There is a broad consensus that our environment has already reached – if not surpassed - its tipping point. Thanks to climate change, mining, population growth, and rampant industrialisation, the devastation wreaked on global ecosystems is accelerating beyond our control.
There are countless brave and admirable efforts to contain the damage, but at the same time, there is a growing unease that pure conservation – that is, saving what little remains – is not enough to keep up with the deleterious effects of civilisation. That instead of merely defending the environment, if we want to make a difference we have to fight back.
This is the core philosophy of rewilding. While it doesn’t deny that we should continue to protect what we have, it asks us to go one step further. Rewilding is about taking places that are already damaged, and making them whole again.
How Does Rewilding Work?
Repairing nature is not a particularly new concept – think planting trees and invasive species control – but in the past, it has almost always been limited to single parts of the ecosystem or undertaken in already protected zones. Rewilding takes these historical boundaries of regeneration and pushes against them in two significant ways: firstly, by considering and rebalancing the ecosystem as a whole, and secondly, by largely working within areas that aren’t yet protect and that need greater rehabilitation, like private land.
This holistic consideration of the ecosystem is key: while the term “rewilding” might conjure up images of simply sitting back and letting nature take over, foreign species of flora and fauna introduced over centuries make in-depth research and measured intervention crucial.
Restoring the land to what it once was means finding the balance that once existed, which in turn means reintroducing all the elements that made it balanced in the first place, and removing those which have since upset it. It is not enough, for example, to plant an endemic species of tree and hope that it spreads. You also need to consider all the moving parts of the ecosystem that once supported that species – animals, insect life, birds, other plants, etc. – while controlling every invasive part that drove that native species out of the environment.
What Are the Challenges?
The benefits of rewilding for the environment, and even water security and climate change, are immediately obvious. Despite this, however, there are a number of significant challenges in implementing a successful rewilding program.
Two of those challenges have already been hinted at above. Firstly, rewilding takes a lot of effort. Even in a small area, it can take years before the ecosystem reaches a natural stasis, and maintenance during this period requires an at times intense dedication, as well as a resilience to any setbacks.
Secondly, as a relatively new approach, there is still a lack of broader public education about what exactly rewilding is. This is, in itself, a problem for two reasons: both because it makes it harder to secure public funding, and also because when rewilding involves public land, the project can meet resistance from people who think that the land should be put to more “productive” uses.
Still, the first and often greatest hurdle that potential rewilding projects face is gaining control of the land required. Sometimes rewilding projects are done on government-controlled natural preserves, but since these are usually already conserved well, rewilding is much more useful on private land, where civilisation has really taken its toll.
This is a complicated process, and one that requires significant resources for both the purchase of the land and for navigating the bureaucracy involved in the conversion from industrial (or residential) use to a natural state that benefits the planet.
Partly this is because of the lack of public education and ignorance to future benefits – or simply a short-sighted, short-term mentality – and partly because there is so much pushback from interested parties, such as the meat industry and land developers, who could otherwise make money from the land and aren’t interested in ecological restoration.
Does Rewilding Work?
If a rewilding project can overcome these obstacles, then the answer to this question is simple: yes, it does work. In fact, recent successes have not only had a profound positive impact on the local environment, but have paved the way to bigger, even more ambitious attempts.
Some noteworthy current initiatives include:
- Mossy Earth – Based in – and primarily focussing on – Europe, Mossy Earth supports an incredibly diverse range of rewilding projects both on land and under the water, including sea cliffs, kelp forests, fragile wetlands, and caves.
- Rewilding Britain – Rewilding Britain, as the name would suggest, take their initiatives even more locally. Featuring a growing network that reaches from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands, they specialise in forming mini community groups that restore private lands, such as estates and moors, to their former natural glory.
- The Mogollon Wildlife Corridor – One aspect of the ecosystem that is often overlooked is the movement and migratory patterns of native species, which have been disrupted by human activity, roads, and land privatisation. Rewilding Earth is attempting a restoration of one such historical corridor for several species, spanning from New Mexico to Arizona. It’s a massive undertaking, but if successful it will bring incredible benefits for every aspect of the ecosystem.
- Terra Sylvestris – Terra Sylvestris is aiming for nothing less than a complete rewilding of parts of the Greek Islands, beginning with Kalamos in the Ionian Sea and hopefully expanding further. Encompassing both land and sea, this project could save several endangered species and turn the tide on the unchecked destruction brought on by tourism and development.
Apart from larger projects such as these, an exciting aspect of rewilding – as oppose to other traditional conservation efforts – is that it absolutely can be done on a small scale. Anyone with a plot of land and some determination can roll up their sleeves, go green, and make their contribution to rebalancing the environmental scales.
Are you ready to do your part to help save our planet’s ecosystems? Even if you don’t have the land or the time to rewild, there is a way to support projects that are making a crucial difference. Visit our crowdfunding marketplace today to find out how!