Rewilding: what is it and who is in favour?

Mountain Scene (1)

By Dave Parish, GWCT Head of Scottish Lowland Research

Rewilding is familiar to many these days and as a concept is often proffered as the only long-term solution to many of the world’s environmental ills. The general argument suggests that humans have messed-up the natural world to such a degree that only by stepping back and letting nature take its course can ecosystems recover and thus Man’s future be assured. But what exactly is meant by ‘rewilding’ and who wants it?

Many in both rural and urban communities are confused as to what exactly rewilding would mean for their bit of the world, which is not surprising as those in the media/social media drop the phrase into diverse conversations about climate change, biodiversity loss, health & wellbeing and land ownership – to name but a few – like confetti without a great deal of detail.

It also seems to mean different things to different people: sometimes the focus is on ‘simply’ removing Man from the environment, sometimes reintroducing certain species back into the environment (which is pretty heavily reliant on Man’s involvement) – which may or may not mean trying to imitate the communities around during the Pleistocene – and often at present it seems to involve planting trees.

A Google search of the term ‘rewilding’ this morning returned over three million responses. The major organisations aligned with this vision defined the term with phrases like “restoring lost habitats and habitat connectivity”, “restoring trophic cascades” and “letting nature heal itself”. There is also a significant human element with aims to “reconnect people to the natural world” and “ensuring wellbeing”. Clearly the term covers a huge topic with lots of nuances – not the sort of thing that is easily summarised in a few words for your average busy newspaper (or blog) reader, so it is no wonder there is some confusion.

This search also threw up a degree of scepticism in some quarters. Many point out that changing large areas of the environment to accommodate rewilding presumably means removing or greatly altering the current activities, like farming, forestry or fishing, raising questions about how we produce food and fibre for our ever-increasing population – even more pertinent in what looks to be a future festooned with tariffs. And let’s not forget, the “trusting the forces of nature to restore land and sea” approach means that not all wildlife will benefit – there will be winners and losers.

So, what do ‘the people’ think of rewilding? Especially those who are most likely to be impacted in the first instance: those who are currently working in the countryside? GWCT is helping researchers at York University explore some of these questions.

Chris Edwardson has produced a very simple questionnaire to try to find out what those in the rural sector think of rewilding. The hope is that more information will help inform how rewilding might (or might not) work and where. This is completely anonymous and if you wish to take part, please click here.

Please donate to help us continue our vital work during this difficult time



at 17:27 on 05/02/2021 by Simon Kenny

It appears to me that Re-Wilding as interpreted by most is the creation of some fantasy landscape the promoters envisage as the idle, and therefore a manged landscape that they approve of. RE-wilding means shutting the gate and leaving to nature, eventually what if I remember correctly a "Climax Community" will evolve , what it is no one really knows, but in truth it is in itself likely to evolve due to changes in climate etc. The only certainty is its not what the promoters of re-wilding mean.


at 17:03 on 29/01/2021 by Mike Donovan

Many environmental claims are made but the evidence that rewilding leads to improved habitat is not easy to find. Many people all over the country will know of areas of land which have been abandoned, unmanaged and unused for a decade and more. Very often these areas produce a habitat consisting of hardy weeds - ragwort, nettle, cocksfoot, bramble etc and little more. Tree seeds seem unable to penetrate the thick mass covering the soil surface. The vegetation provides habitat for a range of species suited to the dense mat of material, but probably not a wider range of species. The rewilding process is clearly uncomplicated, but those in charge of these projects might be asked in a decades time what results they had to show for the public money spent. It's clearly an interesting topic of study, but does this make it a useful recipient of public funding?


at 16:40 on 29/01/2021 by Lynn Crowe

Rewilding Britain (www.rewildingbritain.org.uk) have a straightforward definition, and a great emphasis on working with local communities and landowners throughout. I particularly like the phrase "to reinstate natural processes", and "encouraging a balance between people and the rest of nature so that we thrive together". Seems like the right direction to go.


at 7:07 on 28/01/2021 by James Gardiner

I am a fishing guide living in highland Perthshire. Rewilding of people is my objective whenever I take out clients. What I mean by that is that I want my clients to leave feeling more connected and more part of nature. I want them to feel that the countryside is something they can relate to and with that I’m hoping will come to feel like they want to take care of it. I want them to feel they belong to the land, as I feel. The surface of our planet belongs to everyone equally and no one individually. Out laws have made a mess of our innate understanding of this relationship. Provision of food and livelihood needs to be an integral part of a rewilding vision. If we have more people living in the countryside we can have more small scale (less harmful) food production and eco sensitive business. Having been a keen follower of the rewilding moment for the last decade I have never seen proponents propose less humans in the rural areas as your intro text seems to suggest. Quite the opposite, for rewilding to work it requires regular human habitation spread out in low densities. A read of George Monbiot’s book Feral will fill in the detail here. It’s not about replacing humans with wild but integrating humans and wild.

'Rewilding' survey

at 23:18 on 27/01/2021 by Mike Kerby

Although I am a land manager, i have not completed your survey as I am not a farmer This I think highlights a flaw with your research in that not all land managers are farmers. In addition you rightly identify that 'rewilding' means different things to different people buy then seem not to recognise some of the less contentious options withon your survey. E.g. your definitions of 'rewilding' do not include such as 'the restoration of ecological features and natural processes' with practical examples of such being peatland restoration and re-naturalisation of water courses & wetlands, which are already being delivered across Scotland with little contention.

Make a comment

Cookie Policy

Our website uses cookies to provide you with a better online experience. If you continue to use our site without changing your browser settings, we'll assume you are happy to receive cookies. Please read our cookie policy for more information.

Do not show this message again