How is rewilding different from traditional nature conservation?
Well I’d like to be able to tell you that rewilding is a great new idea that we’ve just come up with, but it isn’t! It’s an idea that has evolved over some time as we’ve been investigating ways to rectify the problems we have in our landscapes.
For a long time we’ve been using a model of conservation using nature reserves – putting fences around them, managing them – and they have become an important repository for life, refuges in many cases. But while these little piecemeal offerings might be pretty little postcards of the past for us to visit on a Sunday and get a quick fix of nature, when you look at the bigger picture, habitats are still in decline.
We’ve rushed to protect habitats that have become rarer – ancient woodland, heathland and downland – habitats that support an interesting diversity of life, and ended up with lots of little jewels. But these jewels are not joined up, and so are very fragile in the long-term.
More recently, we’ve learnt that we can rebuild habitats. We can take arable fields, fields you would think are virtually dead, and transform them in a matter of a few years. We have the “technology” to do that, and that should be very empowering. I feel very confidently that rewilding is the answer to nature’s restoration.
How does land use need to change here in Britain?
We can’t carry on ploughing the current furrow of intensive farming that we are at the moment. It’s ultimately destructive. We’re damaging soil, we’re damaging landscapes and it’s having an impact further beyond. For example, the deforestation of the uplands is causing flooding in the lowlands, which is where many people live.
We’ve got to start looking for ways of using nature to build a place for us to live amongst it. We’ve got the answers, its just time to implement them.
How do you respond to people’s concerns about rewilding?
Rewilding needs to be talked about in a practical and reasonable way. One of the problems we face is that people have kneejerk reactions – when they hear about us talking about reintroducing wolves they immediately imagine packs of wolves ravishing all the sheep in the uplands, running amok and rushing down the precinct to tear down a grandmother or two! But of course it would be nothing like this! I don’t want that sort of impact on anyone’s community.
The whole rewilding process should be seen as creative, there shouldn’t be a single negative aspect to it. We can take knowledge from other parts of the world where rewilding has been successful and implement that here so our own projects can succeed.
Don’t believe the newspaper headlines, read beyond the scaremongery. I encourage everyone to listen to Rewilding Britain’s ideas, look at the examples of success overseas, think creatively about how rewilding can work for you, as well as for the wild and all the animals that live there.
What are the benefits of rewilding for people?
There are massive benefits for people from rewilding.
Firstly, physical health can be improved by eating better quality food and from exercising in wild places. Would you rather be trundling along on a machine, looking across at someone else on a machine trundling along slightly faster than you, or would you rather be in a wild place, listening to bird song and watching the turn of the seasons?
Our mental health is improved by time in nature too. This isn’t just subjective – this has been measured. People understand the psychological benefits of being in these sorts of environments. The feel good factor is important, and has massive knock on effects to the rest of our lives in reducing stress.
To personalise it, I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from the wild spaces I’ve created in my garden. These little patches aren’t changing the world – they are changing my world though. When I come out in the summer, and they are ablaze with flowers, and there are masses of insects, and I’ve got 5 minutes between two phone calls, I stand and look and I’m literally buzzing with the insects! I feel good because I’m surrounded by life, because I’ve made something beautiful easily and inexpensively, and I feel good because I’ve empowered myself to make a difference. That feels really good.