The Spectrum of Wilding / ReWilding & Naturalised production.
Rewilding is a term that has gained rapid popularity, but, as with so many terms, it is succinct, emotive and prone to a wide variety of interpretations. For many it conjures an image of a romantic ideal, filled with wildlife, but somehow separate from their daily reality. They then expect to be able to have and do everything as usual, plus, have some wonderful wildlife rich places to enjoy. This is a great concept, but on a small island such as ours, the ideal is often much harder to achieve.
In practice Rewilding is a term used to cover a spectrum from wild (which hardly exists anywhere on the planet) to various naturalised systems which use domestic and ‘wild’ animals to produce semi-natural systems which follow and are driven by more natural processes, but are usually underpinned by naturalised elements. This is largely true apart from some very remote or very low population areas where natural systems can truly dominate.
This means that rewilding (or wilding, since rewilding suggests a return to systems no longer possible due to the overall interventions of humans in all areas of the planet) is actually about allowing natural processes to become more dominant, whilst recognising what is possible and realistic relative to the local human population, its size, density and dominance. It also requires a greater level of clarity around what natural processes and / or naturalised processes actually mean. Our work has found that this is equally fraught with misunderstanding and is open to many interpretations, since it is hard to know what natural actually is. Arguments abound even among the ecologists!
This does not mean that we should shy away from the concept of rewilding, but it does mean we need to be more nuanced with its use and perhaps consider if it is the best term to apply. The huge growth in interest in rewilding provides a great way to engage the public in long-standing issues of biodiversity loss, habitat connectivity, porosity and fragmentation, and re-introduction of key species, as well as the use of naturalised approaches with semi-domestic stock. We now need to develop that into practical demonstrations at different ‘levels of naturalness’. This allows us to develop the language and approaches with local people to ensure it has a relevance and a fit.
Nearly Wild has become involved in establishing how this plays out within different situations, as well as defining - in practical terms - what natural / naturalised approaches actually mean. In short, engagement is key and, if well framed, the dialogue around the terms and the meanings can form an important part of the engagement process. By developing a discussion with the population and key stakeholder groups through a more co-productive approach, systems and approaches are identified that work locally, often following similar criteria but case-specific to the nuances of the place and the people. When this process also includes consideration of economic drivers and the wider social benefits, terms such as wilding, rewilding and natural processes can provide a valuable starting point for re-thinking and re-framing people’s relationship with the natural world.