Rewilding

Hello folks – it has been a while again between posts hasn’t it?! Lots going on here for me, and some change afoot, but more on that in a later post. There are plenty of other things to be talking about before coming onto that.

I thought I’d talk today about the topic of rewilding.

I read a book earlier this year called Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life by the fabulous author George Monbiot. If you’ve not checked out his blog, and you have an interest in sustainability I highly recommend you do – www.monbiot.com.

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Reading this book sparked a number of trains of thoughts off in my brain and this spark was also caught by the tinder of my husband and I having recently, around 9 months ago, being fortunate enough to move to central Victoria and owning ourselves a slice of “rewilding” Australian landscape. I like to think of us becoming “custodians really rather than owners per se, because how can anyone ever really “own” something so ancient as the rocks, soils and ancient rootstocks? Anyhow, I’m getting a little too philosophical perhaps too early on in the piece here!

The book Feral talks primarily from a British perspective, but looking from an Australian perspective (and thinking just down here in our wee south-east corner of the continent as the area know best) the same or similar principle applies that a good deal of what we see around us as “natural” or “wild” or “wilderness” is actually far from it.

The Indigenous peoples certainly shaped and managed the landscape to suit their needs for various food and fibre resources (although I’m not a great expert in that area and don’t make pretence of being so). Post-Contact the non-Indigenous peoples being transported, or settling and making a home or seeking a fortune for themselves in the goldfields certainly changed the shape of the landscape and its flora and fauna through farming, land management practices and more invasive activities such as gold and minerals mining.

This gold mining activity is one that I’m acutely aware of, now living on the land immediately adjacent the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park and right in the midst of what was essentially one of the first gold mining areas in Australia in the 1850 and ’60s.

To the uninitiated this area looks like a vast swathe of box-ironbark forest with endless eucalypts, understoreys of black and golden wattles, and a forest floor of scrubby shrubs, grasses and wildflowers amongst the rocky outcrops. However, on closer inspection and not too much of a dig around in the history of the area one soon comes to realise that this is an area in recovery, an area undergoing rewilding.

The majority of the trees are either 100% new growth or are coppice regrowth with four, five, sometimes up to six or seven spindly trunks per tree (the aftermath of miners in the area either coppicing for firewood or realising the strength of the box woods in particular for using is shoring up mine workings and so on, back in the day). There are relatively few old large trees remaining. Those that do remain stick out like the proverbial sore thumb and are quite noticeable.

But the trees are growing nonetheless, and amongst the remnant drainage lines, sluice structures, huts and brick engine housing in the undergrowth the forest is slowly coming back. Soils are building back up, birds such as the powerful owl and barking owl are returning (I know because I’m fortunate enough to have heard both), little eagles and wedge-tailed eagles come through roosting in trees or majestically sweeping through the skies above, amphibians are breeding voraciously in the waterways (again, I know because I’ve heard them a lot this winter!), orchids and flax lilies are poking their heads out, wallabies, kangaroos, phascogales and antichinus are regular visitors. Things are rewilding.

 

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And I’m keen, as is my husband (who is the most ardent of engineers, I might add), to let the rewilding process continue, letting the landscape, the flora and fauna do more or less its own thing in its own time and space with relatively little interference from us (save for some firewood gathering, walking through the forst and me going out armed with a pruning saw and secateurs to eradicate an errant rose-hip, gorse bush or bramble that pops up here and there!). Why? There are few places like this, and few locations where some of the unique flora and fauna survive. We want to do our bit to help that. Keep the land moving in its own direction away from the destructive processes of the gold mining 150 or so years ago and other activities thereafter, so that flora, fauna and future peoples, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, can equally enjoy. And I realise there may be sensitivities around a privileged white immigrant saying these things. This I recognise and am highly cognisant of. The Dja Dja Wurrung people I recognise and respect you as the traditional custodians of this land that I’m so so fortunate to call my home.

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In allowing those natural processes to occur and to observe change, both relatively rapidly season to season, and more slowly as things we fold out over the years, makes one realise our place in the world. It makes one feel small and humble, and that we’re part of a much bigger system of living things. It talks to something almost primeval, a connection with and to nature.

It’s kind of like a human rewilding, which Monbiot also touches on in his book. Human rewilding and our interaction with nature – natural cycles, sun and moon cycles, knowing and experiencing the real proper dark of a new moon and the bright light of the fullest of moons, knowing and experiencing real proper quiet with no traffic noise and only the sound of the wind through the eucalypt leaves and birds twittering to one another, the different types of light, growing cycles, when certain plant life appears, blooms and fades away, when certain species of moth appear, when spiders appear and disappear, navigating a landscape, experiencing the wonderful close encounters with bird life, marsupials large and small and even feral mammals.

So what’s my point here? Well, I suppose it’s this. With the ever-increasing expansion of urban areas, encroachment into wild (or more “natural” or “green”) spaces of those urban areas, what do we stand to lose? And with the increasing prevalence of so-called “lifestyle” diseases, both physical and mental, what is it that we as a so-called “developed” society need? I’m not saying that we all go out and live in the countryside, nor am I saying that we necessarily just let everything go back to nature and live back to basics style, but there is a better balance to be struck here in terms of our connectivity to nature and natural experiences.

And with respect to the sustainability of our natural ecosystems, I feel we need a better collective understanding of what is “natural” and “wild”, a better collective understanding and connection to Indigenous knowledge of nature and natural systems, and deciding where we want to go with managing these natural areas in terms of environmental policies, how we manage human populations and develop our cities, towns and urban and connecting infrastructure.

 

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