One of my university modules, Wildlife Conservation in the UK, often addresses the topic of rewilding, a relatively new concept that has rapidly become a hot topic in ecology and conservation. I’d heard of rewilding previous to starting my degree course, but my understanding of it was limited. Our lecturer told us about George Monbiot, a rather outspoken but incredibly valuable contributor to conservation. Monbiot writes for the Guardian and has published multiple books, including Feral: “Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding” (Monbiot, 2011).
Once Feral arrived, I started the first chapter as late night bedtime reading, but after six pages I decided to wait until morning. I could tell it was going to be a book that required my full concentration, and I wanted to give it the attention it deserved.
After hearing the term ‘rewilding’ for the first time, I constructed my own definition. To me it meant repopulating habitats with species that dwelt there in times past, in an attempt to reawaken lifeless ecosystems and attempt to reverse some of the damage we have caused through our use of fishing nets, saws and rifles. I defined rewilding as increasing biodiversity, giving things more wildlife so to speak, going back to how the world used to look before mankind exploited its resources.
Monbiot describes it differently. Instead of restoring ecosystems to a previous state, rewilding will “permit ecological processes to continue” (Monbiot, 2013). The natural world is ever changing – predator/ prey interaction, intraspecific competition (members of the same species competing for food or mates), as well as constant seasonal changes that in many cases affect the survival of the animals and plants that depend on resources that may or may not be available. Rewilding then is not a case of trying to prevent an ecosystem from deteriorating by injecting a new predator or top herbivore. Instead, it should be about providing the protection that enables the ecosystem to recover itself, without further interruption from us. Monbiot describes it as “resisting the urge to control nature and allowing it to find its own way.” This makes perfect sense to me. We have caused crippling destruction to our planet – what could we possibly know about replenishing the habitats we have had no respect for? We should step back and let rejuvenation occur without excessive input from us.
If rewilding is successful, I share the view of Monbiot that the ecosystems that emerge afterwards may not necessarily be what they were originally. Instead, they may evolve in a countless number of ways, making the concept of rewilding such an interesting one. We cannot be certain what the outcomes will be. “While conservation often looks to the past” Monbiot explained, with regards to how we strive to restore aspects of nature to what they were, “rewilding of this kind looks to the future”.
There is also the possibility of rewilding human life, where we adapt our way of living to experience what life was like before technology took hold of us in its metal fist. Again, there is a balance to be struck. We do not need to abandon the extensive progress we have made, but simply adopt some more old-fashioned ways of life simultaneously. Relinquishing all that science has achieved would be madness; there must be a way we can still benefit from modern living and at the same time appreciate a wilder, more adventurous side of life. Here in his book Monbiot quotes Byron: “Love not man the less, but Nature more” (1818).
I can tell Feral is going to be a really insightful and intriguing addition to my bookshelf. It was so interesting reading Monbiot’s opinion on the topic. I’ve come to realise that I didn’t quite appreciate the scope of rewilding and just how much it will affect our way of life if it’s carried out successfully.
- Byron, G. (1818) ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, Verse 178.
- Monbiot, G. (2011) Books. Available at: http://www.monbiot.com/books/ (Accessed: 22 February 2016)
- Monbiot, G. (2013) Feral. London: Penguin Books.