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City Rewilding

Featured image: Hawk feather on spruce © Rowan Kilduff

By Rowan Kilduff 

Preamble

Why rewilding? Why cities? What is our full responsibility here? 

Rewilding is a way to put the balance back in favor of wild nature, which is also our life-support system. To rewild means to give space for native ecosystems, to bring back native biota and to leave it alone and let life do what it does best. To rewild means to realise full interdependence and autonomy (of all of us). Rewilding is not costly, and it is a very easy idea to put into practice — give space, let it grow and re-wild in its own time, by its own terms; we recognise the autonomy of the wild / nature, in so doing we recognise our own. We do this for everyone and for all coming generations.

Introduction

This plan is for a small city in the East part of the Czech Republic, within view of Beskydy mountains (part of the Alpide Belt). The city is surrounded by forests, and there are some wooded parts where I live with my family. There is one protected area here, and we have a lot of wildlife including hawks, kestrels (on the antenna across from me), a beaver, deer, squirrels (visit us at home), owls (Eagle Owl flies by just after sunset), a wide array of small birds like chickadees, also red and green woodpeckers, hare, field mice, shrews, vipers (I’ve seen one in the countryside just outside the city), and many more. Do we need rewilding here? Yes, we need to protect all this that we have because the machinery does not stop and anytime this could all be built over. Firstly, we protect and defend, and secondly we rewild where we can. 

To make a rewilded city will show all the people in this country, and in others, what we can really do and how it is much easier than we sometimes think. I imagine grassroots rewilding projects in cities all over, connecting together and supporting each other, and by doing so we are also rebuilding communities at home and interconnecting them across the world. In these times, we need this support. We will also reach the top governments but that’s not where to start, remembering individual and community responsibility, we start everything at home — where it matters.

Everyone waking, reconnecting with natural cycles.

We live a multi-dimensional life — the patterns of organic energy at work in city and wilderness the same, but much easier to see and feel in ‘free nature’ — we have to re-learn seasonal cycles, daily cycles, our own body cycles and the planetary cycles. Rewilding cities is not what some people think — that it means ‘designing’ — in the same way I don’t look at large-scale rewilding as designing either, to design it we would need to clearly understand it and we don’t understand these wild systems, we are learning from them. To rewild a city we will pour over maps and plans, go out and walk the land and feel it, talk to the people, look at where and how children play, take note of where the deer trails go, and then we just set aside places. We start small, and add to it. 

We continue to learn from / with these wild systems, from all these energy-exchanges — the sun, the air, the waters, the forests… we are all one big energy-exchange, there is no part that is not connected to all parts. 

Two approaches can be considered: the first is that we just leave an area (of any size) to rewild itself fully and completely with no help from us at all; the second is that we re-plant native trees, grasses, plants and reintroduce the real natives (e.g. here that would be easier as many are coming back on their own, this country needs to focus on native trees, fighting drought, protecting watersheds and promoting good water use, bringing back more large predators in mountainous areas and extending protected areas with added buffer zones; re-education about raptors, bears, wolf packs, lynx will be important as well as a focus on bees and all pollinators and the health of micro-ecosystems right here in the city).   

An example of rewilded city space: from home I see one place that could work, it is a green space with maple and some fruit trees, there is a small playground near the path, and people don’t use the grassy space. It could be used for picnics and other forms of recreational, but people stay to the paths, and my family is the only one I’ve ever seen having a picnic there. It can be 200m squared or so, and has both re-meadowing or re-foresting potential — both kinds of re-wilding would add a lot. By just re-planting more native species there, not in a mono-culture plan, but in the way that trees grow naturally — a lot and close together at first at the base of the parent tree. Fences can protect saplings for the first years, but also with rewilding we want the animals to go as they will, so this is a practical step we will have to make and it does affect the way in which we keep to the rewilding principle with which we set out. Both of our new micro-wildernesses, meadows and forests, including essential corridors (for all types of life), will need protection and these will be no-go areas for people. Perhaps this will be a difference between rewilding a mountain and a city, because there really will not be the space for people to go to the city. In my experience with one protected river with no real protection, people make fires, they leave a lot of plastic, and mountain-bikers use the steep trails.

This river called Lučina, meaning ‘grassland’ is seen as independent, but the river is a lifeline in the land and is affected by all action around it. River protections should include wider protections on the land on both sides, and protection really requires that we take a wider and truer view of what a river is. [1]

Lucina has a new beaver and also a lot of plastic in it. A strip of trees lines the bank, and there’s a meadow which is cut by tractors throughout the summer; putting more tree cover on the meadows would help protect the waterway. People need to know what it means to have a protected river right there by the city and what a wilderness area really is, whatever the size.(1)

Rowan and son doing forest work in the protected region © Rowan Kilduff

Rowan and son replanting a logged over area near the protected region © Rowan Kilduff

Now I will add quickly my reworking of Norwegian mountaineer, philosopher, and activist Arne Naess’ ‘Basic Norms (Ns) and Hypotheses (Hs)’. Rewilding and realisation go together.

An ethic or practice comes about in the real life of people, in heart and mind; in community. This is how rewilding will work. 

  • ‘!’ reads as action; full stops show affirmations.
  • ‘Self’ is the big ‘Self’ with a capital ’S’. Full Realisation! or Entire Realisation! as I take it, means on all levels with all actions and interactions included, all people / communities included. ‘People’ is in a wider definition (eg. ‘Standing People’: trees). All points are works-in-progress.
  • N1: Self-Realisation! 
  • H1: Individual Self-Realisation is in practice / action, not only in mind and expanded awareness.
  • H2: Practice / action takes place in place and in community. There really is no other life (even a desert sage or lone mountain man is part of community; all the life in plain sight).
  • H3: There is no me / community / place, 
  • H4: Isolated Realisation / liberation / freedom / ‘good life’ must be illusory.
  • H5: We are part of communities in nature, incl. trees, mountains, rivers, and all wild beings. 
  • N2: Entire (including all) Realisation! 
  • H6: Wild beings are already Fully-Realised, ‘self-complete’; all their actions celebrate; interdependent with pure mind / action.
  • C: Learn from The Wild! how to live.

It follows that we must be Protectors of the Wild.

This has to be clear.

The Wild is integral to an open future.

Points from the Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth

The ecosphere is based on relationships

Rewilding our hearts and minds is fundamental. Thus, a crucial first step toward widespread societal embrace of rewilding is to accept, celebrate, and activate the principle of “relationship,” the essential function and ethic that sustains life on Earth. 

Working at nature’s scale

Natural systems operate at many scales continuously. Similarly, global rewilding efforts can work place by place, incrementally and at various scales to rebuild wildlife diversity and abundance and allow natural processes, such as disturbance and dispersal, to create resilience in natural and social systems. 

Taking the long view

To ensure sustained positive effects on biodiversity and quality of ecosystem services (such as carbon storage), rewilding efforts must be planned and implemented with a long-term perspective. 

From Appendix A

  • Urban dwellers: Recognize the comeback of wild nature and wildlife for all of society, and see rewilding as an opportunity to experience wilder land- and seascapes and enjoy the abundance of wild animals roaming freely. 
  • Local, regional, and national governments: Actively adopt rewilding as a tool for enhancing ecological services linked to water provision, drought reduction, defense against flooding, and carbon sequestration/storage, with the overall potential of reducing the biodiversity and climate change crises. 

Published in The Ecological Citizen Vol 4 Supplement A 2020 

Rewilding gives us

  • cleaner air
  • healthy ecosystems, meaning healthy people
  • protected watersheds, free rivers
  • long-range planning potential
  • freedom from flawed socio-economic / political structures so that we can act truly for universal benefit with working altruism and non-profit aims
  • more protected areas for wild animals, more corridors for apex predators
  • more area for diverse forest, for replanting native trees
  • a practical way to teach our children and coming generations what really matters, to define our highest values and how to live in peace with our environment, with the land, with all life and how to use non-violent (ahimsa) communication in every part of our lives.
  • a clearer view on how much space we take up, versus how much we need, and by giving more space to the wild, to nature and natural communities, we force ourselves to think more creatively about how we design future cities to fit a sky-rocketing population. There is a big chance that our growth will level out when we give the right amount back to wild nature. 
  • a new respect for our wild brothers and sisters of every kind
  • a chance to really continue to live here for a long time to come

Plan for rewilding our city / cities

  • Protect and keep wild the parts that are already wild — forested or wooded areas.
  • Simply stop cutting healthy trees that are ‘in the way’ and start planting more
  • use our green areas, and enrich them — there are many places where we can do this, and its easier than it sounds.
  • Include micro-wilderness of any size; micro and macro are all important — 10m2 can work, as can a back garden, a field, a grassy space between buildings, it is only about planting a lot and letting it grow.
  • Stop making new service roads in forested or wooded areas.
  • Recognise and respect natural corridors i.e. for wildlife (not only to avoid car collisions, but for the wildlife themselves to follow natural trails).
  • Respect raptor populations (more protections, not only for golden eagles, but all of them as essential to healthy working ecosystems), be ready to welcome them — we are lucky that they are naturally returning. They only need us to not damage the environments they rely on.
  • Leave meadows in parts of the city; they are micro-wilderness for essential pollinators and are part of the butterfly corridors which need protection and should not be mowed each month in summer. Areas to be cut can be done by hand, workers will stay employed and there will be job opportunities in rewilding — reforestation, afforestation, river clean-up, education programmes); beehives (goes hand in hand with the meadows, wildflowers left intact.
  • Build bat shelters and protect these populations, which get little respect.
  • Create micro-wilderness areas that are now green areas, largely unused for recreation, secure these areas so that they will not be built over in the future because these grass areas are treasures in the city. They can be made into wilderness microcosms, examples of rewilding that will take place on a very large scale all over the planet if we are to protect life.

Concept: unfenced unmanaged rewilded areas in the city, between buildings, next to playgrounds, on any green area; native trees and plants; increased space for birds (creating a healthier fuller soundscape); increased health and well-being of people as a result; for practical reasons these areas will be mapped and bordered and will be unconnected islands but on a whole will add to global rewilding efforts

Private groups, NGO’s , and local government will work together on every step.

There must be a long-term commitment without end that will be established in the country’s and in local constitutions and personal mission statements to rewild, to protect, to act not only for us now but for all coming generations (of all species); the areas rewilded in this and future generations must stay — we have to learn to trust nature and nature’s cycles letting these ecosystems regenerate by themselves organically by our non-action and non-management and letting all wild beings live according to their terms. Then they can be called free wild beings, and we too can start to learn how to live here — not only sustainably (the buzz word today) but joyfully and with wonder 

  • encouraging rooftop gardens and using balcony space to max. efficiency will also connect people to their individual responsibility (to take care of trees and plants, and to do their part in carbon capture)
  • encouraging lifestyles with a deep ecological conscience in place of current consumerism and materialism now driving our world. This will go a long way to redirect people to peace-making and peace-keeping (the ecological, peace, and social justice movements are all connected as one really)

Forested cities will be examples for all the other cities, rewilded areas will be an example of what we can do when we see clearly what is important and go beyond this generation and our lives to benefit all the coming generations way down the line that we can only imagine. ‘Nature Needs Half’, ‘Half Earth’, and the original Earth First! map of possible rewilding and new protected areas is just a good start, rewilding this city, these cities is a way to welcome the wilderness home, to realise we already share the rooftops with kestrels and hawks that circle over, and deer that run across the roads, and squirrels come to visit… there is no separation between wilderness out there and urban non-wilderness here, this is not how it is — where does our water come from? From the mountains. Everything we have comes from nature we are not separated from nature. Bringing back more wild places — bringing back trees and animals to the city — brings this realisation of our ever-present connection with wild free nature into our everyday life, and this connection is not only in heart and mind, but in very practical terms — it keeps us alive.

More angles

  • respect for raptor populations (more protections, not only for golden eagles, but all of them as essential to healthy working ecosystems)
  • deer corridors 
  • butterfly highways (in Canada, why not here?)
  • bat shelters
  • beehives, they go hand in hand with the meadows where wildflowers are left intact
  • awareness of tropic cascades, such as how whales help create phytoplankton and how wolves can change the course of a river
  • the value and importance of having predators like raptors in a city
  • as we extend this rewilding to surrounding mountains and forests we have to remember that the large carnivores (bears, lynx) have effects on the ecosystem, including the tree growth and carbon sequestering in a region, and even the stability and health of the watershed
  • city food gardens, ‘dry gardens’, permaculture, awareness of water use, growing our own food; a country should be able to support its population with food, water, basic electrical needs
  • education programmes: about interdependence of life, about where water comes from, about health and healthy ecosystems, about deep ecological principles and practices, about protecting wilderness and getting out there to experience and love it and continue to be energised by it to engage in necessary activism
  • connect rewilding projects in many countries

This picture shows rewilding potential, and it is clear we here live on the edge. It can tip both ways so we can take this as a great opportunity to bring where we live more into the green, supporting wilder areas in our region with our healthier rewilded cityscape and creating buffer zones to give greater protection to the movement of animals in and around the mountains and forests.

While at first, city rewilding might not seem as important as expanding mountainous protections and National Parks, it will have a good effect on wild populations, water integrity and drought prevention, as well as on the mindset of people living in the cities who will start to view forest and wilderness as home.

It can only support further expansions of protected region borders, establishment of working practical migration corridors, and a change in thinking about logging practices today, the need for more service roads, and the use of nature for recreation (mountain biking, skiing, etc.) when many places are best left as they are.

There is further potential for starting agroforestry, and giving incentives to entrepreneurs in this new-old area, which can create a buffer to the buffer zones. Imagining our city going South-East: rewilded cities, surrounding forest and meadows with natural corridors, agroforestry, local self-supporting communities, buffer zones, i.e. wide spaces with no development and minimum and zero human activity, mountainous protected areas. Cities can be good training for this, using some areas for skateparks, trails bike playgrounds, and yet respecting the areas left to go wild. 

Twenty-seven percent of the planet (excluding Antartica) is already protected, wild. There is the 2050 goal for rewilding, and there is a push to protect 23 percent more by 2030 because of expanding population, runaway urban plans and roads long enough to encircle the Earth six times by 2050. Now is the best time to already keep wild areas wild and to rewild every place we can.   

Additional – plain talk 

In a webinar I got to ask David Suzuki about rewilding (Canadian-Japanese scientist, long-time environmental activist, ‘a world leader in sustainable ecology’; note: —he learned from Indigenous Elders: that there is no environment out there – we are the environment and we must protect it. DSF; Webinar, May 2020) and his answer was this.

David: We have created a crisis in the atmosphere and however smart we think we are it is going to be nature that is going to scrub the excess carbon dioxide, and methane and so on, out of the atmosphere, (and) that no amount of technology is going to be able to do what nature can do… 

Well, you know, the one mistake I made in the film looking at it now — I quote— (Tara laughs and says ‘just one’) she says ‘one’ (laughs), was saying that we had pounds of plastic in our bodies… it will be quite a few grams.. I don’t know, it should be obvious, and I’d like to emphasise now the fact that we are an urban creature: 85 percent of Canadians live in pretty concentrated urban settings, and we act as if, well, there are parks out there where we can go camping, and we don’t need nature. Well, you know, the simple thing is: you think you’ve somehow extricated yourself from nature just because you’ve created an urban setting? I like to tell children in Toronto, talk to them, because I ask them — when you turn on the tap to drink water, where does the water come from? Well, they don’t know. And I say, well it comes from Lake Ontario — this great lake that you have here. Well, that’s exciting. Then I say: when you flush the toilet, do you know where that goes? And they don’t know. Well, it goes — first of all it’s filtered with all the stuff and then it goes into holdings ponds and nature tries to reduce it to fairly clean water, and — then it goes back into lake Ontario!

Then they begin to — oh! They begin to understand the fact that we’re still a part of nature and dependent on it, (and) that’s the simple lesson, and I always find the story that I did recount in the film — about the path of one breath of  air — to realise that we’re not separate from the atmosphere, the — you know — it’s deeply embedded in our bodies, it’s  circulating through our bodies and it’s always a part of our bodies, and the idea then that we can use air as a toxic dump — and somehow not worry about that — that’s mind-boggling when you, when you realise that the extent to which we are a part of the atmosphere so, y’know I’d like people to  understand — even in the most urban of settings — you’re water is being filtered as it goes through the hydrologic cycle; your food, it comes to us because life creates the soil on which we grow our food; all of the energy in our bodies comes from the sunlight captured by plants: in photosynthesis — we are still absolutely embedded in, and dependent on nature for our survival. 

Me: Of course, he’s right because we in cities should always see a city as part of wilderness / nature (everything is nature, so we can use ‘wilderness’ here to be more clear), so by getting through that invisible but powerfully defining barrier i.e. that city / wilderness are completely different worlds, even antagonistic to each others survival or health (more so in the case of cities built over wild free nature, but also when we flip it to think of how to give more space to wilderness to come back without it being seen as threatening to ‘our place’), we can really see that the city, the people live as part of nature, of the environment, the interdependent ecosystems and the geological regions. When we really do ask: where does our water come from when we turn on the tap and where does it go? it makes us stop and wonder how we ever could have thought that we live independently. The air is a good example too. The bioregion — without it having to come across as anarchistic or about decentralisation as the main point of focus — gives us a better framework, a better map with which to plan how we build, how we move in a region, how we plant, how we think about watersheds, forests, animal corridors and cultural and native lands. So, my thinking is that we can hit people with these kinds of questions, a place-specific bioregional quiz that will get them seeing a bigger picture where there is no independent people and place, no self-sustaining city, no city that is not working because of the land, the flow of energy – water – air – etc from the mountains, rivers, forests and then go a step more and push for responsible living as ‘plain citizens’ of all this, and with a more realistic and practical realisation we can get more people thinking that having kestrels and deer in the city, and rewilding parts of these cities where practically possible is a good thing, and will add to all our lives in so many ways. It will set up a new way of looking at how we live for people who have maybe not yet thought about this, and so give a better chance to future generations. That’s right at the heart of this rewilding project. That’s a way to get it started.  

Listening to Ms. Shelby Perry saying ‘’there’s no old-growth so let’s make some!’’ on the Rewilding Earth podcast, I realized that there are so many of us out there and by connecting together more we can support all these projects in communities across the world, focusing on home and taking full responsibility for home and inspiring more communities to do the same. That’s the wider movement (clearly said by Gary Snyder and Nanao Sakaki), and in these times of protest against the big corporations and ‘people in power,’ we can focus our best energy back home, starting with realising our individual responsibility and contribution to both the problems and solutions, not forgetting for an instant that we are all connected. We are all creating this place and these times. For the youth, I want to just add this message — if all the people who are out protesting would be putting also their energy into planting trees, cleaning up rivers and cities, changing ways of being, and bringing back wilderness while also protecting and defending what needs to be defended, then that will be a movement to see. 

And what about making old-growth right where people live, not way off the trail in the wilderness? And what about protecting our rights to clean air, water, to good healthy food and a home, to work that is both ethical and meaningful, to cities full of life (on all levels), and to a long, long life that extends way beyond all those generations to come who will really enjoy the trees and the wilderness and the rivers and all the life.  

Postscript

Rewilding work will continue long after we can plan, it will continue on without us taking part in it at all — and that’s the point. How much easier it is knowing where we are and what we’ve got to do.

_______________________
NOTE
[1] The river Te Awa Tupua in New Zealand has the same legal rights as any human being. The entire river system and all its elements has legal standing, and is not owned, because of the long fight by the Māori. To protect a river is to protect the river back to its source, including the mountains, cloud and wind systems, the whole cycle. To give a river citizenship in one country gives it the international right to be recognised as one of the people of Planet Earth — Te Awa Tupua is not a single river, it is part of the land, the sky, and it is all rivers and all waters, so the entire complex system has just gotten the same rights — though people have not made this connection yet. This is the big view. When we protect a river, we have to change the way we live on the land surrounding it and all along that river.

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