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River Rewilding: Everything you need to know

To mark International Day of Action for Rivers Day, here’s spotlight on river rewilding.

In the context of rivers, rewilding is a powerful natural solution that can help increase biodiversity, reduce pollution, increase carbon drawdown and boost wellbeing.

What is river rewilding?

Rewilding is a progressive approach to river conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape rivers, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats [1].

“Rewilding is about trusting the forces of nature to restore” ~ Raquel Filguerias

Rewilding by reintroducing beavers: an example

20 more beavers will be released in 2021 as part of UK rewilding projects to help restore wetland and river habitats [2].

Beavers are known as ‘keystone’ species, meaning that they have a disproportionately large impact in an ecosystem through their dam-building and tree-gnawing activities. Benefits:

  • Improve water quality: beaver dams slow down and filter flowing water.
  • Water storage and reduced flooding: dams and channels created by beavers store water, reducing flooding when there are heavy downpours.
  • Carbon capture: wetland habitats that beavers help engineer store carbon.
  • Boost biodiversity: beavers dam creation and wetland engineering create micro-habitats for other species.

Rewilding rivers and rewilding the self

Activities such as paddle boarding and wild swimming are increasing in popularity. Environmentalist George Monbiot called such experiences “rewilding the self”. As our societies become ever more regulated and orderly, we seek out opportunities to connect with nature and the wild.

“Such ideas capture additional factors characterising river rewilding – an effort to interact with trends in society and culture and to create opportunities for citizens to choose how they wish to engage with landscapes and nature” ~ Paul Jepson [3]

The importance of rewilding rivers is summed up nicely by Rewilding Britain [4]: “Water landscapes are essential for human wellbeing, for buffering climate change and for biodiversity”

[1] Rewilding Europe, https://rewildingeurope.com/what-is-rewilding/, accessed on 14/3/21

[2] Harry Cockburn, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/beaver-uk-wildlife-trusts-rewilding-b1801025.html?utm_content=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1613116211

[3] Paul Jepson, https://www.pauljepson.com/when-is-river-restoration-rewilding/ (2016)

[4] Rewilding Britain https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/explore-rewilding/rewilding-the-land/rewilding-water, accessed on 14/3/21

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