Celebrated horticulturist and television personality Alan Titchmarsh has recently ignited a fresh debate on the trend of rewilding in horticulture. Voicing his concern to the House of Lords, Titchmarsh called rewilding an “ill-considered trend,” warning of its potential “catastrophic” effects on biodiversity.
The term “rewilding” was first recognised officially in 2011, the same year that Rewilding Europe was established. Its popularity was further fuelled by George Monbiot’s 2013 book “Feral”, advocating the idea of letting nature regain its control over landscapes.
At its core, rewilding is about reverting gardens and green spaces to their natural, uncultivated states by reintroducing native species. While this idea has been adopted by many garden enthusiasts who devote parts of their gardens to rewilding for biodiversity enhancement, Titchmarsh warns of potential pitfalls.
Notably, this isn’t Titchmarsh’s first time drawing attention to the subject. Earlier this year, he cautioned the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) about the risks associated with rewilding, particularly in regard to the potential erosion of gardening skills and traditions.
The Potential Downsides of Rewilding
There are several potential risks associated with rewilding:
Disappearance of Non-native and Cultivated Species
Rewilding can lead to the loss of non-native and cultivated plant varieties as they are replaced by native species. This could mean a loss of diversity in gardens, where many have come to appreciate a range of exotic and ornamental plants.
Overbearing Presence of Certain Native Species
Without appropriate management, rewilding may facilitate the overgrowth of certain robust, fast-spreading native species, overshadowing and out-competing other, slower-growing plants. This can lead to a reduction in diversity as the garden becomes dominated by a handful of species.
Heightened Vulnerability to Pests and Diseases
Typically, gardens are home to a variety of plants with varying levels of resistance to local pests and diseases. However, rewilding may reintroduce native pests and diseases back into the garden, potentially leading to significant plant losses and a subsequent reduction in plant diversity.
Eradication of Historical and Cultural Significance
Many gardens are a living testament to historical and cultural practices, especially in urban areas. They can feature plants that have been part of traditional practices or have been in the area for generations. Rewilding these gardens could result in the loss of this botanical heritage.
Decreased Human-Nature Interaction
Gardens are more than just spaces for plant diversity; they also serve as an interface for human interaction with nature. The hands-on experience of nurturing plants, crafting beautiful landscapes, and experimenting with different species adds richness to our interaction with nature. Rewilding may diminish these opportunities for engagement.
While the concept of rewilding paints a noble picture of returning ecosystems to their natural state, it is vital to take its potential adverse impacts into account. As we navigate our relationship with nature, it is crucial to ensure our conservation efforts don’t inadvertently compromise the rich diversity we aim to protect. By incorporating both rewilding and preservation of diverse cultivated areas, we can strike a balance that ensures the preservation of our gardens’ botanical wealth for generations to come.
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