'What is rewilding?'

What is Rewilding:
Stories of our speakers


The theme of the first event organised by the Rewilding Community of Practice was “What is Rewilding”.


Read on to get three different perspectives on rewilding, revolving around our main community of practice values: Curiosity, Collaboration and Inspiration.


de Boer


Erik is a paleoecologist affiliated with the University of Barcelona and the University of Salamanca. He is using long-term data of species responses to environmental change to study species survival mechanisms and predict future changes in biodiversity. He specifically focuses on the impact of human arrival on the landscape and the consequences of extinction in island ecosystems. Paleoecology is the study of interactions between organisms and their environments across space and time. Palynology is the study of (sub-)fossil pollen, spores, and other identifiable microscopic plant and animal remains that indicate changes in the environment (biodiversity, climate, human impact) through time.

During my presentation we took an introductory look at how paleoecological research can guide rewilding initiatives. Paleoecological records can be seen as time-machines to investigate how landscapes and its ecosystems have changed over time. This provides insights into the natural baseline dynamics of ecosystems under the influence of climate change, internal processes of plant-animal interactions, and human impact.


Islands are usually colonized by humans relatively late in history. Therefore, we can study natural dynamics before humans set foot in these remote areas and record the ecological consequences of species and habitat loss following their arrival.


Paleoecological research on the island of Mauritius (Indian Ocean) shows that the island has been completely changed in less than four centuries of human occupation; the extinction of the famous dodo provides only one facet of biodiversity decline.



Despite the ecological crises happening on Mauritius, the island hosts a variety of progressive conservation projects to restore lost ecosystem processes and develop resilient biodiversity. These projects - including native tree nurseries and giant tortoise reintroductions – bring together scientists, local organizations, conservationists, and landowners, and activate local students as the next generation of biodiversity conservationists.

What is rewilding to Erik?

"And that is what rewilding for me is all about: a collaborative and progressive effort towards a sustainable future."


Your reactions to Erik's presentation:

Thank you Erik

Excellent Erik ! Learnt a lot!

Very interesting!

Thanks Erik, well done


James Meadows


James is in his final year of his bachelor’s program studying International Development Management, having specialised in Rural Development and Innovation at Van Hall Larenstein University. His thesis for Wageningen Economic Research Institute focuses on exploring contributory socio-economic factors that influence household food security and vulnerability among women in Kibera, Kenya. Over the past 4 years he has been working on participatory projects inside and outside of university having travelled to Romania, which focused on agricultural innovation in rural areas. He has also been involved in different rural development projects in the Netherlands tackling challenges such as shrinkage, rural to urban migration and exploring ecotourism opportunities for rural communities. His talk  waswill be about co-existing with nature and developing integrated solutions.

My talk was all about recognising, becoming aware and connecting to our landscapes, wherever that may be. I discussed the importance of using and developing Multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs). An MSP approach uses creative methods and tools to initiate collective action that can develop new sustainable solutions to local challenges and development opportunities. This section of the talk addressed the ‘collaboration’ aspect of understanding of ‘What is Rewilding’.


For all the benefits rewilding possesses, firstly it must be stated that individually recognising and understanding the ecological, biological and socio-cultural values in our landscapes is crucial to moving forward and adopting new methods to restore and look after our natural environment. Erik presented factual data that showed humans impact on biodiversity and the changes it created through our ecological systems. The eye-opener from this part of the talk was that in order to continue to restore biodiversity and support the regrowth of such systems, new multi stakeholder partnerships and tools are needed to develop a new recognition with nature through connecting with local stakeholders in this landscape.


What is rewilding to James?

"Rewilding for me is more than supporting an endangered animal species, but finding new ways to connect people to their own landscapes so that problems such as supporting an endangered species can be looked after and cared for by the people who live alongside it."


Your reactions to James' presentation:

Thanks James, your talk resonated with me because of a new project I am very fortunate to be developing.


Purnima Devi Barman


Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, globally known as "Stork Sister" and locally as “Hargila baido”, is a conservation biologist associated with Aaranyak, a conservation NGO in Assam, India. Apart from conducting research on the endangered Greater Adjutant stork (Hargila) in the past 15 years, she is a founder of an all rural women army group called "Hargila army”, comprising of 10,000 female members and 400 forefront active leaders in villages in Assam. Purnima, who is a conservation campaigner by passion, is the recipient of the Whitley Award 2017/Green Oscar 2017, the UNDP India biodiversity Award 2016, and the Earth Hero Award by the Royal Bank of Scotland. She has been conferred with Nari Shakti Purashkar by the President of India which is the highest civilian award for Indian women. Purnima has a diploma in environmental education and has done her Ph.D at Gauhati University in Assam on the topic Foraging ecology, breeding success and genetic status of endangered Greater Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilos dubius) in Assam, India.


My presentation included the power of local people/communities and especially women community members towards changing the fate of an endangered species from a bad omen to a sacred species.

Only 1200 Greater Adjutant storks are left. Assam is considered the last stronghold, containing about 75% of its global population. These large birds use the same nesting tree year after year and securing these nesting trees is key to their survival.  Nesting colonies are mostly located outside the protected area network of India within densely populated villages. Villagers used to hate these birds, finding them dirty and messy due to their nesting habits, smelly droppings and rotten nest fallen chicks. They frequently cut down nesting trees. As a result, many historical nesting colonies have disappeared over the last decades.


In the Assamese language, the Greater adjutant stork is called ‘Hargila’. A multi-faceted community conservation initiative was initiated for the conservation of Hargila in 2007 in Kamrup district of Assam.

From children to nest tree owners, all stakeholders were involved in various activities towards the conservation of this bird. The feeling of ownership of the nesting trees became a pride factor among the communities soon after.  An all-women “Hargila army” (protector of storks) comprising of 10,000 rural women was created in the village to lead the conservation initiatives. Nest tree owners and the Hargila army members were provided with alternative livelihood options so that they wouldn’t cut the trees for livelihood support. 

Now, after more than 10 years, we can see excellent results. Nest numbers have increased from 26 in 2006 to 221 in 2020. Not a single nesting tree has been cut in the last ten years in the Kamrup district. The nesting colony of Dadara-pacharia-Singimari village complex of Kamrup district harbours more than 60% of its global population and has become the biggest nesting colony of this bird.


What is rewilding to Purnima?

"I want to give a strong message towards the global community that we must build the leadership of our communities as fore front leaders and include more rural women in our decision making to achieve sustainable conservation goals and indeed this is what rewilding means to me i.e coexistence of people and biodiversity."


Your reactions to Purnima's presentation:

Amazing presentation Purnima, thank you :-) Your passion shines through and you've achieved great things. Big congrats!

Dr. Purnima, you are an inspiration,, very well done

What an amazing story! Very inspiring! Thank you Purnima


What is rewilding to you?


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"one of the ideas that can save the world and all wild kinds but still to me it's an idea that quite far from reality and too ideal concept but it should be worked and spread out to every country one day"


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"Rewilding is basically the revival of lost connection with the nature. How we can get back what we lost over a period of time."


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"Restoring and repairing the damaged ecosystem and protecting our beautiful nature with animals, people and all the rare species."


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"Giving nature more space"


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"Rewilding means inclusivity of both people and nature to thrive in a harmonized environment."


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Let's talk more about Rewilding together!



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