ZSL is working to develop Rewilding into an effective conservation tool for a rapidly changing world.
Summary of research
Biodiversity in the 21st century is undergoing rapid change. Climate change in particular is presenting a new challenge: whilst climate zones are shifting towards the poles and uphill, completely novel climatic conditions are emerging in some areas or the world. This is expected to lead to a global reshuffling of species, creating new types of communities and ecosystems.
Combined with other anthropogenic drivers, such as land use change and pollution, it is clear that the traditional aim of conservation – that of restoring or mimicking a perceived natural, stable state, often inspired by past conditions – may be increasingly difficult to achieve in many places. Instead, we need a new paradigm that explicitly takes into account global environmental change, as well as biodiversity’s responses to it. Rewilding is an umbrella term for a range of conservation approaches which aims to provide such a paradigm. Rewilding provides an opportunity to help address the biodiversity crisis in times of rapid climatic changes, but can also help mitigate climate change. Research has shown that degraded landscapes that have been restored have huge potential for sequestering carbon and can play a part in protecting people from the impacts of climate change.
Why we are there
Rewilding is Nature-based solution broadly aimed at reorganising species communities and natural processes to allow a self-sustaining, ultimately autonomous, ecosystem to develop – without imposing a vision for how this system will look like. This can include restoring a wide variety of ecosystem dynamics, e.g. by reintroducing extinct predators or herbivores (or their ecological equivalents), and reducing human interventions such as fire control. As an emerging concept, many different rewilding techniques and approaches are being proposed, often without a clear understanding of their relative socio-ecological benefits and drawbacks. This makes it difficult to identify Rewilding opportunities and provide advice to conservation practitioners and policy makers. ZSL has a wealth of experience with species reintroductions and ecosystem monitoring, and is thus in a really strong place to help develop a practical framework for rewilding initiatives.
Rewilding has potential to help address the current climate change and biodiversity crises, but its impact will be limited unless agreed definitions and guidelines can be reached, backed by further scientific research and helped by a policy backdrop that enables greater integration with current environmental legislation. Our goal is to support efforts to develop Rewilding into a scientifically robust policy tool that can answer to the conservation challenges of the 21st century. As such, we are actively involved with the implementation of the newly adopted IUCN resolution (WCC 2020 resolution 085) on rewilding, and will support the work of the new IUCN rewilding working group in the next four years.
This project is focussed on entire ecosystems rather than single species.