It took a while but the conservation rewilding movement in the UK has earned itself some backlash from the conservative farming/landholding interests, most notably from Tim Bonner, head of the Countryside Alliance, an organisation advocating for 'traditional' rural practices (mainly sport hunting, it seems) and defending the landowning aristocracy from challenges to their grip on the countryside:
I've written a point-by-point rebuttal and forwarded it to the folks at Rewilding Britain, as they don't seem to have come up with a response themselves, but they don't seem to be interested as I've had no reply and not much in the comment section, despite a marked increase in traffic mostly from an unidentified facebook source. Anyone interested can find it here:
Most of his arguments were cheap and unsupported by any evidence, so easily debunked, but there were a few points of interest which for me spoke to the differences in outlook between conservation/landscape rewilding and what we're talking about on these pages. For example, while there are plenty of examples of rewilding adovcates denying it (some of which I cite at the above link), Bonner's characterisation of 'those with a John Muir-ian belief that man’s intervention in the environment is always a ‘bad thing’ ' I think, while crudely expressed and intended to dismiss, rings true for some in the 'movement'. Have a look at Rewilding Europe's latest video for example:
They talk about the how the European countryside is being 'abandoned' with young people 'leaving for the cities'. They want to 'turn these problems into a historic opportunity'. But most of their chosen imagery depicts young people in spotless outdoor clothing, taking pictures, looking through binoculars, rafting down rivers or just hanging out, enjoying the view. Tourism in other words. There is some talk at the end of 'business, jobs and income', but how much of that will be in direct participation with the land & its nonhuman inhabitants rather than simply facilitating an alienated enjoyment by city folk on short holidays or weekend breaks? As much as they may be responsible for degradation of ecosystems and aggressive policies towards wildlife even up to the point of extinction, I think there's still something valuable in traditional farming that is lost in this transition to abstract management; nature as a backdrop or screensaver for human activity which barely has anything to do with the Real World any more. I think a better approach would be to engage directly with those still living on & working the land and go through them (some of them probably know a lot more about these things than you do already) rather than trying to bypass them, even facilitate their extinction, and try to invent something totally new.
It's telling that Bonner has referred to the rewilding (anarchism) wikipedia page, commenting that 'The more contradictory nonsense I read about ‘rewilding’ the more it’s clear that we hunters have been doing it for years'. On the one hand I think he's using the 'anarchism' label to discredit the conservation rewilders, but on the other you have this:
my wildfowling club involved in managed retreat on estuary 20 years ago...no grandstanding just good management
which would indicate some identification with the ideals of 'regenerative land management techniques employed by hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists, as well as development of the senses and fostering deepening personal relationships with members of other species and the natural world' which the wiki page mentions. Not much, but it's more engagement with this strand of rewilding than Rewilding Britain or leading lights such as George Monbiot have so far attempted, while surely being aware of its existence (though others have started talking about it on the fringes - for example)
It's been interesting to look at this whole argument while reading Nancy Turner's book, The Earth's Blanket, which describes many ways in which a removal of indigenous land management practices in NW America has led to simplified, degraded, fire-prone ecologies. Farmers, foresters and conservationists in Britain and Europe routinely make similar claims for their activities. Even if it's bullshit - just another toxic mimic or claim to virtue - I think it reveals a deep longing for ways of relating to the nonhuman world in a generative rather than extractive & destructive way. Something to work with maybe...