Anklamer Stadtbruch Nature Reserve.
Photo by Johannes Schiller.

By Julian R. Massenberg, Johannes Schiller, and Christoph Schröter-Schlaack.

Read the full article here.

Based on a literature review, we trace the scientific discussion on “rewilding” and derive research needs from a social science perspective. We argue that a holistic view is needed to determine what rewilding can mean for Europe’s cultural landscapes, what potentials exist for sustainable regional development, and how the success of rewilding measures can be verified.

The global loss of biodiversity is ongoing and new forms of nature conservation are being discussed that go beyond the designation of nature reserves or protection of species. Rewilding aims to restore ecological processes so that nature can regulate itself again. Despite it becoming more and more popular in conservation practice, what is exactly meant by rewilding is still debated in science.

An early understanding of rewilding focused on restoring wilderness areas, for example, by prohibiting human interference and reintroducing wildlife, especially large mammals. More recent concepts of rewilding aim to increase the wildness of an area, i.e. natural processes should be restored, but human use should not be excluded. The focus is on developing sustainable management practices that both serve nature and provide a livelihood. In this sense, rewilding does not aim at a particular state of nature, but seeks relative improvement to be shaped together with the local population.

However, the focus on increasing wildness also entails a number of questions, especially from a social science perspective, which we raise in our perspective paper: What can rewilding mean for a cultural landscape that has been shaped by humans for centuries? What potential does rewilding have for reconciling conservation and regional development? What landscapes do people value and what future landscapes do they want to live in? How can we evaluate the success of rewilding if there is no specific target state?

We argue that answering such questions requires research involving ecological as well as human science and also legal experts. Addressing the current blind spots in rewilding research will (i) provide greater clarity in the academic discussion, (ii) help develop an appropriate holistic understanding of rewilding in cultural landscapes, and (iii) provide reliable support for assessing and implementing rewilding in conservation practice.