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An argument for rewilding in the UK

By: Mae (Y13)


The term ‘rewilding’ was coined in the 1990s by radical environmental activist Dave Foreman, and first entered the dictionary in 2011. Defined as ‘a form of conservation which aims to return areas of land to their natural wild state, especially by reintroducing animal species previously found there’, this has been extended to include the rehabilitation of plant species into habitats in order to restore previous ecological processes which were lost as a result of anthropogenic activity.  

 

In the UK, current conservation activities tend to be conservative, as restrictive, existing government frameworks and conservation initiatives tend to attempt to freeze living systems at a certain point in time. Furthermore, our current system of conservation in the UK focuses on preserving areas of little biodiversity, such as heath, moorland, and rough grass. Britain is in fact one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet, with only 50.3% of its biodiversity left intact, and 70% of the land area being farmland. Rewilding is therefore not an attempt to restore an area to any prior fixed point in time, but instead allows nature and ecological processes to independently flourish. As George Monbiot wrote in his book ‘Feral’, ‘conservation often looks to the past, rewilding looks to the future.’ 

 

When put in the context of growing populations, housing shortages, and the need for local food production, it is clear that rewilding will be a challenge, and should be approached in an informed and sensitive manner to ensure that the ramifications of this conservation method are positive on both a national and local level. Furthermore, an increase in proper green spaces is crucial in the context of diversity and inclusion: 42% of ethnic minorities live in England’s most green space-deprived neighbourhoods, in contrast to only 1 in 5 white people. The benefits of making nature accessible to all, in a world of increasing climactic and environmental problems, is therefore imperative. 

 

Rewilding therefore poses many questions regarding the relationship between people, the environment, and different species, as well as the extent to which it should involve human interaction, and the variety of potential consequences for those involved. Moreover, the fact that despite last year's forecasters claiming that temperatures in summer would not exceed 40C would not occur for another 10-15 years, they are now saying it will be every other year (and there is now a 1 in 2 chance that we will exceed 40C in this coming summer). This will have huge global and local impacts on species, humans, land, and the climate. Therefore, it is crucial that the UK government and conservationists work hand in hand to create a resilient and vibrant landscape. Rewilding must be approached with reference to carefully evaluated evidence, not emotional dialogue, to inform more positive and sustainable outcomes.

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