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Protecting the World’s Wild Spaces from the Anthropocene’s Expansive Reach

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Ani Talwar explores how we can protect wild spaces, by working with the Anthropocene and isolating the negative influences and maximising on the positives that humans have to offer. If we work in tandem with nature, rather than controlling or separating ourselves fully from it, there is more of a chance our community will protect it and pass this on to future generations. 

Image Credit: Pixabay

Over 70% of the non-ice ice land on Earth is currently influenced directly by humans, with 50% of land being changed for the sole purpose of feeding the human population. The correlation between the human expanse and changing land use is stark, with urban land increasing 40 times between 1700 and 2000. As well as, for example, the areas used for crops rose from 2% to 12% in this same timeframe.

In a world of growing populations and technology that would be difficult to immediately halt, protecting wild places altogether from any influence of the Anthropocene seems unlikely. However, several case studies show a human influence does not always mean a negative influence in wild and natural spaces, for which reason I propose you consider this solution to protecting the wild: working with the Anthropocene. This would be by isolating the negative influences and maximising on the positives that humans have to offer.

The Anthropocene is defined in the dictionary as ‘relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment,’, or more succinctly, ‘the age of humans’. However, this does not specify upon any singular human effect, including population growth and climate warming, but also advancement in technology and a new thinking in society towards the betterment of wild spaces.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Take a place called Haweswater as an example. Perched in an alcove in the Lake District, it is a self-proclaimed ‘wild corner of the National Park’ that aims to preserve its own wild areas with the aid of human influence. The local team work to rejuvenate the wild areas, right down to the peat bog itself and all the way up to the trees. Visitors can visit specific spots (such as the ‘Woodland Wildlife Hide’) to see the benefits of this effort, such as the red squirrel or the badger population.

The Knepp Wildland Project is further proof that working with anthropogenic influences can increase the success of wild areas. Set up in 2001 in West Sussex, this farm went from struggling to promote grazing, to learning from nature in what was termed a ‘process led’ experiment, where nature took the wheel. As a result of this, creeping thistles which previously had been removed, were allowed to grow; by Summer 2009, the acute benefits were appreciated when one of the largest migrations of butterflies in the area was recorded. As the thistles prevented other animals grazing, grasshopper and lizard populations began to increase also. 

Amongst other effects of having humans understand nature rather than separate from it, was the increase of the Sallow Tree population. An upsurge in the number of these trees served to increase the population size of Purple Emperor butterflies, which allowed further research on the species to be done. This, in turn, meant that the butterfly’s habitat and behavioural patterns have now been understood, which can only be a positive in the future when it comes to assessing how best to interact with nature.

Image Credit: Pixabay

In contrast to preventing this wild space from being touched by humans at all, this approach meant that any gleaned benefits were doubly appreciated, thus promoting better treatment of wild spaces. The idea of protecting wild spaces by working with the human influence is increasingly beneficial: we are not separating ourselves from nature, but instead, we are valuing it. As David Attenborough said in his book A Life On Our Planet: ‘Farming Transformed the relationship between humankind and nature. We were, in a very small way, taming part of the wild- controlling our environment to a modest degree’. Sir Attenborough then goes on to further explain how we as humans selected animals to suit us, removed competitive plants, and changed the fertility of land, and this is only in reference to the rise of farming.

By working in tandem with nature, rather than controlling it, or separating ourselves fully from it, there is more chance a community, such as in Knepp or Haweswater, will protect it and then pass this on to future generations. By isolating wild areas from any anthropogenic influence, you also reduce your understanding of it.

Another passage in A Life On Our Planet introduces to the reader to a scientist called Bernhard Grzimek, who flew over the Serengeti and understood the movement and survival of the ecosystem. If Grzimek had been completely isolated from this wild area, he would never have understood the domino effect that could destroy it. Without this interaction and appreciation, would he have been able to influence two entire countries into taking huge projective measures with regards to the area? If the land had been separated from human influence, it may not have been able to require protecting, but if Grzimek hadn’t been able to appreciate the steppingstones in the ecosystem, we would not be in a position where we can understand the area needs to be protected, and more importantly why it needs protecting.

With growing understanding of the workings and the values of the wild landscape, there is an increased motivation to protect it and leave nature alone, because we understand exactly what we will lose in its absence. In this way, we acknowledge the benefits that come with the Anthropocene: with technology, a society more appreciative of nature and more people who want to study the natural environment, we can protect wild areas from the more negative aspects.

Image Credit: Pexels

Though, the rise in human population does bring known struggles, such as, where people will live, how they will get materials, and how they will be fed; the increase in thinking minds also increases technological potential. This allowed scientists in the Netherlands to create robotic bees which can fly at 15mph with longer lasting batteries, in order to cope with the threat on the bee population. Of the three main threats to bees listed in the WWF, climate change is one of them, and is also credited with threatening 1 in 6 species to the point of extinction. Separating and cordoning off sections of the globe listed as wild might protect these areas from the influence of deforestation, certain water and soil pollutions, and immediate human influence, but it will not protect that area from climate change. 

Whether it is anthropogenically caused or not, climate change is an increasing risk to wild areas. If the British wild pollinator population were less at risk, there would even be more Gala apples on trees to the value of £5.7 million. To protect these wild populations from negative anthropogenic influence, we must not keep ourselves away from it. Bridging gaps in knowledge is actually the idea behind the WWF’s first two recommendations on conservation action, proving that there are perceived benefits to having humans integrate themselves into the natural world by understanding it, rather than protecting it by separation. By understanding these wild spaces, the WWF goes on to say that Farming groups, Brownfield sites, Grassland, Coastal Habitats, Heathland and also Urban areas can be managed effectively to ‘relink[s] disjointed fragments,’ within the different land types, thus achieving a more streamlined symbiosis between wild areas and humans.

Image Credit: Pixabay

For this reason, the protection of wild areas from the Anthropocene should begin with understanding the positive influences humans have had, through technology advancements and the extensive database of facts that have been recorded both about the past environment, and the intricacies of the current environment too. By increasing human understanding of the value of wild areas, we can initiate more programmes where populated areas (such as Knepp) can evolve into wild, yet populated, areas, and natural areas (such as Haweswater) can remain wild, with the tourist attraction centred around appreciating this.

In fact, there are several examples of how we are already learning to live with nature, not just in it. If cities can achieve a rewilding effect, then it’s a good sign for less urbanised areas too. Singapore, for example, has super trees which house over 200 species of plants, giving a total of 162, 000 plants. Furthermore, Nottingham, UK, is taking advantage of the empty shop fronts post-Covid with a proposal to demolish the shopping centre all together and replace it with a green space, in order to connect Sherwood Forest to the city.

By appreciating and supporting wild areas more, we will more effectively understand how to protect wild areas and see just why they need protecting. Technology can then help bridge this gap, proven by the aforementioned artificial bees. As the human population rises, and the Anthropocene continues, halting all expansion would be an enormous challenge. However, this does not mean that wild areas need be lost. By working with the changes, harnessing new minds to improve protective technology and the change in society to promote a preservation of wild areas in tandem with population growth, the positive side of what an Anthropocene means can dominate, and wild areas can still be protected from the negative side of the Anthropocene.

About the author: Ani Talwar is the Content Manager at WILD Magazine. Ani can be found at @Mischief.weavers; she cares passionately about sustainability and wrote the book Atro-City, The Flood, which introduces sustainability to readers in the form of a fiction adventure.

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