Extensive rewilding programmes have can huge benefits for flora and fauna as well as people.
When we think of rewilding, we tend to picture large-scale projects in rural areas, reaching across entire valleys or large areas of upland. Rewilding Britain’s Summit to Sea project in West Wales springs to mind, or Scottish programmes such as Trees for Life and the Alladale Wilderness Reserve.
Extensive rewilding programmes have can huge benefits for a landscape and the wildlife and plants it supports. Many animals that have been made extinct in an area due to shrinking habitats can successfully be reintroduced only if there is sufficient space for them to take up residence again. Likewise, uninterrupted tree coverage can benefit a large variety of insects, birds and small mammals.
The positive impacts of large-scale rewilding can go well beyond the geographical boundaries of a specific project. As British environmentalist and author George Monbiot and a number of other influential ecologists, climate specialists and creatives have recently argued, widespread rewilding can also be a powerful way of combatting climate breakdown as native self-willed forest and peatlands have an impressive capacity for carbon drawdown.
Yet there is a tendency among city-dwellers to think that such projects don’t have anything to do with urban life and, consequently, that responsibility for rewilding or ecological restoration lies elsewhere. While it is true that rewilding projects tend to be limited to rural areas, they can also be applied to cities as well as to suburban or small-town locations that mark the threshold between urban and rural. Incorporating rewilding projects into architectural designs, parks and gardens can provide homes for many species that have otherwise been driven out of their habitats.
The benefits of urban rewilding are various and extensive. Native trees and other plants can help reduce air pollution, for example, while green spaces can have a positive effect on mental health. These projects, when applied ambitiously, can also help to clean up water sources, reduce flooding and combat rising sea levels. In New York City, a multi-party project plans to restore the local harbour’s ecosystem by reintroducing native oysters, which will filter and clean the water while also acting as a protective reef.
In London, steps are being taken towards making the city a wilder place. For instance, London National Park City is working with residents, visitors and partners to enjoy London’s great outdoors more and to make the city greener, healthier and wilder. Launching in July, the organisation will lead inspiring campaigns to re-green the city as well as supporting other grass-roots initiatives.
There are also exciting new ideas entering circulation regarding how rewilding principles can be applied to architecture in both rural and urban environments. Take Maurizio Mucciola and Maria-Chiara Piccinelli, co-directors of London-based architecture practice PiM Studio. They are interested in finding new ways to incorporate nonhuman species into their architectural projects.
These environmentally conscious architects believe that architecture should be for all – and that we should design spaces for other species of plants, animals and fungi as well as for human beings. Raising buildings on a small platform, for example, provides a space for small animals and invertebrates to roam freely, while nesting boxes can be incorporated into roofs.
It remains clear that we need to get to the heart of the problems that are driving our world to the brink of environmental breakdown. Merely making small changes around the edges won’t cut it. In other words, mere “greenwashing,” as some have labelled a form of comfortable branding that assuages consumers’ guilt through claims of sustainability, won’t do.
However, the fundamental changes we need to make will only be achieved if we modify our mindsets and begin to recognize our interconnectivity with the natural world. Only when we are able to recognize the reciprocal relationship that exists between humans and nonhumans can we begin to act for the genuine long-term good of both, not merely for the sake of our short-term goals.
Projects that aim to rewild our cities and help us to give up our illusory belief that we can control the natural world are essential for improving our lives and changing our priorities. We still have time to act, but we need to learn to embrace the wild – even at the heart of city living.