National Subjects of Rewilding

About the concept of ‘rewilding’ and its spokespersons

“Rewilding is large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and keystone species. Rewilding projects may require ecological restoration, particularly to restore connectivity between fragmented protected areas, and reintroduction of predators where extirpated.”

Within ecological research the approach of rewilding in protected area design, was defined in the 1990s within the discipline of biology conservation as “the scientific argument for restoring big wilderness based on the regulatory roles of large predators,” (reference from according to Soulè and Reed Noss in their landmark 1998 Wild Earth article “Rewilding and Biodiversity.”) Soulè and Noss “recognize three independent features that characterize contemporary rewilding (the 3 C’s):

• Cores: Large, strictly protected core reserves (the wild)

• Corridors: Connectivity

• Carnivores: Keystone species.

Qualitative research on the concept of “rewilding” shows that it has evolved within the nature conservation movements with as its two most prominent spokespersons the environmentalist Dave Foreman (US) and the writer/journalist George Monbiot (UK). Although they do not have confrontational positionings on the concept, their approach to restoring nature does have differences. As an environmental activist and co-founder of Earth First, Dave Foreman has published the book ‘Rewilding North America’ (2004) and co-established the think tank ‘Rewilding institute’ that argues the need to: “protect and restore big wilderness-area complexes ...not only necessary for inspiration and a true wilderness experience, but are necessary for the protection and restoration of ecological integrity and native species of diversity” (Source: George Monbiot is known for his environmental and political activism, and his environmental op-ed columns in The Guardian. He has published the book ‘Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding’ (2013) advocating the large-scale restoration of complex natural ecosystems whereafter he as well as performing a TED-talk “For more wonder, rewild the world”. Monbiot argues that re-introducing what he terms “megafauna”, big top-of-the-food-chain predators, that drive the dynamic processes, we let nature take its course in a restoration process. Monbiot’s proposition differs slightly from Foreman as, Monbiot argues for this rewilding process not taking place on the account of human settlements but designated for humans and animals to live alongside each other. ( , )
Reintroduction is the deliberate release of a species into the wild, from captivity or relocated from other areas where the species survives. [1] A species that needs reintroduction is usually one whose existence has become threatened or endangered in the wild. Because reintroduction may involve returning native species to localities where they had been extirpated, some prefer the term "reestablishment". [1] A query in Google Trends (26/6-14) on “Rewilding” compared to the local translations may infer that rewilding is an english term mainly searched for by US & UK geolocations.

Further exploration into local country use of the term rewilding also showed limited local results / mentions of the term rewilding whereas local organizations and web pages used alternative local narratives related to conservation, natural restoration and nature administration. Translating the concept of rewilding to the local terminologies, these were added to the google trend graph representing interest in number of queries over time generating additional questions for further research.


Red = DK / Yellow = China / Green = germany / purple = NL

Note: The peak in 2007 is unrelated to the interest in the concept as rewilding:

Case studies:

1. National subjects of rewilding

Research Question: What are the subjects (actants) of rewilding in different countries?

Research strategy: Employ Google to show the most prominent types of rewilding subjects that are recognized or referred to per country/language. Make use of language skills in the group

Method: Query the term “rewilding” in the local languages in the local Google versions, e.g., “natuurherstel” in and “renaturierung” in Manually, read the results and make lists of the top ten distinctive national subjects of rewilding, leaving them in the order that Google provided.

Note the local Google versions were chosen on the basis of the language skills of the participants of the Digital Methods Summer School, 2014. Note too that when faced with a large quantity of Google versions for a single language, a further selection was made, e.g., the top three Spanish-speaking countries according to population. For those local Google versions where multiple languages are spoken, the two dominant languages were queried. In certain cases we queried multiple languages in the same Google, i.e., Belgium (Flemish and French), Canada (English and French) and the United States (English and Spanish).

For those languages that do not have a straightforward translation of the word ‘rewilding’, we used longer queries, i.e. we queried the Danish Google for “rewilding” OR naturforvaltning

Local Google version, query, query date: with query: natuurherstel (25.06.14) with query: natuurherstel (25.06.14) with query: rénaturation (25.06.14) with query: rénaturation (25.06.14) with query: 野化 (25.06.14) with query: rewilding (25.06.14) with query: rewilding (26.06.14) with query: renaturierung (26.06.14) with query: renaturierung (26.06.14) with query: [michele] with query: naturgenopretning OR vild naturforvaltning (26.06.14) with query: viltförvaltning OR förvilda (26.06.14)

Data Storage

The top 100 results per query are stored for validation purposes. In Firefox Save Page As -> Web Page, complete. Data sets available below as attachments.


Top 10 of listed subjects for each local query. Green highligted subject are unique for the particular country e.g. China's unique subjects are Tiger, Panda, Crested ibis, Lion, Snake and pig.

Network view of shared subjects: Yellow depicts local google query sites and blue colour depicts shared subjects.


Countries could be said to have distinctive rewilding subjects, compared to other countries, as read from Google results.

  • Rewilding is translated into local practices reflected by the different and unique subjects per country

  • Climate adaptation and nature conservation are themes within local regions, but foci varies according to geographical location, spatiality, scattering of human settlements and native species

For example, most entries located from with the search term “野化“ (rewilding) are about animals, especially tigers and pandas. Rewilding here specifically refers to the process of returning captive-born animals to a more wild environment. The media attention received for tiger and panda rewilding is partly due to the controversial nature of both cases. Rewilding the South China Tiger, a rare species of tigers, is a project that has been advanced by the NGO “Save China’s Tigers” ( over the years. The founder’s (Li Quan) approach to rewilding tigers has been controversial from the beginning. Instead of creating or preserving the native habitat of these tigers (which should be in South China), a “laohu (i.e., tiger) valley” was established in South Africa instead, to which more than a dozen South China tigers have been sent. Opposing voices arose regarding the motivation of such a move (for the tigers or for the commercial interest of developing tourism in Africa?) and the actual effects of such a “rewilding” process. Criticism is still abound as some tigers sent to the tiger valley are reported to be dead or missing.

Panda rewilding is mostly talked about as a research project by the Wolong Panda Research Center (NEED TO CHECK THE NAME). The “rewilded” pandas are monitored by researchers with electronic trackers. The rewilding is situated within the parameters of researchers’ monitoring and intervention. In news coverage, training and preparing pandas for their return to their natural habitat is described and the importance of such rewilding is communicated to the public. The profile of the panda rewilding issue was boosted by the widely-criticized failure of the first rewilding effort project of the Center, which resulted in the death of a rewilded panda in 2007. Their second wave of rewilding efforts started in 2012 and has attracted media interest and engaged attention from the public. Overall, the discourse of “rewilding” in China is dominated by the issues of tiger and panda, although other species are also referred to (such as the crested ibis). Rewilding refers to a very specific process of placing the animals in a wilder environment (not even necessarily their native habitat), and there is almost no reference to larger issues of environmental restoration.

Note, too, that given the limited sample of countries and the method for selection, the most greatly shared rights across countries are not the subject of analysis.

Rewilding in Denmark

Diving deeper into how “rewilding” is translated and enacted locally in Denmark and the related discourses, the lingual terms naturgenopretning and vild naturforvaltning were found through sources mentioning a linkage of the english term with equivalent Danish explanations of the concept (, as managerial and landscape approaches of restoring nature or ‘wild nature’, imitating the indigenious state of landscape, plants and fauna with the advantages of native species returning and contributing to ecological sustainability.

Query results of these translations also elucidated the stakeholders within nature restauration ranging from governmental, NGO’s (nature) and commercial companies (hydrological and landscape consultants). One of the scapes has a strong link to governmental climate adaptation (Climate Adaptation: with projects related to water management and flooding risks while others are more related to nature conservation, restoration and animal species sustainability (The Danish Society for Nature Conservation: URL This may infer that there is a national/governmental interest in this concept and how this interest is enacted within the borders of Denmark through re-landscaping to native ecological patterns using marshes and swamps as water buffers for risks of floods and for restoring natural habitat where laws and regulations become leading actors (actants) in this process.

Human/animal interrelations

One of the unique subjects for Denmark was “islands” which occurred through multiple stakeholder’s interest involving re-landscaping, re-introducing native species and creating isolated islandhabitats for birdlife in Denmark ( The bird-islands enactment of “rewilding” concurs therefore more to David Foreman’s conceptual approach where isolated spatial locations are dedicated to animal species, plants and faunas to evolve. Simultaneously the subject of island involves the re-introducing of large gracing indigenous species like the European Bison to these land isolated areas to monitor how they contribute to the ecological restoration of nature ( It has been archaeologically argued that this species has roamed Denmark over 1500 years ago and therefore play an important role in the quest to return to the indigenous wild nature ecologies. The assessment of this method we may suggest derives from the concept of “rewilding” in George Monbiot’s approach, where we through scientific methods re-introduce the indigenous large animals (with the exception of these animals not being predators) even within spatial human inhabited areas. Opposed to rewilding using islands there are also examples of introducing present indigenious species like the red deer that is allowed to roam freely in marshes, swamps and parks close to urbanized areas ( closing or blurring the spatial gaps of human and animal boundaries.

De-wilding in Sweden

Switching to the geolocation of Sweden, our findings are affected by the local translation of rewilding to “viltförvaltning” containing the semantics of management/administration as well as “förvilda” with a connotation to forest areas and wildlife. Grounding these findings we should also consider the spatiality of Sweden containing vast areas of forests and nature with wildlife and smaller density of human inhabitants.Subjects of rewilding was intertwined in a discourse of hunting and maintaining the ‘balance of species’ in the addressing issues of regulating top-of-the-food-chain animal predators and rights to hunt ( Managing nature therefore takes a discourse of human intervention (hunting and regulation) in sustaining the ecosystem or the wild as opposed to Monbiot and Foreman’s approach of leaving nature and animals in a self-regulating ecosystem.

Local Image-search results

China: Query 野化 (rewilding) in on 25.06.14

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 12.25.37 PM.png

NL: query: natuurherstel (rewilding) in on 25.06.14

DK: query: naturgenopretning OR vild naturforvaltning (rewilding) in on 25.06.14

SE: query:viltförvaltning OR förvilda (rewilding) in on 25.06.14


In this project, we try to infer and map the issue space of rewilding globally by examining the presence of the topic on rewilding located via google searches. The derived issue space reflects varied foci of efforts and concerns regarding rewilding in different countries/languages. Our results showed that the issue space on rewilding is localized and diversified. It is multi-level (i.e., eco system vs. animals vs. panda) and multi-faceted. For example, whereas in countries like Germany and Italy the discourse on rewilding is at a more general level of rivers and land, in China rewilding is almost equivalent to “panda and tiger breeding in wilderness.” Whereas localized efforts are understandable and justifiable as different regions face different environmental problems and concerns, we also need to think about whether and to what extent such differences reflect different mentalities/conceptions about what rewilding means and entails. For example, our results suggest that tiger and panda rebreeding is monopolizing the issue space of rewilding in China and such monopoly is arguably unhealthy for the larger environmental movement. Other environmental groups need to step in, make connections with the existing panda/tiger rewilding efforts, and broaden the rewilding efforts in a way that promotes a more integrated framework of thinking and acting in terms of environmental restoration.

2. Rewilding NL

The second case study takes the offset to further study how rewilding is enacted in climate adaptation projects to juxtapose it to the findings of the first case study. This will be done by zooming in on Holland and the interrelations of organizations, species and geographical spaces based on expert lists.

The research question we set out to answer was: What are the climate adaptation projects in the Netherlands, what do they focus on and where are they based? To what degree are the organisations that foster these projects connected? Our strategy was to use an expert list of adaptation project organisations to collect information about Dutch adaptation projects. The data we collected can be found here:

The data collected included: url, type of adaptation (focus on water and or nature), location, aim, present species, type of land, starting and/or ending date

From the introductory texts on the project pages, we extracted the description of the aim, the geolocation, if available the start or ending date of the project, and the animal species mentioned. Next, the projects (63 in total) were plotted onto a map of the Netherlands

REwilding nl - map

Layers in map:

1. rewilding projects: the first C in the 3 C's of rewilding, Cores. These are all projects concerning rewilding that we found in the expert list. The projects are differentiated by their main focus, namely nature, water or both. They are coloured green (for nature projects), blue (for water projects) and green/blue (for projects concerning both water and nature).

2. ecoducts: the second C, Corridors. These are passages animals can use to cross roads and get to other wildlife areas. The ecoducts are the connections between the cores.

3. animals in projects: the third C, Carnivores. These are the keystone species that were mentioned in the expert list's websites. The species that occur most (birds in particular), are thus mentioned most by the organisations and can be seen as the major focus in the Dutch rewilding projects.

Again, it turns out the organisations mention birds particularly. Mammals and fish are major themes as well. Let's zoom in a little more on the rewilding subjects the organisations mention:

In this visualisation, we have categorised the different species' mentions according to the categories in the Red List, which lists the Dutch categories for endangered animal species. The organisations mention a lot of different bird species, as we expected. However, also note the relatively large list of dragonflies and butterflies. One last thing to mention is that the number of fish species is smaller than that of mammals. One might expect differently, as The Netherlands is such a water-rich country.

Expert list versus search engine

The rewilding projects offer a fine-grained view on the national rewilding activities and their subjects. In NL, rewilding focuses on landscapes (where it is hard to divide between land/nature and water) as well as animals, of which birds are the most common type of species. Mammals and fish are next in line. Recall, however, the Dutch subjects of rewilding according to the search engine. A comparison:

Subjects of rewilding according to search engine results:

cultural history
blue-winged grasshopper
sand bees

Subjects of rewilding according to the websites in the expert list:


The major theme in the expert list's websites, birds, isn't even in the list of search engine results. Of course, the larger theme, animals, is. The second and third largest themes, mammals and fish, aren't specifically mentioned in the search results either. So interestingly, the national subjects of rewilding the expert organisations mention aren't necessarily the same as the national subjects of rewilding that turn up in the search engine results. Consequently, when species like the tiger, panda, wolf, crested ibis, lion, snake and pig turn up in the Chinese search results on rewilding, it doesn't necessarily mean these animals are actually the focus of Chinese rewilding organisations.

Summarizing and juxtaposing the findings

Relating findings from the 2 case studies to the scientific concept of “rewilding”, in short Cores, Corridors, and Carnivores, the countries translated the approach into practices from different ontologies of human-nature-spatial interrelations. Mapping these interrelations we found that there are unique expression of rewilding reflecting how it is situated locally and geographically. In specific the comparative approach has lead us to focus on the uniqueness and expressions via visualizations and mappings as well as a qualitative approach in diving into thick data on the query results. Cores, or larger dedicated landscapes to wild nature is framed by the geolocations and the human density of the country’s spatiality. In the case of China their ontology derives from a human-centric perspective on endangered species with emphasis on breeding within protected and indigenous geographical areas. In smaller countries (Denmark and Holland) with a scattered human habitat and water management (risks of flooding), rewilding becomes an effort to incorporate wildlife and water into existing infrastructures and habitats. In Holland’s example they create ecoducts and projects around the country to incorporate wildlife and nature in the planning infrastructure to imitate a natural flow of species and water. These corridors could be seen as an attempt to intertwine the spatiality of human and nature. Maps focusing on the species of rewilding in Holland generated from expertlists generated a different view of unique subjects in comparison to the Google query results. This may infer that search engine results of "rewilding" may not indicate the focus of the expert environmental organizations in their rewildering practices. Despite Holland's vast waterprojects, it was also surprising that the expert's focus was not so much on fish species but rather bird species and neither were mentionned in the search engine results. The last C, the carnivores is also the controversial part of rewilding as it spurs discussions of humans and predator animals living within the same spatialty, both in Denmark, Sweden and Holland and mainly in connection with wolves. In China's example Tigers have been moved to entirely different geo-locations and are used for ecotourism purposes, practices that have nothing in common with either Foreman or Monbiot's prescriptive approach to rewilding.

Expert lists 
bever beaver
biodiversiteit biodiversity
bodem soil
ervaren, ervaring experience
geomorfologie geomorphology
Holoceen Holocene
hoogte altitude, elevation
klei clay
laagte, diepte depth
modder mud
moeras marsh, wetland
natuur nature
natuurbescherming nature conservation
natuurgebied nature reserve
natuurlijke dynamiek natural dynamics
natuurlijke materialen natural materials
onderzoeken, ontdekken explore, discover
pad, route path, pathway, trail
paling eel
Pleistoceen Pleistocene
Schotse hooglander Scottisch highland cattle
veen peat
wandelen walk
wildlife wildlife
wilg willow
zand sand
zeearend white-tailed eagle
zoutmoeras salt marsh
main Dutch stakeholders nature conservation/development
Stichting Natuur en Milieu
provinciale landschappen
projecten nature development
Ecologische Hoofdstructuur (EHS)
Natura 2000
flood management
beek, stroom stream
bouwen met de natuur building with nature
delta, rivierdelta delta, river delta
dam dam
dijk dike
dijkring dike ring
dijkteruglegging, ontpolderen dike relocation
dijkverbetering, dijkverhoging, dijkversterking dike improvement
drainage, drooglegging drainage
duinen dunes
erosie erosion
estuarium estuary
getij tide
geul, oergeul gulley
golven waves
grondwater groundwater
klimaat climate
klimaaatverandering climate change
klimaatbestendigheid climate resilience
(harde/zachte) kustverdediging (hard/soft) coastal engineering
polder polder
risicobeheersing risk assessment
rivier river
sedimentatie, afzetting sedimentation
stroming flow
stroom current
stroomrug natural levee
uiterwaarden floodplain
waterbouwkunde, waterbeheer water management
waterkering storm-surge barrier, flood defence
waterveiligheid water safety
weer weather
wind wind
zee sea
zoet water fresh water
zout water salt water
bodemdaling soil subsidence
dijkdoorbraak dike breach
overstroming flood
(extreme) neerslag rainstorm
springtij springtide
stormvloed storm surge
waterkwaliteit water quality
zeespiegelstijging sea level rise
zoute kwel saline seepage
main Dutch stakeholders water safety
Rijkswaterstaat (
projects water safety
Ruimte voor de Rivier
dijkverbeteringen (verschillende locaties)
-- SabineNiederer - 24 Jun 2014
Topic revision: r6 - 28 Jun 2014, marie
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