Rewilding is the current buzzword in the world of European conservation. A report released at the end of September by the ZSL, BirdLife and EBCC about rewilding Europe was incredibly positive: in fact, of the 18 mammal species surveyed the Iberian lynx was the only one whose population was still in decline. The bison has seen an increase of 3000% in 50 years, the white-tailed eagle population has increased fourfold in 40 years and there are almost 17,000 Eurasian brown bears living within mountainous and forested areas.
Of the 18 mammals examined in the study, only the grey seal, the roe deer and the red deer are thriving in the UK, partly as a B story to neglect and alternative economies. There is hardly ever a positive word in the news about the 500 wild boar that now roam the British countryside (whereas there are 600,000 in Spain and Italy, and over a million in Germany and France), and don’t even get even people started about the folly of the badger cull (actually, get people shouting but that’s not where I’m headed). Whenever someone with an audible voice discusses the possibility of introducing the lynx to this country they get dismissed in the blink of an eye. For more information read this great article by George Monbiot.
I spent most of my childhood in Belgium, a country not known for its abundance in wildlife. I can’t remember ever seeing posters up for conservation groups, activity groups, wildlife-orientated events despite the fact that I was born to parents who both have academic careers working with animals. I would walk around the park behind my house and would only see coots on the lake, or squirrels in the woods. I might have even seen a deer once or twice but that’s it. I remember going to a forest known for its bluebells in May time, and going to the Ardennes for some sports activities but my face-to-face experience with wildlife was fairly limited, as well as time that was spent searching for it. Despite this I was dead set on studying animal behaviour, travelling to do conservation and cherished the memory of when I lived in the states and we visited the wolf centre in northern Minnesota.
Fast forward 8 years, and I have volunteered with conservation initiatives in a variety of countries, am a keen diver and have a fondness and many concerns for British wildlife (a more recent development). I have two brothers who are both also biologists and among the things we have in common is that we love spending time outdoors. Some people preach about their interest and involvement with wildlife from a young age but in all honesty this isn’t me – and it goes to show how much someone who up until 2 years ago never lived in a city without an underground transport system can be turned into someone who passionately cares and finds herself moving further and further away from metropolises.
I spent some time filming my local peregrines over the summer and took my housemate along one evening. She was very excited because she’d never seen a wild peregrine so close before. She said she went into work and told her colleagues about it – people who work in natural history television – and very few were impressed. When another one of my friends announced that she was taking her boyfriend to the Peak District for his birthday she was told that someone in their mid-twenties shouldn’t be out trampling but should be at some gaudy resort in Ibiza getting wasted. ‘Act your age!’ was the resounding order from my seniors.
From personal observation it still isn’t considered ‘cool’ for people in their mid-twenties to spend regular periods outside observing animals in this country or our European neighbours. More people are into outdoor sports, sure, but those people aren’t by extension aware of the wildlife around them. Bird watching groups seem to be dominated by males over the age of 35, and those that are younger as those that are living a passion they have had for many years.
We are the generation that grew up alongside technology – the first ones to have played computer games on floppy disc when we were 6 and are now transferring data via cloud storage servers twenty years later. But more importantly we are the generation whose voices are being heard, matter and can make a difference today. Our dedication for nature and our environment is assumed and events are organised for the kids who are our future. But we are the present, and its not too late. Can we get ordinary 20-somethings involved in the rewilding debate too?