In A Word: Rewilding

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“We must rewild the world,” said none other than Sir David Attenborough, natural historian and creator of iconic nature documentaries. 

Which means … what exactly? I think back on a winter visit to Jackson, Wyoming, where an elk was window shopping in the town square, and to the Bangkok market where I watched a monkey wreak delightful (to me!) havoc, leaping from display to display. Once, returning to a rented cottage in Punta Gorda, Belize, my husband just missed stepping on a tommygoff snake, one of the country’s most venomous, but thankfully, he was saved by a night watchman’s warning. 

An online dictionary uses “rewilding” in this sentence: 

“Talk of rewilding North America gives some people nightmares of wolves running through the streets of Chicago and of grizzlies in LA”

Rewilding? Might be a bit of a tough sell. 

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But in point of fact, rewilding isn’t nature encroaching on our human environment so much as it is giving nature back to its non-human inhabitants. It’s “restoring ecosystems to the point where nature can take care of itself,” say the folks at Rewilding Britain, whose slogan is “Think Big, Act Wild.” The term itself was coined in the early 1990s by Dave Foreman, co-founder of Wild Earth magazine and The Wildlands Project, according to the podcast Rewilding Earth.  

The Global Rewilding Alliance, a network of more than 125 organizations, was formed in 2020 to create and promote rewilding projects around the world. “We believe that the world can be more beautiful, more diverse, more equitable, more wild,” reads the group’s charter. 

To that end, the Alliance organized the world’s first rewilding day on March 20, 2021. Though I missed the occasion, the rewilding initiative is growing like, uh, rewildfire. Originally conceived as a North-America-wide initiative focused on the three conservation Cs (cores, corridors, and carnivores), rewilding has expanded to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and more.

Rewilding typically refers to large-scale projects — restoring the natural course of rivers and reconnecting them with floodplains, creating wildlife corridors or moving wildlife to decimated areas to restore biodiversity, cultivating kelp forests and marine ecosystems. But micro rewilding, as it’s called, plays a key role too. Siân Moxon, the founder of Britain’s Rewild My Street, told a reporter that micro rewilding can be as simple as planting a tree, adding a bee bowl or bird bath to your garden, or encouraging vines to climb the side of your home. The good news about micro rewilding is that neatness is out. Nature, says Moxon, is messy. And wild.

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Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett
Leslie Garrett is a journalist and the Editorial Director of Bluedot, Inc. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, and more. She is the author of more than 15 books, including The Virtuous Consumer, a book on living more sustainably. Leslie lives most of the year in Canada with her husband, three children, three dogs and three cats. She is building a home on Martha's Vineyard.
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