Last month Anna Souter wrote a piece for the blog about the act of rewilding in anticipation of an exhibition she co-curated this month. Happily, she has decided to share some images from this exhibition with us so that although the exhibition only lasted a week, we can still enjoy exploring it here.
‘Rewilding’ is a word that’s become increasingly popular among those interested in discovering a more seasonal, wilder way of living. But what does it really mean?
Rewilding is a radical mode of conservation, which requires human beings to rescind control, step back and allow an ecosystem to restore its own balance. It means stopping practices such as burning heathland (known as ‘swaling’ in the west country), damming rivers, or allowing unnatural numbers of sheep, deer or ponies to graze. All these practices, while sometimes traditional, are intended not to help ecosystems thrive, but to give farmers more opportunities to feed their animals or till the soil.
Unfortunately, in Britain, many of our well-known landscapes have been over-grazed and ‘managed’ to within an inch of their lives, resulting in upland zones that lack any significant diversity of wildlife and are dominated by monocultures of bracken, heather and poor-quality grass. In most European nations with similar topography to Britain, however, these uplands are only lightly farmed and therefore mostly forested, which is the best environment for biodiversity.
Rewilding is, in essence, about bringing this diversity back to our landscapes. Life, we find, is not simply a linear chain of events, but networked, complex and – undeniably – beautiful. When nature is given a vote of confidence and allowed to pursue its own ends, the results can be spectacular. Rewilded places have the potential to captivate us. Fascinating lichens, fungi, butterflies, birds, rodents, reptiles and amphibians all have a chance to find a home again. Rewilded places offer something new with every visit, every change in season. In the biggest projects, we might have the chance to encounter a wild boar or a beaver, maybe even one day to spot a wolf on a distant ridge.
Not only would all this be thrilling, it would help us to live more wildly. Nowhere shows the changing seasons better than a wood. Seeing those tiny interactions between tree creeper and insect, frog and leaf-shade, weasel and burrow, would make us more mindful of our own connections to the living, breathing world around us. It would be ours for the looking, as well as its own to do as it liked.
I think rewilding would benefit both people and the planet – and I think we both need defending. A more reciprocal, sensitive form of conservation is only going to come out of conversation. We need to kick-start the debate. There are already a number of fantastic projects happening on a big scale – Summit to Sea in West Wales, for example, and the Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Scotland. Some of the big conservation charities have also got on board, albeit often quite cautiously. But there is still a long way to go – especially as rewilding can and should only happen with the full, informed consent of local communities.
There are misconceptions to overcome too. The idea of reintroducing wolves, for example, delights some people and terrifies others. But while species introduction is an element of rewilding, wolves would not be appropriate for most landscapes and would only ever be introduced to very sparsely populated environments. Mostly we’re talking about pine-martens and missing birds.
Moreover, many people who live in towns, or even in agricultural parts of the countryside, think rewilding isn’t relevant to them because it could only happen somewhere far off. But I hope that the distinction between urban and rural can be collapsed here, and that we can reintroduce wilder ways of living for all. Urban biodiversity is fascinating in its own right, and even the smallest plots in ‘rural’ areas can be seeded with wildflowers, or incorporate wildlife corridors.
As a curator and writer, I hope to bring people together to debate these issues and to work across the boundaries of disciplines and locations to find new solutions to the rewilding question.
There is a way of living more wildly, co-existing peacefully both with the natural world and with other people. But we need to collaborate to find it.
Sun streams through net curtains casting shapes and shadows on the floor. Noise builds in the eves, the shrubs and the crevices where small winged lodgers winter and build nests. Hardy crocus bulbs burst through trampled ground to dust the village green in patches of purple and white.
I feel light, the shadow of winter lifted. My mind fills with seed plans and long walks and toes dipped in rivers. I wonder where I stowed the tent, the flask and stove. Maps find their way into my fingers and are unfolded, carpeting the room with lines and contours and legends. My head fights the feeling. There was a frost just yesterday and the wood store is still stocked, enough fuel for another month at least.
A sound brings me back to the room, four sandstone walls filled with light and lined with books. There’s a bumble bee at my window. She tips and taps and wants to come in. I lean across and stare through the single pane of glass. She’s as big as a cherry & hooped in yellow and black. Needle fine hairs and translucent wings beating faster than my heart ever should. She doesn't know that she shouldn't be here yet. It isn't her fault.
I lean back in my chair and allow myself the sun and its warmth in this moment. One for which I’m equally grateful and sad. As life changes, we adapt and grow. I fish out a teaspoon from the kitchen drawer and make my first sugar syrup of the year. It’s on the windowsill now, a tonic for passing visitors in need of a helping hand.
This year, I’ll make a plan. One that is kind and gentle. I’ll be mindful of my footprint and the impact it may have. I’ll tread softly, only take what I need and give back as much as I possibly can. This flash of spring in winter is a wake-up call. One I needed more than I knew.
It’s always hard to admit when a piece of outdoor clothing has had its last run. It probably cost a lot of money and over several summers has gathered memories you’re not willing to part with. Now there’s a third factor finding voice among the outdoor community — the environmental impact of our specialised gear. Chemical coatings are used during manufacture to provide technical features and finishes. Every time we wash this clothing, these substances (called perfluorinated chemicals) seep into our water systems, eventually finding their way into rivers and seas
Yet, while the use of PFCs and microplastics is still considered essential by the industry, consumers are looking for other ways to reduce the environmental damage that is growing on the back of the outdoor lifestyle trend.
One solution is repair and recycling.
Meet Neza Petreca. Slovenian-born co-founder of Blind Chic and saviour of tired equipment.
Over the last few years several leading brands have begun encouraging customers to return gear for repair, rather than discarding it. Patagonia have even gone as far as setting up pop-up repair shops for gear from any brand. However, Neza takes it a step further. When a piece of clothing is beyond repair she turns it into something new. In collaboration with her customers Neza looks first at repair and if this isn’t possible, they’ll discuss what material can be saved and what new item the customer wants from it.
Her specialism is in bags so often Neza will make pouches, bikepacking bags or even rucksacks from damaged clothing and gear. It was the humble pouch that sparked her ambition to turn recycling into a business. Following the success of her DIY tutorial video on bikepacking.com, friends and family started approaching Neza with their old clothing.
She’s been at it ever since.
When Neza realised this was a passion she undertook an internship with Barbara Heinze, repair seamstress and owner of her own kids clothing brand. It was Heinze who taught her to see every repair as a new problem to solve and who instilled the confidence needed to start cutting up £500 technical jackets!
Since returning to her native Slovenia, Neza has been putting her new techniques to work, as well as persuading anyone who’ll listen to consider where their old clothing goes.
What happens to it once we’ve decided it’s worthless?
The good news is Neza sees change happening. Once recycling was a thing people did because they couldn’t afford new. Now even the wealthy want to buy quality, take care of it and see it last. Customers have become curious; they want to know who’s making their products and where they’re coming from. In turn, this creates a mentality of investment. The customer knows the story behind their purchase which gives them a personal connection, not only to the brand but to the product. It’s an investment — both financial and emotional.
As well as thermal layers and softshell jackets, Neža loves to work with damaged camping mattresses because the stiff fabric makes items that hold their shape. Tents interest her too because the large surface area offers the possibility for multiple new pieces. Here’s a few of Neza’s suggestions for simple ways to make worn summer gear work in winter:
merino t-shirts become neckwarmers
a thin windbreaker transformed into a vest
merino ear flaps on a summer cap when the temperature drops
While the recycling work continues to gain momentum, the designer has set in motion plans to open her own repair shop in Bovec, the outdoor capital of Slovenia. In this tiny town, on the banks of the turquoise Soča river, she envisions a shop and community space offering outdoor education. After all, education is the force driving change in outdoor consumerism.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in recycling or repairing your own equipment, contact Neza through her website.
Image below by Franzi Wernsing