Using domesticated animals in rewilding projects: what does the public think?

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Over recent years, rewilding has enjoyed growing traction in restoration ecology and it now receives considerable public exposure. The concept of rewilding has been around since the 1990s. Essentially, it involves retrieving so-called ‘missing’, or ‘dysfunctional’, ecological processes, i.e. ‘restarting’ them, with the goal of creating better habitats and obtaining more species diversity. In this paper, we will focus on a specific form of rewilding, known as ‘translocation rewilding’, in the Danish context. In this kind of rewilding, domesticated larger grazing animals such as horses and cattle are settled in National Nature Parks with an area of 5-30 km2 to facilitate the improvements to the ecosystem just mentioned. In some cases, the animal populations will hold male and female animals and will be allowed to reproduce naturally. This way of managing nature is controversial, not only in Denmark but also, for example, in the Netherlands. A key question is how the animals released into the area should be regarded, and treated, over time: Are they domestic or wild animals? Will the public buy into the idea that the animals should fend for themselves, or will they think that they should remain domestic animals in human care, only differing from other domestic animals in the special benefits they provide? This paper aims to develop a better understanding of these questions, and of where the public stand on them. We present an empirically informed ethical analysis. The data were obtained in a nationally representative survey conducted in Denmark in the spring of 2022. The questionnaire contained one section on general attitudes to nature and wild animals, one on National Nature Parks, and another specifically on animal management and welfare. Best-Worst scaling was applied to data from the last two of these sections to elicit public priorities. Our aim was to identify, categorise and characterise the values at play. We anticipated that we would observe three clusters of these relating to nature, animals, and humans, and that the clusters would contain, as salient parts, naturalness, wildness, animal welfare, and human access and safety. So far, discussions of translocation rewilding within the scientific community and civil society have been polarised. We emphasise the need for a more clear and transparent discussion of what people care about and how they think potentially conflicting concerns should be balanced.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransforming food systems : ethics, innovation and responsibility
EditorsDonald Bruce, Ann Bruce
Number of pages6
PublisherWageningen Academic Publishers
Publication date2022
ISBN (Print)978-90-8686-387-7
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-8686-939-8
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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