Into the Wild: Rewilding and the Historic Environment

Regenerating Pine Forest, National Trust for Scotland, Mar Lodge, Scotland

A research network recently funded by the Royal Society of Scotland RSE has been launched at the University of Glasgow. The network, ‘Into the Wild: rewilding and the Historic Environment’ is led by Professor Nicki Whitehouse, working alongside Professor Emma Jenkins (University of Bournemouth), Dr Kim Ward (University of Plymouth), project partner Dr Hannah Fluck (National Trust). A SGSAH AHRC-funded PhD student, Gala Morris, is allied to the project and is also working as a research assistant on the project; she will be developing Scottish case studies to support the wider research themes. Participants and collaborators from a range of external organisations and funded projects are also involved, alongside landowners.

The network aims to brings together an interdisciplinary collaborative partnership of researchers and practitioners from archaeology, cultural geography, nature conservation, land management, and policy. Its outputs will provide a much-needed evidence base on re-wilding within the historic environment.

Re-wilding describes an array of global conservation approaches that aim to increase the sustainability of biodiversity, ecosystems, and landscapes and undoubtedly offers huge ecological potential. At the same time, re-wilding changes a landscape’s historic character, which is often tightly interwoven with human histories - and can destroy archaeological evidence, so therefore presents potential threats. Our current understanding of these potential threats is very limited; therefore, this network responds to the need for dialogue and guidance for re-wilding projects around the historic environment.

We aim to understand the impacts and long-term consequences of re-wilding on the UK’s archaeological record and historic environment. Currently, no baseline research exists on this, and, outside of archaeological circles, there is limited appreciation for the deep historical significance of our landscapes and the value of this knowledge to nature conservation more broadly. There is now an urgent need to engage with these issues because re-wilding is being implemented at a major scale across the UK and beyond, as a nature-based solution to modern environmental challenges.

We will pursue two mutually re-enforcing questions (1) how is the historic environment impacted by re-wilding projects? (2) how can archaeology contribute to existing understandings of re-wilding, and co-design of projects?

The network will use an online questionnaire, 3 workshops, and a stakeholders conference to: (i) enhance understandings of re-wilding, including underpinning environmental values; (ii) identify the challenges faced by re-wilded historic environments and by those who manage and regulate them; (iii) promote dialogue between archaeological, re-wilding, and nature conservation communities around good practice; (iv) create guidance papers, with stakeholders,  for the co-design and integration of cultural heritage and archaeological expertise into re-wilding projects.

Practitioners interested in linking up with the research group can contact Nicki Whitehouse or Gala Morris.

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