The wolf at our door

Leader of the pack could soon be back

‘Rewilding’ is a word frequently heard and a topic increasingly discussed, and recently this potentially thorny issue has even found its way into BBC Radio 4’s perennial rural drama, The Archers.

It may come as little surprise to learn that most country folk in fictional Ambridge are broadly in favour of rewilding. After all, received knowledge says it can help reverse centuries of ecological and environmental damage and breathe new life into our natural landscapes and struggling rural communities.

And who would argue against aiding the survival of more than fifty per cent of our wildlife species currently in drastic decline, and the fifteen per cent under severe threat of extinction? Don’t we all want to save those delightful birds, butterflies, moths and small creatures?

But what about those larger species, animals already long disappeared from these shores, creatures driven out or hunted to extinction? What about, for example, the wild boar, and the beaver, and the bison? Well, the boar is already back, happily rooting around forests in both Scotland and England.

The beaver, too, is back, successfully introduced into Knapdale in Scotland, with further populations around the River Tay and the River Otter in Devon. And even the European bison is returning, with a pilot reintroduction scheme being launched in Kent. 

And then there is the wolf. Relentlessly hunted to extinction in Britain during the seventeen hundreds and carrying the unwarranted burden of centuries of denomination, these shy creatures are actually terrified of humans and avoid us whenever possible.

They are re-established in many European countries, travelling as far as northern France, and have become huge tourist attractions – if you can spot them! Wolves could easily be reintroduced here, too. They would bring acknowledged environmental benefits and any associated management issues could be addressed and overcome. Shall we, then, put a word in for the wolf?

What our surveys show

Over recent decades, Britain’s long-standing love of the “countryside” has evolved into a more complex relationship, with a growing appreciation of the importance of preserving and restoring wilderness areas. So much so, that a full 80% of the public now support the principle of “rewilding”, including the return of species that have become extinct within the British Isles.

The wolf’s status as a top predator, and the hostility of some landowners, has made the question of its re-introduction here more problematic.

Now, however, it seems that the environmental benefits of wolf’s successful reintroduction elsewhere – including its much-vaunted return to the Yellowstone National Park in America– have softened opposition to that possibility. Whilst many remain unsure, 50% support the wolf’s return, whilst less than 10% of us actively oppose it.

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