by Tim Bonner

The collapse of the flagship ‘rewilding’ project Summit to Sea in West Wales, has been welcomed by the Farming Union of Wales which saw the scheme as a direct threat to the culture and sustainability of the farming community of upland Wales. I can’t help feeling depressed, however, that so much time, money and passion aimed at restoring nature has been wasted when both those promoting the scheme and those in the farming community who ended up opposing it actually agree on the same goal.

The issue is not that farmers in upland Wales, or elsewhere in the country, don’t want to increase biodiversity and restore nature. It is that firstly such schemes, for all the rhetoric about being community led and community approved, are perceived absolutely as being imposed from outside onto rural communities. And secondly that the language of ‘rewilding’ and its very name assumes that there is no place for farming within it. I have argued and written for years that the concept of ‘rewilding’ will never be accepted by the farming community as long as its name specifically describes an end to agriculture. You can come up with all the clever definitions (and there are dozens) you like for what rewilding is supposed to mean, but you can’t get away from what it actually says.

The ‘rewilders’ are hugely protective of their brand and in fairness it has gained them acres of news coverage and is a hugely popular concept with lots of people who don’t live in the sort of rural communities they think should be rewilded. As we have seen in West Wales, however, in those farming communities it is a truly toxic brand.

To bring rural communities to schemes which will restore nature it is crucial to start by using language which describes a future for them rather than threatening them with extinction. Call it extensive farming, nature friendly farming, conservation farming, in fact call it nearly anything other than rewilding and you will have a chance of getting the farming community to buy in.

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