One of the strengths of learning outdoors is that educators and children have really good opportunities to make connections between the work they are undertaking and what is happening in society. With Learning for Sustainability a core part of the GTCS teaching standards in Scotland, teachers need to be able to see that the good work they do at a school level is mirrored and echoed and part of a larger societal shift towards the necessity of thinking more ecologically. Or alternatively, that teachers also have to play an active role in society. It’s about taking positive action and contributing to ecological restoration.
In this guest post, Rob Bushby, provides a personal and thought-provoking piece about rewilding and some recent debates, confusions and concerns which have come to light in recent months. We would be interested to know your thoughts and understanding of this matter.
“Rewilding means many things to different people” according to one of its staunchest advocates. This has been pretty well borne out by the flurry of recent articles, commentary and responses following the summer launch of the charity Rewilding Britain. The narrative has been anything but unified. It’s not quite chimed with Chris Packham’s call, either, to “make progress, but in a way that will make us friends. Winning hearts and minds is essential.”
Ideally, a national launch should do three things: spell out a vision and aims; identify key audiences; and engage, inform and inspire them. For rewilding, an essential foundation is to galvanise widespread understanding of its key principles – promoting natural processes and making more space for nature – and their relevance to everyone.
Broad, amenable, common sense descriptions are present, though not always prominent, in the debate that has stirred. This, from Scottish Natural Heritage director of policy and advice Andrew Bachell, is in the midst of one article: “Rewilding isn’t just about releasing large animals. It’s also about regenerating natural woodland or allowing areas of coast that flood naturally to flood again, and creating wildlife corridors.” In fact the Rewilding Britain website highlights that ‘Rewilding is all about…Habitats expanding instead of shrinking, Wildlife multiplying instead of disappearing, People reconnecting with the wonder of nature, Communities flourishing with new opportunities.’
There are wonderful examples of this sort of thing happening all around the UK. How about Plantlife’s road verge campaign? Widespread, easy to explain, understand and support. Impressive reclamation – rewilding – projects offer ready-made reference points, years and decades in the making. Brockholes, nestled against the M6 at Preston, is on the site of industrial gravel pits transformed into not only a wildlife haven, but a magnet for community engagement. Scotland: The Big Picture offers ways to ‘use your voice, your time, your skills and your money to help’ in your community, in the garden, and from your desk. The Great Fen, or London Wetland Centre, or Trees for Life in Glen Affric…there’s no shortage of examples to introduce the concept to a wider audience and create a platform for further ambitious thinking and action.
There are no doubt times to be provocative and contentious, and a long term strategy including aspirational re-introductions will be exciting and inspiring – but also threatening. Feeding the media with a pitch that’s primarily about the reintroduction of predators – wolf and lynx – has been overly focused, niche, and confusing. As a branding exercise, it’s seen the term ‘rewilding’ associated with ‘conservation nut jobs’, slaughter of livestock, and even absconding of babies (Scotland on Sunday). It’s alienated and antagonised many that should be natural allies.
Shouldn’t the priority be to communicate core ideas in a way that shows rewilding to be relevant to everyone? It’s vital that it’s not perceived as a pet project of the conservation movement, or simply as a Trojan horse to bring the wolf back to the Highlands. As David Lintern explains well, a highly functioning natural world is likely to be a ‘must-have’ rather than a ‘nice-to-have’ feature of the Britain of the future. And it is, after all, Rewilding Britain, not Reintroductions Uplands.
By focusing on one dimension and one or two species, ‘rewilding’ is in danger of becoming a tarnished brand associated with polarised and rancorous debate. Now’s the time to take stock of whether recent awareness-raising has helped or hindered the cause. Rewilding can, and should, as its website says, ‘provide hope for the future for people and nature’. Through engagement, education, examples and positive messaging – hearts and minds stuff – let’s make sure it’s something that people from Shoreditch to Shetland relate to and care about. Rewilding requires a reboot.
Juliet’s note: It seems that wildlife introduction and measures to improve biodiversity are often met with criticism and resistance. It’s now 5 years since beavers were introduced and I look forward to seeing the review of how this has gone.