The term “rewilding” surfaced in 1990 as a process of reintroducing keystone species and top predators. This introduction proved a successful means for increasing ecosystem value and conserving diversity with Yellowstone National Park – a once desolate area – is now an oasis of life, providing a model example of the ecosystem benefits rewilding can provide.
Rewilding means a variety of things to different people and encompasses a range of activities. But it is becoming a commonly used term throughout society. However, one word with multiple definitions makes it increasingly difficult for people not involved to understand.
With rewilding being a topic of research for professors and students alike, there has been an increased focus on how it can be introduced on college campuses. Prof John Parnell, the dean of the Ground and Gardens Committee and a professor at Trinity’s School of Botany, details how “Trinity is becoming a more biodiverse campus and is a process that is certain to be continued with”.
Dr Marcus Collier, an assistant professor of botany, has carried out extensive work on nature-based solutions, currently focusing on social-ecological systems, the human-nature interface and novel ecosystems. Explaining the different categories under which rewilding can fall Collier says: “Rewilding can be taken from 3 main angles, which are all different sciences in themselves.”
With rewilding being a topic of research for professors and students alike, there has been an increased focus on how it can be introduced on college campuses
The most commonly known angle involves the re-introduction of individual meso or megafauna such as bison or lynx. While there is some truth to the arguments against these practices, these introductions have generally occurred in more isolated areas and interactions, if any, are inconsequential.
Secondly, Collier highlights the process of allowing areas of land to revert back to their original state, recreating what was once there, with minimal management involved. Finally, he explains, is the human-nature interface, an area where traditional ecological knowledge is crucial. Throughout each area, a multidisciplinary approach is required for ensured ecological success.
While Collier explains that each process is dependent on the environment of the location being rewilded, The University Times further investigates two very different rewilding situations; an urban island site and a rural agricultural site.
Parnell’s passion for rewilding shines through as he describes what the location of Trinity’s campus means for biodiversity. He explains how Trinity campus – an island site with high levels of foot traffic – differs in terms of rewilding in comparison to a rural landscape. “In the centre of the city, we are in a situation where the best thing to do to achieve a higher biodiversity involves planting mixed species.”
Throughout each area, a multidisciplinary approach is required for ensured ecological success
Trinity’s primary focus lies with increasing biodiversity across campus throughout all seasons and follows the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, developed by Prof Jane Stout, as closely as possible in order to do so.
The wildflower garden planted and low-trafficked areas across campus have been introduced with only native species being used. Parnell says: “As the first in Dublin city centre, we have every plan to continue to do so while hoping to encourage and influence an increase in urban rewilding projects.”
However, with biodiversity in focus, a mixture of non-native and native species supports an increased diversity of wildlife, expanding the year round offering. The introduction of non-native species across campus occurs in appropriate areas such as the broadwalk bed, the rose garden and Botany Bay with a variety of species.
Parnell notes that there are also challenges that can occur when trying to ensure the success of rewilding on campus. “The low soil fertility on the main campus makes it surprisingly difficult to get trees to establish and the non-native Gingko trees offer pollinator resources when it’s not clear that native species would do so”.
“As the first in Dublin city centre, we have every plan to continue to do so while hoping to encourage and influence an increase in urban rewilding projects.”
The Gingko tree was the most suited choice for an area of high tourist attraction. Not only is Gingko biloba an amazingly resilient species, surviving multiple climate shifts and the remaining only species of its division, but it displays extraordinary colour, interesting fruits and leaves making it aesthetically pleasing and carries a fantastic story which an array of schools across the college can tie into.
Collier further supports this, explaining that “when it comes to native and non-native species, rewilding becomes complex. It is location specific”. In Ireland, if what we consider native is solely from the last glaciation, the biodiversity is low – and especially in cities, we can afford to plant non-native species that will support a wider scope of pollinators and other animals.
“For example, the buddleia is non-native and invasive, but it provides a source of nectar which otherwise might be absent in our native plants”.
However, perhaps the most incredible examples of rewilding can be found just outside Trinity’s gates.
Parnell believes Dublin parks, Trinity, residential gardens, indoor areas and any area that supports wildlife need to collectively come together in order for these rewilding in urban areas to fully enhance the benefits of isolated projects
Randal Plunkett, a nature conservationist and animal activist, has transformed around 750 acres of agricultural land into a biodiversity haven at Dunsany estate, Co. Meath. The history of Dunsany is a long ancient one, with a phenomenal story, supporting small patches of Ireland’s ancient forests.
Plunkett, who was initially producing a post-apocalyptic film, was inspired to begin his rewilding project on his own formerly agricultural land. With method acting driving him to bring his idea to life, he removed people from the equation, carried out minimal, if any management to the land, allowed water accumulation and recognised his creation of his own form of conservation.
Plunkett says: “[When] Trinity became involved, data accumulation meant science could back up what was going on here.”
Facts are founded on the ideas of scientific research and as rewilding is an understudied science in Ireland, Plunkett’s estate provides a unique situation in Ireland’s landscape, one which could be used as a baseline and for future frameworks for rewilding schemes and evaluating the ecological outcomes of such practices in Ireland.
Clare Lynn, a final-year student of botany, has been involved with data collection at this site carrying out vegetation surveys of the grasslands associated tree growth. Lynn – with Dr Stephen Waldren as supervisor role in her thesis – plays a key link in the chain of rewilding science.
Importantly, Lynn remarks, “it’s never an exact science. It will always evolve”.
A shift from “greening” to “rewilding” is creating a greater area of employment, research and investigation for individuals from all backgrounds. A major sector involves eco-tourism, agricultural land and produced goods from rewilding areas fill a niche market for nature-based economy. “We need an increase in collaborative rewilding” states Collier.
This was supported by Parnell’s perspective. Parnell believes Dublin parks, Trinity, residential gardens, indoor areas and any area that supports wildlife need to collectively come together in order for these rewilding in urban areas to fully enhance the benefits of isolated projects. Such an area could include planting a few seeds on your very roof or windowsill. Rewilding doesn’t have to be expensive.
So the next time you are about to mow your lawn, think, as the famous lyrics go: “Let it be”. After all, what issue could possibly be attached to a few more wildflowers brightening our day or some long grass in our uncut garden? More importantly, what benefits could it bring?