Dave Raffaelli (University of York), 26 Oct. 2016:

Rewilding: sound ecology or a popular movement?

Rewilding is enjoying considerable popular interest in Europe and North America as a means for restoring damaged or lost landscapes and ecosystems as well as re-introducing iconic species. At one end of the spectrum, rewilding (or simply wilding) concerns relatively uncontentious “traditional” management options and at the other end is the much more novel and controversial reintroduction of locally/recently lost taxa, especially large herbivores and carnivores, and of exotic analogues of species long extinct. Rewilding is a compelling idea for powerful voices in the conservation community: it is an exciting prospect for those seeking a pro-active approach to conservation. But the underlying rationales and motivations for such restorations are complex, ranging from compelling ecological and conservation principles to more emotive, aesthetic and philosophical arguments. In this talk I pose the questions: Is rewilding grounded in sound ecological science? To what degree are other motivations involved, including a visceral yearning for the sublime, a desire to experience wilderness, or simply guilty hang-ups about extinctions? Finally, does any of that matter if rewilding becomes simply a societal choice? If it does, how should ecological scientists respond?