Updated: Apr 13
When I began my own Rewilding studies at the end of my degree in 2014, the movement was still extremely niche. So, it is exciting that this conference was the biggest EVER of it’s nature, with 450 delegates, with an almost 50/50 split of men and women. The conference was also “ethically” engaged practically, reducing waste, encouraging delegates to eat outside of the conference walls and promoting gender equality, something I’ll expand on later.
On the first day we heard a lot about different leaders in the field of conservation in general and what they are doing with Rewilding. One obvious thread in this field and shown in the conference and in a previous conference by ZSL, is that Rewilding is a ambiguous term. It is ironically, wildly different for different people. This chaos is the very natural result of Rewilding- and this ambiguity may work well at raising awareness. But perhaps we do need a definition of Rewilding, and perhaps this conference was the perfect place to set out defining this term. An opportunity missed?
For example the definitions of Rewilding are extremely different between Knepp Estate and work being done through The Durrell Institute. Past the academic debate, and beyond the confines of the conference, this ambiguity will be confusing for those without an academic background- to grasp what exactly they can do. This is important in context, that we continue to directly involve those with different backgrounds, for diversity of voices and for also promoting a result that benefits us all.
And because we don’t have one definition of what rewilding is, there is no reason that only some people can call themselves rewilders. We need every person with a bee hotel, a hole in their fence etc, to feel part of the movement, inclusive. We need a wider shift together. Rather an an elite group of scholars and professionals discussing these topics within their echo chambers. Perhaps the next conference could be more widely advertised to the general public and continue the tech savvy approach, for links to view online, reducing carbon footprint and increasing the audience scope.
One of the main findings of this conference has been diversity. And not just of the wildlife that we are trying to promote, but of the people doing it. Promoting and raising a bigger range of voices is absolutely vital. We need a bigger shake up within the conservation scene than just how we do the work itself. Community includes a range of voices and we need to make sure everybody is empowered to speak and have their say- not just those institutions that have been in the field for decades. A recent paper suggested that women were much less likely to ask questions, than men at conferences. One way to address this, was asking women in a specially created Facebook group, how they would feel more empowered to ask questions. We said that we wanted an online interactive space that was gender blind. And the conference answered. Delegates could ask questions on their phones, through Menti and questions were read out anonymously. However, even with these top down efforts, many questions were still male and lack of diversity of delegates didn't go unnoticed.
One question discussed how we shop for ethical meat in the supermarket- and the discussion being that realistically ethical meat in the supermarket is a plaster on a much wider issue, such as unethical price of meat, our connections to food and other societal issues with supermarkets. We can talk about ecology, restoration until we are blue in the face, but realistically we need a much deeper societal change.
We need a diversity of narratives to engage the wider community. Some engage with extreme visions some with less so. In George Monbiot's article, he stated the David Attenborough wasn’t doing enough. In turn, I would argue that this range of narratives to engage is vital, and the "fanatic" approach like Monbiot's often causes extreme reactions, as discussed with the Farmers perspective in Wales. This narrative that is supposed to drive change can sometimes have the opposite effect. This was something confirmed through Paul Jepson. We certainly need “Recoverable Earth” narratives as well as “finite earth”.
On the second day we had more individual sessions discussing a wide variety of topics from Rewilding and Brexit to Rewilding and social media. These sessions expanded upon ideas from the previous day, going into more depth and finding solutions. These sessions gave incredible insights, practical understandings and conversations.
We have had undertones of dietary change, and it was interesting to hear the “marketing” perspective of plant based diets and what they carry. Delegates questioned the need to try and define what is actually a sustainable level of animal product consumption. But it is clear, reducing our meat intake and eating ethically sourced meat, like that from Knepp is a priority in The UK.
We are at a pivotal time in ecological history. We have the opportunity to build on evidence on conservation mistakes, conservation successes and political history to make decisions for the best of us all and our planet. We are in a position to tear down old structures, to listen, collaborate and create a new system. Practically and within our management systems.
We need to cross over our objectives. We cannot be singular in our visions. The ecologists need to be wide broaching and multidisciplinary, because so many issues are deeply intertwined. Rewilding, carbon emissions, land management, health, supporting community structures, culture and science communications are just a few that intertwine. These are not singular objectives and shouldn't be treated as such. Science Communications is also evolving, and the environmental narrative is also. Scientists need to be communicating well. We need to end the white coat scene and embrace a wider angle, to not only communicate accurate evidence based science and increase our tech savvy experts but to widen our funding circle. Talking about wider issues and how issues we are dealing with in the field impact or are created by lifestyle choices. Allowing people to connect to somebody like them, to lead the way.
The conference was inspiring, uplifting and pioneering in a number of ways. We have left discussing so many issues between ourselves and we are excited to see what else develops in this time.