Q & A - Addressing Some Misconceptions About Rewilding
Rewilding is an approach that has a very clear application and set of principles - however, there remains some uncertainty and concerns as to how it is applied in practice, and about what the downsides might be.
Here we answer some of the questions that rewilding faces. If you have any other questions, please do email email@example.com. If a recurring question is raised with us, then we will publish it on this page.
Does rewilding mean an absence of farming?
Absolutely not. Rewilding and farming should go hand-in-hand.
Rewilding is about establishing natural grazing systems, where large, native herbivores and omnivores act as ecological proxies for their wild ancestors. The grazing, browsing and rootling of these animals is essential for keeping ecosystems in balance, and in their most biodiverse state.
It is the competition between the disturbances of these animals and vegetation succession that defines rewilding.
How will rewilding impact on culture & Welsh language?
A concern has been raised by some that rewilding will negatively impact the Welsh language. This concern is based on a previous concern, that rewilding displaces farming in some way. The Welsh language is ancient and beautiful, and it is disproportionately spoken within our farming industry, so any belief that rewilding displaces farming would naturally extend to concern for the language itself.
However as stated, rewilding works best within farm systems. Furthermore, it relies on old native breeds, some of which are hanging on by a thread. White Park cattle, which have a deep association with Welsh history going back to the Celts, would be a perfect proxy for the wild Auroch that once roamed Wales. Welsh Black Cattle, Ancient Cattle of Wales, Welsh Mountain & Carneddau ponies would all be ideally suited to any rewilding project in Wales. So if you're a fan of these old welsh breeds, then you're halfway there!
Far from negatively impacting on Welsh culture & language, rewilding celebrates the former and extends the latter.
Our language dates back to a time when nature was a fundamental part of society. Celtic tribes were animists - they worshipped nature, and every plant & animal held significance and symbolism. Whereas the Welsh language holds a deep connection to landscape, we may have lost some of the context of the language that relates to its roots in Celtic societies. Restoring nature and more natural landscapes would therefore reconnect the Welsh language to nature itself. This wider context for the language would only serve to expand its appeal to new learners.
Will rewilding mean a mass sprawling of scrub?
There is a misconception among some that rewilding results in a ‘mass sprawl’ of scrub, in particular species like bracken and gorse. However, this is the product of land abandonment, which is the antithesis of rewilding. The resulting landscape would be species poor and mean an absence of farming.
Rewilding on the other hand reintroduces natural processes that keep monocultures at bay. Pigs, or boar keep bracken rhizomes in check, bramble is browsed upon by native cattle, as is gorse. The resulting landscape is not a mass 'sprawl' of scrub, but rather a kaleidoscope of different landscapes, a mosaic of ever changing and dynamic habitat. A structurally diverse blend of grasses, wildflowers, scrub, trees and wetlands all colliding and interacting. This is the product of the natural competition between vegetation succession and the disturbances that large herbivores/omnivores provide.
Will rewilding have an impact on food production?
Almost every project in the UK that identifies itself as a rewilding project is producing food. Our domesticated livestock have all evolved from wild animals that were a key part of their ecosystem. Some of those livestock are descended from animals that evolved here in the UK, alongside our native plant species. Rewilding is about harvesting the surplus of these animals, rather than trying to manipulate the land to increase stocking densities.
'Wild' beef, venison (the demand for which is on the rise in Wales), and pork are commonly produced in rewilding projects. Yes, the stocking density is reduced, but animals are reared more slowly and on a natural and nutritionally diverse diet, adding value to the produce.
Furthermore, by allowing shrubs and trees to naturally regenerate, in balance, rewilding literally creates a new dimension of forage for livestock. This forage can be browsed upon in winter months, meaning very little, or no supplementary feed is needed. A rewilding system is therefore closed loop, not reliant on importing feed from anywhere else, thus freeing up crop land for more food production.
Crucially, rewilding centres on large native animals that have evolved alongside the regenerating shrubs and trees, thus they have adapted to be able to utilise those plants. For example - a White Park cow with long curved horns, will be able to hook that horn around a small tree, bend it over and feed on the foliage, the bark and the branches. Pigs will rootle around and eat invertebrates, rhizomes and roots. This creates a much more efficient food system.
Wolves, Bears & Lynx?
There are areas of the world where attempts are made to reintroduce apex predators. In this country, those predators would have been wolves, bears and lynx - and their roles within an ecosystem would have been pivotal. They kept herbivores on the move, and their numbers in check, to prevent overgrazing. However, rewilding in the UK is much more about working within farm systems to mimic the impact of apex predators, and the farmer is responsible for maintaining the balance of the ecosystem, through the culling of herbivores & omnivores. This is why farming has an important role to play in ecosystem restoration.
What about companies buying up land and planting non-native conifers? Is this rewilding?
No, this is the opposite of rewilding.
There are very valid concerns in Wales and elsewhere about areas of land being bought by corporations for carbon-offsetting. The general approach here is to plant rows and columns of non-native, fast growing trees, such as sitka spruce, where carbon capture is easily quantified on a spreadsheet. There is also the added bonus of corporations being able to profit from the timber.
However, this approach will not only have a negative impact on farming communities and blight the landscape, but it would be the nail in the coffin for wildlife, and has absolutely nothing to do with rewilding - a perfect example of misinformation.
Rewilding is about the natural regeneration of native trees and other plants under the influence of native grazers. The outcome of rewilding is nature that is in its most complex, diverse and abundant form - the opposite end of the spectrum to a dense, dark monoculture of non-native conifers.
The nature and climate crises are two sides of the same coin - and rewilding offers a solution to both. We must not be so consumed by one problem that we exacerbate the other.
Photo credits in order - Longhorn 1-3 (Knepp Wildlands), Tamworth Pig (Dr Sam Rose), Exmoor Pony (Ruth Chamberlain)