A forum for rewilding after coronavirus

| 9th July 2020
Lynx
Wallpaper Flare
Plotting a new course for UK rewilding in a post-coronavirus world.

The current situation is too muddled; there’s no national strategy, no visible joined up thinking beyond individual projects.   

A lack of constructive communication between stakeholders could be the greatest obstacle to achieving a more ecologically enriched future through rewilding.

Countless and often well-meaning exchanges of ideas and rhetoric between advocates and critics take place on social media, but much is left unresolved and hanging in the ether. At worst, these debates stoke tensions, breed further division and fortify barriers.

In other words, very little is achieved in terms of developing and maturing the rewilding discourse. It’s a very emotive subject for some people, there’s no getting away from it.

Trust

I believe we will accomplish much more by forming a face-to-face forum where these exchanges can be explored in more depth, in a more official, personal and convivial way. Tweets are not a friend of nuance; social media posts are more of a transaction than a conversation.  

Rewilding initiatives are built on trust, and building trust takes a lot of time and effort. It also requires an open mind and a willingness to compromise. Getting a disparate group of voices with open minds around a table will help to nurture this.

By contrast, point-scoring from behind a screen erodes trust. If we can get past the initial awkwardness, scepticism, cynicism and perhaps, hostility, a fruitful dialogue can be found.

Air can be cleared, mutual respect established and new friendships forged. Getting a forum framework in place before projects begin can also be invaluable for anticipating and preventing problems that would otherwise arise and be amplified further down the line, giving the project a far greater chance of success.

Remove the community inclusion and effective communication from the start and you create a reintroduction or landscape regeneration project that’s destined to fail. That means shot lynx, or habitat creation that will never realise its full potential, as it stutters from one conflict to another.  

Community

The rewilding forum must also come without a bureaucratic straitjacket. Positive outcomes from the discussions need to be swiftly applied by a government as open-minded as the participants – progress needs to be rewarded.

Clear results encourage more progress at a greater rate, further strengthening relationships and a shared sense of pride and guardianship. And maybe, just maybe, there’s common ground to be found in a shared connection to the land combined with absolute transparency and the ability to really listen and reflect upon the viewpoints of others. We can help each other.   

A centralised network is needed. The disjointed trading of thoughts needs a focal point and a knowledge exchange that extracts best practice and learns from mistakes. Right now, many of the mistakes made are clumsy and communication-based because hearts and minds are not being won over from the beginning. It’s an us and them situation that stymies progress.

With so much of the UK’s land under private control, landowners and land managers must be part of the solution if we’re to achieve rewilding on a large scale. Community buy-in from the start is essential.

A forum would bring structure and clear goals. It would act as a distillation for ideas and a catalyst for action, learning from the ongoing public debate online, on the street, in the pub, in the field, at lecture theatres, on a grouse moor perhaps. It would learn from this and then filter out all but the essential points to plot the most efficient way forward – getting to the crux of issues and speaking with one voice to move things on.

The current situation is too muddled; there’s no national strategy, no visible joined up thinking beyond individual projects.   

Ownership

There’s also a paucity of public input into rewilding right now – and that’s bad news for the movement long-term. As a passionate rewilding advocate and purist at heart, I’m often asking people to ‘buy in’ to the idea. But I’m also a realist, which tells me that to take rewilding to a landscape scale requires not just idealism, but pragmatism.

To be fully on board and engaged for the long haul, the public need a voice. They need a platform to provide their input. It’s that input that will really fire the collective imagination and take things to the next level. But that lack of involvement stems from a stark reality: most of the UK’s rewilding projects are on private, not public land.

The UK Government must address this if rewilding is to become ‘the new normal’. The Scottish Government has bought land for the nation before – such as Creag Meagaidh NNR in 1985 and already has a National Species Reintroduction Forum.

We need to get back to that sort of thinking and scale it up. Create more community buyout opportunities and place more emphasis on ecology-led decision making to allow a network of habitat with high trophic function to form – and that requires passing on an ecological education to others.

By that, I don’t mean bombarding a disinterested party with scientific jargon until they submit through boredom. It’s a case of showing how things can be better and communicating the advantages to each stakeholder. But that doesn’t mean it should be used as a mouthpiece for lobbying and vested interests.

Resilience 

Miscommunication is one of the main reasons why the UK’s wildlife and ecology is in such a poor state of health and dysfunction.

First and foremost, discourses around rewilding need to be ecocentric and socially just. If economic benefits can be weaved in, then all the better – but you can’t apportion them an equal amount of focus. If you do, neither goal will be fully realised.  

Maybe we need to hit the reset button. There’s been so much dilution of the rewilding ideals, so much misinformation and disinformation. So do we push it, let the dust settle and then start afresh with that face-to-face forum as our compass?

I think, in a post-coronavirus world, it’s a good place to start. We are, after all, very social creatures at heart currently deprived of such contact. And with a renewed sense of community and fragility, perhaps we can now grasp that bigger picture with more conviction and understanding than ever before.

If we work really hard at making those connections across the meeting room table, then that equates to more meaningful action on the ground – reconnecting broken links of the ecological chain that can, in turn, bolster communities and community thinking.

A nationwide rewilding forum will give us a clear sense of where we’re at, and where we need to get to. It will provide the movement in the UK with fresh impetus and encourage more tolerance and cooperation. Together we can achieve more. Open your mind to the possibilities of rewilding and you open the door to more resilient ecosystems and, crucially, a stronger society.       

This Author 

Gordon Eaglesham is a freelance nature journalist and contributing writer for Scotland: The Big Picture.  

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