Rewilding is a conservation approach that focuses on restoring natural processes. It involves less human management compared to many approaches to managing landscapes including both natural and agricultural areas. Keystone species, those that impact many other species, are fundamental to the success of rewilding, as is the return of wild versions of both plants and wildlife. Although rewilding is often discussed in relation to natural areas there is growing interest in its application within agriculture.
Razzaq et al (2021) examined how climate change increases the strain on global agricultural production systems. Modern crops, which have been domesticated and modified from their wild predecessors, have less resistance to stressors such as drought. Genetic modification has some potential for modifying the domestic crops to increase resistance. However, many of the relevant genes interact with each other. This makes it difficult to meet the same abilities of wild plants through genetic modification of domestic variants.
But what does that really mean? Genes are often connected to each other. We might think of them as a team that works well together. On a team, really any team, there are people taking on different roles, but that doesn’t mean you could pull one person out and have them perform their task the exact same way as they did in the team. They might rely on someone else to get data for them or perhaps to edit their work. If you remove them from the team, they can do their job but they might not be as effective or efficient. The same thing happens with genes. Genes often work together to achieve a result, separate them, or isolate just one and it won’t be able to do the same thing. Rewilding, would include the restoration of natural landscapes that can function with reduced human intervention while still meeting food needs. This is an example of how rewilding may be used to support agriculture as well as conservation.
Lehmann (2021) proposes that we bring rewilding into urban areas. Integrating rewilded spaces through urban planning has had positive impacts on the presence of pollinators such as butterflies and other insects, and birds. Increasing beneficial species and increasing spaces for plants, as opposed to empty fields, have the potential to contribute in meaningful ways to food security. Evans (2021) also examined the role of rewilding in urban spaces and found that the increased biodiversity has the potential to support increased food security. Enabling cities and other urban environments to produce more of their own food locally rather than relying on food from elsewhere.
With any change like rewilding there are potential drawbacks. As one example, rewilding inevitably leads to increased numbers of carnivores which can result in changes to how livestock can be managed. Losses are possible which can decrease productivity (Duckett et al, 2022).
However, while true rewilding involves very little human management, Root-Bernstein et al (2017) propose reintroducing species through human managed herding of wild species. Specifically, they examined guanacos, which are related to llamas, in Chile. Through managed herding the guanacos can actually help restore wild lands resulting in improved food security, increased biodiversity, improved cultural connections, and sustainability.
The answers are not simple, and as Tree details in Wilding: The return of nature to an English farm (2018) there are many barriers and resistances that need to be considered. But, rewilding is one potential path forward to a more resilient food system that could also contribute to restoring biodiversity and reducing the impacts of climate change.