The British Ecological Society Annual meeting this year is in Belfast and has started with a very thought-sparking side event on rewilding chaired by journalist Ella McSweeney who did a wonderful job. You can follow the conversation and some insights on twitter following the #WildIreland.
Here, I will condense my thoughts (too many). I would like to start by giving you a definition of ‘rewilding’, especially for those that don’t feel familiar with the term. But, as it turns out, not only there is no definition but also, there is no agreement on what we actually mean by it. So, please bear with me...
As the name implies, rewilding means bringing back some state of wild. Which brings one big question to the table:
what is ‘wild’?
I’d like to believe that wild is a space where nature can thrive and do its things, without being managed. But even on this point, the small panel of 5 seemed to have conflicting ideas, for example that you should maybe still manage in order to increase bio-security and thus avoid invasive ( or range shifting) species from coming in. As a personal thought of someone that is not in the specific research field, I would say that biosecurity and management goes against the idea of wilderness. If we want wild we might also have to deal with consequences of wild such as tiger mosquitoes, and all sort of other species that maybe we are now too accustomed to consider ‘pests’. Remember, that climate is changing and so what is wild now might be different to what was wild centuries ago. (Otherwise we might just want to try and bring back the dinosaurs?)
Rewilding can therefore be much more than a simple ecological exercise, but needs to take in account sociological aspects. Or does it? If we take in account humans as something different than wild then we step out from our role as species to step up into an imaginary podium where we can make decisions.
But the truth is that if nature is in the state that it is, it is because we made decisions in the past. So we have to make decisions to return it to a better state. You see where the paradoxes are? But maybe, we can decide just to step back and watch, or we can make more ‘invasive’ decisions such as species reintroduction..
Species reintroduction is in itself a whole set of question marks. With the biggest one:
‘What are we reintroducing?’
Many of you have probably heard of the success stories of the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone and for sure think the answer is to reintroduce apex predator and take a top-down approach and then biodiversity will flourish and it will all work out…
Well. Think a bit deeper. While talks of reintroduction of these big charismatic species (they are indeed beautiful, don’t get me wrong, I do love them) have been going around, we will have to remember that the places like Ireland are a well different scenario in terms of size (much smaller), population density (much higher) and farmed area (think of all of the sheep that you see as you drive around, maybe wolf paradise but not the best scenario for the farmers).
Of course, you might say that the deers are growing in number so the wolves might help, and I agree that there are some very convincing arguments for it. but there are otherwise convincing arguments against it too. And at this stage is not even clear how many, from where and how to transport them back.
One of the solutions that has been proposed and one that I agree with more at this stage is a soft rewilding - stop thinking in terms of tidiness. wild is messy. Wild is gardens with complex vegetation layers where animals small and large can nest and processes can move. Let just start our rewilding by stop turfing our gardens. But of course, this will bring back also ugly spiders and slimy snails and unless a wolf boards a ferry we will not have sight of this majestic furry creature for a while at least… (open the boarders and maybe a wolf will hide in a truck to come over?).
Where you at this BES event? What were your take on it?
Do you have ideas about rewilding?
let me know below!
Disclaimer: some posts may contain affiliate links. At no extra costs to you, buying through the link will help me in this blogging journey!