Report on “Rewilding: A Christian Perspective”

Andy Gosler

We held our JRI/CRES Study Day on Rewilding, on Saturday 27th April 2019, at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, near Oxford. It was the biggest meeting we have ever held at the college, with over 60 people present. After an introduction from Dr Martin Hodson, our first speaker was Revd Prof Andrew Gosler (Associate Professor in Applied Ethnobiology & Conservation, Oxford University and Co-Convenor OxPeace) who spoke on “Rewilding: Reality, Nostalgia and Fantasy or Conservation’s Search for Authentic Humanity.” Andy’s talk was wide-ranging. It began with outlining the scale of the problems facing our biodiversity. Andy then played us a short video “How Wolves Change Rivers” concerning the effects of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the United States. The video was narrated by George Monbiot. Andy then moved on to cover the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), and said that like many ornithologists he had become an anthropologist. He contrasted the knowledge that many tribal people have with the lack of knowledge in biology students and children. Where children had a knowledge of birds it was often obtained from their parents and grandparents. Andy concluded, “Rewilding has been framed in terms of turning back the clock, of trying to recover a lost innocence. I believe it needs to be reframed in terms simply of reconnecting people with nature. It is about rewilding ourselves as much as it is about rewilding our surroundings.”

Chris Naylor

Our second speaker was Chris Naylor (Executive Director of A Rocha International) who gave us an update on the work of his organisation around the world. Chris covered the “Save Atewa Forest” campaign in Ghana, the renaissance of the work in Lebanon, A Rocha France, conservation work in New Zealand, and much more. Just before lunch, Rev Dr Tim Howles gave us an amusing introduction to his recent Grove Booklet “Responding Faithfully to the Environmental Crisis: Christianity at the Time of the Anthropocene”. It must have worked as we sold a lot of copies! The College staff excelled themselves in producing a really good lunch.

John Bimson

After lunch, our main speaker was Dr John Bimson (formerly of Trinity College, Bristol) who spoke on “Rewilding: Can Christians embrace it as Creation Care? A View from the Cambrian Hills.” John centred his talk in mid-Wales where he lives. He described several rewilding projects that were operating in his area. John was fairly critical of George Monbiot who more or less described the Cambrian Mountains as an ecological wasteland. It is not at all certain what the “natural” vegetation of the Cambrian Mountains should be, and whether major rewilding would be beneficial- certainly some bird species prefer open moorlands. This led to quite a discussion in the questions after. John took the Psalms and Genesis as inspirations for his theological reflection.

We ended the day with a JRI/CRES news slot and then a short time of worship led by Rev Margot Hodson. It was an excellent day and very thought-provoking. We have had many positive comments from attendees since we met.

Dr Martin J Hodson

JRI Operations Director

(Image: Joost van Uffelen via Shutterstock. Royalty-free stock photo ID: 378994363)