Not An Option - A Survival Imperative

First published on October 03, 2023

By Shatakshi Gawade

by a million man-made wings of fire – the rocket tore a tunnel through the sky – and everybody cheered.
only by a thought from God – the seedling urged its way through the thicknesses of black – and as it pierced the heavy ceiling of the soil – and launched itself up into outer space – no one even clapped.

– Marcie Han

Apocalyptic Times

Well, that’s how simple the creation of life is – a coming together of elements in just the right proportions and conditions, and a new life bursts forth nonchalantly. It is the culmination of steady evolution from microorganisms that began 3.7 billion years ago; whether you believe in god or Nature as god, there’s no denying the magic and resilience of life on Earth. This resilience, however, is being challenged repeatedly – we have crossed six of the nine planetary boundaries in 2023, increasing the risk of “large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes”. Researchers have now concluded that we have pushed our planet Earth far outside safe operating conditions for humanity.

Business as usual is just not going to cut it – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had warned in its first assessment report in 1990 that the global mean temperature would rise by 4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, and global mean sea level would rise by about six centimetres every decade, in a business as usual scenario. Thankfully, the science never fell on deaf ears, and by 2010, the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions did actually slow. But we STILL need our GHG emissions to peak in the next two years at the latest, and reduce them by 43 per cent by 2030. The good news is this is eminently doable, without compromising on basic human needs – the one that will primarily benefit from climate despair are the likes of fossil fuel companies profiting from our inaction. And politicians seeking instant vote bank bonanzas.

Local school children planting seedlings. Collaboration and cooperation is key to the success of all rewilding initiatives. Photo: The Rewilders.

What Now?

From the top to bottom, we need real action to curb and absorb GHG emissions. But no, we aren’t just talking about reducing the use of fossil fuels, or air conditioners! We are taking a step back to where we came from. The Wild.

Rewilding is the process of ecological restoration of ecosystems to reverse biodiversity loss, by letting natural processes reclaim land and sea. Rewilding can help address the climate crisis as well as prevent mass extinctions, while giving local economies a chance to develop. And here’s a reason why humans must be bothered about rewilding – healthy ecosystems ensure ecosystem services such as clean water and air, pollination services, nutritious food, regulation of zoonotic disease, and soil formation. These ecosystem services – which are not accounted for in extractive economic indices such as GDP – are crucial for our continued health and survival. While technological quick-fixes in some nebulous future are seen as our last hope, the fact is that we can halt and reverse climate change without a ‘silver bullet’ – just as long as we are prepared to change, and let nature fix itself.

If we just let it take its course, you would be astonished at how quickly nature bounces back.

Me? I Can Do Something Too?

Estimates suggest that the urban population is going to double by 2050. This would mean more built spaces, which need a dash of native greens.

Gardens and community spaces should include plants that are suitable for and adapted to the local weather, soil and existing biodiversity. These will increase pollinating insects, hold soil and clean water if they are in the ground, and give birds and other local animals food and shelter.

Landscaping can also include rewilding principles by allowing the land to rejuvenate through ‘benign neglect’ or ‘minimal interference’ – letting different species of fauna take their own time to establish and grow, and only intervening to gently add resources such as trenches. A critical aspect in rewilding is the nuisance created by invasive species.

Here is some light reading you can indulge in to explore rewilding: A Guide to Rewilding, Rewilding: India’s Experiments in Saving Nature, and Rewilding the Urban Soul.

The Nation

Rewilding is required at a much greater scale, in addition to individual efforts. According to the Forest Survey report of 2021, 24.62 per cent of the geographical area of India is under forest and tree cover. While this number in itself doesn’t give a clear picture of how much of this is native, how much is wild, and how much biodiversity it actually supports, the country anyway has far to go to reach the target of 33 per cent forest cover as identified by the National Forest Policy. However, there is much more to the wild than just trees, and preserving and restoring crucial ecosystems such as wetlands and Open Natural Ecosystems (ONEs), which include grasslands, scrub, and marsh areas, is an important step that requires citizens and governments to act together.

Many laws and programmes in the country have so far ensured a degree of protection for our biodiversity in different ecosystems. For instance, Project Tiger has created a political, public and bureaucratic system which protects the tiger from poaching. Collaterally, its habitat and thus other species are also protected. The expansion of the Protected Area network under Project Tiger has helped return some spaces to a healthier status.

But hang on, all’s not well in the subcontinent. The dilution of certain laws has increased the threat of anthropogenic pressures on India’s biodiversity. The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023 leaves out many land parcels from protection, such as areas within 100 km. from the border, and any area that is not defined as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 even though it may be a forest by the dictionary meaning.

Continuous citizen involvement is crucial to protect existing environmental laws. Every time the government puts together a draft legislation, it asks for feedback. As concerned citizens, it is our duty to send in letters with our point-by-point comments. Petition organisations and NGOs often put up points to send to the concerned ministry. Watch out for these pieces of legislation and respond with strongly worded letters. These must raise the demand to include rewilding principles in management practices, and increase funding for rewilding.

Sometimes, Indigenous people and other local communities have to pay the price for living in the lap of nature twice over – once, through the tussle for survival with wildlife as they get into farms or encounters that become attacks; and second, when they face the extreme vagaries of nature induced by climate change and habitat degradation. Policy interventions must ensure rights of local communities. Besides, the participation of the local community in conservation efforts is key to the success of programmes – they often have intimate knowledge of the ecosystem, they are physically present in the vicinity for continued work and emergencies, and they can benefit financially as well as in terms of a healthy living environment.

Across The Continents

Internationally, there are various plans and policies in place to move us towards a healthier ecosystem. For instance, we are currently in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the ‘30x30’ conservation target of the Global Biodiversity Framework calls for conservation of 30 per cent of land and 30 per cent of sea by 2030, and older global agreements such as the Ramsar Convention are helping us move towards the goal of rewilding.

Some of the programmes are fascinating examples of what can be implemented on a larger scale. India particularly needs to do this. Earlier this year, eight island-ocean ecosystems were selected to be rewilded from ridge-to-reef, by Re:wild, Island Conservation, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and other partners, with a focus on complete restoration that will benefit the oceans, wildlife, and the community. This will involve removing invasive species and reintroducing native species, habitat restoration, and protection of both land and marine ecosystems in 40 islands by 2023. In eastern Europe on the Danube river, the reintroduction of water buffalo in their historical ecosystem created new habitats for fish, amphibians and other species, and the Danube delta began throbbing  with life. In the Patagonia National Park, Chile, 700 km. of fencing was pulled down to allow herds of guanaco, puma and other wildlife to return to the land, while keeping livestock out. This helped vegetation to flourish even in overgrazed ranches. If you’d like to see more such awe-inspiring rewilding examples, check out this interactive map of projects across the world, created by OpenForests together with the Global Rewilding Alliance.

Collaboration and cooperation is key to the success of all rewilding initiatives. Finances, physically executing projects, research and resource mobilisation, become possible through partnerships between
local communities, governments and all manner of organisations.

Rewilding projects need trans-boundary cooperation, exchange of knowledge and resources and the best practices and technologies designed to tackle global conservation challenges. The engagement of local stakeholders and committed organisations can enable long-term projects, since rewilding takes several years, sometimes decades, to come to fruition.

Embracing The Wild

We really can Rewild at every level, from our backyards to our global commons. How fast we act, the conviction with which we take the next steps, and a combination of a scientific approach and traditional knowledge, will all shape the future of life on the planet.

What You Can Do
1. Write to the Heads of States attending COP 28 at Dubai by November 15, 2023 to draw their attention to the imperative of Rewilding to counter climate change. Refer to the 12 guiding principles of rewilding outlined in the Global Charter for Rewilding the Earth, include points and examples from this issue, and ask that Rewilding principles be included in all new, or changed legislation. Also mention the problems that dilution of environmental legislations will create for ecological restoration and climate change action, and hold your national leaders to promises made at international fora where they pledged carbon emission reductions after tortuous negotiations, which many nations are now going back on.
2. India has been on a plantation spree over the last few years. Visit such plantations in your locality with a botanist to analyse the tree species – are they natives, are they native to the land?
Write about your explorations to us at
3. Organise or participate in drives to remove invasive plants from plots where you plan to rewild or where native species are struggling to survive. Also read about how megaherbivores keep invasive plants at bay (see page 9).
4. Every time governments announce legislation that will dilute environmental protection or prevent rewilding initiatives, post about it actively on social media, and urge your networks to do so as well, while tagging all the concerned ministers and officials.
5. Experiment with Rewilding your garden, a community open space, or agricultural plots! Successful ‘petridish’ experiments will firm your resolve.



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