Reaping the rewards of rewilding
If you've ever been to a natural history museum, perhaps you've walked beneath the mammoth bones of an ancient whale, or defiantly stared a T-rex right in its eye socket. All the while knowing, that if it were alive, you'd probably be in it's belly right now.
It's always boggled my mind that those gigantic beasts used to breathe the same air, drink the same water, and walk through the same spaces where we walk. And now, they just don't exist anymore. Dead. Extinct. The End.
All of life that exists on Earth is part of a carefully balanced system.
As part of that system, some species will eventually be lost to the annals of time. Extinction is a natural part of life.
However, it usually happens over thousands to millions of years, which allows nature to compensate and replace what's being lost.
Now, there's been a couple of mass extinctions over the (millions) of years. Mass extinctions are when huge numbers of species' die out in a comparatively short period of time.
Asteroids, volcanic activity, and global warming have all been bringers of doom for life on Earth. Everyone is familiar with the end of the dinosaurs, but there's been a total of 5 previous mass extinction events where life on Earth has taken a severe hit.
You might not be aware of it, but right now, scientists are fairly certain we're going through a sixth mass extinction.
The current rate of extinction is between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the pre-human background rate of extinction. And so far, over 500 species of land animals have been found to be on the brink of dying out. It won't even take the span of a human lifetime--these animals have an estimated time remaining of about 20 years.
Unfortunately, these declining animal populations are strongly linked to human activity. Climate change, hunting, habitat destruction, and the introduction of invasive species are doing away with many of the Earth's wonderful and varied plants and animals.
So where does rewilding come in?
Rewilding is potentially one way we can slow and halt the loss of species. At its heart, rewilding is about transforming our landscapes back to the way they were before humans started messing with things. And the way to do that?
Basically, leave it be.
One of the main ideas of rewilding is not to do anything in particular. The landscape must be free to shape itself without human intervention. It's up to nature to figure it out.
It might be a killer on the ego, but rewilding requires that we take ourselves out of the equation as much as possible--although there are still some areas where we can lend a helping hand.
One type of rewilding involves the reintroduction of species to areas where they previously roamed. In Yellowstone national park, this has been successfully accomplished with the reintroduction of wolf populations.
Before the wolves were brought back (after being hunted to extinction in the area), large, unchecked populations of elk were overgrazing the area, causing significant ecosystem damage.
After the wolves were brought back, the elk decided to stop using the valleys and areas where the wolves could easily hunt them. This allowed the vegetation in those areas to re-generate. This in turn helped improve biodiversity, by providing food and shelter to a larger variety of plants and animals.
It's kind of a cascade effect - one thing impacts on another, and that change rolls on to impacting something else. Before you know it, you've got a thriving ecosystem that can sustain itself.
Are there any rewilding projects in Ireland?
Dunsany Nature Reserve is the only rewilding project so far in Ireland. Here, they've allowed the land to revert to a natural and untended state. So far, they've seen a 35% increase in bird populations, and they even have a pair of breeding woodpeckers - an animal that hadn't been found in the area for over a hundred years.
From otters to red kites, to barn owls and butterflies, Dunsany reserve is a thriving habitat for animals, plants, and insects.
That's pretty great, but what can I do? Can rewilding be small scale too?
Whether you've got paddocks, a patch of grass, or an apartment balcony, you can make a difference to wildlife. Here's a small selection of changes you might be able to introduce:
Put up a nesting box - this also makes a great gift for the gardener in your life. If you don't have room for this, you can help birds build their nests by leaving out bits of fluff they can use. They go crazy for my chickens' feathers, but wool, straw, dry leaves, moss, and small twigs will be happily taken.
Grow wildflowers - especially ones that are pollinator friendly. Use native species for bonus points.
Get a bug hotel. You can buy cute little wooden structures that insects can tuck themselves away in, or even leave your garden trimmings under hedges. These rot down to provide great areas for bugs to live in.
Let a patch of your lawn go wild - I know this might go against the grain for many of us. There's something about a neat lawn that just appeals to the human brain. Unfortunately it's not so great for biodiversity. Personally I compromise here - I mow my lawns (mostly because my chickens can become ill from eating long grass) but leave the edges to go wild. I also have wildflowers growing, although in future I'll be looking into using natives only.
Put away the pesticides and herbicides! I know the slugs and snails can be annoying, but they perform lots of useful roles, like eating debris and rotting vegetation. They're also an important food source for birds and hedgehogs. If you want to keep them away from your precious plants, try spraying garlic oil or mixing coffee grounds around the base.
That's it for today's blog, I hope I've lit a fire under some of you to get out there any make some changes! I'm now off to collect some of Jane Austhen's plucked feathers. She's a nosy, stressy, loud, and raggedy mess of a hen, but at least the birds benefit!