This perspective piece argues against scientific or public adoption of the term “rewilding,” which the authors view as being generally synonymous with the classical and better-understood concept of ecological restoration. Definitions of restoration are sufficient to encompass practices espoused in rewilding.
Early definitions of restoration describe the practice as “the process of repairing damage caused by humans to the diversity and dynamics of indigenous ecosystems” (Jackson et al., 1995). Although at the time of this definition, restoration science was still developing, it was clear that it had established itself under the broad banner of repairing damaged ecosystems. … More recently, restoration has been defined as “any activity whose aim it is to ultimately achieve ecosystem recovery, insofar as possible and relative to an appropriate local native model (termed here a reference ecosystem), regardless of the period of time required to achieve the recovery outcome” (McDonald et al., 2016) [Hayward 2019: 257].
The term rewilding, which has evolved over time, “was arguably conceived to promote the original authors’ view of conservation via cores [habitats], corridors, and carnivores” [Hayward 2019: 256]. In this early context,
‘rewilding’ referred to conservation and management interventions that focused on reintroducing keystone predators and ensuring that they had sufficient interconnected space to live. The authors emphasized within their original work that rewilding was “one essential element in most efforts to restore fully functioning ecosystems” (Soulé and Noss, 1998). As such, it is clear that rewilding was originally aimed to be a term that referred to one component of ecological restoration [Hayward 2019: 256].
Since then, rewilding has come to refer to practices involving “translocating substitute species to fill vacant ecological niches left by extinct species” [Hayward 2019: 257] or reintroducing locally extinct species, or simply allowing natural succession to occur on abandoned land. Given multiple definitions, all of which relate to the idea of restoration, the term rewilding is seen here as superfluous and confusing.
Given the lack of clear differences between rewilding and restoration in both definition and practice, we see little need for these competing terms within scientific discourse [Hayward 2019: 257].
However, the authors suggest two positive contributions from the rewilding discourse. Because of its overall focus on large fauna, rewilding has captured public imagination and interest in conservation, while also helping to shift a potential vegetation bias among restoration practitioners/scientists toward equal emphasis on the ecosystem role of animals.
Therefore, rather than adopting a new term with copious definitions that lack clarity, this debate can be used as an opportunity to adaptively improve current restoration practice by incorporating a more equal focus between flora and fauna [Hayward 2019: 258].
Because of its overall focus on large fauna, rewilding has captured public imagination and interest in conservation, while also helping to shift a potential vegetation bias among restoration practitioners/scientists toward equal emphasis on the ecosystem role of animals.
Hayward, Matt W., et al., 2019, Reintroducing rewilding to restoration – rejecting the search for novelty, Biological Conservation 233, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320719301351.