Friday, 18 December 2015

A thought experiment in the Highlands

Much ink has been spilled over the merits and flaws of rewilding. It is a concept which I have come out in support of multiple times before, though I take issue with many of the claims and arguments made by some so-called "rewilders". One of the main points of disagreement between advocates and opponents of rewilding has been as to what impacts simply letting nature reassert itself would have. Some people say that it would be negative, that human activities are necessary for the preservation of our ecosystems, while others say that it is unquestionably a positive, that can only serve to better our wildlife. Both of these positions are of course extremes, and most people lie somewhere in between, but they give a  general idea of what the sides are. To actually answer the question is a difficult if not impossible task, as it would depend on a wide variety of factors. Whether reintroductions are considered a necessary part of rewilding, for instance, completely changes what results said process would have. In this post, I will indulge in a thought experiment of sorts, centered on the British highlands: What if all farming along with most other human activity everywhere in the uplands was stopped, and deer numbers were heavily culled and kept at bay. No reintroductions, no direct action aside from the culling, just a complete ceasing of all activities in the highlands. I do not actually advocate this scenario, nor do I find it remotely plausible, but it offers some idea of what the outcome of one extreme form of rewilding would be. As we will eventually see, it also shows why reintroductions are in fact necessary for rewilding and habitat restoration in the long term, and that "grazing bad, trees good" is not always true.

The British highlands as they appear today, beautiful but lifeless