UK youth call for rewilding

The UK youth group A Focus On Nature has put rewilding at the heart of its Vision For Nature manifesto. Matt Williams explains why

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Last weekend I spent an abnormal amount of time lying on my front, nose to nose with a cowpat. There was good reason though, dear reader, before you click away, fearful of reading a blog about poo fetishes.

On this pile of poo was one of the UK’s most stunning butterflies, the purple emperor. Purple emperors like to feed on the salts in rotting flesh and faeces. Their rather disgusting table manners are compensated for with their stunning purple, black and white colouring. 

I was at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, a former intensive arable farm that has been allowed to rewild as nature intends. One of the very few interventions has been to introduce large herbivores (horses, pigs and cows) that are allowed to roam free and perform the same function as other animals lost from our landscape centuries or millennia ago.

This weekend of camping was not only a great opportunity to see one version of rewilding in action (in its unplanned, wildlife-rich glory). It was also a chance to escape and relax before the culmination of two years of work. 

A Focus on Nature, the UK’s youth nature network, has just published its Vision for Nature report. It sets out young people’s vision for the future of the natural world. You can follow the launch all week using #VisionforNature.

It contains seven key recommendations that we feel are needed to restore and protect nature by 2050. Among them is a call for rewilding – the return of lost apex and keystone species along with large areas of land being allowed to rewild in a way similar to Knepp, with minimal human intervention. 

Our hope by recommending this is not only that we’ll end up with much larger parts of our landscape richer in wildlife. It’s also, as I’ve discussed with several people in recent weeks, that people can have the opportunity to rewild themselves and their souls.

Rewilding is reconnecting

Our growing disconnection from nature is one of the biggest physical, mental and spiritual ailments we face. It’s also one of the biggest threats facing nature. And if fewer people experience wildlife, fewer people will care about it or protect it.

But why rewilded landscapes rather than just ones with more nature reserves? Well, rewilded landscapes where natural processes work better, in part thanks to the restoration of lost species, require less intensive management. We can’t manage every inch of land we want to see restored for nature – we don’t have the time, money or people to do it. 

But rewilding is hands off, and, as I witnessed at Knepp, creates startling results. Rewilding, with the promise of returned creatures of the misty past, also sparks a certain excitement among many of my friends. So, that’s why a country that contains rewilded areas like Knepp, connected to more and bigger nature reserves, is a key part of many young people’s vision for nature.

I was at Knepp with a group of around 30 other young people from A Focus on Nature. Their excitement and pure joy at camping in wildflower meadows patrolled by butterflies and hearing late-night tawny owls fly over their tents was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was a small example of the kind of world I want to live in and my children to grow up in one day. It looks a lot like my own personal vision for nature.