Course:CONS200/2016w2/Wiki Projects/Re-Wilding Movement

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The Rewilding Movement in the Heart of Wales - the Cambrian Mountains

Representation of the lack of vegetation in grass fields, Cambrian Mountains. Gabby77. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cambrian Mountains, once a striving natural land, has been overwhelmed by harsh agricultural practices which triggered a shift in native vegetation as well as habitat loss. Located in the heart of Wales, the Cambrian Mountains is home to farmers who raise sheep, a traditional source of protein and wool, through grazing practices that have left the land barren of natural vegetation. As George Monbiot describes it, the Cambrian Mountains have been reduced to a desert to support agricultural practices that are of small influence [1]. This unprecedented shift in vegetation and habitat loss has gained the attention of the Welsh government and non-government organizations to collectively work with farmers in creating a sustainable management plan to revitalize the Cambrian Mountains. However, such plans have been met with opposition from farmers and village councils, comparing rewilding efforts of the Cambrian Mountains with the dislocation of Native Americans upon the creation of Yosemite National Park, stating rewilding the Cambrian Mountains will take away tradition[2]. On the other hand, advocators for the rewilding of the Cambrian Mountains, such as George Monbiot, allege rewilding efforts will produce more revenue through tourism[3]. With the occurrence of Brexit, Wales has departed from the European Union, hence causing uncertainty of trade sanctions[4] and funding for rewilding and conservation efforts. As the problem of degraded land persists, the Cambrian Mountains will be the subject of conservation and rewilding efforts as stress imposed by public attention gains momentum.

Rewilding - A Large Scale Conservation Effort

Rewilding is a large scale conservation method that restores degraded ecosystems back to its original state by reintroducing vegetation and wildlife [5]. Rewilding Europe, the current largest rewilding initiative, aims to rewild one million hectares of land in Europe, spread across 10 areas, by 2020. Currently, only 8 areas are selected with room for 2 more. However, the Cambrian Mountains will not be considered because of Brexit and Wales’ separation from the European Union. The initiative is run by four non-government organizations and a staggering £3 million was raised for the initiative through a lottery in Netherlands[6] [7]. Rewilding Europe poses as a framework for future rewilding efforts in areas across the world, showing how conservation efforts can be successfully carried out by non-government organizations and public involvement.

The Cambrian Mountains

Geology and History

Wind turbines at the site of Cefn Croes, Cambrian Mountains. Nigel Brown. CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cambrian Mountains are located in rural Wales and have originally been classified as most of upland Wales. However, since the 1950s, the Cambrian Mountains have been referred to as mainly the areas of Pumlumon (the highest point of Wales at 752 meters), Elenyyd and Mynyyd Mallen and cover a total land area of 1210 km2. After the most recent ice age, glaciers and ice sheets, reaching thousands of feet thick, shaped the landscape by engraving deep into the mountain sides exposing rocks on the sides of the mountains. The Cambrian Mountains are home to an abundant amount of water bodies which have been used by the Welsh to create dams and water reservoirs such as the Claerwen dam. These dams and water reservoirs provide Southern Wales a source of water and energy. Because of its isolated location, the Cambrian Mountains are been home to a wind farm that have been met with controversy. During its construction, hectares of peat bogs were destroyed to make room for the wind turbines. Encompassed in three different states, Powys, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, the Cambrian Mountains are under multiple government jurisdictions, causing political boundaries in land management efforts. This political boundary is represented by ongoing management efforts as well as a national parks proposal in 1970. The Cambrian Mountains, valued for its aesthetic beauties, was proposed to be a national park, however, objections from landowners, farmers, as well as dispute from the different governments determinately led to the termination of the proposal [8].

Sheep - a Traditional Farm Animal

Welsh Mountain sheep roaming the open fields. Vertigogen. CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sheep, a farm animal with a thick wool coat, has been a primary source of protein as well as income for rural communities in Wales. Since the late 12th century, Wales has been dependent on sheep as its main principle income[9]. The Cambrian Mountains is renowned for its sheep, producing high quality wool and Welsh lamb which is world renowned. Welsh’s high quality of sheep has led the Cambrian Mountains to devote 85% of its land area for agricultural purposes, mainly sheep farms, and the remaining 15% for forestry purposes [10]. This high intensity of sheep farming has not been met without consequences, however. By 2012, sheep populations in Wales have decreased from 12 million, in the late 1990s, to roughly 8.9 million, but numbers reveal that population of sheep are on a steady rise[11]. The millions of sheep roughly outnumber the human population by three times. This large population of sheep have led to a barren landscape, losing a large variety of biodiversity due to overgrazing. Surprisingly, Wales still import 7 times as much meat as it does export [12], leaving some to question if the meat and wool from sheep farming is worth the natural consequences.

Fauna and Flora

Since the industrial revolution, human activities have affected the ecosystem of Cambrian mountain area. Large vegetational shift has been observed. A great number of animals has disappeared. The habitats and different landform typical for some special species have undergone a large scale transformation or destruction. Dominant factors that result in the large scale fauna and flora shift includes: over grazing pressure, burning caused by human, global warming, nutrient input from human fertilization, etc (Chambers et al.1979). Today, as many rewilding movements are ongoing in Cambrian mountain area, rebuilding of these important habitats and reintroduction of extinct native species become more and more important.

A European wild boar piglet, painted by Hans Hoffman in 1578. Note the stripes, a characteristic feature of piglets. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Since the beginning of 20th century, a great number of species native to Cambrian mountain has been wiped out from this area due to human activities. Three main factors that contributes to the lost of these species is: huntings, habitat loss due to agriculture and industry, sheep grazing. Combination of these three factors threaten the animals, forcing them to face the risks of being killed, staving, and driven out from home.

Cambrian mountain has lots of mammals, but many of them are now absent. Mammals including water vole, mountain hare, roe deer, wild horse, wild cattle, wild boar, and beaver and many other herbivores used to lived in this area, but now disappear. This area also lost a large collection of birds. Species like Golden eagle, White tailed eagle, black grouse, osprey, goshawk are now extinct in Cambrian mountain. In the rewilding project that is ongoing in Cambrian mountain, reintroduction of many of these species are emphasized. we would expect to see many of these species in rewilded Cambrian mountain again.

Now, the reintroduction project are dividing the reintroducing species into 3 types. The pine marten and red squirrel is typically important, as they offer an interesting parallel reintroduction, and provide source for recolonization. Currently, 2 zones in Cambrian mountain has been chosen to release 40 animals in total.

Large herbivores are also key elements in this project. It is the main power that gives major influence to shape the habitat environment. The first large herbivore to be reintroduced in this project is likely to be horse, followed by roe deer, tarpan, red deer is other animals.

Other species includes small animals like birds and small mammals. By changing the sheep gazing site, it is possible to reshape the landform and attract the birds back. Since sheep gazing is responsible for the missing of many small animals, changing the sheep gazing site along can bring back many species, for example, water vole, which is absent in most area of Cambrian mountain. Other important small animals to be reintroduced includes, beaver, mountain hare, wild cat and wild boar.

Grey wolves. Taral Jansen / Soldatnytt, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other predator species like wild wolf, bear, are also very important for the rewilding project. The wolf in Cambrian mountain area disappeared probably at 1700s. It is wiped out due to the rise of hunting activities and the expansion of agricultural area. Farmers take wolf as a threat to the sheep, and killed many of them. Wolf is a very important component of the ecosystem of Cambrian mountain area. It has the power of turning the grassland into forest and changing the landform, providing habitats that can be used by many other species. And they actually present very low risk to the sheep and human. However, reintroduction of wolf has lots of difficulties. Negotiation with governments and local farmers are still ongoing, and the voice of opposition is loud.

Even predators species present risks to the safety of visitors and domestic animals, they actually play important role in balancing the stability of ecosystem. They clean out the sick and old herbivores from the ecosystem, and reduce the pressure of ecosystem by hunting down deers and habits that are overmuch for the ecosystem.

A tree covered with leafy foliose lichens and shrubby fruticose lichens. Michael Maggs. CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Cambrian Mountain area has a very diverse lichen and bryophyte community. Woods in this area are mainly sessile oak, and birch. The typical niches in these area provide fine environment for upland acidic flora to grow. Cambrian mountain contains rich collection of wildflowers, including primroses, common dog violets, wood anemones, yellow pimpernel, and common cow-wheat.

Massive shift in flora has been started since the industrial revolution. The macrofossil data in Drygarn Fawr, Cambrian Mountain indicates a few presentative vegetation shift evidences.

Dramatic rise of Molinia epidermis has been observed in many sites in Cambrian mountain. Actually, this rise brought a recent dominance in the vegetation in the area. Macrofossil data showed Molinia epidermis was present for hundreds of years, but not overwhelmingly dominant. Human agricultural activities that invaded into this site may be a dominant factor for the dominance of Molinia epidermis. Nutrient input in the soil from agricultural fertilization and pollutants from industrial activities result in the over nutrient property of soil. Frequent burning by farmers made rooms for Molinia epidermis to invade. The dominance of Molinia epidermis changed the habitats type and is related to the decline and extinction of other vegetation species, due to the intense competition.

Another feature of vegetational shift in Cambrian mountain is decline of Sphagnum. The Sphagnum was observed to be relatively abundant in Cambrian mountain area, until the dramatic dominance of Molinia epidermis. Molina epidermis invaded the habitats of Sphagnum, and the significant change in soil properties and climatic properties made Cambrian mountain area less suitable for the growth of Sphagnum.

To rewild Cambrian mountain area, habitat restoration is necessary. Shifting the vegetation back to what is suitable for native species is very important. In Cambrian Wildwood project proposal, converting the vegetation and planting native woodland is proposed. One step is to convert the conifer plantation to native woodland. Mature conifer stands will be harvested, and new native woodland species will be established.

Management and Rewilding Efforts

Nowadays, the rewilding management is quite important in every aspects of conservation. The rewilding management is in order to protect and restore some wilderness areas including the animals and plants living in the protected area. As for the Cambrian Mountain, some grassroots groups and organizations have done some project to make the Cambrian Mountain rewilding. The Cambrian Wildwood Project is the most famous project for the management of Cambrian Mountain.

Cambrian Wildwood Project

The project aims to rebuild a part of the Cambrian Mountains, managed by the charity organization, Wales Wild Land Foundation [13]. This project will restore the local forest and bring back some of the lost animals. The initial focus was on 750 acres of degraded upland valley and moorland, which is in order to expand the area of Wildwood from 750 acres to 7500 acres through land purchases and the cooperation with some other organizations, companies and the landowners. It is a five-year project for restoration, reintroduction and cultural ecosystem services. Their slogan is “Rewilding in action- restoring habitats and species, connecting people with wildlife and wild places.” The purpose of this project are

  1. Restoring the native woodland and heathland habitat.
  2. Enabling wildlife animals to come back to the area they used to live in.
  3. Making the ecosystem service available, especially the provisioning services and cultural services.

First part is to process the land purchase through several ways. They are mainly volunteer input, company cooperation and money raising by many charity foundations. After purchasing, the habitat restoration is the next step, which is mainly divided in to four steps.

  1. Planting native woodland
  2. Enabling natural colonization of native trees.
  3. Converting conifer plantations to native woodland.
  4. Restoring heathland on degraded moorland.”

The third part is to reintroduce the species, which means enabling the animals come back to the area. Many native animals are lost because of several external factors, such as human activity. When planting the forest, some condition may be acceptable by some animals, which may come back. So it should be appropriately considered. The final part of this project is to make people have access into this area for education and culture purposes. There are four main steps to finish.

  1. Creating trails and wild camping zones
  2. School and media program
  3. Hosting educational and cultural activieties.
  4. Cultural connections with wildlife.

The WWLF creates a wildlife landscape for nature reserve, in which people can stay in the wildwood by camping, hiking, traveling and so on. Besides, a charity organization, is currently setting up some programs related to school and media in order to provide a proper storytelling system to educate the children. Surely this program can be cooperated by some voluntary organization and some press. They can also provide the volunteer for guide and the books to achieve the purpose of education.

Restoration of Pumlumon

Pumlumon, the highest point of the Wales, has been recognized as an environmental concern for conservation efforts because of its watershed areas. The Pumlumon landscape project has undertaken a pilot program where farmers and landowners were given roughly £265 to restore 1 hectare of land. This monetary incentive has proven effective, as in the past 5 years, large areas of land were protected and restored [14] These restoration and conservation efforts weren’t only met with monetary benefits. Farmers receiving a different source of income other than agriculture relieved stress imposed onto the land through grazing. In addition, the quality of drinking water was increased and the risk of flood was decreased. The pilot program’s results implicate that the Cambrian Mountains have the ability to be able to return to its original state through rewilding. With careful management plans, the pilot program can be used as a framework for a collective management plan with landowners and farmers with monetary incentives.

Social Response

Emphasis on Traditional Farming

In order to protect the traditional farmland, many argue that traditional extensive farming allows high species diversity compare to natural forests or open spaces that have not been managed by human. [15] They believe that traditional practices are environmentally friendly and thus the traditional agriculture spaces have less to no negative effects on the local ecosystem. Many express their firm belief in the traditional practices, claiming it could and should be supported. Semi-open spaces like extensive farmlands provide habitat for some wildlife, allowing them to survive outside the complete wild. [16] However, evidences shows that while extensive agriculture is less detrimental to the biodiversity than intensive agriculture, returning the farmland into wild and the resulting mosaic of wild forests and open lands could sustain local ecosystems that are rich in diversity. Such wild spaces could bring back species that were once extinct due to the expansion of human activities into the nature. [17]

Cultural Viewpoint

Local residents have negative view on those agricultural spaces that are being abandoned, because it destroys the beauty of the landscape. [18]However, those fostering rewilding movement argues that by reforesting or afforesting abandoned farmlands, it could add on to the local landscape’s aesthetic value, and become new attraction to tourists. [19] As the residents of Welsh hunter-gatherer and agricultural community as well as the centre of Welsh traditions and culture, [20] some express the fear toward the loss of their culture and tradition associated with the land, claiming the land is the base of various cultural and social experiences. [21] The concerns in losing platforms on acquiring experiences in the farmland and its knowledge are significant among local agricultural farmers. [22] On the other hand, a study shows that while general population have strong emotional connection to the land, there is a consensus that the cultural landscape projects as well as intensification and reforestation are preferred. [23] People react more to the changes in landscapes where they are more familiar with, because they associate their emotions and add meaning to the landscape, and thus they favor changes that are socially sound and aesthetically acceptable. [24]

Arguments for the rewilding of Cambrian Mountains

The Cambrian Mountains have gained public attention and public momentum in conservation and rewilding efforts. With the Cambrian Wildwood projects, one of the main rewilding efforts taken place, showing public backing by achieving monetary goals in crowd funders, it is evident that the public wants to see rewilding efforts in the Cambrian Mountains. The arguments for rewilding lay on a large spectrum, with some believing that the rewilding will generate more income than farming through tourism[25], and others wanting to see the Cambrian Mountains being restored back to its natural beauty. The arguments for rewilding are vast, however, they overlap with traditional and territorial claims of the farmers and landowners, creating an obstacle for further conservation efforts.

Layering Perspectives

In this section we welcome contributions from scholars and students to widen the scope of possible approaches and perspectives regarding the re-wilding movement of the Cambrian Mountains. Those interested in contributing to this case study may use the following questions as a guide:

  1. Viewed through the lens of other disciplines and professions, what other actors become relevant when engaging in open discourse relating to the re-wilding movement of the Cambrian Mountains?
  2. What special expertise, resources, or theoretical orientations might others bring to help us better address challenges associated with the re-wilding movement?

The Big Picture

If you look at the Cambrian Mountains on a large scale, you see a vast wildland full of unfathomable beauty, with rivers of running water, large water bodies that make up dams and remnants of brick buildings from the past. However, if you look at the Cambrian Mountains on a smaller scale, you see fields, barren of wildlife and vegetation due to sheep farming. The debate for conservation and rewilding efforts run deep. An overlapping claim of rights hides in the shadows. On one hand, farmers and rural towns argue that it is their traditional right to raise sheep and to utilize their meat for food and wool as a source of income. On the other side of the debate, environmentalists see the fast pace vegetation shift and decrease of biodiversity in the region as a cry for help, hoping to rewild the area before it’d too late. The argument pertains still, and has yet been answered: do environmentalists have the right to intrude on traditional farming methods to save the Cambrian Mountains of further vegetation and biodiversity loss.


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  12. Monbiot, G. (2017). Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition.
  13. (1) Wales Wild Land Foundation. (2016). Cambrian Wildwood project proposal. Retrieved from
  14. Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. (n.d.)Farmers working together to restore important habitats and ecosystems in the Cambrian Mountains of Montgomeryshire. Higher Nature Value Farming. Retrieved from:
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  16. Conti, Giorgio; Fagrarazzi, Laura. 2005. Forest expansion in mountain ecosystems: “environmentalist’s dream” or societal nightmare? Driving forces, topics and impacts of one of the main 20th century's environmental, territorial and landscape transformations in Italy. European Journal of Planning, 11 (2005) 1-20. Retrieved on March 24, 2017 from:
  17. Navarro, Letitia M.; Pereira, Henrique M. (2012). Rewilding Abandoned Landscapes in Europe. Ecosystems, 15 (6) (September 2012) 900-912. Retrieved on March 4, 2017 from:
  18. Navarro, Letitia M.; Pereira, Henrique M. (2012). Rewilding Abandoned Landscapes in Europe. Ecosystems, 15 (6) (September 2012) 900-912. Retrieved on March 4, 2017 from:
  19. Conti, Giorgio; Fagrarazzi, Laura. 2005. Forest expansion in mountain ecosystems: “environmentalist’s dream” or societal nightmare? Driving forces, topics and impacts of one of the main 20th century's environmental, territorial and landscape transformations in Italy. European Journal of Planning, 11 (2005) 1-20. Retrieved on March 24, 2017 from:
  20. Fenwick, Nick. 2013. Don’t twist reality to create the wild Wales of English romantic myth. The Guardian. Retrieved on March 25, 2017 from
  21. Cruz, Melquiades. 2010. A living space: The relationship between land and property in the community. Political Geography 29 (2010) 420-421. Retrieved on March 24, 2017 from:
  22. Conti, Giorgio; Fagrarazzi, Laura. 2005. Forest expansion in mountain ecosystems: “environmentalist’s dream” or societal nightmare? Driving forces, topics and impacts of one of the main 20th century's environmental, territorial and landscape transformations in Italy. European Journal of Planning, 11 (2005) 1-20. Retrieved on March 24, 2017 from:
  23. Hunziker, Marcel; Patricia Felber, Katrin Gehring, Matthias Buchecker, NicoleBauer and Felix Kienast. (2008). Evaluation of Landscape Change by Different Social Groups: Results of Two Empirical Studies in Switzerland. Mountain Research and Development, 28 (2), Landscape as a Resource for Mountain Development (May, 2008) 140-147. Retrieved on March 24, 2017 from:
  24. Hunziker, Marcel; Patricia Felber, Katrin Gehring, Matthias Buchecker, NicoleBauer and Felix Kienast. (2008). Evaluation of Landscape Change by Different Social Groups: Results of Two Empirical Studies in Switzerland. Mountain Research and Development, 28 (2), Landscape as a Resource for Mountain Development (May, 2008) 140-147. Retrieved on March 24, 2017 from:
  25. Farilie, S. (2013). Rewilding and Food Security. The Land Issue, 14, 23-25.