Rewild or Re-wilderness: The dangers of colonial masculinities

Shortly after presenting my research on colonial masculinities in rewilding at a recent conference, I scrolled across this – now deleted – tweet by a prominent rewilder:

The UK nature movement is infested with those who think that time is to be wasted; that everything can be done tomorrow. No. We must act today.”

Yes, rapid change is vital, and for many in the UK nature movement, rewilding offers that urgent path to ecological recovery. Nowhere in the UK are plans for rewilding more ambitious than in the Highlands of Scotland. But with the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in Europe, the power to change landscapes in Scotland continues to be vastly unequal.

Echoing a longer tradition of struggle for land justice in the Highlands, there are people within the ‘nature movement’ who challenge this inequity. As this tweet indicates, their challenges are not always welcome.

Who exactly has ‘infested’ the movement is unclear. What is clear though, is that they pose an obstacle to its progress. Language like ‘infested’ is clearly dehumanising. And the use of dehumanising language to refer to people who pose an obstacle to ‘progress’ in the Highlands is nothing new.

As I explained, unlike the enclosures in most of the UK, the Highland Clearances were also a civilising project.

Highlanders and Islanders resisting the clearances centuries ago were cast as a primitive people failing to effectively harness the economic potential of the land. They were dehumanised, and cleared to the coast, to ensure their participation in the modern economy and free the land up for new management.

This was the origin of the crofting tradition that prominent rewilders now identify as at odds with the goals of rewilding, as an obstacle to the progress of new land management.

What are these critics of progress actually concerned with? 

Rewilding has reached mainstream appeal in recent years. While rewilding offers a science-led approach to ecological recovery, its public appeal benefits from imaginaries of wilderness. As environmental historian, William Cronin explains:

Wilderness presents itself as the best antidote to our human selves, a refuge we must somehow recover if we hope to save the planet.”

But imagining wilderness as a remedy to ourselves falsely identifies human civilisation, rather than colonial-capitalism, as the root of ecological destruction. According to Cronin, this also constructs a ‘wilderness’ that is imagined as a ‘savage world at the dawn of civilization’.

The rewilding organisation Scotland the Big Picture invites visitors to its website to consider rewilding experiences’ with the tagline: ‘Retreat to the wild! Immerse yourself in the drama of the Highlands’I (and presumably others participating in the mundanities of everyday life in the Highlands and Islands) wonder what that drama is. It is through the imagining of a savage wilderness that the ‘drama of the Highlands’ become alive.

While often imagined as a peopleless ‘wilderness’, evidence of sustainable and destructive, forms of human activity is visible across the uplands of Scotland. Almost 20% of the landscape in Scotland is managed as grouse moors through moor burning, overgrazing, and predator control. Deer populations – which have trebled since the 1960s – are starving and suffering while their overgrazed habitats prevent woodlands and peatlands from flourishing.

Actors across the ‘UK nature movement’ have visions for how radically reforming land management could transform these uplands into resilient biodiverse habitats with a high potential for carbon sequestration.

A laird-driven approach to rewilding allows the wealthy men destroying nature to emerge as its panacea. Wealthy men like ASOS owner Anders Polvson, who made his fortune in fast fashion and is now Scotland’s largest landowner, can declare himself ‘custodian of the land’ and implement his own 200- year vision to rewild Scotland. This approach allows lairds to act as masters of nature; changing landscapes according to their vision and making decisions about what life gets to flourish.

Of course, this is no less true of laird-led approaches to any form of land management. And laird-led rewilding success stories like Polvson-owned Glen Feshie estate are home to rapidly recovering natures. But nature is not somewhere separate from civilization, as ideas of wilderness suggest. Nature is also where people live, work and call home; it is where social life happens. And while rewilding aims to be science-led, it does not resist the majesty of wilderness.

Some natures, landscapes, and species are more impressive and charismatic than others. Some actions, like reintroductions and culls, are more likely to leave a legacy. And the prioritisation of natures that are to be ‘experienced’ as wilderness, are more likely to create places that are to be visited rather than lived in.

Men can be real men in the wilderness. They can escape the hustle and bustle of the city as rugged individuals standing steadfast against the elements, hunting for their dinner, and sleeping below the stars. Or, if in the Highlands in 2023, in a ‘renovated bothy’ at Alladale Wilderness Reserve. The old buildings that scatter rural landscapes, now decorated as luxury accommodation with quintessentially Highland tweeds, tartans and taxidermy, preserve the region’s role as a playground for wealthy visitors.

Instead of providing the infrastructure to rectify the injustices of past economic transitions, as affordable homes to repeople cleared landscapes, they have been incorporated into a new one, and provide retreats to a Highland re-wilderness.

‘Rewilding’ – or something akin to it by another name – is an ecological necessity. As a major beneficiary of fossil fuel and stolen colonial wealth, it is also the Highlands and Islands global responsibility. But like a lot of places identified for ‘rewilding’, there is a violent history of clearance and dehumanisation that lay the foundations for the region becoming understood as a peopleless ‘wilderness’.

A laird-led development of re-wilderness echoes this history. Instead of regarding resistance to these developments as an obstacle to the recovery of nature, they could feed into the development of an approach to nature recovery that takes seriously land justice and the flourishing of peopled landscapes alongside their non-human natures. Because rewilding – without land justice – today, risks redesigning more biodiverse rural landscapes for the enjoyment of the wealthy men who own and visit it.


This article was first published in the academic journal Environmental Politics.

Comments (29)

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  1. MacGilleRuadh says:

    Introduce serious land value taxation

  2. John Wood says:

    Well said. The concept of ‘wild’ arose as a reaction to the industrial revolution. The wealthiest, having created the dark satanic mills, were desperate to escape and play at being ‘wild’ hunters. The rich and powerful have always tried to create exclusive hunting grounds for themselves. It’s nothing new. But ‘wild’ is an urban concept. It presupposes ‘tame’ places where nature can be controlled and destroyed with impunity. As the former Highland Regional Archaeologist I have fought the ‘year zero’ people for decades. The very concept of ‘re-wilding’ denies the heritage, identity and the very existence of Gaelic culture.
    There is no such thing as ‘wild’ land. Humans and nature inter-are everywhere. Reserving a third of Scotland -or the planet – as an empty playground for rich urban people to ‘escape’ to is an outrage. We have had enough of this over the last 250 + years. We do not exist to be exploited snd destroyed. A rich biodiversity means humans and other species working together for mutual benefit. Let them ‘rewild’ the concrete jungle. That’s where it’s needed. De-urbanisation is the future.

  3. Alastair McIntosh says:

    What John Wood says there is so spot on: “ The very concept of ‘re-wilding’ denies the heritage, identity and the very existence of Gaelic culture.”

    “Rewilding” is a term developed in America in the 1990s that has been overlaid on our existing use of such terms as ecological “restoration” and “regeneration”.

    In US conservation ecology “rewilding” has developed a sound ecological vision – the 3 Cs of cores (core intact areas), corridors (to connect them up) and carnivores (to keep the ecology balanced), but it has been parachuted in to Scotland as if we are an America devoid of or cleared of indigenous peoples, driven by big money that may well be using it as a foil for land investment. Ecology is always niche specific. One size doesn’t fit all.

    In Scotland, ideas and with them, flows of power that don’t come through communities of place or win their sanction, will always be alien species. This said, winning sanction is not impossible, and whereas I have been critical of Highlands Rewilding on this website and elsewhere, I do think that the Silver Standard by which it is responding to such criticisms by having developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the community at Tayvallich is an interesting model in the absence of the Gold Standard of full community ownership, and much better (if it works) than the Bronze Standard of conventional land ownership that gives communities of place no powers beyond their legal rights.

    Check out the website of Tayvallich Initiative for more info. I don’t want to be a wrecker of “rewilding” that has many good people around it. But I do want to see it serve and serve through local communities, and not rewild them out of the picture: see

    1. Kit McIntyre says:

      Just think it’s important to point out that the Americas are neither devoid nor cleared of indigenous peoples (this is a pervasive racist myth – ) and that these rewilding policies which do not take indigenous peoples into account are just as problematic there as here.
      It’s less that they are trying to impose sound models on an inappropriate context here, and more that their models are scientifically sound but founded on a certain amount of white supremacist bias, and need to be reworked with the input of native peoples everywhere.

  4. John Wood says:

    Thanks Alastair. I’d just like to pick up one thing: ‘Ecology is always niche specific. One size doesn’t fit all’.

    Although of course this is true, ecological niches are (a) dependent on all other niches and (b) constantly changing. Ecology is a growing, moving web of life, it’s a process, not a fixed state. The idea that land can be designated, reserved, re-wilded and abandoned to flourish without humans ignores this. Humans are an inevitable part of every landscape, and ‘rewilding is just a form of land management. Every square centimetre of land on the planet is affected by human activity, whether we like it or not. A favourite quote from John Muir for me is “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe “. However his national parks conveniently ignored the fact that the land he loved was as it was because of the activity of the indigenous peoples over millennia. Their creation led to the expulsion of these people. That was inexcusable. So many rich habitats – coppice woodland, chalk grassland, for example – have developed through particular land management by people over long periods. Read Osgood Mackenzie on how rich the ecology of the place I live (Wester Ross) was when he was a child – and how he helped to destroy its biodiversity, even as he planted Inverewe. The people are an essential part of every ecosystem, and taking them out altogether is simply not possible. When ‘invasive’ species appear in a ‘wild’ area, someone is going to want to remove them. Tourism will require the building of an infrastructure. The super-wealthy will demand exclusive access as they always do. Outwith the designated area, surrounding development may lower the water table, or fill the air with pollution, or destroy the migrations of mobile species. The fishing fleets will gather on the edges of the HPMAs to take any fish daring to leave the protected area, or trying to enter it. The ‘reservations’ for native American people were the poorest land, only really ‘reserved’ until a valuable resource is found there, or a corporation wants to put a pipeline through. Here in the Highlands, is anyone proposing to ban 4 / 5 G masts, pylons, 200ft wind turbines from ‘wild’ areas?

    The other side of this is the stupid idea that a ‘city’ can be sustainable. A city depends entirely on the exploitation of its hinterland. Its water, food, and other resources must be brought in, and its waste exported. It cannot exist within a ‘wild’ hinterland.

    Anyway, you cannot take a ‘niche’ and preserve it in isolation. As Aldo Leopold said, ‘ A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise’. That ‘biotic community’ is constantly changing, linked to all biotic communities elsewhere, and above all, it includes humans – people who have lived and in many ways enhanced the system as a whole for generations until capitalism arrived. Just as here in the highlands.

    Of course, I’m an archaeologist, I would say that. I have spent my life studying the way people and ‘nature’ have interacted since the last ice age. Still, it seems to me that sooner or later, it’s time to stop digging.

    1. Thanks John – very good on John Muir. Of course Patrick Geddes had a lot to say about the City Region, the relationship between the urban and the wider region it sits in.

      1. Alastair McIntosh says:

        Hello John, I think you’ve either picked me up wrongly or I’d expressed myself badly!

        No way was I suggesting that you can “take a ‘niche’ and preserve it in isolation.” In saying that ecology is niche specific, I was saying that you cannot just take ideas out of America (and that probably ignored the idigenous people of the place, as JM seemed prone to do), and plonk it down in Scotland. My intention was to acknowldge that the term “rewilding” as it started to be used by conservation biology in the late 1990s is a valid concept, but not necessarily one that can be fitted template just anywhere. And the bottom line in my view and in my writings around this, is that it must be the people of local communities of place that decide, not landowners.

        As I was reading your post I had a journalist come on the phone, writing a story about somewhere in Scotland – I won’t say where because I don’t want to blow his story – where the community is upset because the laird wants to take the cattle off the land and “rewild” the place by planting woodland. The reporter, being new to the scene, seemed not yet to have realised that the motivation for the laird may be that on “less favoured area” (LFA) land in Scotland if you “rewild” and flog off the carbon, you can get double the average grazing rental (see. p. 58 of my report as linked above). What makes this doubly outrageous, is that ecologists such as Roy Dennis (google his Highland cattle paper) have long recognised that traditional grazing sustains rich biodiversity. Anyhow, I just wanted to be clear that I think we’re on the same page, while at the same time, I try to understand where others such as the “rewilders” are coming from.

  5. Dennis Smith says:

    “Imagining wilderness as a remedy to ourselves falsely identifies human civilisation, rather than colonial-capitalism, as the root of ecological destruction”. This looks like a false binary. There are many causes of ecological destruction, not all of them human (e.g. meteor strikes). And is it useful to think of colonial-capitalism as a single phenomenon? There are certainly many different types of capital, and parallel reasons for seeing capitalism as chameleon-like in its construction.

    There are many problems with the word ‘rewilding’ and it might better avoided. But if we are stuck with it, we should at least recognise that it applies to projects of many different types. Not all these are “laird-driven”. Does (e.g.) the John Muir Trust count as a laird in this critique? It has promoted crofting on some of its lands and has actively supported community buy-outs, including one in North Harris.

    I sympathise with Heather’s critique of the idea of wilderness as an “experience” but I’m not sure this can be blamed on capitalism unless capitalism is taken to include all aspects of the internet and social media. It looks more like an expression of the hyper-mediation that runs through almost all contemporary culture, where reality is not to be confronted direct, only through layer upon layer of social mediation.

    Which brings me to my main point: nature is not “where social life happens”. This is anthropocentrism run wild. If anything, nature is what lies beyond human society, as well human comprehension. We (humans) need to respect the sheer otherness and autonomy of nature.

  6. 230802 says:

    The concept of ‘wild’ goes back much further than the industrial revolution; it was current at least as far back as 12th century, when Germanic-speaking people can be attested as using it to differentiate undomesticated land, animals, etc. from domesticated ones.

    The idea of ‘re-wilding’ seems to depend on the idea that there is some undomesticated ‘state of nature’ to which the land can be returned. However, this idea of ‘a state of nature’ (like all our concepts) is itself a domestication, a human artefact by means of which we appropriate the world to our understanding and use.

    The idea of ‘re-wilding’ is, thus, fundamentally incoherent. There is no state of nature to which land can be returned; there are only the various alternative ways, of which re-wilding is one, in which we can humanise it.

    The bottom line is that we must choose what kind of amenity or usefulness we want the land to have and then work towards shaping that amenity. More fundamentally, from a political point of view, we must choose how we make that kind of decision, whether we leave that decision-making in the hands of private land-owners of take it into the res publica or ‘commons’.

    My personal preference would be for such decisions to be made democratically, by and in the general interests of the whole community, rather than by and in the particular interests of private individuals or parties.

  7. Dr Mark Fisher says:

    You seek to undermine the concept of wilderness by invocation of an article by Bill Cronon, an American historian. The irony is that Cronon’s aim in the article, other than seeking the exposure that he knew attacking wilderness in his polemic would achieve, was to argue for a plurality in nature protection. He wanted to see consideration of the wildlife in farmed areas as well as the smaller, less wild spaces closer to people, which he thought were overlooked because of the national emphasis in America on wilderness as the yardstick for nature protection. He too, rightly or wrongly, felt the prevailing dogma in America allowed for no other reality. Cronon and I were contemporary graduate students at Oxford, he as a Rhodes Scholar, but our paths did not cross. It would seem that our other connection is a parallel aim for plurality in nature protection, albeit that I am arguing from the other end of the continuum in seeking a plurality in Britain that includes wild land.

    A more focussed reading than those who bend his article to their purpose shows that Cronon doesn’t ultimately seek to deny the existence of areas of biophysical wilderness in America:
    “By now I hope it is clear that my criticism in this essay is not directed at wild nature per se, or even at efforts to set aside large tracts of wild land, but rather at the specific habits of thinking that flow from this complex cultural construction called “wilderness””

    Instead, Cronon makes his case by demonising the thing that he thinks stands in the way of there being that plurality, the concept of wilderness, or as Cronon says “what we ourselves mean when we use that label”. Wilderness to Cronon was derived from two cultural constructs: the aesthetic of the Sublime popularised by European Romanticism, a notion that contemplation of immensity in nature can produce pleasure; and the attraction to primitivism through the myth of the frontier, which represented the edge of civilisation to the expansionist European settlers:
    “Indeed, it is not too much to say that the modern environmental movement is itself a grandchild of romanticism and post-frontier ideology, which is why it is no accident that so much environmentalist discourse takes its bearings from the wilderness these intellectual movements helped create”

    Cronon links the Sublime back to the philosophers Edmund Burke (1729-1797) and his treatise on aesthetics from 1757 “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”, and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who wrote in 1764 “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime”. For Burke, the opposition of the Beautiful with the Sublime was about the conflicting emotions of attraction and fear. Thus the causal structures of our ideas of the Beautiful are the passion of love, aspects of objects such as smallness, smoothness, delicacy; and the calming of our nerves. The causal structures for the Sublime are the passion of fear (especially the fear of death); the aspects of objects such as vastness, infinity, magnificence; and the tension of our nerves. Kant states that feelings of enjoyment are subjective. Feelings of the Beautiful “occasion a pleasant sensation but one that is joyous and smiling”. On the other hand, feelings of the Sublime “arouse enjoyment but with horror”. Feelings of the Sublime are the result of seeing mountain peaks, raging storms, and night. Cronon makes clear that sublime or sacred landscapes were those places on earth that were vast, powerful landscapes where people would feel insignificant. Thus Cronon says that “among the best proofs that one had entered a sublime landscape was the emotion it evoked” and that “God was on the mountaintop, in the chasm, in the waterfall, in the thundercloud, in the rainbow, in the sunset”. Cronon also points to William Gilpin (1724–1804) who defined the picturesque as “that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture” and who set out “principles of picturesque beauty” based largely on his knowledge of landscape painting. A “correctly picturesque” scene thus conformed to his set of rules for depicting nature.

    Cronon thus lays the blame for wilderness being the “wrong nature” on European Romanticism, imported into America in the 19th century. A European cultural movement of the late 18th century, when feeling began to be considered more important than reason, it was exemplified by a sometimes falsified or exaggerated and dramatic notion of wild nature in landscape painting, a sublimity that Cronon asserts was recruited in portraying wilderness in America as an idealized wild nature. Cronon had an itch that he wanted to scratch about the emblematic use of paintings. In Telling Tales on Canvas, an earlier article from 1992, he gave an account of how to read 19th century paintings from that western frontier as historical narratives for America. Many of the paintings and sketches from the 1830’s depicted Native Americans, such as those from George Catlin, Alfred Miller and Karl Bodmer. However, as the century wore on, explorers and artists like Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran were painting the big landscapes of locations that were later to become the first National Parks, like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Cronon points out that Native Americans were not to be seen in those paintings:
    “They carry us backward, not to a prefrontier Indian landscape, but to a prehuman wilderness one, fresh in the morning of God’s creation. They move us out of history and into myth. In this wilful erasure of Indians and whites alike, we see the historical invention of the depopulated sacred places that would emerge as the national parks and wilderness areas we know today”

    It is rarely acknowledged that the republishing of Cronon’s article in the journal Environmental History was followed by three rebuttals. In his reply to those, Cronon admitted that his discussion of “the sublime” and “the frontier” was only a guess at an answer to the history behind American cultural values about wild nature. He also admitted that his article had been provocative and polemical. I think he was wrong to traduce those later paintings and sketches as being retrospective, as I believe them to be mostly honest attempts at a realistic, photographic-like recording of the quality of those landscapes. He was also selective in this, as he is many other areas, since Thomas Moran, a member of the Hudson River School, continued to travel and paint in the west, the Green River becoming one of his favourite subjects. A painting by Moran hangs in the National Gallery in Washington – Green River Cliffs, Wyoming (1881) – and it shows Native Americans returning to their tipi village as the sun sets, smoke rising, and crossing the river. It is unlikely that he would have seen Native Americans in the setting of the painting, as the town and railroad at Green River by 1881 were a growing presence that would have inhibited them from passing nearby.

    Moran and photographer William Jackson accompanied Ferdinand Hayden, head of the US government’s geological survey, on an official exploration of the Yellowstone region in 1871. The 500-page report submitted to Congress, plus Moran’s images together with Jackson’s photographs, began the lobbying to make Yellowstone the first national park in America. Moran’s sketches were thus not about divorcing human history from the landscape, the “wilful erasure”, but for making the case to protect it from the dangers of the coming Euro-American westward expansionism. This is obvious from that report in support of the Bill:
    “If this bill fails to become a law this session, the vandals who are now waiting to enter into this wonderland will, in a single season despoil, beyond recovery, these remarkable curiosities which have required all the cunning skill of nature thousands of years to prepare”

    There is evidence that the setting up of the early national parks was at the expense of the removal of their native American populations, such as the Awahneechee from Yosemite, Blackfeet from Glacier, and the Shoshone from Yellowstone, although it is disputed as to whether the Shoshone were ever settled. But the story is not clear cut as the Awahneechee returned to the Yosemite Valley and had a long if troubled relationship with park officials; the Blackfeet were a paid tourist attraction in Glacier but also fought through the courts to continue to use its natural resources; and the Shoshone, were considered to have become more dependent on the natural resources of Yellowstone because the increased Euro-American settlement on land outside the park had brought with it an unsustainable predation of bison and other natural resources, as well as the arrival of free ranging livestock that added to the destruction. It should be noted that Yellowstone has never been farmed with domesticated crops or livestock, other than a few animals kept by the army garrison in the early days of the Park. In contrast, the parks established in the east – Rock Creek, Shenandoah, Great Smokey Mountain – were all based on farmed land, and it was the descendants of European settlers that were displaced.

    You would like to suggest that the contemporary paradigm takes more account of cultural values and people’s interactions with nature. This may be the case in managed reserves and protected landscapes, sustainable development being seen as the key aim in the latter (and which is all we have in Britain) but it is not the evidence from National Park systems across Europe. There, getting the right balance between natural values compared to cultural values (nature conservation and human use) is the key aspect of a successful protected area. It is achieved through a clear separation of these values so that they can then be brought back together through the spatial integration of zoning i.e. natural zones, cores zones, cultural zones, partnership zones etc.

    1. 230803 says:

      The history of our concept of ‘the sublime’ extends further back than Kant and Burke. It originates in the neo-Platonic notion that we can elevate the earthly to the divine through its ‘right’ contemplation. Abrahamic or prophetic religion (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) assimilated this idea in its doctrine of creation, in which act the divine alienated itself in the earthly, and that our peculiarly human purpose is to redeem the divine from this alienation through our religious ‘right’ thinking and ‘right’ conduct and thus restore its pristine purity.

      I suspect that ‘re-wilding’ is ultimately an Abrahamic construct, which we’ve inherited from the deep history that informs all our understanding and conduct, by which its adepts and adherents seek to restore the pristine purity of (i.e. to ‘sublimate’) the earth through a spiritual discipline of ‘right’ habits, practices, and experiences, which are sanctioned and enforced by the eschatological threat of apocalyptic judgement.

  8. Vérène Nicolas says:

    Thank you for bringing a gender lens to this debate. It’s a courageous stand. bell hooks talks of an ‘imperialist, white, capitalist patriarchy’. Might this frame be relevant in this context where vast stretches of land are owned by individual men who have the power to impose their worldviews and their decisions on nature and local communities?

  9. Niemand says:

    Can’t help feeling there is rather too much deconstruction going on here and to what end, it is not at all clear. It reminds me of academic film criticism in the 80s which got to such a point that the basic message was, whatever you do it is fucked up by layer upon layer of human prejudice. So best not bother doing anything any more and that also gives us a chance to go over as much as possible that has been done, so we can point out how all of it is so compromised it is forever ruined.

    Since 1997 I have been a member of a voluntary organisation planting trees and now I can see the real results of proper young woodlands we have planted growing around me on land that was previously fields grazed with sheep (now uneconomic) and lower reaches of barren moorland covered in millennia grass (known to some as a green desert since so little grows there). One can argue about the fact these areas would have been wooded at one time and therefore planting the trees is an example of ‘re-wilding’. But frankly, who really cares? The main point is that the woodland is a whole ecosystem, not just some trees, and the biodiversity of the land has increased to an unrecognisable degree. There is literally a huge amount more fauna and flora of many different kinds, i.e. more wild life. This matters.

    I would say to all those arguing about re-wilding and how misguided it might be, how colonial, how ‘white’ (really?), imperialist, patriarchal (or whatever) to instead actually do something to increase habitats for wildlife by transforming land that has been half destroyed by human action over centuries and basically abandoned with little chance of ‘natural’ recovery, so needs a helping human hand.

    1. 230804 says:

      Discussing ‘re-wilding’ and land use more generally in fora such as Bella doesn’t preclude engaging in other useful work like tree-planting.

      I’m still a member of Borders Forest Trust, a voluntary association of local landowners and communities, which plants and allows the natural regeneration of woodland towards reviving the wild heart of southern Scotland. The Carrifran wildwood we began planting on the first day of the new millennium is already home to returning wildlife. What was once a green desert in the Moffat Hills is now a thriving ecosystem.

      I’m too frail to do much tree-planting nowadays; the auld ticker’s failing. But I still enjoy it as much as I enjoy deconstructing concepts such as ‘re-wilding’.

    2. John Wood says:

      Thanks for your comment, with which I wholeheartedly agree. It flags up the false equivalence between ecological activism and ‘rewilding’. They are two completely different things. We need to drop the concept of ‘wild’ altogether and just get on with building biodiversity – and remembering that humans are part of that, not separate.

      The whole concept of ‘wild’ is an urban one. In fact it is inseparable from centralised, exploitative urban thinking. Similarly the idea of ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ species is completely counterproductive.

      A good land management project needs to put biodiversity first, and to accept that everything changes, all the time. It therefore needs to be flexible and locally rooted and informed. Where projects are planned and executed by or at least with a variety of local people, and provide them with modest resources for local food, construction, and other immediate needs,, they contribute to a sustainable, less dependent, more circular local economy. Instant results are not necessary so long as there is a long term inclusive vision and structure to the project. Although we intervene to benefit biodiversity, we need to remember that humans are part of the ecosystem, not separate from it. ‘Nature’ and people can work together for the benefit of all.

      Surely in planning projects we can just remember that nothing is really ‘wild’ – nor should it be. Keep planting, but fence out the deer! But remember that fencing them out will probably cause them to invade people’s gardens and villages in search of food. Think about whether to allow a proliferation of power lines and 5G towers everywhere as they cause serious electrical pollution. And so on.
      Anyway, thanks again for the contribution

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Niemand, indeed, perhaps the main requirement is that we have reasonable objective measures of environmental health at scales from the micro through ecosystems up to planetary. Nature is not a steady state, therefore the idea of returning to wildness is a misconception, but rewilding makes sense as a process, as activities and as an aim to improve health.

      1. Niemand says:

        Very much so SD (and thanks John also).

        The way I see ‘wilderness’ is that looking in one the woodlands planted there are indeed lots of micro wildernesses there. On a bigger scale, no, viewed from a distance it is just one woodland on a hillside and that’s all but get in there and your perspective changes. I happen to love these small corners and can see worlds in them.

      2. 230805 says:

        Exactly! Improved health is an amenity for which people generally might democratically appropriate land to their use.

        Towards realising this possibility, however, we must first work to return the decision-making that determines land use to ‘the commons’ (the people generally); that is, we must liberate land from its alienation in private ownership, as Jimmy Reid might have put it in his clarion call back in 1972.

        1. Niemand says:

          There are ways and means right now. Private land – approach the landowner and public funding is available if you tick the right boxes, publicly owned similar though with more hoops to jump through. If you can raise money outside of the funding bodies then there is nothing to stop you doing work on private land unless it happens to be an SSI or something. The group I plant trees with has been doing this since 1964 with marked effect and people often approach us. The basic point is you have to get on and do it and not get mired in the politics of it all.

          1. 230805 says:

            There are indeed ways and means right now. The Borders Forest Trust raises funds (mainly from private donors) to buy land and bring it back into the commons, clears that land of sheep, and plants native woodland to provide a basis from which whole systems can revive and regenerate. Its vision is to create a patchwork of woodland habitats across the South[ern Up]lands, which are cared for and enjoyed by local communities and connected by a network of woodland corridors.

            Doing this (building back ecosystems which have been degraded by overgrazing) doesn’t preclude its members from also campaigning politically to return decision-making on land use generally from private and corporate landowners to the commons. Indeed, doing this could be construed as a form of direct political action à la propagande par le fait.

            Getting your hands dirty to help your community build back ecosystems by appropriating land and planting it with trees certainly promotes by deed a deconstruction of traditional land ownership that might eventually empower communities generally to assign new purpose to or reclaim land that they perceive is currently being neglected or misused.

            Planting trees is itself a political act.

          2. Niemand says:

            People can think planting trees is a political act if they wish. I don’t. If those doing it want to get more involved in the politics of land ownership then more power to their elbow. I don’t. The reason is that in fact it is very hard to do both and what I notice over 30 years is that the more you see what you do as political and the more you get involved in politics and the eco-political-driven activism, the less trees you plant. The success of the group I plant with is totally down to their apolitical stance and attitude that what matters is finding sites to plant trees and then planting them. We don’t need to buy any land, have no desire to own any and have little interest in who owns it other than how it might affect any planting scheme. What matters is persuading, liaising, responding to land owners so trees can be planted along with making sure local residents are not adversely affected (e.g. shading out).

            I understand the bigger picture matters and major structural changes do affect what we do (e.g. getting money for schemes from government funding pots) but we have virtually zero control over this and what I have noticed is that sometimes the activism that challenges this can have the opposite effect of making getting finding more difficult! The more recent major increase in apparent desire to plant trees from many interested parties including government has actually resulted in a major increase in red tape and thus less local funding. This makes me cynical about political activism in this area: the more you get the ‘talkers’ involved, the theoreticians, academics and those who want to politicise (and police) everything (but to their own political outlook), the less actually gets done. This is at the root of my frustration with this article.

          3. 230807 says:

            You’re right, Niemand; it can be frustrating to see one’s practical efforts to make life better hi-jacked for the purpose of manufacturing and stoking sectarian grievances.

            You see a lot of that nowadays in relation to the environment, education, health, and other common goods. That kind of exploitation isn’t good ‘activism’; it’s what I’d call ‘parasitic activism’, which is driven by the ulterior motive of cultivating a general social discontent that can be milked for selfish advantage rather than by a genuine concern for the thing itself.

            I often doubt that nationalists (for example) are ultimately motivated by a concern for the environment and suspect that they are more interested in exploiting that concern in others in its marketing of ‘independence’ as a panacea for all our ills.

            But I still don’t see anything wrong in examining the thinking that informs our practical efforts to make life better than it currently is through the ongoing deconstruction and reformation of that thinking. That’s how we grow ‘dialectically’. As Plato’s protagonist in his Apology says: ‘for human beings, an unexamined life is not worth living.’

  10. mark leslie edwards says:

    Dear Sir, Could you advise me of the reason or reasons why your airmen are continuing to practice their ‘activities’ up & down the Moray coast at the time of writing: Tuesday, 15th November, 10:37 to 12:12. I wonder how such ‘activities’ further the United Kingdom Government’s objective of reducing carbon emissions by the year 2050. If the United Kingdom & indeed the planet is currently suffering a cost-of-living crisis, could you explain how such ‘activities’ are a good use of His Majesty’s Government’s time, money & resources. Thus far, you have palmed me off with your usual Anti-Russian, Anti-Islamic, Anti-Foreign-Invader propaganda. You tell me you have forwarded my communications to the Royal Air Force at Lossiemouth, yet I have received no reply from the Royal Air Force at Lossiemouth. Also, you have supplied no evidence of these oh-so-terrible threats to our ‘national’ way of life. Could it be that you are, to quote a phrase, simply, ‘extracting the urine’. Furthermore, why should ‘essential workers’ such as myself who pay their taxes & work late & night shifts have to pay for & endure the disruption to their sleep pattern & associated psychosomatic stress caused by your ‘activities’, particularly when, since the creation of your organization you have failed time after time to provide any credible argument for your continued existence,

    1. John Wood says:

      Thanks for that, I enjoyed it and it makes me think of many similar letters I have sent myself.

      I am reminded of the time when I lived in north Wales and the jets would scream up the valley so low they were sometimes below our houses. It terrified everyone, especially children and animals. The MoD were completely dismissive of all complaints until we proposed to fly tethered helium balloons above our houses (your property includes the space above it) – a multi-million pound high tech aircraft can be brought down by a simple balloon! That did worry them.

  11. David Barker says:

    Let us not forget RAF Coningsby’s fast jet response airfield. They regularly fly over our cottage, but not at weekends or Christmas as the Russians will be taking it easy too. In fact normal office hours with the occasional night shift. What a farce but as someone once remarked to me as a jet thundered overhead “That is the sound of freedom”. I wonder if the Ukranians and other worn-torn countries think that.
    As an ecologist sat on a one-acre plot given to nature, but not totally wilding more Jennifer Owen. Her modest garden in suburban Leicester was neat, and productive devoted to growing flowers and vegetables. But wait a minute over a 30-year period Dr. Owen recorded 2673 species, of plants, insects, vertebrates, etc. All are recorded in her two impressive books. We can’t all go on full wilding projects as that would require turning back time to at least 10000 BC before we started making a mess of things. Yes to Isabella Tree and similar wilding projects but what are WE doing? What’s wrong with being Jennifer Owen all over again, no pesticides, excessive tidiness, growing a wide range of plants, trees, and shrubs, and avoiding “stripey laws” and covering it all with plants. Read her books particularly Wildlife of a Garden-a 30 year study.
    Her first book The Ecology of a Garden-the First 15 Years, is a classic but a bit more academic

    1. 230807 says:

      Ukrainians would undoubtedly welcome the roar of F-16 fighter jets over their roofs as ‘the sound of freedom’. Their government has been lobbying hard to get NATO to supply them.

      And the airmen who are currently practising their ‘activities’ up & down the Moray coast have just returned from deployment to Estonia, where they have been defending Russian incursion into the the airspace above the independent Baltic nations.

      Maye the Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians should follow the North Wales example and fly tethered helium balloons above their houses as a defence strategy.

      1. mark leslie edwards says:

        I remember a boy in my year at primary school whose father was in the air force told me the Russians were going to attack on Christmas Day. I had a bow & arrow, some leftover fireworks, a black widow catapult, a Swiss army penknife all stashed under my bed ready to defend my mother, sisters, house & home. That was 40 odd years ago, so you’ll forgive my cynicism.

  12. Observer says:

    “As a major beneficiary of fossil fuel…wealth”. Pretty much everyone on Earth, and definitely everyone reading this article, is a major beneficiary from the continued, indeed growing, use of fossil fuels worldwide. There’s little sign that the much touted renewables will make a dent in the extraction of every available fossil resource globally- they will merely be a growing percentage of an ever bigger energy pie.

    We will likely all be poorer in real terms soon enough as we need to invest more of our resources to get at the fossil fuels and minerals we need to maintain something like current lifestyles.

    No wonder the rich covet the cool innocence of their Highland boltholes. Perhaps we should grab some of that back for ourselves…

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