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Natural renewal: Is it time to back rewilding?

A lynx (6406531)
A lynx (6406531)

Wild themes will be explored in the city on Friday and Saturday when the usual residential antics will be supplemented by those attending a rewilding conference in Cambridge.

Calling for wild nature to be restored, and discussing how to do it, the conference features speakers including George Monbiot and Germaine Greer.

The Rewilding Symposium is the UK’s biggest-ever rewilding event and will take place at the David Attenborough Building and Babbage Lecture Theatre. Hosted by the Cambridge Conservation Forum (CCF), the sold-out event will bring together 450 people from farmers to conservationists in a public forum hosting 50 rewilding talks and workshops.

Writer and environmentalist Mr Monbiot’s talk is titled ‘Could Rewilding Stop Climate Breakdown?’

“The chances of preventing 1.5°C or even 2° of global warming without a major drawdown of atmospheric carbon are now low,” he says. “Could rewilding restore not only the natural world, but also humanity’s prospects of getting through the century?”

Feminist icon and author Germaine Greer will talk about rewilding the Gondwana Rainforest in Australia, where “flocks of rainforest birds not seen in numbers for many years have now come into their own again – but is it really wild?”

Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain (6402404)
Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain (6402404)

One of the speakers on Saturday is Rebecca Wrigley, chief executive of Rewilding Britain, who told the Cambridge Independent: “There’s a huge and growing surge of interest in rewilding in Britain, and the programme for the CCF’s annual symposium reflects that.

“It’s important that we work to find common ground and create new ways of living with the land and sea that work for people and nature.”

Her colleague Charlie Peverett added: “One of the things we need to do is to watch out as we move from the conceptual to making it happen, so that’s how we make sure that this is a conservation programme in which everyone is included, not just the greens.”

There are suggestions that predators such as lynxes and wolves could return in certain areas to help naturally control numbers of their prey, such as deer. Wild boar and beavers have already been reintroduced in some areas.

Peter Smith, founder and director of the Wildwood Trust and Park, is one of the conference’s more radical voices. He believes that all taxes based on people’s earnings should be scrapped and replaced with taxes on land and environmental costs.

“All taxation creates difficulty,” he says. “It forces the farmer to try and farm poorer-quality land and you end up farming away wildlife. Without income tax you could solve all our problems – there would be cleaner air, clean water, better quality of life and less pollution – but the politicians don’t want to talk about it. And more jobs!

“Forget about persuading people to get involved, if you only have land and green taxes poverty would decrease, we’d be able to buy more goods and there would be loads of wildlife.”

A timber wolf (6406538)
A timber wolf (6406538)

Landscape habitat restoration is being increasingly accepted as a way of improving not only wildlife populations, but also providing wider socio-economic benefits such as flood alleviation, carbon storage and improvements in health and welfare through recreation.

Speaker Dr Belinda Bell of Cambridge Judge Business School sees rewilding as “part of social innovation”.

“As social innovators we are trying to make the world a better place and that necessarily involved environmental concerns,” she says. “Without consideration of the planetary boundaries we can’t build lives that are worth living in the long or even medium or short term.”

Could going wild be the way to go?

A lynx (6406522)
A lynx (6406522)

The event features several workshops, including one run by Vance Russell, biodiversity lead at Ecosulis. a Bath-based eco-contractor and event sponsor.

I wonder if you could let me know what you're looking forward to about the event please, and how you got involved?

"We are going to announce the launch of an Ecosulis Rewilding Tech Challenge at the event," says Vance. "The workshop will examine and discuss how to drive enterprise and technological innovation in rewilding with a strong component of learning from experiences and measuring those results as we move forward. The workshop will feature both practitioners and scientists and have a participatory component with audience members."

The event has been given added urgency following recent reports that there are just 12 years left to limit climate change.

"We need more people to say yes to nature," adds Vance. "Our livelihoods depend upon it. Extinction Rebellion has been great bringing attention needed to the climate change crisis. The rewilding movement is building momentum because it is an exciting vision driven by renewing, restoring and recovering the earth by reconnecting people and wildlife. Ecosulis wants to integrate our technology, biodiversity measurement and habitat restoration expertise into the dynamic processes that rewilding represents to engage people, protect biodiversity and restore the planet."

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