Rewilding by Paul Jepson & Cain Blythe

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The term rewilding has become the latest buzz word in conservation and environmental circles. But what does it actually mean? And does it actually work in practice? In essence, it means taking large steps back in the way we treat landscapes and the animals that inhabit them, reintroducing the apex predators and large herbivores and letting the highly interdependent ecosystems readjust accordingly. The answer to the second question is yes it does.

It is still a controversial subject though, and there is resistance to actioning these sorts of changes to the landscape from both landowners and environmentalists. The return of wolves to the highlands of Scotland would be fantastic, but for some people, this is a step too far. In this book, practising ecologists Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe explain the science behind rewilding and go into some detail on schemes that have worked around the world.

Rewilding is not about turning the clock back and restoring damaged ecosystems to an arbitrary past baseline. Rather, it is about restoring networks of interactions between communities of organisms and their physical environment, along with the ecological process that emerge from these interactions.

They go into so detail about the sorts of animals that are needed to bring about lasting and significant change to the ecosystems. It turns out that as good as apex predators are altering the dynamic, the best animals for changing ecosystems are large herbivores. In Europe we used to have large cattle breed called aurochs, these are now extinct but there is a scheme to selectively breeding older species of cattle to recreate this ancient species. The result of this is the Taurus, these have been bred with large horns, small udders and longer legs. It is intended that these will become the wild bovine to populate the rewilded areas in years to come.

One of the countries that have had a lot of success with their scheme in the Netherlands. They have decided to take an offensive approach to rewilding, they acquired large herbivores including the Konik ponies and Heck cattle and let them loose on the new nature reserve in Oostvaardersplassen. Slowly they transformed the landscape and it became more like the New Forest, a mix of open ground and trees. Another case study is on reintroducing large tortoises onto the islands of Mauritius and how they replace the damaging non-native rabbits and goats that were there. Species that were endangered have bounced back.

I think that the message this book sends is really good, the authors have selected solid case studies demonstrating that the science behind rewilding is strong. Mostly the prose is ok to read, but occasionally it read like a paper in a journal, but thankfully not too often. Worth reading if you are interested in the subject.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Interesting thoughts on it. I didn’t find it too dry but then I do edit journal papers in part of my work so maybe I’m immune to academic talk now! I thought the real-life examples and the stuff about the herbivores was fascinating.

    • Paul

      It all depends on the reader at the end of the day, and it sounds like you are immune! A lot of what they say is repeated much more eloquently in Rebirding which I finished today.

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