Scottish Government defines rewilding

The Scottish Government, working with its agencies, has produced a report on their preferred definition of rewilding.

Young boy, Hamish, in old wooden play shelter in the woods at Cultulich Farm, Aberfeldy, Perthshire

The next generation faces an uncertain future - but rewilding offers them hope

For young people who face living with the worst consequences of our current inaction – and lack of ambition – the vision of hope offered by rewilding is especially inspiring.  

A significant milestone was reached this month after the Scottish Government announced their preferred definition for rewilding. This followed the publication of a report based on a literature review and a workshop, with the latter attended by representatives from a wide variety of Scottish public bodies, a small number of selected experts, and just two representatives from environmental charities – neither of which routinely uses the term rewilding. Just one of the 25 members of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance (which includes RSPB Scotland, Woodland Trust Scotland, Trees for Life and SCOTLAND: The Big Picture) was consulted.

Many of the workshop’s participants recorded doubts about the need to refer to rewilding, seemingly because of the word’s perceived association with the “exclusion of significant human presence in landscapes.” We strongly challenge this outdated assumption and the report itself acknowledges that many people now “associate rewilding with ‘repeopling’ and benefits to rural economies.” Nonetheless, for the majority of Scottish Government agencies, ‘restoration’ remains the preferred term for nature recovery. While rewilding and restoration are closely linked, they are not entirely the same thing, with restoration dependent on a higher degree of ongoing human management. We believe that, in many cases, providing the space and conditions to re-establish dynamic natural processes within self-willed systems – rewilding – can offer a more resilient route to mitigating the worst consequences of the accelerating climate and nature emergency. Furthermore, the unique quality of wildness is that it inspires an invaluable sense of humility and awe that cannot be experienced in managed landscapes.

The report did note that the principles and practices associated with rewilding are rapidly evolving – as recognised by SBP’s own preferred definition ­– and suggested that "it may be useful to further explore perceptions of rewilding across Scottish society." Should this be the case, we would hope that the many charities, businesses, community groups, land managers and learning institutions who are part of the rewilding movement, will be consulted.

The report’s current definition, endorsed by Scotland’s Chief Scientific Adviser, is as follows:

“Rewilding means enabling nature’s recovery, whilst reflecting and respecting Scotland’s society and heritage, to achieve more resilient and autonomous ecosystems. Rewilding is part of a set of terms and approaches to landscape and nature management; it differs from other approaches in seeking to enable natural processes, which eventually require relatively little management by humans. As with all landscape management, rewilding should be achieved by processes that engage and ideally benefit local communities, in line with Scotland’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, to support a Just Transition.”

This phrasing might adequately describe what rewilding means in a technical sense, but for SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, it fails to capture what rewilding means at a more profound level. The reason rewilding has such broad public appeal is because it inspires hope; hope that wildlife can come back; hope that we can undo some of the harms we have manifested on nature; hope that we might imagine a better future.

As recognised by the IUCN, rewilding represents nothing less than “a paradigm shift in the co-existence of humans and nature.” In the face of the climate and nature emergency, this vision is incredibly compelling, and for young people who face living with the worst consequences of our current inaction – and lack of ambition – the vision of hope offered by rewilding is especially inspiring.  

Thursday, July 6, 2023