Let it grow, let your lawn go. Using rewilding to regenerate our lands.
Words by Hudson Brown | AUSTRALIA
As cities swell and the pressures placed upon the environment only increase, reintroducing biodiversity wherever possible has become a hot topic for both governments and environmental organisations. A solution rising in popularity is rewilding, which, at its core, is a collaborative effort to renew the earth’s bonds with Mother Nature. Requiring us to let go of our overly cultivated pastures and parkland, rewilding argues that encouraging the earth’s natural processes to reclaim land leads to a healthier environment overall. And while this requires a considered human-led approach, rewilding as a conservation strategy could restore the land back to a time before human interference altogether.
Rewilding encourages biodiversity by reinstating predators and allowing manicured lands to become overrun with unchecked organic life.
Developed in the 1990s as a fresh approach to environmentalism, the origins of rewilding have become too varied to provide an exact definition. Broadly, rewilding encourages biodiversity by reinstating predators and allowing manicured lands to become overrun with unchecked organic life. It contends that our ecosystems need keystone species and apex predators, such as wolves and grizzly bears, to provide the measuring stick for the rest of the ecosphere.
Predators benefit farmers by preying on far more abundant pests like feral cats and foxes, while overgrown land can limit flooding and wildfires.
Not surprisingly, stock farmers are often rewilding’s most outspoken opponents, holding legitimate concerns for their livelihoods and the safety of their animals. But studies have shown there could actually be a net positive for the broader environment. Once eradicated predators benefit farmers by preying on far more abundant pests like feral cats and foxes, while overgrown land can limit flooding and wildfires. In addition, developing marketplaces of eco-tourism and hunting are other ways that rewilding support communities often struggling economically. And while the topic remains controversial, rewilding projects continue to spring up across the globe.
England-based project Knepp Wildland is a 3,500-acre free-roaming farm that showcases a successful intersection of farming and rewilding. Struggling as a conventional farm for 17 years, Knepp Wildland owners Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree made the unexpected decision to introduce free-roaming herbivores onto their land to promote a dynamic relationship between their cattle and the wide-open landscape. Featuring no internal fences, and no form of pest control, the Wildland’s reinvigoration of the property has thrived into a diverse farming landscape that’s unparalleled in Britain.
While Knepp Wildland borrows ideas from rewilding, a Parks Canada project is closer to the strategy’s true origins. The government organisation has set about returning bison to Banff National Park after the animals were driven from the land more than 140 years ago. Since being released into a 1200km2 section of the park, the bison herd’s bond with the landscape has developed and, as a keystone specie, they will become an important resource for animals further down the food chain. Simply by roaming their new surrounds the bison are developing new grazing patterns for other mammals, creating a food source for bears and wolves, and providing fur for birds to build stronger nests. In addition, bison have played an essential role in the lives of Canada’s indigenous population over many centuries and the animal’s reintroduction to the region will support educational opportunities and help carry forward ancient traditions.
Rewilding might appear to advocate for a bygone time, but its actual goal is securing biodiversity within our communities by safeguarding native greenery and wildlife for future generations.
However, as the herd has doubled in size since its reintroduction in 2017, the project has experienced its hurdles. In August 2018, two bison wandered into hazardous private property and though park rangers acted quickly to airlift one back to the herd, another had to be euthanised. While the project has been largely successful to date, the bison are being carefully monitored and their future in Banff National Park is yet to be fully realised.
Hugely complex and multifaceted, rewilding initiatives require intricate planning and expertise to effectively implement on an extensive scale. But as more people seek ways to reconnect with the environment – from nature preserves to urban farms – rewilding has emerged as an important conservation strategy. With long-term projects underway in almost every part of the world, the rewilding movement has even spread to the backyard, with homeowners being encouraged to construct ponds, let their lawns run wild, and to “plant less, but wait more”. Rewilding might appear to advocate for a bygone time, but its actual goal is securing biodiversity within our communities by safeguarding native greenery and wildlife for future generations.