Rewilding is a conservation ethos that is gaining in popularity worldwide. Well established now in North America and Europe, rewilding in Australia is still a relatively new concept.
What’s NPA doing in this space?
NPA is a partner on an exciting project called “nature-based solutions for growing cities: rewilding policies and practice”. Led by the University of Sydney, the project will develop urban rewilding case studies to demonstrate how rewilding can deliver social and economic benefits to urban areas.The project will focus on bandicoots in Sydney’s inner west; powerful owl movements throughout Sydney and bringing native pollinators back to urban green space. This project builds on NPA’s strong citizen science programs, and the outcomes will help embed rewilding principles into policy to benefit both people and wildlife.
Rewilding in Australia
In order to clarify what rewilding is in an Australian context and to identify the necessary steps to progress it, the National Parks Association of NSW, in partnership with Taronga Conservation Society, FAUNA Research Alliance and Conservation Volunteers Australia, organised a rewilding forum in Sydney in September 2016.
See the full summary of the forum, including discussion on elements of rewilding, here and the Rewilding Special Edition of Nature NSW, the quarterly journal of NPA, here.
The forum identified six key themes that rewilding should focus on or incorporate in Australia:
- Rewilding is a focus on ecosystem processes and function rather than a single species or suite of species
- Rewilding should incorporate people, including consideration of economic gain for communities via rewilding projects
- Rewilding is applicable at multiple scales and in both rural and urban settings
- Rewilding in Australia requires a shared vision in order to progress and meet its potential
- Rewilding efforts should include a research component in order to demonstrate proof of concept and positive ecological change
- Rewilding efforts will require policy changes from government
Q: I thought rewilding was just about predators, isn’t this the case?
A. Not necessarily. Predators are an important consideration, and in some rewilding efforts the primary consideration. But because rewilding is a focus on ecosystem processes and function, anything that increases ecological function can be considered rewilding. For example, this could include restoring natural flood regimes; removing fences in a landscape to allow animals to move more easily; allowing forests to recover from logging to speed hollow formation or reintroducing animals that perform important ecological roles like digging and seed dispersal. Emus are an example of an animal very important in seed dispersal, and that’s why we’ve used emus as our rewilding image.
Q: I have heard about rewilding projects that use fences. How can fences be considered rewilding?
A. Australia is a unique case in this regard! Because so many of Australia’s small mammals (particularly in the arid zone) are threatened by introduced foxes and cats, fenced enclosures are used to keep these predators out and allow the native mammals to recover. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Arid Recovery are very successful in this approach. However, the rewilding forum identified fences as a stepping stone to broader landscape rewilding, not an end point in themselves, because fences are ultimately not consistent with the goal of promoting self-sustaining ecosystems.
Q: How can rewilding be relevant to cities?
A. Because the restoration of ecological function can be applied to urban parks, gardens and bushland. For example, reintroducing or encouraging native bees to gardens will help pollination of plants, while encouraging bandicoots into gardens will improve soil formation via their digging. These examples are consistent with the rewilding focus on ecosystem processes and function.
Q: Why are people relevant to rewilding? Aren’t people the biggest threat to nature?
A. Like it or not, human populations exert a huge influence on the distribution and abundance of other animals. We’re the ultimate ecosystem engineers. Although this influence can be negative, it isn’t always (think of a gardener in the inner city that plants native shrubs to encourage native birds, or the restoration of urban floodways to provide wildlife habitat). By recognising the influence of humans on nature, rewilding efforts can try to improve how human populations interact with wildlife and, ultimately, improve biodiversity. That’s why rewilding is not synonymous with the concept of wilderness (a large area of natural habitat largely free of human influence).
Q: So why do you promote National Parks and wilderness then?
A. National Parks are the best tool we have in the world for protecting species. Habitat destruction by humans is the number one factor that is driving species declines worldwide, and National Parks prevent habitat loss. Rewilding is a complementary tool for conservation, not a replacement for National Parks and wilderness.