There is a clear business case to invest in protecting and restoring nature — and rewilding can play a major role.
There’s been lots of recent chatter about rewilding. In the midst of a climate crisis, massively declining biodiversity, decimated ecosystems and thousands of species of wildlife literally dying off, we need answers — and quick. Many environmentalists believe rewilding to be the answer.
Rewilding is the process of restoring natural ecosystems and reintroducing native species to landscapes, areas and regions. Writing on LinkedIn this month, Pooran Desai — sustainable development guru and originator of the One Planet initiative — said that “rewilding is becoming THE most meaningful job out there.” Note his use of capitals.
He is not alone in betting big on rewilding. In the UK, the term has entered the mainstream consciousness in recent weeks thanks to the efforts of environmentalist and financier Ben Goldsmith. After his 15-year-old daughter tragically died in a quad bike accident, he set to work in rewilding his family’s 300-acre estate in Somerset. Goldsmith says letting his hedges grow thick and unruly, re-wiggling his stream to create wetland meadows and natural pools for wildlife, ripping down fences, and replacing his sheep and cows with native longhorn cattle helped him grieve. He explains it all in a brilliant new podcast series and a book, called God Is an Octopus: Loss, Love and a Calling to Nature.
The idea behind rewilding is that allowing nature to reclaim its space enhances biodiversity, restores ecological balance and mitigates the impacts of human activities. However, like any complex environmental strategy, rewilding comes with its own set of pros and cons. Yes, by reintroducing keystone species and allowing ecosystems to function naturally, rewilding can create habitats that support a wide range of flora and fauna. This increased biodiversity can improve ecosystem resilience and enhance ecosystem services.
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Rewilding can help to bring land back to its natural state and rectify the damage we humans have caused over hundreds of years — including deforestation, habitat fragmentation and pollution. It regenerates soil fertility and helps sequester carbon. It can also safeguard endangered species by providing them with suitable habitats for survival and promoting genetic diversity. You only have to look at what’s happened in Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have been reintroduced — helping to re-establish ecological balance and foster co-existence between humans and wildlife.
In Europe, a partnership between Rewilding Europe and Exodus Travels is working to rewild 5,000 hectares of the Italian Apennines over five years by engaging tourists’ help to restore regional biodiversity; and numerous other projects are in motion to reintroduce extinct or endangered species — including the European bison, lynx and beaver — into their natural habitats. In Argentina, jaguars are making a comeback to the Iberá Wetlands. In Africa, the Great Green Wall is a great example of how we can restore degraded landscapes at scale. In the US, organizations such as the Cana Foundation are proving that the use of native plants can restore degraded landscapes, promote biodiversity and boost climate resilience.
As was the case with Goldsmith, rewilding also has a unique capacity to reconnect people with nature and revive cultural traditions tied to the land. “In the aftermath of losing Iris — when everything seemed to be blackness and darkness — I found that my love of nature carried me in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” he says.
However, detractors warn of the social disruption brought about by the practice. Introducing large predators doesn’t go down too well with dairy farmers, for example. Similarly, loggers see more value in trees being lopped than being used as a safe haven for animals.
Rewilding can also lead to land-use conflicts, as it often requires substantial areas of land. Property rights, economic impacts and the cultural values associated with certain land uses are competing concerns that need to be addressed.
While such arguments deserve air time, there is no denying the excitement surrounding rewilding — especially during this decade of climate action and clarion calls to restore critical biodiversity for our own survival. According to a new study in Nature, restoring the world’s wild animal populations could get us 95 percent of the way towards the global target of removing 500 gigatons tons of carbon from the atmosphere and meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“We need to see wild animals as the climate solutions they are, and fully include them in the nature-climate agenda,” says Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. “Putting animals at the center of the climate debate is a powerful political tool to galvanize action. Rewilding animals is something simple, powerful and engaging — and it’s time to get at it.”
So, what’s all this got to do with business? Well, while rewilding is associated with conservation organizations and government initiatives, brands can play a crucial role in supporting and driving efforts. Of course, national regulations are already encouraging firms to integrate biodiversity impact into their accounts. Rewilding efforts at scale could contribute significantly to meeting the targets set out in the Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted by more than 100 countries that promise to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
The practice could also support supply-chain resilience — helping to protect the long-term availability of important natural ingredients and resources, such as timber and coffee. “We need to ensure that companies account for wildlife impacts when making climate claims,” Hurowitz asserts. “Beef companies shouldn’t say they’re ‘green’ if they buy from ranchers who slaughter wolves.”
Of course, brands can play their part by funding and sponsoring rewilding projects — which often require substantial funding. By collaborating with conservation organizations, government agencies or local communities, companies can combine their resources and influence with the expertise of different stakeholders to achieve shared conservation goals.
And isn’t it time for brands to use their creative clout to raise awareness about rewilding and the importance of conservation — highlighting success stories, and getting customers and employees excited about what’s possible to inspire broader support?
Rewilding is a trend that shows no sign of waning. There is a clear business case to invest in protecting and restoring nature — and rewilding can play a big role.