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Rewilding and conservation

Pressure on our planet is growing. From pollution to climate change and disease to habitat loss, the challenges we all face are increasing. Now, more than ever, life needs our support.  

That’s why we’re working to develop the practice of rewilding, so it becomes an effective conservation tool in our rapidly changing world.  

Why is our rewilding work necessary?  

Climate change presents a new challenge for biodiversity - whilst climate zones are shifting towards the poles and uphill, completely novel climatic conditions are emerging in some areas of the world. This is expected to lead to a global reshuffling of species, creating new types of communities and ecosystems. 

Combined with other factors, such as land use change and pollution, 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 considers global environmental change, as well as biodiversity’s responses to it.  

What is rewilding work?  

Rewilding is an umbrella term for a range of conservation approaches. It's a type of 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.  

It can include restoring a wide variety of ecosystem dynamics, eg 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.  

How will ZSL rewilding work help?  

The impact of rewilding 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.  

What are the benefits and challenges of rewilding work?  

Rewilding is a low-cost management approach, but systematic and robust monitoring of rewilding projects is still needed. This will help:

  • Build an understanding of the socio-ecological impacts of different interventions. 

  • Detect and manage potential risks. 

  • Provide evidence of the benefits of the approach in the long-term.  

This requires clarity on the preferred trajectories and targets for any rewilding project, as well as the monitoring methods available for assessing outcomes across various spatial and temporal scales.  

Targets are likely to be centred on the functioning of ecosystems and delivery of services, including the facilitation of new processes and/or services as well as the enhanced functioning and delivery of existing processes and/or services.  

Given these constraints, monitoring and evaluation can be challenging for rewilding projects, where success is partially assessed by changes in processes and flows - how to standardise the measurement of changes in ecosystem processes and service delivery is still open to debate and the practicalities are substantial.  

We have a wealth of experience with species reintroductions and ecosystem monitoring and we’re in a strong place to help develop a practical framework for rewilding initiatives. 

Find out more about our work restoring ecosystems 

People involved 

  • Nathalie Pettorelli 

  • Sarah Durant 

Rewilding and conservation useful links

Rethinking environmental legislation to include the conservation ideas of tomorrow 


Urgent action to stop the devastation of critical species and habitats by helping people and wildlife live better together, is the only way to save the natural world we love and depend upon. That’s where ZSL comes in, and where you can play your part.