All photos © Cambrian Wildwood
Rewilding the Land and Ourselves
Kara Moses describes a rewilding project in Wales and how it can deeply affect all species, including humans
This time last year, I was tracking wolves in the primeval forests of Poland, the last truly wild forest in Europe. I awoke one day to heavy snowfall which, for a wildlife tracker, is one of the most exciting things that can happen; every track is displayed crystal clear, sometimes all the way to the creature that made them. I headed deep into the forest to explore the network of tracks that laced through the snow, revealing the secrets of the night-time forest.
Unseen moments are replayed in glistening white. A walking fox, suddenly startled by something to the west, veers off to the east at a trot. A family of badgers trundle back and forth between their ancient sett and an open area to forage. Three wolves prowl the forest, their profound presence still vivid in their enormous prints. I trailed the wolves for hours, lost in the story of their twilight meanderings.
The Białowieża Forest is like none I have ever experienced. The sound of drilling woodpeckers – all of the European species still present here – rattles through the air. Wolves lope through the shadows. Bison, primitive-looking beasts with a potent presence, meet my awed gaze through the trees, as if a dozen dark mirrors were reflecting parts of my self back through the ages. The pulse of life is palpable here; I can feel my body responding, mirroring the vitality. I feel not myself but just one of a thousand sensations of the forest.
When I first arrived home from Białowieża I was desperate to return, sensing there was so much more depth and wild mystery to explore, and painfully aware of the lack of wildness at home. Travelling back through the starkly un-wild landscape was a journey through grief, as I witnessed just how much we had lost. The Dormant Wild I spent some time on Bwlch Corog, rewilding land near my home in West Wales and decided not to rush back after all. I realised that although I had left the forest, the forest and its wildness had not left me. And that although there is no ‘true’ wilderness in any of the landscapes I know as home, I have come to realise it is not lost forever. It is not a pure state which once defiled can never be attained again. Wildness remains dormant in the land – and in us – patiently waiting for her time to come again.
And what’s more, we can participate in her return; wilderness does not have to mean the absence of human participation. Indeed, for wildness to return to our domesticated landscapes we will have to participate in its creation, for we have eliminated the key agents of regeneration: wolf, beaver, boar, bear and others. The land, no longer able to regenerate itself with natural processes, is stuck in a degraded state. And so the task now falls to us.
In this participation lies reciprocal healing for the land and the human spirit, as I’ve found in the time I’ve spent working on rewilding projects like Cambrian Wildwood, which has just acquired Bwlch Corog, a 142 hectare (350 acre) site in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains. There has been no human intervention here for seven years – even the sheep farmers gave up trying to make a living from these barren hills.