It’s now a few years since I came across the concept of ‘rewilding’ and read George Monbiot’s Feral, far from the first book to tackle the subject, but perhaps the one that holds the crown for popularising it to such an extent and garnering a more established ‘movement’ of rewilding within conservation circles.
Over that same period Thinkingcountry has developed in ways I hadn’t previously imagined. That is mainly thanks to you, dear readers. However, I think (and I hope) the ethos of why I set the blog up in the first place remains. It is primarily a tool by which I can express myself and foster my own learning regarding farming and conservation issues. This is perhaps a selfish thing to write, and if others garner something from it I am glad, but mostly it is about personal learning and reflection.
I am still at the beginning of my journey of discovery into conservation and agriculture. They are both immense areas with great complexities, but I have a lifetime ahead to learn about the intricacies between them. I have met some brilliant people in both fields so far, some of whom I am pleased to now call my friends, and I look forward to meeting many more in the future. I remain in awe of your dedication to what you do, especially given the sea of regulation and negative press that you both have to deal with much of the time.
When it comes to rewilding I find myself sitting in a confused middle ground at the moment, unable to foresee how rewilding could sit practically within a future British agricultural and environmental framework without drastically impacting on the status quo. There have been several interesting ideas about integrating the concept into conventional policy, including from conservationist Steve Jones which can be read about here (on Mile King’s blog) and here (on Mark Avery’s blog), specifically looking at the concept of ‘New Natural Areas’. Last Tuesday I attended a conference at the University of Kent which explored rewilding in terms of practice, policy and economy. It was very well run and it’s clear that rewilding is developing as a concept in the UK, as well as a community. However, I’d question the diversity of the community at this stage. It seems intent of pushing ahead with its ideas regardless at this stage, perhaps without sufficiently addressing the concerns of others, or attempting to bring sceptics or those with concerns into the community itself. At the conference all of this was actually identified by delegates as being important, if not explicitly, but there is certainly a concern that if rewilding is to work, it needs to be less evangelical, more pragmatic and move ahead with people in mind.
I tend to applaud radical thinking when it comes to environmental management, and this is partly why rewilding appeals to me. There is something rather exciting about observing changes over time that are not actively shaped to suit human conservation objectives. It’s not necessarily about removing humans from the landscape, but about being more open-minded about succession.
Rewilding Britain describes rewilding as:
Rewilding is the large-scale restoration of ecosystems where nature can take care of itself. It seeks to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the landscape and the habitats within.
This said, why am I in a ‘confused middle ground’?
Mainly it comes from my other perspective: farming the land and thinking from the perspective of those who farm the land.
Rewilding is met with groans, raised eyebrows, tuts or stronger language from many farmers, particularly in the uplands. Their concerns are legitimate and for me, acknowledging these and discussing them openly is one of the most important things that the rewilding movement could do at this stage. Rewilding needs to be made less toxic in some communities if it is to move forward. Like it or not we have a certain landowning context in Britain with lots of small and tenant farmers within this framework. They have as much legitimacy to have their voices heard as an academic proposing blue sky thinking for successional habitats and land use change.
At this stage therefore I struggle to see how rewilding can legitimately fit within a cultural context of small farming, without damaging the culture itself. Whilst most are very happy to see conservation improvements on their farms, farmers usually want to be farmers more than conservationists and rewilding is seen within this context. It’s about a balance and rewilding threatens the balance. If it is successful it will impact on the small farmer, probably not across the board, but in certain areas, and this shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I still have a lot to learn about rewilding and if push came to shove I think that I would want to see it as part of an overall post-Brexit countryside strategy. However, there is a long way to go and as it develops it must be seen in cultural context overall. In Britain we tend to favour gradual change, rather than radicalism. If rewilding can frame itself within gradualism, it might just be accepted.