Does Rewilding have to include wolves?

Montero

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Interesting overview article on rewilding from The Conversation - who have turned into my go-to scientific reading. All articles by experts and written for both accuracy and approachability.
 

Dave

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From what I have read, the term Rewilding means many different things to many different people. If it means turning over intensively farmed land to less intensively farmed land, or not farmed at all land, then I'm all for it. However, your article says it means "Instead of managing ecosystems to preserve particular species, rewilding is intended to reverse environmental decline by letting nature become more self-willed".

Some people think that you just leave it all alone and (in the UK) it all goes back to how it was before man cut down the Oak and Beech forests. That isn't how it works at all. (I'd like to see a proper study of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as that is exactly what has happened there.)

When you leave land alone, you won't necessarily get the native plants and animals back again. You are much more likely to see invasive species take over, whether they are native or not. In the UK, we would have invasive plants like Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, Giant Hogweed and Green Alkanet completely taking over. Sometimes the non-native flora will support native fauna, but quite often they are a disaster i.e. Himalayan Balsam dies back in winter exposing bare soil which is then washed away. Non-native flora do not support the same number of native species. The number of insect species supported by an Oak tree is astonishing when compared to other species, but they also take much longer to grow - 50 years before an Oak becomes mature. You would be much more likely to see self-seeded Sycamores taking over.

Invasive Species.png


So, it requires management - the removal of some species to allow others to grow and the planting of trees. This is pretty much how things work everywhere now - we wouldn't have any nature reserves of acid grassland, heather-based heathland, chalk grassland and various marshes between pure freshwater and pure saltwater, if it wasn't for the very firm hand of man upon them. So, I don't know how Rewilding as a concept could be any different and work.

Does Rewilding have to include wolves?


Just as you wouldn't necessarily see native plants and would see the most competitive plants take over, you would see the same with animals. it would be Grey Squirrels not Red Squirrels, Ring Necked Parakeets rather than Woodpeckers, and it would be lots and lots of Rabbits! Deer would be a particular problem because they eat all the vegetation including tree saplings. We have six types of deer in the UK (only the Red Deer are actually native). If we aren't going to shoot the deer and manage the population like they do in Richmond Park, then their population would quickly grow out of control. So, the Wolves are a necessary missing predator to keep down numbers of herbivores like deer. Chernobyl seems completely overrun with deer whenever there is a TV documentary.

Personally though, and where I agree with the article, is that we should start at the bottom up rather than top down. If you have healthy soils and rivers then the ecosystem is likely to be healthy, since the larger species feed upon the smaller. To do that means keeping people and their dogs well away from it. When even the streams in the Scottish Highland are polluted with pesticides from the flea collars of people walking dogs, who go swimming in the rivers, what chance have invertebrates got around our towns and cities, with industrial pollution and farm fertiliser run-off?

I'm camping next month in the Knepp Castle Estate wildland. That is a rewilding experiment on a 3,500 acre estate just south of Horsham, West Sussex. So, I'm going to be quite interested in how that is managed and how it is working out, because people and dogs are allowed to camp and glamp in the wilderness, and it is heavily used by walkers, cyclists and jeep safaris. Which is pretty much the complete opposite of what I would have expected. I'll let you know.
 

CupofJoe

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I'm camping next month in the Knepp Castle Estate wildland. That is a rewilding experiment on a 3,500 acre estate just south of Horsham, West Sussex. So, I'm going to be quite interested in how that is managed and how it is working out, because people and dogs are allowed to camp and glamp in the wilderness, and it is heavily used by walkers, cyclists and jeep safaris. Which is pretty much the complete opposite of what I would have expected. I'll let you know.
Wolves in West Sussex? NOW, there is an idea I can get behind!!! :giggle:
 

Montero

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I read Re-Wilding by Isabella Tree regarding Knepp so will be very interested to hear of your experience @Dave. Hadn't heard that about flea collars on dogs. Oh dear, all the thoughtless pollution that happens thanks to lack of joined up thinking. Needs (another) regulation on what is allowed on flea collars. There is of course a similar problem from sheep drenches as they can affect aquatic wildlife if flushed away, though there is now a move afoot to work on sheep developing immunity to worms and fluke, and only treating those that need it rather than blanketing the whole flock.

Interesting points on what will re-wild. The article was emphasising not re-planting, especially with imported trees - as in locally appropriate varieties that weren't grown locally. I wonder if allowing re-seeding by nature and then weeding out what is not native is an alternative method.

Regarding deer, it is possible to shoot long lasting pellets of contraceptives into the females, and control the birth rate that way, which I much prefer to culling. They do form friendships inside the herd and have emotions, so the less that is disrupted, the better I like it.
 

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I wonder if allowing re-seeding by nature and then weeding out what is not native is an alternative method.
Yes, but that is land "management". Maybe I have the wrong idea about re-wilding but from what I've read (no books, mainly on social media) people think it is a "hands-off" approach and nature should be just left to do its own thing. As I say, there isn't anywhere (outside of a real wilderness) where land is not managed to keep it as it is.

I think I'm going to have to read something about the re-wilding concept and its origins.
Regarding deer, it is possible to shoot long lasting pellets of contraceptives into the females, and control the birth rate that way, which I much prefer to culling. They do form friendships inside the herd and have emotions, so the less that is disrupted, the better I like it.
The older male deer need to die somehow. Otherwise, the young healthy bucks never get a chance to sire offspring. That then leads to inbreeding and genetic abnormalities are more likely, and a more unhealthy population. Ultimately, that population would fail. If death of the old males happens by natural selection it is best, but without any predators then the only alternative is a selective and managed culling.
 

CupofJoe

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One issue I have with anything that wants to go back the a more natural/traditional state is...
Where/When do you draw the line?
Is it the introduction of Industrialisation and urbanisation?
The Agricultural revolution?
The Middle ages? The Normans? The Romans?
The land bride to Europe?
 

Montero

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Er, OK, I wouldn't combine the terms natural and traditional - as the second one is a social construct - and OK, yes there are also opinions on different flavours of natural but traditional to me is the thornier of the two. Some people do dream of a more traditional time - I don't. What I dream of is one where wildlife is given space and there isn't a vast use of chemicals and there isn't the automatic assumption that newer is always better - sometimes older "traditional" methods work better in certain circumstances.
Sometimes there are advantages to older methods for example like using a scythe instead of a brushcutter - no petrol fumes, no protective gear, no white finger, no loud noise and you get good exercise - and speaking as someone who has used both, a well sharpened, competently used scythe can actually be quicker than a brushcutter when you are scything weeds that aren't twiggy - and that includes bracken. (You do need to run a whetstone down the scythe regularly while you are out using it.)
Another example is the use of horses for bringing timber out on a steep slope - Horse logging - the horse does better than any machinery.
Or using goats or primitive sheep for weed control in hard to access areas - see Bagot Goats re-introduced to Cromer Cliff.

It's worth going to see what Knepp achieved with their version of re-wilding - which actually made the estate financially viable when before it was losing money even though using the latest modern methods and machines. What they found was that for their land, which was OK farming land but not top grade, modern methods didn't work as well as older methods - in part because of the vast cost of buying and running the modern machinery (new large tractors start at £50,000 the last time I looked at prices).


One of their big successes is nightingales are now breeding and singing there. My parents used to talk about hearing nightingales sing. One house we moved into in the mid-seventies was near woodland. And the vendors sadly talked about nightingale valley in the woodland and how it used to ring with song and now there were no nightingales at all - due to pesticides. I have heard a nightingale once in my life - it was perched in a bush by a lamp-post in a sea-side town and singing its little heart out, not bothered by the crowd of people who gathered to hear it. When time permits, I'd love to take a trip to Knepp, at a time of year when I could hear nightingales sing. Even more, I'd love to make nightingales common across the UK again.

So my answer on where the line is drawn is "as suits the circumstances". Pick and mix as appropriate.

@Dave - I'd read Isabella Tree's book on Rewilding Knepp before you go there, if you have the time. A lovely mix of information, and stories.
Regarding deer - OK, culling older males as being the ones who the wolves would have got does make sense. I do also think that contraceptives on the younger females when you have excess population at all ages is the kinder way to go to control the younger population. I think it was on SFF quite recently that there was a comment regarding the big estates in Scotland feeding hay to the deer over winter because they make money from deer shooting so obviously want more deer.
 
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CupofJoe

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I was deliberately conflating the two terms because I think a lot of people do.
If the process is about using fewer chemicals [and less of them] in the environment and using the best most sustainable forms of production then I'm all for it.
But for some [both pro and con rewilding] there seems to be a tone of returning to some unspecified "natural" world... without defining what that really means.
If they want to burn out all the rhododendrons in North Wales to rewild the valleys... Then hand me a flame thrower!
 

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Oh yeah, I think there is a lot of woolly thinking - especially from people who've never trodden in a cow pat. Also an awful lot of people seem to think there has to be one true solution - like everywhere would be better off as returning to 1623 or some other year of your choice.
To my mind the ideal is getting as much wildlife habitat as you can, both in large areas and squeezed into the little places and it doesn't all have to be the same. There is a project I know in a nearby town where they are scraping the grass off public verges and resowing with wild flower mix and have also done a big area of grass in the school grounds, where the kids get to see it every day and can see all the poppies, ox-eye daisies and the like and the butterflies feeding off them. Getting a lot more wildlife into towns and cities helps both wildlife and people - and with luck and work can be used to educate people unfamiliar with wildlife into better ways to behave in the countryside. Gradually eroding the mindset that everything has to be neat and tidy would be helpful. Reducing all the mad strimmering, leaf blowing and weed spraying would be helpful both in terms of chemicals, fossil fuel use and habitat enrichment.
The other year we had a developer offer as a bonus to tidy up a "nasty messy area" of very biodiverse scrub which had a bird hide overlooking it because it was a hot spot for rare birds. He was very taken aback when the locals showed him their lack of appreciation of his kind offer (and in general saw him off.)
World War 2 lead to a lot of destruction of habitat in the countryside with drainage - there was a lot of work ditching and draining fields to bring them up to a level that could grow crops rather than be just seasonal grazing - and returning some of them to boggy places and seasonal grazing would increase the biodiversity in those patches.
I'd like to see larger wilder areas as well.
You might find EO Wilson's half earth project of interest. He is a very distinguished biologist and the gist of what he is saying, is that in large areas of Europe, the countryside has been depopulated by people leaving for the cities and it is far wilder than it was a generation ago. So the theory goes that if most people want to live in cities, it might be possible to turn half the world back to being basically wilderness areas, or at least wildlife rich. Part of what the foundation does, is identify where it would be good for these areas to be, both in terms of convenience for people, for the areas to join up into wildlife corridors and in terms of existing biodiversity.
 
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HareBrain

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I have heard a nightingale once in my life - it was perched in a bush by a lamp-post in a sea-side town and singing its little heart out, not bothered by the crowd of people who gathered to hear it. When time permits, I'd love to take a trip to Knepp, at a time of year when I could hear nightingales sing. Even more, I'd love to make nightingales common across the UK again.

I recently saw/heard four different ones in a half-hour period in a patch of ancient woodland and disused farmland near here, and someone else heard three at another nature reserve a few miles distant. It is largely a question of habitat.

I don't think I'll ever better the magic of my first experience, though, staggering home from uni to my lodgings along a dark, deserted road at two in the morning and unexpectedly hearing two singing from woods bordering the road. Somehow in daylight they just don't sound the same.
 

Dave

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It's worth going to see what Knepp achieved with their version of re-wilding - which actually made the estate financially viable when before it was losing money even though using the latest modern methods and machines. What they found was that for their land, which was OK farming land but not top grade, modern methods didn't work as well as older methods - in part because of the vast cost of buying and running the modern machinery (new large tractors start at £50,000 the last time I looked at prices).

https://knepp.co.uk/
It's interesting that the Knepp estate call it "Wilding" rather than "Re-wilding" and that they do manage the land quite heavily. Apparently, they wanted to do things like leave animal carcases in-situ after death but that there are laws preventing doing this.
I'd read Isabella Tree's book on Rewilding Knepp before you go there, if you have the time. A lovely mix of information, and stories.
You're the second person today who has told me I need to read the book Wilding before I go, but unfortunately I don't think I have enough time.
You might find EO Wilson's half earth project of interest. He is a very distinguished biologist and the gist of what he is saying, is that in large areas of Europe, the countryside has been depopulated by people leaving for the cities and it is far wilder than it was a generation ago.
I've heard of him. He is the originator of the Biophilia Hypothesis - according to his theory, there is an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.

As for nature taking over depopulated areas, you don't need to go far in the UK to see this. There are old roman towns and forts where nature has completely taken over, like Bremenium and there are old roman/medieval lead mining workings like those around Allenheads · Hexham or Castleton
These places were the industrial centres of England once and now we think of them as being completely natural. Most people don't even notice the stone walls or the mining spoil.
 

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Yeah, it came as a shock to me years back on a family holiday on Dartmoor. I'd got several history books on the area from the library, and part way into my visit read that the little lumpy hummocks all along a stream were panning and mining spoil. It was probably tin not gold, but the memory of the metal has faded.

Huh, not heard of the Biophilia Hypothesis, must go and read it. I think it is probably stronger in some people than others...... (once knew someone who screamed if they thought a worm was near...)

Yes, Knepp does say wilding rather than re-wilding. Yes they did want to leave out carcasses but the law didn't allow for it. It is allowed in high places - can't remember the height above sea level, but up basically on some high moorland you can leave out carcasses for scavengers, rather than having to drag them off to a slaughterhouse for burning/processing and be charged for it.
 

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I find rewilding attempts in the UK I've seen pretty sad, as it only tends to happen for humans' benefit. Like reintroducing a beaver somewhere - just one beaver - in an attempt to reduce flooding. It's a huge event, there's so much red tape and costs before it can happen, and secure fences have to be erected to ensure the beaver can't leave where it's supposed to be. In the long run it's good, and it's good these baby steps are being taken, but why does everything have to be for our benefit - to make money or save money down the line? Why not just do it because it's the right thing to do after we've destroyed so much? Why do the benefits have to be justified down to every detail?

The amount of times a kind of rewilding or conservation effort goes wrong is funny/depressing too - like a couple of places I remember where trees were planted yet the meadows were supposed to be protected because of their rare grasses and wildlife.

Anyway, apologies for the rant. It's just the way the world works I suppose.

On the positive side, I saw a farmer in Cornwall who is forward-thinking (and I imagine he's not the only one). I think this is the guy - his sheep enjoy woodland as well as what have become the traditional fields: https://twitter.com/cornishgrill - it's the kind of situation I can see rewilding working alongside farmers and rural communities.

And did you see this study on Chernobyl wildlife @Dave? Efficiency and composition of vertebrate scavengers at the land-water interface in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
 

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And did you see this study on Chernobyl wildlife
No, I haven't, thanks. There must be more scientific studies, it is an extraordinary opportunity to see some place that has been completely exited by man.

There was a recent Channel 5 documentary with Ben Fogel but he seemed much more interested in the empty buildings and the reactor than the countryside.

I have found this documentary on YouTube but the hilarious comments on it left there indicate that it probably isn't very good.

 

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@AlexH Yup on always having to justify the benefits to humans. I think there is a growing number of people who care about things being of benefit to wildlife without direct benefit to humans - but how many is another matter.
Reminds me of the book "Running with the Fox" which was a very interesting account of a study of fox behaviour by an Oxford Uni naturalist, and he did various things, including a captive study of a fox group in an enclosure put together in an old tennis court - several tennis court sized I think and overgrown, so shrubbery - it was the tall fence was part of the point. There were plenty of notices up about don't disturb the animals, study under way, but some passers by on a foot path seemed to think it was a zoo and would shake the fence and complain they couldn't see anything. Sigh.

Cornishgrill guy - loved his comment about him being happy with the deer eating willow shoot as they have a right to be there too.
Also regarding the mixed pasture and coppice for sheep - the RBST did a study several years back that showed that animals did better with some shelter - as in trees for shade, and hedges/scrub to get out of the wind. (Shouldn't have taken a study for that.) Better for the farmer too as if not getting chilled, they put on more weight. I once saw a wide open field on a hot day, with a row of sheep sitting nose to tail in the only shade available - the shadow of a telegraph pole. It only shaded about a third of the width of a sheep. So sorry for them. There was also an article about testing mixed grazing as helping to prevent worms and fluke - so not pure grass grazing, but having all the weeds/wildflowers still in the mix and some of those have a vermifuge property. (I get a bit exasperated by modern grazing - lots of effort and chemicals expended on creating a lush pure grass pasture, and some people announcing how sheep eat only grass - and that may be true of the big modern commercial breeds - but they do also suffer from bloat (major stomach upset that can kill them) and primitive sheep can eat all sorts plus rarely get bloat.)
 

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Huh, wow, thanks @AlexH.
Are you aware of how well Red Kites have made a comeback following their introduction to the Chilterns?
I used to live in Berkshire and way back in the early 90s a bird watcher friend went on a special trip to Wales in the hope of seeing a red kite. In 2017 I saw a red kite flying over Reading and did a search and found they were now quite common, having spread out from the Chilterns via the road corridors, cleaning up road kill. In the Medieval period they were noted for cleaning up and scavaging and were always around towns.
Here is an article from 2011
 
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Dave

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They've also released Red Kites where my sister lives. There is a Red Kite Trail there. I walked that with her once, and we did see some (there are several good vantage points) but not a huge number. Returned back to her house and there was one flying above her back garden!
 

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I used to live in Berkshire and way back in the early 90s a bird watcher friend went on a special trip to Wales in the hope of seeing a red kit.

In the 80s I made my parents take me and my brother on holiday to mid Wales in hope of seeing one. (We didn't.)

In the 90s I went back there volunteering on the RSPB, and had my best-ever sighting of one, being mobbed by two ravens in beautiful Welsh countryside. (I've since put that in a book.)

There was something in the paper in the last couple of days about how they're getting like Brighton herring gulls in places, stealing food from people's hands. The report said this was because people were feeding them to get photos, but I gather they also used to do this in London way before photography was invented.
 

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It does seem that in terms of increasing wildlife, in most places birds - and probably flowers and butterflies are a no-brainer. It's everything else that can be contentious.
Well, if the UK does manage to increase plant, insect and bird diversity, with amphibians and lizards tagging along, that would be a lot better than nothing. Can probably add on hedgehogs while we're at it.
 

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