What is Rewilding?

Rewilding is about restoring functional ecosystems, connecting natural landscapes, and reconciling people with nature.

River and a rich forest ecosystem representing the answer of the 'What is Rewilding' question.
Two hikers overlooking wild oceanscape.
rewilding acasdemy - bear in water

Definition of rewilding

Rewilding is the process of restoring and protecting natural ecosystems, and allowing them to develop and function without human intervention. This can include the reintroduction of native species, the removal of non-native species, and the protection of natural processes such as fire and flooding. The goal of rewilding is to create self-sustaining ecosystems that can support a diverse array of plant and animal life.

Rewilding aims to restore three key ecological processes:

1. Trophic Complexity

Increasing diversity in the food chain results in enhanced ecosystem function and stability.

2. Connectivity

Improved connection in landscapes supports wildlife movement and dispersal, genetic exchange, and facilitates shifts in the ranges of plants and animals in response to climate change and other environmental threats.

3. Natural Disturbances

Creating space for unpredictable events is a critical component of ecosystem dynamics and natural regeneration.

Ultimately, rewilding is a form of ecological restoration with an emphasis on humans stepping back and leaving an area to nature, as opposed to more active forms of natural resource management.

Restoring connectivity and successful reintroduction of keystone species create a self-regulatory and self-sustaining, resilient ecosystem, with improved biodiversity and climate change mitigation impact

Rewilding requires adaptive management, continuous learning and a dynamic approach that is updated regularly based on new insights. In heavily degraded land- and seascapes, humans may play a vital role in supporting nature’s recovery by removing barriers and kick-starting ecological processes.

According to the IUCN, rewilding is “the process of rebuilding, following major human disturbance, a natural ecosystem by restoring natural processes and the complete or near complete food-web at all trophic levels as a self-sustaining and resilient ecosystem using biota that would have been present had the disturbance not occurred.”

Rewilding is dedomestication of nature

Ecosystem restoration involves a paradigm shift in the relationship between humans and nature. The ultimate goal of rewilding is: “the restoration of functioning native ecosystems complete with fully occupied trophic levels that are nature-led across a range of landscape scales“.

Rewilded ecosystems should be “self-sustaining requiring no or minimum-intervention management (i.e. natura naturans or “nature doing what nature does”), recognising that ecosystems are dynamic and not static“.

Rewilding globally

Both grassroots groups and major international conservation organizations have incorporated rewilding into projects to protect and restore large-scale core wilderness areas, nature corridors (providing connectivity) between them, and populations of large herbivores, apex predators or other keystone species. Keystone species  are species, which interact strongly with the environment, such as elephants and beavers.

Projects are ranging from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in North America (also known as Y2Y) and the European Green Belt, built along the former Iron Curtain, transboundary projects, including those in southern Africa funded by the Peace Parks Foundation, community-conservation projects, such as the wildlife conservancies of Namibia and Kenya, rainforest restoration in Cameroon, and projects organized around corridor development, including Gondwana Link, regrowing native bush in a hotspot of endemism in southwest Australia, and the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, restoring dry tropical forest and rainforest in Costa Rica.


Recreating the past or shaping the future?

Neither. And both. Rewilding is a pathway, a process that is both past and future oriented.

To be successful, rewilding needs to be applied with a clear reference point and vision of the natural history of an area. Historical information spanning different temporal scales can provide ecological context for better understanding of present-day degraded ecosystems.

Unlike more traditional forms of conservation or nature restoration, rewilding does not have a clearly defined end point. It is not about restoring nature to a certain stage and then making sure that it stays that way. Rewilding is about restoring natural processes, about establishing healthy and functioning ecosystems, containing the full range of species at all trophic levels, and allowing species and ecosystems to evolve over time.

Rewilding also needs to consider future trends in climate and other human induced changes. In order to assure the effectiveness of rewilding approaches across time and under changing conditions, we must analyse future biodiversity scenarios that account for individualistic species responses, community re-composition, and functional variation in ecosystems.

UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Rewilding is the one of the most important and promising conservation strategies to slow down or halt the 6th mass extinction of species. It also has tremendous potential for climate change mitigation and has had well-documented successes in restoring biodiversity and ecosystem processes. The United Nations have therefore declared rewilding as one of several vital methods needed to achieve massive scale restoration of natural ecosystems, which they say must be accomplished by 2030.

Cultural and economic connections to landscapes arean integral part of rewilding. Only by recognizing the wider socio-economic contexts can we reconnect people with healthy and balanced ecosystems. Rewilding is also about connecting people to wilder nature.

Moreover, rewilding contributes to creating new nature-based economies that support opportunities for businesses and generate sustainable livelihoods for people. In that way rewilding contributes to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

A global movement

Well-applied rewilding can restore ecosystems at a landscape scale, help mitigate climate change, and provide socio-economic opportunities for communities.

In consultation with over rewilding experts worldwide, IUCN’s Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) Rewilding Thematic Group (RTG) has developed ten principles to guide rewilding initiatives. These ten principles provide a reference point for rewilding, and support the incorporation of the approach into global conservation targets.

The Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth calls on individuals, communities, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, governments, and other institutions to advance efforts to protect remaining large wild areas and to support rewilding projects around the world.

A global rewilding movement—embraced by the broadest spectrum of constituencies and encouraged by governmental policy—can ultimately weave wondrous blue and green ribbons of wildness that wrap the Earth in beauty, offering the promise of a better future, with freedom and habitat for all.”

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Where to learn more about rewilding?