Wilding encompasses conservation and goes beyond it. We do still need to remove human infrastructure, regenerate the soils and sediments; clean up human pollution and contamination; introduce indigenous plants, animals and landscapes that were present before human intervention. Beyond this point it is all about protecting the land and marine areas being wilded, allowing natural processes to shape and repair the damaged ecosystems. Wilding restores nature’s natural rhythms, creating wilder and more biodiverse habitats. The truth is that only nature is equipped to manage its own survival and dynamic balance.
European wildlife species and habitats are but a shadow of what they used to be. Many populations of species that played a critical part in Europe’s ecological balance, have gone extinct. Rewilding is the process of restoring these species by relocation from isolated areas in Europe or from other continents and giving them enough habitat space to thrive.
Raquel Filgueiras, Head of Rewilding at European eNGO Rewilding Europe, explains that “Rewilding is about trusting the forces of nature to restore land and sea.” Many European ecosystems are broken “Robust and connected ecosystems make us more resilient to impacts of climate change” Creating and protecting areas where wilding can take place, benefits both people and wildlife. “Rewilding links ecology with modern economies, where wilder nature acts as an ally in solving modern socio-economic issues.”
Rewilding Europe protects eight operational areas across Europe, covering 2.3 million hectares. Wild horses and bison have been introduced in the Netherlands, Romania, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Beavers, elk, ibex, whooper swans and wild tailed Eagles are making a comeback. Predators such as bears, wolves, wolverines and lynx have been protected in these areas and the herbivores have learnt how to protect themselves. Dead herbivores provide carrion and populations of scavengers such as vultures, foxes, jackals, beetles, buzzards, crows, magpies and beech martens, previously declining, are now recovering. This ‘Circle of Life’ approach is gaining momentum.
Rewilding accelerates recovery from trophic cascades by restoring important food chains in nature. Trophic cascades occur when the absence of predators allows populations of prey to outgrow and overexploit their habitat. Humanity is a perfect example of this. By eliminating all dangerous predators from the habitats that we have invaded as an alien species, we have caused a massive trophic cascade of all species across the planet. We have overexploited the natural world and caused the sixth mass extinction of life on earth. The result of this is an irreversible degradation of the ecosystems that support our life, now placing our own species in grave danger.
People are healthier living in a biodiverse natural world. Unpolluted and functioning ecosystems provide clean water and uncontaminated air and food, prevent flooding, store carbon and help us adapt to climate change. We have all been born from nature and into a biological natural world together with all other species. It is no surprise therefore that connecting with wilderness makes us feel good and keeps us mentally and physically well.
In her book ‘Wilding – The return to nature of a British farm’, Isabella Tree speaks of how, together with her husband, they transformed their 3,500 acre farm at Knepp in West Sussex, England into a wilding project by allowing nature to take over and by introducing free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer species that have the closest affinity to the large animals that once roamed Britain.
Threatened and rare species such as turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, reappeared and are now breeding at Knepp. Populations of other species are rocketing. The previously degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, theming with life.
Wilding works and it can generate economic activity and employment. There is empirical evidence of how wilding can benefit both nature and people. In just over a decade the Knepp farm wilding project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity. In the words of Isabella Tree “Nature can come back at the drop of a hat, if you just let it.” We must urgently relearn how to accept wilderness back into our lives so that nature can regenerate the ecosystems that allow us to survive.
This article was published in the Senior Times of the Times of Malta on the 18th September 2021
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