I read something yesterday that stayed with me, and not in a good way. Did you know that in Australia we have lost more species of mammals over the past 200 years than any other country? That is not a statistic to be proud of.
It got me thinking about something I read a couple of years ago, when we were still living in the suburban sprawl, about a couple in England who had bought land specifically to ‘rewild’ it. It was a concept that struck a chord with me – let nature do nature.
We need Australia to get more ‘wild’. Not in the day drinking, gambling and abandonment of laws kind of way, but in our approach to conservation. Rewilding is one concept gaining support and investment as we race to try to ‘fix’ our planet’s ecosystem. Like many things, it is based on a simple idea – letting nature take care of itself wherever possible – allowing wildlife’s natural rhythms to construct biodiverse habitats and repair damaged ecosystems.
It’s similar to the circle of life notion. For example, in Australia, the decline of dingoes has led to an increase in foxes and feral cats, which in turn has led to a decline in smaller predators like the Eastern Quoll, Long-nosed Potoroos, and Southern Brown Bandicoots. Without these digging animals being present in good numbers, the whole ecosystem is thrown out of whack, with knock on effects for fire regimes and changes to plant diversity. Our interference has compounded the problems, sometimes even when we are trying to help – like fenced enclosures intended to protect the smaller mammals leading to prey naivety – they forget how to survive, meaning the ecosystem is still not self-sustaining.
The best-known rewilding project is the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in America. When the wolves returned, they reduced elk numbers and changed their behaviour, which in turn allowed vegetation to grow and stabilise previously eroding stream banks. This project and others like it have successfully captured the public interest, particularly in Europe where over 6 million hectares are now designated wild spaces.
Rewilding normally requires us to kick-start it – by reintroducing the species that have disappeared, removing dams to release rivers and allowing forests to regenerate where possible. But after the push start, by following Nature’s own ways, essentially, the aim is to step back and let nature manage itself.
In Australia, we face particular challenges, like the introduced species that have wreaked havoc on our own wildlife, and the high rate of extinction that our wildlife have suffered. You cannot reintroduce a species that no longer exists. Ecologists must consider what animals might best mimic the behaviours of those we have lost and work out how to manage the ones that shouldn’t be here.
In the last year, we have been doing our bit to rewild as much of our space as possible. The cattle are gone and so are most of the internal fences, which has seen the return of kangaroo and wallaby families grazing where the cows once did. Controlling pest plants and animals will also help to shift the ecosystem into a preferred state. We will be the first to put our hands up if Rewilding Australia would like to reintroduce the Tasmanian devil or Eastern Quoll into the area – we would love to see them roaming wild and free!
Rewilding offers an opportunity to reconnect rural and urban society with wilder nature. We are healthier when nature is healthier and self-regulating ecosystems and landscapes are more sustainable for our future. So let’s get wild!