The final blog in our Rewilding blog series draws a poetic yet alarming close to the vital need for rewilding. David Johns speaks about recovery, healing, and the (natural, not artificial) light at the end of the tunnel.


Conservationists are not the only ones that love maps. Governments at every level from spooks and the military to hydrologists, weather forecasters and agronomists rely on them for snapshots of the world and identifying trends. Intentionally and otherwise they can often be beautiful, rivalling the best photography. The capacity of maps to convey information and disinformation is impressive. They have long been used for political purposes, evoking pride, fear, and world views rulers desire to reinforce.


For conservationists maps evoke a range of emotion from the joy and satisfaction of expanded protected territory for a recovering species such as grizzly bears in the Rockies of North America or lions in and around Gorongosa National Park. Maps may show new protected areas as in Southern Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) or the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument (almost 1.3 million km2). They may also show advancing deserts, shrinking rain forests in the Amazon and Congo, declining tiger range in south Asia, ocean acidification and loss of coral reefs, and the spread of livestock grazing.


Photo credit: GSFC

No single map, however, is as striking as one that shows night on Earth and human light… It marks out bright human citadels (that now occupy some of the most productive lands) and murky villages lit only by a generator, or a ship’s lights on the vastness of the high seas.



There is, of course, much that such maps don’t easily reveal such as the plastic awash in the oceans. But maps of human lights do make clear how much humans have intruded on the homes of other species and how enormous the task of reclaiming those homes is. Such maps can make denial and magical thinking more difficult.


Humans have not only targeted large and wide ranging animals for destruction, unravelling critical ecological relationships, but have greatly simplified the world in an effort to remake it in our image. Rewilding is not just about stopping such behavior, but about recovery. It is no longer just the province of scientists concerned with predation or activists concerned with wholes—it has come to shape wildlife and ecological conservation. It provides a sharp focus for human intervention in the service of healing, and helps define the sorts of non-action that allows the natural world to come out of hiding: letting the lights fade or burn out, not making more humans and instead letting our numbers fall, allowing vegetation to erase our many colonial outposts and roads, and the ocean currents to erase the scars of bottom trawling and dissolve lost nets.


Rewilding is a vital necessity for life on Earth.


Rewilding, a part of the Ecological Reviews series, is published by Cambridge University Press and available here.

Read more in our rewilding series:

Getting everyone on board with rewilding by Nathalie Pettorelli

Trophic rewilding: restoring top-down food web processes to promote self-managing ecosystems by Jens-Christian Svenning

Decolonising Rewilding by Kim Ward

Urban rewilding as a collaborative experiment by Cecily Maller

Good fences make good neighbours by Stephen Carver