Rewilding Britain: The Earthwatch Debate

Are we ready for a wilderness? It was a pleasure to photograph the annual Earthwatch debate on rewilding – for what turned out to be an eye-opening event…

Rewilding Britain, Earthwatch Debate, Royal Geographical Society, London
“Are you in favour of rewilding the UK?” – Kate Humble is presented with an overwhelming majority…But are we only interested in iconic species such as wolves and lynx?

A full house at the Royal Geographical Society, London was greeted by TV presenter Kate Humble and five speakers, each with their own perspective on rewilding:

Dr. Cristina-Eisenberg Forest ecologist, wildlife tracker and Earthwatch Scientist
Spoke of rewilding successes in the Rocky Mountains of North America where carnivores have made a comeback. Stopping the hunt on wolves and grizzly bears, and reconnecting fragmented habitats are important, but so is persuading local people that a complete ecology and healthy environment is ultimately in their interest as well.

Prof. William Megill Rhine Waal University of Applied Sciences, Germany
Highlighted the need for detailed planning, monitoring and control in our highly engineered environment, giving the case study of grey whales in the North Pacific that went on to destroy their own habitat by overfeeding.

Andrew Bauer Deputy Director of Policy, NFU Scotland
Expressed a positive view on rewilding if done sensitively and incrementally. However, with the audience not appearing satisfied by the prospect of reintroducing ‘lesser’ species such as flowers and ants, he had a warning: “Rewilding has very quickly become associated with charismatic species. That energises you but it gives other people concerns because they come at a private cost.”

Dr. Paul Jepson Director, MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, University of Oxford
Called for large scale rewilding projects, managed with the willingness to stand back and let natural systems take their own course. “Let us create a British nature that is a bit more edgy, unpredictable and in your face.”

Jonathan Hughes CEO of the Scottish Wildlife Trust
Discussed factors of population growth and food production, and the importance of developing socio-economic benefits (such as ecotourism) for local communities. “If we are to realise this rewilding vision we need to combine ecological recovery with economic vitality in rural areas.”

Watch video highlights below (or the full 2hr event) and contribute to the rewilding debate on the Earthwatch website.

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