Navigating the landscapes of rewilding: a comparative case study of ‘rewilding’ in the Avalon Marshes and Wild Ennerdale
Date: 19 July 2021
University of Exeter
PhD in Sociology
Rewilding is a novel and radical conservation approach and while the concept is a broad one, without any set definition, broadly speaking it focuses on reducing human intervention and allowing natural processes to recover autonomously. This change to the location of agency in landscape, from human to other-than-human, coupled with the ...
Rewilding is a novel and radical conservation approach and while the concept is a broad one, without any set definition, broadly speaking it focuses on reducing human intervention and allowing natural processes to recover autonomously. This change to the location of agency in landscape, from human to other-than-human, coupled with the many ways that rewilding’s lack of a distinct definition allows it to be interpreted, makes it contentious. Opponents see rewilding as a threat to established land use models and the social, cultural and economic systems associated with them. Proponents meanwhile see it as offering a positive and proactive future for environmental protection. As a burgeoning movement rewilding requires, and is generating, considerable research interest. This thesis provides a case study of rewilding in England, examining the boundaries that human and physical landscapes present to rewilding, and how those boundaries are negotiated. A preliminary round of twelve expert interviews was conducted to further understandings of rewilding and to inform the research project as a whole. Subsequently, two field sites, the Avalon Marshes and Wild Ennerdale, were used to conduct a pairwise comparison – stakeholder interviews, visitor questionnaires, and field notes and photographs were conducted at each site. Analysis of the collected data was informed by theories of boundary work, companion species and biopolitics. Particular attention was paid to the way that human and other-than-human boundaries are (re)negotiated with and through rewilding, and to the way that rewilding’s boundaries are negotiated with respect to existing land use. Results demonstrated that ineffective communication was a significant factor in the negotiation of rewilding with its stakeholders. Rewilding was poorly understood and often poorly received, demonstrating failures to consult and engage with publics. Meanwhile, new biopolitical modes are being developed in relation to the other-than-human species involved in rewilding. These new modes of biopolitics can be problematic, especially when they result in changes to the status quo and/or when human and other-than-human interests conflict. This research advances the discourse relating to rewilding, particularly in England. I argue that a distinct form of rewilding is emerging, uniquely tailored to the English context – operating at smaller scale, permitting more human involvement, restricting the involvement of certain species, and, to a certain extent, limiting natural autonomy. This finding assists in furthering the debate about what role rewilding can play in cultural landscapes. More broadly this knowledge can also advance the way we negotiate conservation, land use, and human relationships with the environment and with other-than-human species.
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