destroyed landscapes is perhaps this deeper work that rewilding asks of us: to remember who we are, to step back into the family.
Hyperkeystone Species It is a curious thing that many of the species we have exterminated here are those that play key roles in regeneration, keystone species that have a disproportionately large effect on their environment. Keystone species create habitat for other species, and a key part of the rewilding process is reintroducing them where they have been lost.
But there is one species of an even higher order of influence – an influencer of influencers. It is of course, Homo sapiens. It could be said that we are a hyperkeystone species, driving complex interaction chains by affecting other keystone agents across diverse habitats, from the deepest oceans to the upper atmosphere, mountains, forests and rivers.
We currently destroy more habitats than we create. So much so that we have triggered the Sixth Mass Extinction, the Age of the Anthropocene, where the world is defined by human influence. Our influence hasn’t been a positive one. What if we were to turn that around? What if we were to redefine our role within the complex Earth system, to agents of regeneration? Agents of restoration? To fully step into our responsibilities as conscious manifestations of the Earth. What if we decided to end the Anthropocene tomorrow and instead begin the Age of Restoration. The UN has just declared a decade of restoration, beginning from 2020. This is a promising start, but it’s going to take more than a decade to restore the complex processes we have disrupted so severely.
As we begin to realise the effects of the damage we’ve inflicted on the ecosystems we depend on, attention has been drawn to the idea of ecosystem services – what the biosphere does for us. Clean air and water, productive soil and other life-giving processes. But this is only one side of the coin in the reciprocity of life. We need to also consider ecosystem service – how we can be of service to the ecosystem.
The Politics of Disconnection As we re-enter this reciprocal relationship with land we begin to see how much has been lost, how much of our culture has been domesticated and colonised. The destruction of indigenous connection cultures went hand in hand with the destruction of wild land, plundering of natural resources, extermination of predators, hunting others to near extinction – a dewilding of the land and the people who had lived in harmonious connection with it for millennia.
The decolonisation process we must all undertake – of our minds, our social movements, our society – goes hand in hand with rewilding of both land and people, and giving back what has been taken from remaining dispossessed indigenous peoples. Our disconnection is deeply political.
Because our relationships with Nature, ourselves and each other all inescapably influence each other, as long as white people oppress people of colour, men oppress women, the heteronormative oppress the queer and humans oppress Nature, oppression will poison all of our relationships. Liberation is only possible if it takes place on all levels and in all relationships.
Ultimately, non-productive time spent simply being, as with connecting with Nature, is a subversion of post-modern productivist-consumerist culture; an inherently rebellious act. And as a powerful way to sustain and resource social action – to build on Audrey Lorde’s famous quote about self-care being an act of self-preservation for continued political action – it can even be an act of political warfare.
The more connected we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the more powerful we become. When directed towards the collective good, this power can be a truly liberative force.
Equally then, our reconnection with Nature is political. It is part of the essential decolonisation process, and part of the rewilding.
Sacred Ecology It is also spiritual. Our relationship with Nature has been reverent and spiritual only until very recent times. For 95% of the 200,000 years in our current form, Homo sapiens have lived as hunter-gatherers in close relationship to the natural world. In the UK, we’ve only been growing grain for 100 generations.
Rediscovering the magic and mystery that lies in the world around us as animate, where rocks and trees and birds can and do communicate, has the potential to heal the sickness of our times, so deeply rooted in the disconnect between spirit and matter. Loneliness and depression are pandemic, mental and physical health conditions abound, social and cultural decay are rife, and community and connection are things of the past for many.
Who knows what we may discover when we commune with the wild, open to the sacred within Nature, the divine mystery that lies beneath the surface of all things. This healing world of sacred ecology awaits us – we only need to step through the door that has always been open.
Can we step up to our responsibility as a species? As an evolutionary maturation, an evolutionary adaptation that can support the flourishing of all of life, creating habitat for other species rather than destroying it. A rite of passage for a civilisation, to step from the adolescence in which we are stuck, into mature and responsible participation within the Earth community.
In Native American folklore, humans are seen as the younger brother of Creation. As the most recently arrived after the plants and other animals, we have the least experience of how to live and the most to learn. We must now look to our teachers among other species for guidance. The agents of regeneration. Wolf ... Bear ... Boar ... Beaver ...
And in doing so, we may remember what it really means to be Human.
Kara Moses is a facilitator of social and ecological regeneration, supporting people and land to rewild. She teaches nature connection and rewilding on short courses and Masters programs at CAT, Schumacher College, Ecodharma and other education centres, and is Vice Chair of the Cambrian Wildwood project. In the winter months she works to restore ancient woodlands and writes about rewilding. She lives in a barn in an off-grid housing co-op surrounded by rewilding land. www.RewildEverything.org