Technology is great and can certainly be utilised to help combat climate change and protect the environment. However, as we’ll explore, natural solutions are often the most effective.
You’re probably reading this in that period between Christmas and New Year affectionately known as "Betwixtmas," "Crimbo Limbo," or "The Merrineum." As part of your busy schedule eating leftovers, reading, playing games and watching movies or documentaries (you’ve earned some downtime) you’re probably planning a few walks to burn off some excess calories.
Hopefully, you can easily access some nice parks or, even better, natural wilderness. A quick stat before we continue: 23% of the Earth’s landmass (excluding Antarctica) is covered by natural wilderness. This has been reduced by ~58% since the beginning of the last century. It’s a similar story with oceans too, with only 13% remaining free from human impact.
Countries with the most natural wilderness remaining: Russia, Canada, Australia, the US and Brazil.
These figures are alarming as we rely on natural ecosystems for so much, including food, water, to oxygenate and clean our air, remove carbon from the atmosphere, and provide medicines and food, as well as a host of other “eco-services”.
Rewilding is a form of conservation where we take a step back and let nature repair itself, perhaps with a little helping nudge to start things off. These 'nudges' can take the form of the reintroduction of native flora and fauna, or the clearance of competing vegetation that hinders growth.
Despite the fact that in some cases this can mean the reintroduction of apex predators like wolves, who were reintroduced into Yellowstone with great results, it’s not such a wild idea, really.
Whilst tree planting is undoubtedly a good thing, often it’s more effective to let the process happen naturally. In many cases ecosystems will restore themselves quickly, with far-reaching benefits.
Rewilding land to fight climate change
Take carbon sequestration, for example. On average, primary rainforests—old growth forests comprised diverse native species that are, for want of a better phrase, left alone to ‘do their own thing’—are able to store 35% more carbon than other rainforest types. They are also indispensable for biodiversity.
In less exotic climates, habitats such wetlands, peatlands, salt marshes, and coastal waters, are all significant sequesters of carbon dioxide. In a report published by Rewilding Britain, it is estimated that rewilding 6 million hectares of the UK has the potential to remove 10% of its annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Rewilding and sustainable agriculture
Much of the land that was once wild is now intensely cultivated for farming. However, sometimes of that land is actually unsuitable for this purpose, and letting it rewild would be better from an environmental and economical standpoint.
The Knepp Castle Estate in the UK is an example of what can best be described as a ‘wild farm’. After years of struggling to make ends meet (no pun intended), the owners decided to take a different approach with rewilding.
Animals, including cattle, deer, pigs and ponies, are allowed to roam free across the estate and their activities drive ecosystem restoration. The farm is now a booming wildlife park and the owners have been able to diversify their income with tourism.
We mentioned the wolves of Yellowstone, but wat ‘bout the Yoooorkshire Beavers busy buildin’ t’ dams t’ help wit’ flood management, like (spelt according to he accent that they’ll have)?
These industrious rodents were reintroduced back into Yorkshire, UK after 500 years to do what they do best, build dams. Flooding is a serious problem in the region, and the beavers have been reintroduced as part of a trial to help manage water flows.
Similar projects have already shown signs of success, with the added benefit that other wildlife species and flowers got a boost as well.
All around Europe, beavers and other herbivores such as horses and bison, as well as predators like lynxes and wolves, are being reintroduced as part of a large scale rewilding programme to hep restore important ecosystems.
The decade to come
Rewilding is actually quite a controversial topic. The beavers, for example, can be unpopular with farmers when their activities inadvertently flood farmland, and farmers vs wolves may well be an eternal struggle.
But, if farmers and communities are be included in the conversation early on then, as was the case with Knepp, we can restore ecosystems and preserve livelihoods simultaneously.
The UN has declared 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. In total, it’s predicted that ecosystem restoration could remove 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
A lot of work to do but, in the meantime, enjoy your walk!