In order to clarify what rewilding is in an Australian context and to identify the necessary steps to progress it, the National Parks Association, in partnership with Taronga Conservation Society and FAUNA Research Alliance, organised a rewilding forum in Sydney in September 2016.
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 removing man-made barriers to flooding to allow natural flood regimes; removing fences in a landscape to increase animal movements; allowing forests to recover from logging to speed hollow formation or reintroducing animals that are important dispersal agents for plants. 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 certain native plant species and this is 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 city that plants native shrubs to encourage native birds). By recognising the influence of humans on nature, rewilding efforts can try to improve how human populations interact with native species 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.