Thanks to local projects around the world and high profile personalities such as Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, rewilding has come to epitomise hope in the face of environmental catastrophe. Many people are interested in Cambrian Wildwood as an example, however we are not promoting the project as ‘rewilding’. We set out the reasoning below.
The problem with this term is that it is not well defined and means many different things to different people. This leads to misapprehensions about what we are doing and what our plans might be. Locally, the term ‘rewilding’ is perceived as synonymous with land abandonment. Our management of the site is active and involves restorative interventions and the reintroduction of grazing animals after seven years with no grazing, as well as nature connection educational programmes. This is a long way from land abandonment.
Within the rewilding movement there is much debate about what the term means. The most simple definition refers to making a place (or person) more wild: this is a good interpretation, but depends on what you mean by ‘wild’ and, related to this, attracts a value judgement on whether ‘wild’ is a good or bad thing. Debate also revolves around whether a wild landscape can have any human intervention, and also whether the process of rewilding can involve human intervention. For example, is tree planting a suitable approach? And what about removal of non-native species, for example sitka spruce? Further debate focuses on the role of grazing by large herbivores: some commentators consider grazing to be anomalous to rewilding (see for example Mark Fisher), while many see some level of grazing and browsing to be a natural part of a wild landscape and therefore a welcome component of rewilding. And if large herbivores are present, should their population be left unmanaged as at Oostvaardesplassen in Holland, or is management of herbivore numbers preferable as at Knepp Estate in Sussex?
Amongst people outside the rewilding movement there are also differences in perceptions. As a broad generalisation, urban people have a positive view of rewilding as an antidote to the continuing loss of wildlife from the landscape despite the protective measures of traditional conservation strategies. Rural people, especially those engaged in farming or gamekeeping, tend to be more suspicious of rewilding. Cambrian Wildwood is a community project founded by local people in Machynlleth, just a few miles from our wildwood site at Bwlch Corog. Set within a rural community where livestock farming is a predominant activity, we are very conscious of the perceptions of rewilding locally. The farming sector tends to interpret rewilding as meaning the reintroduction of large carnivores and land abandonment, with its consequences of loss of livelihoods, depopulation of the area, loss of farming heritage, and here in Wales the loss of the language.
Cambrian Wildwood is about habitat and species restoration and providing opportunities for people to interact with nature first hand. It is first and foremost a community resource, where local people can participate in a project set in their local landscape, or use the site for recreation, including wild camping, in a place where they can feel they belong, where they do not need to pay for the privilege. Most people are cut off from the land and have a longing to connect with nature, but often feel like intruders in the landscape. Cambrian Wildwood seeks to redress this imbalance – connection with the land should not be the preserve of an elite minority, it is the right of all people. This is how the project is serving the local community.
It is available in the same way to visitors to the area who are attracted to a landscape rich in nature which is also welcoming to people. And Cambrian Wildwood is also about making space for wildlife, where the wellbeing of other species is of primary concern.
The project is providing employment and is deeply rooted in the natural and cultural heritage of the area. Within living memory, these hills were alive with the call of curlew and grouse, the rivers were teaming with salmon and trout. We want to see the return of this natural abundance characteristic of the area.
Given the locally perceived connotations of rewilding as land abandonment and loss of livelihoods, which are the opposite of what Cambrian Wildwood is achieving, it is appropriate for us to abandon the use of the word to describe our activities. We hope that those people with a positive interest in rewilding, as a stimulus for the return of natural abundance to the land, will continue to be drawn to the project.
In conclusion, we are committed to the restoration of wild nature as much as possible in the context of local conditions, whatever name you put to it. In the documentary A life on our planet, David Attenborough says, “We are facing nothing less than the collapse of the living world. The very thing that gave birth to our civilization. The thing we rely upon for every element of the lives we lead. No one wants this to happen. None of us can afford for it to happen. So, what do we do? It’s quite straightforward. It’s been staring us in the face all along. To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity. The very thing that we’ve removed. It’s the only way out of this crisis we have created. We must rewild the world. Rewilding the world is simpler than you might think. And the changes we have to make will only benefit ourselves and the generations that follow. A century from now, our planet could be a wild place again.”