Rewilding is a nature-led approach to conservation, which involves giving more space to nature, repairing damaged habitats and restoring lost wildlife, whilst minimising human influence to promote natural processes. It is championed as a proactive way to address our global environmental crises, not just protecting existing wildlife but giving nature more freedom and room to flourish – learning from nature rather than trying to micro-manage it.
Whilst rewilding has become increasingly popular, it is still very novel and sometimes contested. A set of guidelines to support governments and conservationists has, therefore, been much called for. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Rewilding Taskforce have been working on this challenge over the last two years undertaking extensive international research and consultation amongst leading rewilding practitioners and experts. The resulting ‘Guiding Principles for Rewilding’ have recently been published in Conservation Biology [17.3.21].
Contributing author, Dr Sophie Wynne Jones’ research considers the social dimensions of rewilding, which are a critical aspect of the guidelines developed. Her research in Wales has been central to the insights she puts forward in the report.
“We are facing major challenges and, globally, need to change our attitudes towards the natural world. In order to do this successfully, we need principles to guide international efforts to restore the world’s ecosystems.
Rewilding is an exciting approach, it changes the emphasis of conservation from defending what we have to thinking bigger and being more ambitious. We need to look beyond nature reserves and special sites to create more space for nature and the natural processes which we all need to survive on this planet.
But if we are to embrace rewilding, we need to include all those who will be affected by the proposed changes. In my own work in Wales I have explored the concerns of the farming community, including the livelihood and the cultural impacts of rewilding.
For example, in Wales, farmers are concerned that their livestock and agricultural land may be under threat, as well as their heritage and community traditions. They are also worried that they won’t have a say in what approaches are taken and that decisions over land use change will be out of their control. Whilst rewilding has the potential to enhance human and natural wellbeing it can also be a cause of great stress and anxiety for some.
It is important to take account of these concerns and implement conservation measures in a way that minimises negative impacts on resident communities to gain their support and engagement. Across the world conservation efforts fail because the people who live alongside these projects are not willing, or do not feel able, to participate and support these efforts. It was therefore critical that we stressed these issues in the ‘Guiding Principles for Rewilding’.”
Responding to these insights, the Rewilding Taskforce’s principles outline the need for local engagement and support, so that rewilding can be inclusive of all stakeholders and local knowledge can be inputted as a key part of the process.
Dr Wynne-Jones outlines how important undertaking research in Wales has been to supporting the development of these international measures:
“Whilst Wales may not be as exotic as some destinations on wildlife TV programmes, the UK is a major site for the development of rewilding, with notable projects in Wales that I have worked with to better understand the potential challenges afoot. Finding solutions to meet everyone’s needs isn’t always possible, but by undertaking research with stakeholders we are better placed to appreciate problems and work towards effective resolution.”
A Lecturer in Human Geography within Bangor University’s School of Natural Sciences, Dr Wynne-Jones has previously received funding through the Welsh Government’s Sêr Cymru scheme to support her work on rewilding. Her work is affiliated with the Sir William Roberts Centre for Sustainable Land Use.