Moving towards a Rewilding Policy

At the Rewilding Dorset event a few weeks ago I was able to speak to Professor Paul Jepson from Oxford University who gave a presentation on the day about the need to link rewilding to the policy agenda, if it is to gain any real traction in the future. Earlier this week Paul released a policy briefing, co-produced with the Managing Director of Rewilding Europe, Frans Schepers, which makes the case for enabling rewilding as part of the European conservation policy agenda. The document is more about the why than the how, what or who at this stage but its benefit comes in that it has made a start towards commencing the necessary conversations and debates. The very future of the nature directives (and indeed the entire European project) is in the spotlight at the moment and it is a good opportunity to engage rewilding conversations in the discussions. This post will not go in to detail about the contents of the document – you can read it in full here – but it certainly commends Jepson and Schepers work and will reflect on some of their major points and conclusions.

‘In response to the EC consultation on the Nature Directives over half a million citizens said that the directives should be maintained and better implemented and reasserted the democratic voice for nature conservation.’ (Schepers and Jepson, 2016)

Schepers and Jepson make it clear that the European population is overwhelmingly supportive of the existing nature directives, although there is certainly scope for improvement in terms of implementation of actions to improve habitats. At the same time there is growing (if fairly established by now) momentum for ‘rewilding’. Rewilding does not necessarily work in conflict with the nature directives and existing designations but we need to generate a policy view that enables flexibility of conservation practice whilst not degrading current protected habitats.

They also outline the potential rewilding has to revitalize the rural economy across Europe through generating a renewed weltenschauung in terms of the way people perceive and experience the natural world. For example, rural communities who might have previously struggled with farming marginal land, resulting in younger generations deciding to move away to the cities, have an opportunity with rewilding to change the way they structure their local economy, encouraging more people to come to their area to experience their local environment and pay for the privilege. This diversification in income could provide necessary funds to improve infrastructure in the local community, thus benefiting the European project in its emphasis on capital improvement.

Rewilding also has capacity to renew a European spirit within the European project. It would provide for a shared project that all member states could rally behind. At a time when many nations are questioning their very European identity there is a need for shared projects such as that called for by Jepson and Schepers.

The final brief point I have taken away from the Jepson/Schepers briefing, which was heavily emphasised by many who attended the Rewilding Dorset conference, is that rewilding should be seen as a process, not a fixed state. Rewilding is not the same as ‘wilderness’ and can have many different forms. It integrates people and with them economic and social factors, in addition to the ecological and environmental factors which are perhaps acknowledged more prominently.

It is important to note that rewilding is not synonymous with wilderness. The qualities of wilderness are specified as naturalness, free functioning natural processes, largeness and the absence of developments. Rewilding is not a state; it is a process. It is about moving up a scale of wildness and giving the ecosystems a functional ‘up-grade’ whatever their nature, scale and location. (Jepson and Schepers, 2016).

In conclusion, I welcome the calls of Schepers and Jepson and I look forward to seeing how the discussions move forward both on a pan-European and a member state basis.

Jepson, P. and F. Schepers (2016), Making Space for Rewilding: Creating an enabling policy environment (Rewilding Europe/University of Oxford).

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