The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is the right global initiative at the right time, and urgently needed as we face the prospect of global ecological tipping points – or a Hothouse Earth - driven by our overexploitation of nature, the rapid acceleration of climate change and overconsumption.  Although we today know that intact, high-functioning ecosystems provide the best defence against climate change, already 30 years ago ecologists identified the need for “rewilding” the Earth for restoring biodiversity. However, it’s only during the last few years that the idea of rewilding has moved into mainstream conservation, and now even politicians in countries like the UK are referring to the need for rewilding.

In his latest Netflix “A Life on our Planet“, Sir David Attenborough highlighted the critical importance of rewilding for the future health of our Planet: “So, what do we do? It’s quite straightforward. It has been staring us in the face all along. To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity, the very thing that we’ve removed, it’s the only way out of this crisis we’ve created – we must rewild the world.”

The second “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”, launched in December 2017 and signed by more 15’000 scientists around the world, included “rewilding”. Among its’ 13 “diverse and effective steps humanity can take to transition to sustainability” were large-scale ecosystem restoration, especially of forested landscapes, and “rewilding regions with native species, especially apex predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics.”

So, what’s so special about “rewilding” and how does it relate to “restoration”? To say it briefly, all “rewilding” is also “restoration”, but not all restoration is “rewilding”. The main difference is that rewilding aims for resilience in nature without human intervention.  Restoration, on the other hand, refers to a wide spectrum of activities such as erosion control, reforestation, removal of non-native species and improving degraded farmland and agricultural systems – efforts often requiring regular human intervention.

Ranger joining rewilding and restoraion in Australia
Uunguu Ranger Terrick with a Northern Quoll. The marsupial carnivore, with a very unique biology, play an important role in rewilding the northern ranges of Australia. Photo: Mark Jones, Bush Heritage Australia

As expressed by the Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth: Rewilding means helping nature heal. Rewilding means giving space back to wildlife and returning wildlife back to the land, as well as to the seas. Rewilding means the mass recovery of ecosystems and the life-supporting functions they provide. Rewilding is about allowing natural processes to shape whole ecosystems so that they work in all their colourful complexity to give life to the land and the seas.

Rewilding is also about the way we think. It is about understanding that we are one species among many, bound together in an intricate web of life that ties us to the atmosphere, the weather, the tide, the soils, the freshwater, the oceans, and all living creatures on the planet.

The rewilding concept has been nicely expressed by Rewilding Britain. «Nature has the power to heal itself and to heal us, if we let it. That’s what rewilding is all about; restoring ecosystems to the point where nature can take care of itself and restoring our relationship with the natural world. Reconnecting with what matters. Rewilding is hope for the future.»

Rewilding is the wilder twin of restoration. One can also call it the ‘gold standard’ of nature restoration, countering three global crises at the same time: biodiversity extinction, climate change, and viral pandemics. Or, as expressed by the subtitle of the Rewilding Charter: “Advancing nature-based solutions to the extinction and climate crises.”

To protect and restore back to a wild state - rewild - is an imperative for biodiversity conservation. “Protecting intact ecosystems is humanity’s most cost-effective defence against climate change and the loss of biodiversity and may also prove to be the most cost-effective way of meeting many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals”. That’s the background for the Global Rewilding Alliance’s tagline: Protect.Restore.Rewild.

 When the Global Rewilding Alliance started in 2020, we learned quickly that rewilding was even more widespread than we anticipated and was being practiced in all regions of the world, by many. Within a few months more than 100 organizations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, North America and globally, networking with 3,300+ additional partners, had signed the Charter and joined the Alliance…and we had barely begun! Together, these members practice conservation on more than 100 million hectares of land and sea in over 70 countries.

And we became a proud “Restoration Implementer” partner of the UN DECADE , fully subscribing to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean”.

Just as is the UN Decade, “rewilding” is an idea whose time has come.  A critical mass is building up to actively prevent further destruction of our Planet and to participate in rebuilding the diversity and beauty that only intact nature can provide. That’s why we decided to annually celebrate the World Rewilding Day on 20th March - the solar Equinox.

Please join us!

Vance G. Martin                          Magnus Sylvén                            Karl Wagner

of the Global Rewilding Alliance ([email protected])