The story behind Rewilding
Since the industrial revolution 360 years ago, human population has expanded exponentially. In its expansion, we have made our mark by tarring roads, cutting down forests and draining wetlands to name a few. This has consequently caused ecosystems and individual species, plants and animals to either diminish in number, disappear or worst of all become extinct. However, we have recently discovered that working with nature is more beneficial to us rather than working against it.
When a species is taken out of an ecosystem it affects a lot of other species, some positively and others negatively. This is because everything abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) has a role to play in the environment such as plants giving off oxygen or lions keeping herds of impala and zebra populations in check.
Nature can thrive very well when left alone
Other species like elephants and rhinos have more specialized jobs. Elephants use their size and weight to move through dense vegetation which opens up areas for smaller animals to feed. White rhinos graze on a certain length of grass, once the rhinos have moved through the area it allows certain antelope which specialize in a shorter grass length to graze in that area. These types of animals are called ecosystem engineers.
Elephants and rhinos are excellent ecosystem engineers
If any animal is taken out of its specific ecosystem, it can have a knock-on effect that ultimately cause the ecosystem to become imbalanced. Here is an example of how wolves fixed the ecosystem of Yellowstone Park in the USA.
Many projects like this are being set into place around the world. Not all the projects concern wolves but some examples are elephants, different bird species or even a tree or plant species. All can have a dynamic effect on how the ecosystem functions.
Here is a shortlist of the animals which have been rewilded in the UK or hoping to be in the future or have already been reintroduced in parts of the UK.
Beavers (reintroduced in 2021 after 400 years of being absent in the UK)
Another excellent ecosystem engineer is the beaver
Lynx (further research is ongoing for this big cat)
The lynx is a shy secretive cat
Boar (programmes for reintroducing wild boar have been fairly successful)
White-tailed Eagle (reintroduced on the Isle of Wight in 2019)
The white tailed eagle can have a wingspan of just over 2 meters
Wolves (hoping to be reintroduced in Scotland but there is a heavy debate around farm owners)
Bison (this year in 2022 part of the Kent Wildlife Trust called The Wilder Blean project)
Rewilding is not just about bringing back animals to where they once roamed, but also just letting nature do its own thing. By leaving natural areas untouched by human hands or by leaving degraded land over to nature, nature can do wonderful things transforming that land. We, humans, have transformed the land so much to suit ourselves that natural ecosystem functioning has been severely altered or disappeared completely. Small changes including right in your garden and local community can help nature restore itself. This includes:
· Not mowing your garden or street verges and letting wildflowers grow naturally. This will increase insect numbers which will increase certain bird species which are in decline.
· Many wetland habitats and river courses have been altered or converted to the construction of buildings. If you have enough area in your garden, you can create a natural pond, which will help birds, insects and amphibians. If you don’t have the space but still want to help, you can put a small dish of water out to attract bees and birds to drink. (Put three or four medium-sized stones which protrude out of the water so if the bees fall in, they can crawl out onto the stone)
· Once again, if you have the space, plant a tree. Not only does it absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere helping the climate crisis, but it also provides food and homes to birds, small mammals and reptiles.
A tree can offer so much to nature such as food, shelter and air to breath
· Cut a small hole out of your wooden fence so that hedgehogs, squirrels and other small mammals can roam freely. This technique can be used anywhere around the world for a range of different animals.
Hostility of landowners
Whenever you reintroduce an animal back into an area where it historically was, there most certainly will be some pushback from the people living there now. Such is the case with wolves and Lynx. Farmers are very protective of their livestock. Whether it be on the plains of Africa protecting them from lions or on the Scottish Highlands protecting against wolves, if a sheep, goat or cow gets attacked, its money out the bank and sometimes it’s not just one animal being killed but many. Strategies that have worked in Africa with regards to human-carnivore conflict include neck guards for sheep, Light and noise simulators as well as Al Paca. However, the greatest help the farmers could ask for and what prevents them from killing the various carnivore’s is monetary compensation. Could this work here in the UK? I believe so, it would take some time but I believe the benefits of reintroducing top predators back to the UK would far outweigh the negatives.
Conservationists, landowners and farmers are in constant conflict over the rights of the animals.
What the future holds
As already stated, many rewilding projects are happening worldwide. It’s not just on land either. Mangroves are being replanted along coastlines in Indonesia, Seagrass, which feed turtles, Manatees and Dugongs. Coral reefs are being restored and propagated in nurseries to revive these dynamic and important ecosystems.
Climate Change and habitat destruction are the main drivers of our ecosystems collapsing. By rewilding and converting human-altered land back to nature we can push back or rather give back to nature what we have taken. The great thing is once we have given nature a little nudge in the right direction we can stand back and watch how nature heals itself through the transformation. This will not only benefit and improve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning but it will help us, humans, as well. We have a long way to go but when people and nature work together, anything is possible.
Everything is better when we work with nature instead of against it