While poking at the ordination with a stick, Cipollone pointed to the beech tree pole and the feed the bear was feeding. He used two branches to bring a piece of dirt to his nose. The bear’s digestive system has never done a very thorough job on berries, he explained, when he breathed in the faint aroma of fruit.
“It’s like good wine,” he said proudly. A healthy pile of feces means at least one bear that thrives.
Reviving is not just about saving charismatic animals, like Wouter Helmer, one of the founders of the Netherlands Restoring Europe, really want to show. For him, this practice, which was developed in response to theories about fragmented habitat hazards, is similar to restoring natural processes as well as saving wolves and bears.
Helmer views the wild through a typical Dutch lens in the form of a free flowing river, sedimentation and flooding. “The view should surprise you,” he said. “Give nature a tool to express yourself.” The underlying system deserves to be controlled freely as does the creature attached to its surface.
But Helmer acknowledged that restoring natural processes sometimes requires heavy human hands. Permanently removing selected dykes in the Netherlands so that rivers can flood, for example, can mean weeks of moving the earth using heavy machinery. Even so, nature is not always left entirely on its own device. In one case, the city government who wanted to rebuild the river made an agreement that allowed the brick-making company to return in 10 years to excavate land from the new floodplain.
If this landscape manipulated by humans really counts as being rebuilt, then wild it no longer means what it did when conservationists like Aldo Leopold first fought for the idea in the 1930s. This is no longer a synonym for untouched. The unbroken lineage that connects rivers and animals that walk along their banks to the Pleistocene evolutionary dynamics no longer exists. But thanks in part to the Helmer organization, there is a resurgence of interest in restoring wildness throughout Europe. This new view values ecological systems that act as much as possible beyond human control, even if they are not historically pure.
A few hundred miles away from the Dutch headquarters of Rewilding Europe, Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree are two decades in conservation trials at Knepp Castle Estate in West Sussex. This tying of agricultural ties in south London may seem too successful to support anything wild, and the experiment is filled with questions about whether Knepp soil can really reach that mark: Conservation purists show that humans have substantially changed the shape of land through agriculture since medieval kings hunt down the forest of Knepp. But Burrell and Tree don’t care about puritans.
As explained in his book Tree Wild plantsKnepp’s heavy clay, Burrell family land, was never very suitable for fertile agriculture. There is a reason why the local Sussex dialect has 30 different words for mud. Inspired by the site they visited in the Netherlands, Burrell and Tree wondered if letting the plantation be rebuilt would give them a viable economic future.