John Lewis-Stempel & Ben Goldsmith

The rewilding debate


March 9, 2024
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Rewilding is seen by some as a serious plan to restore balance to our ecosystems and by others as a nostalgic fantasy. Best-selling author and farmer John Lewis-Stempel will debate the issue with leading environmentalist Ben Goldsmith. How far is too far in the calls to restore our natural world – will we once again see wolves roaming the uplands of Europe.


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Saul D
Saul D
1 month ago

I listened to the debate, and Ben Goldsmith’s arguments left me with the same queasy feeling of theoretical perfectionalism that comes out a lot from environmental arguments. The arguments can feel logical in a linear way A then B then C, but they miss the elements of multi-dimensionality, trade-off and balance – so the network of consequences and feedbacks that happen.
Nature exists in a state of competitive dynamic equilibrium. Enforced change shifts points of equilibrium in complex and non-linear ways. Humans attempt to manage this to reduce the adverse effects of nature and adjust nature for our advantage – that’s how we are able to feed ourselves for the size of population we have.
To give an example of adverse nature, forest fires are part of the natural state of things as cork, acacia etc prove. Preventing forest fires requires intervention to reduce the risk of natural adversity. That intervention reduces scrub, which then affects other species. But nature adapts to the competitive situation with other forms of plants and fauna which we then perceive as ‘natural’.
So from our understanding of warmer climates, that the presence of scrub is a fuel for fires. In the UK, scrub is reduced because of grazing. The grazed uplands also encourage meadow flowers and other forms of flora.. But it leaves the question that with less grazing do you get more fires? That’s a question of dynamic equilibrium playing out over a long time. We can’t know short term.
Rewilding seems to come with the idealistic theoretical perspective that nature is always good or better than what human’s would do. However rewilding seems to ignore the impact of its measures on the competitive dynamic that comes from any form of enforced change.
The A-to-B-to-C of philosophy students doesn’t work in a multi-dimensional space where outcomes are not easily predicted or and meander through local optima instead of following simple paths of logic. That requires learning, testing and tentative, evolutionary change accepting that, unmanaged, it can go wrong and lead to worse outcomes, not better.

Obadiah B Long
Obadiah B Long
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

Humans attempt to manage, and they always fail. Nature is always better than what humans are capable of. We keep constructing more and more elaborate ways to prove these precepts wrong, but they are in fact correct.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

Dear Saul,
I agree how you point out that it is difficult to know exactly what will happen if you ‘rewild’ an area as all natural systems are complex dynamic equilibriums. But this argument also tells you that unless you allow the rules of nature to help us out (the rules that have brought about and ‘managed’ complex natural systems) we are unlikely to see some of our natural environments recover into a complexity that is necessary to for these environment to be there. Since we live in these areas, we shall benefit from this complexity as we are the same complex beings. Of course on the edges and in various situations there will be clashes between our needs and the powers that drive these complex systems. This will not be easy. It is the easy solutions, such as chemical mass farming, that have destroyed so much of what we need around us to be healthy (in the widest possible sense) and provide us with poor quality and poorly nourishing food, the A to B to money that have destroyed much of what we need to be healthy.
Of course, in the debate A to B to C explanations have been proposed (on both sides) as this is how public discourse happens in our time. We are not allowed to use poetic approaches to how we best manage our lives, even though these poetic narratives probably capture reality better than the mechanistic A to B to C discourse. (see Iain McGilschrit: The matter with things)
So I think your argument is in a way correct but actually argues in favour of rewilding. Where you are right is that it will be difficult and unpredictable. So it comes down to a social choice: do we prefer to live and develop the mechanistic way of running our societies and land (seemingly easier to predict, but also not maybe currently producing the sort of land and farming etc that is best for us = also a matter of opinion) or do we acknowledge that we needs to accept the ‘laws of nature’ in order for healthy life to remain possible and our land provides us the health-wellbeing we all may well seek? And accept that it will be difficult, that we have to learn to adapt, may have to change some of our certainties and values… Of course, not many of us like change….. that is where the clash is…

Saul D
SD
Saul D
1 month ago

I guess my concern is that we end up with chronic under-management, as happened with forest fires, because we have this strange belief that nature is benign and will help us, not ‘compete’ against us given the chance. We have food and health and can get out into the beautiful wilds because we’ve discovered mechanised ways to protect ourselves from the harshness of Nature and so enjoy it in safety. Undoing that because of ‘nice’ theories without sufficient care to our needs can end up going badly wrong.

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

Ah but the rewildists would like to tell us how its done;
“Ah ah ah ahhhhh [birds trill and a little one lands on their outstretched pinkie – this happens every morning].
With a smile and a song, life is like a bright sunny day. All your cares fade away. And your heart is young.
With a smile and a song. All the world seems to waken anew, rejoicing with you, as the song is sung.
There is no use in grumbling, when the raindrops come tumbling. Remember you’re the one who can fill the world with sunshine.
When you smile and you sing, everything is in tune and it’s Spring. And life flows along, with a smile and a song”.
There I think thats the method for it. Im pretty sure its foolproof.

cj bevan
cj bevan
1 month ago
Reply to  Saul D

i would query that rewilding is necessarily ‘that nature is always good or better than what humans would do’, with its implication that humans have not already changed the entire landscape , or that rewilding is a naive insistence on a vague romantic premise of untested or ignorant ideas of nature, or wildlife, or farming. the complex systems and dynamics to which you refer are indeed the very premise, and vindicated as such by exercises such as the knepp estate. to my mind, the question is of how we manage our entire environment, to the mutual benefit and longevity of all our interests. neglect of such questions leads to the environmental catastrophes we deplore.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago

Rewilding is just another luxury belief. It’s proposed by rich landowners who don’t need to live off their farming profits and blindly supported by urban Greenies who have no idea where their food comes from.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 month ago

I’m surprised there is no mention of the experience of reintroducing wolves into the Yellowstone, which has transformed the ecology of the park for the better, hugely increasing the diversity of both habitats and wildlife.

Brian Doyle
BD
Brian Doyle
1 month ago

Put as simply as possible Homo Sapiens
Has no alternative other than to bring about a revolution and create a new Environmentally and Eco friendly civilisation fully inclusive of Rewilding

If not so then
Our current unsustainable civilisation
Will collapse entirely resulting in ever
Amplifying consequences whereby extinction of our single species is highly
Probable
Methane levels in the upper atmosphere have now passed historical levels
Which climate scientists , metrologists
And Ecologists refer to as
Terminal Phase of Climate change
As a consequence this is no matter for
Armchair philosophers or any of the intellectual chattering class to ponder upon
As the time for action is now and is in critically short supply
And time behind you is indeed the most
Useless thing in life ,
Just as runway behind you is utterly useless whilst landing or take off in aviation
Any who have a closed mind regarding this matter are simply wearing a parachute that will fail to open when urgently tequired

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

What does rewilding have to do with climate change? Looks like we’re doomed anyway. China, India, and every other country outside the west, are not reducing their emissions.

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Codswallop
At the COP summit in Glasgow Western media sources jumped all over China and it’s commitment to reach Net Zero by 2060
China has now implemented actions
And confident that Net Zero will be
Reached by 2030
How by massive tree planting , rewilding,resulting in projects with excellent benefits for the local economy and society, huge increase in solar and wind farms along with huge progress in EV battery and vehicle production
So much so that the West is totally left behind in the new green technologies
Typical response open your mouth and leap before you look
You clearly demonstrate a complete lack of understanding how ecosystems work and their important
Function of maintaining balance in all
Climate and environmental matters
Wisdom much of which is ancient
And China due to its long proud history and culture fully comprehend
By it’s way of comprehending the teachings and inherent wisdom contained in the Anelects of Confucius
Of which President Xi is a most fastidious pupil of and strives to adhere to at all times
No doubt such is why Western media
Do not give applied depth of thought
Nor interview him all because through a complete lack of understanding
Would result in them making a complete and utter fool of themselves just as you have done so
Many many score high in the many measures of Human Intelligence
But score Zero in the area of Wisdom
And the measuring tools that can measure the difference between Intelligence and Wisdom does not exist and can never possibly do so
And for any reading this then please answer this most simple
Of Questions
Where is Wisdom to be found
Big massive clue for the Western intellectuals
The one and only answer comprises only of Two simple little words
With no caveats or qualifications
Such is a universal truth has and always be so

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

In Nature. Right? Another answer would be: Within you (not in one’s chattering mind or brittle ego).
Each clause of your incantatory reply
Is capitalized as if it were prophetic verse
Written on an outmoded device
Granted, there is harsh poetry in some of your lines. I appreciate that you do not promote hopelessness, as some hysterical shriekers and insistent head-in-the-sand deniers both do. I hope there is some lovingkindness between the lines of your Jeremiad.

Brian Doyle
BD
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Your answer is correct
Wisdom can only be found from
Within
Why?
Because everyone is born with such
However many negative forces then go to work in order to blind you from
What you inherently know
Which includes that we instinctively know
Not to harm the ground upon Which we stand
Not the air that we breathe
Along with the waters that surround us
Such is not rocket science

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

In essence I agree with you. Well said, in fact.
*I hope more even among those who think human impact upon climate is unreal/unimprovable will take the state of our soil, water, and air seriously–and acknowledge that more can and must be done about it.

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Thank you
Those who opposed or doubt of what I say regards climate change Will soon find not only how wrong they have been but stupid and infinatively so
Little do they know what Cause / Effect truly means far less than of
Consequential Amplifications
Some ancient wisdom
The words are chosen with the utmost of care
‘ Be mindful that upon picking up what you consider to be a small boulder to be cast upon what you may believe are the Stillest of waters
That such may cause the biggest of splashes and waves ‘

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

You’re welcome.
I wonder: Are you “voice-texting” your comments into your phone? Doesn’t matter. It took me a while but I can see you mean well and have something to say. And I think the (un)herd needs a few more voices of dissent that are not cartoonish and too easily dismissed, like “Champagne Socialist” for example. Cheers.

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

What does infinitively mean in that context?

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul T

Quite simply it means that there no limits to their stupidity
Mankind is undoubtedly engaged in committing suicide and by being in full knowledge of Climate change
Is willingly so as more and more CO2
and Methane spews out
There is a theory that
If Mankind ever found and deployed technologies that would ensure their
Extinction
Then That’s exactly what they shall do
That theory is now practice
Should any believe that man is smart enough to
Quickly deploy new technology to negate
Climate change then your Stupidity is indeed
Boundless
Work it out
Only wisdom is required

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I find his writing style pompous and distracting. Words are used to communicate thought. When style trumps thought, you have put less value on ideas and more value on creativity. That’s fine writing poetry. Not so fine debating serious topics.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

It’s strange no doubt. I’ve just asked him–in all seriousness–whether he is voice-texting into his phone.
He’s not here to make friends or win a civility award–that’s for sure. He should cut down on the insults. But as I replied to him, I think his dissent is not a mere (I think) unintentional joke like with Champagne Socialist. in my view, he does have something to say, even if he ain’t often nice about it.

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I don’t actually have an issue with insults. It’s the last resort for people with weak arguments. It’s the convoluted writing style – dressed up as creativity – that I find distracting.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Understood and that’s fair. Insults also come, among other things, from hurt feelings and in response to previous insults.
Your remark also reminded of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), a conservative (overall) whom I genuinely admire as a person and writer. In his groundbreaking dictionary, one part of his definition for patriotism was: “the last refuge of a scoundrel”.

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Insults I know none of
Only those of wrong speech
Which present,s in many forms

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Please dude. Was it from master Yoda syntax you did learn?
I know this from personal experience, mostly in my past: Self-righteousness doesn’t help the underlying message in the long run, and hurts those who practice it too.
Such is the truth of which I speak
Follow the better angels of your nature
And yea shall I try to do so as well
Have a fine Sunday, Brian.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Well done AJ. I’m impressed.

Brian Doyle
BD
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Only come back with facts that completely negate of what I speak off
I speak I’ll of no one
Stupidly is Stupidity nor a crime

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

No insults are delivered only the misguided perceive such by lack of wisdom and for any that should be only a temporary state of affairs
Just awaken your inner wisdom

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Work on that yourself–if you have time between bizarrely worded sermons. Is English your first language?

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

”China has now implemented actions
And confident that Net Zero will be
Reached by 2030
How by massive tree planting , rewilding,resulting in projects with excellent benefits for the local economy and society, huge increase in solar and wind farms along with huge progress in EV battery and vehicle production”

China doing mining on a scale never done before – manufacturing billions of tons of things which have short lives with high maintenance, using energy (coal) on a scale never seen before to do it – and with a net loss of energy really.

China Net-Zero? By 2030?? haha…..Most of the devices you list cannot even be recycled – no… some other answer will have to be found. Bill Gates and the WEF want to kill 8 billion people to manage it – that would work I guess…. but windmills powering battery cars? No….

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago

Go study the facts and pay attention to the massive decrease in CO 2 emissions per head of population and
Compare with other major polluters
China includes it’s Imports to the calculations
Do so with the UK and the figures revealed will not only reveal the awful
Truth and just how much you are being lied to by way of the method of Not telling you facts by means of being
Well and truly economical with the truth
Ah but Westminster is forced to do so
As they are in the pockets of the fossil fuel industries
And whilst we are at it if you remove the data for Scotland then the figures
Are even more shocking
The Labour party who have been forced to cut the proposed borrowing
In main due to unwillingness of the money markets to lend such extremely risky high sums to a Nation that to all intent and purposes is technically bankrupt with little or no
Asessts to guarantee repayments for such loans
If you care to produce a Balance sheet for the UK then indeed you are in for one big suprise in the form that
Nett liabilities are almost ÂŁ 9 trillion
In excess of Nett Asessts
This data tells you that the liabilities are equal to 3 yrs of the total GDP
With no fixed Asessts to cater for repayments
The cuts to Labours proposed transition are
From ÂŁ 28.5 billion every year for the next five to ÂŁ 4.75 billion
These monies are the exact equivalent of what The Scottish Government are committed too and included and protected in their
Budget
This represent 5.5 million people spending exactly the same amount
As 62.5 Million that England, Wales and NI will spend
For any Little Englander on here I shall have no lectures from any upon
These matters
Should you be stupid enough to do so
I shall hit back with veriable facts
That shall completely destroy your
Arguments

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Lol. China is building two coal plants a week, six times more than the rest of the world combined. They make empty promises so virtue signalling politicians in the west can feel good about themselves. Meanwhile, they build solar panels, sell them to the west, using slave labour and coal power.

Here’s a thought exercise. Name one electric grid in anywhere in the world that is run with nothing but wind and solar.

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Go do your research
The big key to all this China’s emissions per head of population is falling at a ever increasing rate
That’s why they have revised Net Zero by 2030
Their is no slave labour in China
That’s Western Propaganda
And with regards Islam in the last 10 yrs China has funded Billions to refurbish vast numbers of Mosque, s
And buildings of historical and cultural importance to Muslims
If you study such you will very quickly learn that China absorbs over the centuries many cultures which invariably evolve and thrive by adapting to Chinese principles
Such is clearly demonstrated in the Architecture of old and modern Mosque construction
Furthermore please explain why 90% of Islamic and Arab nations now align
Themselves with China as opposed to the Hegomonic new colonialism of the West

Paul T
PT
Paul T
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Is that you Snow White?

Brian Doyle
Brian Doyle
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul T

No
It’s one of her seven dwarfs

AJ Mac
AM
AJ Mac
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Doyle

Finally, a sense of humor that I can detect!
Grumpy?

Kasandra H
KH
Kasandra H
1 month ago

John is a farmer, isn’t he? Much more persuasive than Ben Goldsmith in this aspect. Like another commentator mentioned- Enforced change shifts points of equilibrium in complex and non-linear ways. Really interesting debate more enjoyable than I had thought in an area I haven’t thought about. The sheep on the fields seem a nice permanent feature and the lake district certainly looks very charming, at least on my visit there. X

JĂĽrg Gassmann
JĂĽrg Gassmann
1 month ago

Farmers are blamed for lack of originality or entrepreneurialism, but it is precisely the subsidies regime that forces farmers into doing what they’re doing – deviate, and you are punished.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
1 month ago

I did not listen to it – I wish you gave a transcript, I figured it would be too silly. In my life I have spent a couple decades in nature, and years in the remote wilds – tempered with decades in cities, and many in small towns surrounded by nature, such as it is; I also have a background in Biology.

Here s how I see it – Green people wish to have either ‘pets. or Zoos’ that run free and so the creatures and humans who see them think they are wild nature. But they are just pets maintained at expense, and the Greens have no actual idea of nature.

Nothing wrong with that in theory, as long as those who wish it bear the costs mostly, by not imposing excessive rules on everyone, and society to keep these exotic pets in the common lands.

The flip side is conservation and strongly mitigating destruction of nature – this is very good. Naturally there is overlap.

To these guys taking of this, conservation as the world knows it, began and was figured out by a group of wealthy USA city men who were passionate Duck Hunters. Ducks were rapidly heading to extinction at the time due to unrestricted hunting, including ‘market hunting’ and loss of breeding habitat – which were the great prairie ‘pothole’ ponds and lakes, lost to farmers draining them.

See – the ducks in America bred in the North Central Canada and USA States – migrated down to the Gulf of Mexico, then back up to breed and raise the next generation. If one of the many places killed them – then they deprived the other country, and all the states they crossed – the utility of then.

Ducks Unlimited – passionate lovers of all nature and wild things – as hunters and fishers are. (Duck hunters do not spend huge resources, time, and effort off in duckblinds to shoot a duck because they hate them – they do it because they can interact and be in nature they feel a consuming love and passion for)

DU also put into their concept that just seeing them was a Utility with actual value – like say the Mona-Lisa in the Luve – but, and this is key – That just knowing they still were out there raising their broods, migrating, swimming in the Louisiana bayous, then back – that just knowing this is a Actual value too.

Then – this Must be Federally Regulated because it crosses state lines yet is a National asset – therefore no state may unreasonably harm the population as it effects the rest.

Ducks Unlimited immediately added every native bird to their efforts, they just loved all birds, and all the nature which supported them.

These guys were rich and politically powerful. They set aside nesting lands by buying them – but mostly they got Washington DC – with their personal wealth and power (Most were New York Wallstreet guys), to address this. That it means every place ducks touched had to be regulated for the birds benefit, or really – to not be to their destruction – as they were a common asset and no one place may harm them as it deprives others from their utility.

The ducks were saved and exist in millions. From these amazing group of hunters all conservation came – they created the logical political, economic, intellectual template the whole world took up.

Hunters and fishermen are why 95% of global wildlife hangs on or thrives – their money, time, energy, and political clout. The rhino exists as hunters would pay for them to exist – and cared in themselves that they were still alive out in the bush – (and no – not so they could kill them because they hated them, but because they loved them enough to do all they could to ensure their survival)

Now as far as fish – in the freshwater the sport fisherman is why most water laws for conservation exist – why we have good waters – as fishermen love the fish, and the environment they are in. Why else do they sit out there all day in all weather – watching just nothing happening, yet seeing nature very deeply – understanding it – spending time and money – it is because they love it as your walker – your Eco-loon never can – as hunters and fishermen have ‘Skin in the game’ – they know and love it.

I did not listen to these guys but I am a true outdoors man – lived years in remote bush lands – and people now days – in UK most of all – do not give credit to the ‘sport’ hunters and fisherman that there still is nature – that they love the environment more than any other. I hope these guys read some on Ducks Unlimited – and Audubon – but just add a comment from the other end of things –

You have to value and love nature to save it – and very few do – they know nothing of it, they have no skin in the game – but they like the idea, and so they get NGOs to run it – but virtually all NGOs are corrupt and stupid. The kind they would use have no understanding – but they will be the ones running this thing – it will be a mess, l

Stephen Lodziak
Stephen Lodziak
1 month ago

Ben Goldsmith has an overly-positive perspective of human and nature harmony in Sri Lanka. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-023-02650-7#:~:text=Human%2Delephant%20conflict%20(HEC),to%20share%20limited%20land%20resources.

Mark Smith
MS
Mark Smith
1 month ago

Similar debates are happening in the U.S.. This article https://www.skyhinews.com/news/colorado-local-leaders-and-stakeholders-share-thoughts-on-wolf-reintroduction/ describes the re-introduction of wolves into rural Colorado as mandated by a state-wide Proposition supported predominantly by urban dwellers. I think “negligent homicide” would be the proper charge for these voters if their imposition of an apex predator on other people goes awry. Even if attacks on humans are rare, pets and livestock will certainly by killed as part of this romantic vision of re-wilding.
Animals as majestic as wolves like elk and moose are already prospering in the supposedly de-wilded environment. So much so, in fact, that recreational hunting is allowed. It is probably regulated such that those big game animals are not exterminated. I doubt the wolves will show such concern for the propagation of the Earth’s bounty to future generations.