Born to be Rewild? Exploring ‘Rewilding’ as an approach to protecting ecosystems

Rewilding allows nature to re-find its own balance and does not seek to suppress natural processes. Is rewilding the answer to sustainable environmental management?

Scott MacLeod Liddle 'Tassie Devil - Cradle Mountain' via Flickr Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

In August 2017, the Sydney Environment Institute in partnership with colleagues from the University of Bonn in Germany, held a workshop called Wilderness, Extinction and Rewilding: Rethinking Human Engagements with Nature.

The workshop explored how the environmental management approach of ‘rewilding’ can protect wilderness, halt animal and plant extinctions, and restore damaged environments in the face of the unprecedented environmental changes of the Anthropocene.

What is ‘Rewilding’?

Rewilding has many different definitions in academic literature and practice, but intrinsically, rewilding aims to restore natural environments and species to their former glory before the days of widespread human intervention with nature.

According to the working definition used by the organisation Rewilding Europe, rewilding is a process which works to restore ecologically diverse areas, natural processes and wild species, which after initial human support, ‘nature is allowed to take more care of itself.’ This conservationist approach helps to restore species and landscape which have been degraded, ‘to become wilder, while also providing opportunities for modern society to reconnect with such wilder places for the benefit of all life.’

The rewilding movement has been widely recognised in Europe, through organisations such as Rewilding Europe, and around the world, rewilding is becoming a recognisable approach for protection of natural ecosystems and addressing the issue of species extinction, in the Anthropogenic era. Organisations such as The Rewilding Institute in North America; Rewilding Britain in the UK and in Australia, Rewilding Australia, work to establish processes of rewilding in their regions.

Rewilding in Australia 

An article featured in the Guardian Australia last week focuses rewilding the Australian Outback. The article explains that the Australian Outback has been ‘the home of Indigenous Australians for about 50,000 years. Over this period, traditional owners have tended, shaped and nurtured the landscape. Reciprocally, the landscape has helped to forge Indigenous identity and culture.’

The article highlights the importance of Indigenous knowledge in addressing these issues, and explains that Western science is only starting to grapple with the fact that the fast of the world’s last remaining natural ecosystems, and ‘the fate and condition of nature lies in the hands of the people who live on, know, respect and manage that land’, for thousands of years.

‘The Outback has a story, power and value far beyond the superficial layering of topography, tenure or environment. The land gives meaning to life, and sustaining its health will ensure it remains the beating heart of this nation.’

Despite the actions taken by Traditional Custodians of the land to protect the Outback, the article highlights that the long-term health of the Outback is under threat. ‘Across vast areas, there are fewer land managers now than at any time in the past 50,000 years.’

Issues such as the spread of feral, non-native species; noxious weeds and increase wildfires are causing stress on the health of the Australian Outback. In order to deal with these negative environmental effects, land managers have moved towards rewilding as a solution.

Why Rewilding? 

Rewilding is an answer to sustainable environmental management because it does not seek to suppress natural processes, but allows nature to re-find its balance. In an article by Regenerative.com, it is explained that ‘Rewilding is about making a whole wilderness ecosystem truly wild – self-sustaining, abundant and diverse. It is about creating a future in which humans and nature are equal parts of a global ecosystem, rather than separate and often antagonistic elements.’

Stay tuned for more content on rewilding to come out of the August 2017 workshop.

This blog features quotes from ‘Rewilding’ Australia: not only do we need the outback, the outback needs us, the Guardian Australia.

Anastasia Mortimer is a Content Editor and Knowledge Translation Officer at The Sydney Environment Institute. Anastasia completed Honours in Sociology at the University of Sydney in 2016 and was awarded First-class Honours.  Her thesis examined discourse produced by the Western Australian State Government and unequal relations of power between the State Government and Kimberly First Australians in the case of the proposed Liquified Natural Gas precinct development on James Price Point.