Scotland Climate action and sustainable development, Communities and society

How can local government seize the momentum of World Rewilding day?


This year’s World Rewilding Day is all about hope: hope for a restored, healthy world where people and nature flourish alongside one another. In this article, Charlotte Maddix, Advocacy Coordinator, Scottish Rewilding Alliance, explores what rewilding might look like for Scottish councils.

Rewilding: it’s a concept that is both unquestionably simple and astoundingly complex. Rewilding, simply put, is the large-scale restoration of nature to the point where it can take care of itself. It can help us tackle the nature and climate emergencies, while creating a cascade of benefits for people. But it also brings into sharp focus the history of our land; who owns it; why it looks the way it does; what we need from it; and how all of those things might change in the future.

I think local government is central to all of these questions.

20th March is World Rewilding Day. This year’s World Rewilding Day is all about hope: hope for a restored, healthy world where people and nature flourish alongside one another. Follow the hashtag #RewildingHope on social media to see what actions people around the world are taking to rewild and restore the land and seas around them. Meanwhile, I’d like to use this space to look at what rewilding might look like for Scottish councils.

What is rewilding and why do we need it?

Rewilding attempts to reinstate natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species – allowing them to shape the land and seas and the habitats within them. Nature in Scotland is, although we don’t always see this, severely depleted – and is continuing to decline. The Scottish Government’s latest Biodiversity Strategy paints a picture of a “deep biodiversity crisis”. There are signs of recovery, but we need sustained and radical action in order to restore Scotland’s natural habitats. Through the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, world leaders have committed to reversing nature loss by 2030 and delivering a nature positive world.

Rewilding offers us a path to achieving this. By adopting rewilding practices across Scotland, we can:

  • Reverse biodiversity loss, helping nature bounce back
  • Help wildlife adapt to climate change by connecting up habitats and allowing species to adapt as climate zones shift north
  • Help society adapt to climate change by, for example, mitigating flooding
  • Support diversified local economies, helping communities prosper through nature-based enterprises and local spending
  • Improve our health and wellbeing through access to wild spaces, cleaner water and breathable air
  • Draw down carbon from the atmosphere – through restoring and protecting woodlands, peatlands, heaths and species-rich grassland, we can sequester millions of CO2

In 2021, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance began calling on the Scottish Government to declare Scotland a Rewilding Nation. We are asking the Scottish Government to commit to working with nature and finding natural solutions to our problems. We want to see 30% of Scotland rewilding, through the restoration of peatland, rivers, woodlands and marine habitats; rewilding acknowledged as a pillar of Scotland’s economic strategy; and rewilding within our communities, from streets to parks to gardens to road verges.

Local government and rewilding

In 2022, Inkcap Journal asked every council in Scotland if they were currently rewilding or had plans to do so. They found that 4 councils are currently rewilding, 2 had plans to rewild and the majority had no plans to rewild. Yet rewilding is popular: a Survation poll we commissioned found that 76% of people in Scotland support rewilding.

Rewilding also provides a multitude of benefits – for the local economy, for communities, for wellbeing. Data released by the Northwoods network of rewilding projects, established by rewilding charity SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, shows hundreds of volunteers connecting with the land through rewilding, jobs being created and the expansion of nature-based businesses. Meanwhile, almost £1 million has already been spent with local suppliers and services since the network launched two years ago.

Finally, it is a route to fulfilling Scotland’s local, national and international obligations when it comes to promoting and restoring our biodiversity. As Scotland strives to become a ‘nature positive’ country, there will be increasing pressure on local governments to ensure that they are doing their part towards the country’s ambitious targets for nature restoration. Nature Networks; protecting 30% of nature by 2030; national and regional parks; sustainable food; adopting nature-based solutions, such as tree planting, peatland and blue carbon habitat restoration – all of these are areas where there are opportunities for councils to deliver.

What does rewilding look like for you?

Rewilding looks different everywhere. Every place, every habitat and every community is different. Councils, too, have different kinds of landholdings and different roles in their local areas.

Some are setting aside former golf courses and post-industrial sites for nature to take hold. Others are restoring their waterways. Some are applying rewilding principles to parks, verges and other plots of land. Urban councils might look to create nature corridors stretching out to their fringes. Councils with larger landholdings might look to spawn more ambitious projects. Local governments can also have an immense influence on their local areas by creating policies that mention or support rewilding. Supporting community groups or landowners interested in rewilding also helps embed rewilding principles across an area.

In Barrhead, East Renfrewshire Council are restoring a stretch of river with the aim of reconnecting it to its natural floodplain. Salmon will be allowed upstream, homes will be protected from flooding and new riverside paths will be created.

North Somerset Council is introducing rewilding across the council area, through tree planting; tall grass areas; and flower meadows.

In Derby, Derby City Council is working with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, the University of Derby and Friends of Allestree Park to develop a community rewilding project. Possible actions to kickstart rewilding on the site include expanding the range of grazing animals, supporting natural regeneration, wetland creation and reintroducing key species.

Seven councils in northern Sydney, Australia, are restoring regionally-present but locally-missing wildlife, benefiting from ecosystem services provided by wildlife and creating opportunities for members of local communities to increase their engagement with nature.

The Municipal Government of Haerbin City in Heilongjiang Province, China, has transformed a dying wetland into a stormwater park in the middle of a new town. The new park collects and filters stormwater, provides a vital native habitat and supplies a recreational space for residents and visitors.

In Northern Spain, the municipality of Errenteria has been delivering a Landscape Action Plan, including the restoration of the river that cuts through the town – it is also now fully walkable and features panels explaining the natural heritage of the area.

Find out more

Read some of the Rewilding Stories on the Scottish Rewilding Alliance’s website here.

Find out more about rewilding on Rewilding Britain’s website here.

Protect Earth and other charities will help councils interested in rewilding land, find out more here.

The Scottish Communities Climate Action Network support community-led action on the climate and nature emergencies, find out more here.

Let us know: what would be helpful for you? What information would help you find out more about rewilding or embedding rewilding into your policies? Get in touch at [email protected]


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