In CM’s blog ‘How did the moors of the Central Pennines come into existence’ (11th Sept 2018) she describes how the plants and animals that might have been present in the landscape 10,000 years ago had largely been replaced by others 5000 years later, and again, 5000 years after that. That is to say, the environment is in a continual state of transition, dependent mainly on natural fluxes in climatic conditions, and human activity and its associated impacts.
This throws up a question for this project – ‘If you are considering re-wilding, what exactly are you intending to re-wild to?’ This is an important consideration since it will guide how the soundscape evolves through the piece. What sounds appear, and when, will be dependent on what parameters have been set for re-wilding and what ‘state’ is being aimed for.
Re-wilding requires imagining a new state, not trying to recreate an old one.
It’s probably realistic to say there isn’t any part of the planet that hasn’t come under some kind of human influence whether that be at the level of local land management decisions such as choices to build roads, grow intensive crops and designate nature reserves, or whether at a macro level with continental and global phenomena such as elimination of species, introduction of non-native invasive species, climate change, widespread use of man-made chemicals, acidification and ozone depletion.
A range of measures could be taken to reverse the loss of biodiversity that the moors have experienced in recent centuries, but it would be impossible to re-create any exact replica of any given previous state since the necessary conditions don’t exist anymore. We couldn’t turn the moors back into tundra – conditions are too warm. We couldn’t re-introduce Aurochs (ancient wild cattle) and their associated grazing patterns – we killed the last of these in the 1600s. These are rather extreme examples, but at a subtler level too, it would be impossible to recreate exactly the same thing that existed in the past.
Re-wilding includes many decisions. For example, you could choose to be interventionist and set about creating new habitats with certain outcomes in mind (such as lists of certain species you wanted to bring back to the moors, and others you didn’t). Alternatively you could stand back, let nature take its course, and see what happens. In some places such as Chernobyl where the land has been contaminated by radiation (see below), and at the Iran-Iraq border where the planting of land mines has also left it unsafe for human access, this is exactly the case (see the article Landmine Sanctuary: rare leopard finds haven in lethal legacy of Iran-Iraq war)
For either option – interventionist or non-interventionist, the particular, new combination of factors brought into play means the habitat, its inhabitants and the myriad of complex interactions and inter- relationships that result might be similar to something from the past but would not be the same.
The role of science in informing the act of creativity
This is a creative project – not a scientific study funded by Defra. Sadly, no actual re-wilding is going to occur – it’s a work of the imagination. However I do feel it is important that creative choices made along the way have some grounding in ecology – that the soundscape which results is one that has benefited from some investigation into what might be possible in a re-wilded moor, and in that respect has some environmental validity. That is not to say a soundscape built on complete fantasy would not also be as valid – just in other ways!
On consideration of the above factors I’ve come up with the following ‘ground rules’ to guide the imagined re-wilding of the moors for the purposes of this project:
1. Any re-wilding is within the realms of what could be possible bearing in mind the current geological and climatic conditions. So, it would be impossible to re-wild to tundra or tropical rainforest. There is nothing however from a geological or climatic perspective that would prevent a move from the current moorland landscape to a more diverse and complex range of habitats including grassland, scrub, woodland and wetland.
2. Any re-wilding need not be constrained by what would currently be considered politically, economically or societally unacceptable. The project can operate in a creative space where these need not be considerations. For example, in real life it would not be acceptable to re-introduce wolves to the South Pennines, whereas in this project wolves are allowed.
3. The project will draw on information from case-studies in the British Isles and Europe where re-wilding has been attempted, especially those where emphasis has been placed on less interventionist strategies, and nature has be left to do its own thing.