As carbon emissions continue to rise, the very infrastructure of our society, including our health, is under threat from severe floods, storms, extreme heat and drought. Coral reefs are being bleached from increased levels of carbon dioxide in our oceans. Peat bogs are drying out under rising temperatures and woodlands are degrading. This all has implications for people as well, as those ecosystems can no longer absorb carbon and hold water to reduce flood risk.
How can rewilding help?
For too long we have interfered with the natural processes of ecosystems. Culverting our rivers, driving species to extinction, deforesting and polluting our waterways. If we are to halt the loss of nature and mitigate the impacts of climate change then we have to restore natural functions in our ecosystems.
By permitting the instinctive movement and behaviours of species, embracing natural woodland regeneration where possible, reintroducing missing species, as well as freeing up our rivers from their concrete channels, we will see the true power of rewilding to create restored functional ecosystems. In urban environments, novel landscapes for wildlife may also emerge.
This is not just our view but also that of major political institutions, including the United Nations, who declared that we must rewild and restore 1 billion hectares, an area equivalent to the size of China, to meet targets set to protect the natural world and climate.
There are vast ecological and social benefits to rewilding, which we have summarised briefly below.
Reversing species declines
By looking to the past to inspire future ecosystems, we can start to proactively reintroduce lost species back into viable habitat, just like our Large Marsh Grasshopper and Water Vole reintroduction projects. In many instances, these missing species will have wider ecological benefits. A popular example of this is with beavers, whose damning behaviours create wetland habitats bursting with life.
Helping fight against climate change
Natural forest regeneration, including grazing pressures from a functional mix of herbivores, will help to create a mosaic of forest and grassland habitats. This mix of habitats can store vast amounts of carbon. Furthermore, by restoring our peat bogs we could remove huge quantities of carbon from our atmosphere. Returning beavers to our landscapes will dam up our waterways, in turn sequestering more carbon.
Improving our mental health and well-being
Access to nature and its benefits for people’s mental health and well-being is well documented. By rewilding both rural and urban spaces, we can improve the accessibility of high-quality green spaces for people and wildlife. This is especially important in urban spaces, where the majority of the world’s population live. By rewilding urban areas, we can improve mental health and well-being for vast swathes of the population. Thi