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Rewilding Wales Dyfi Valley

PRACTICESwhich build the regenerative capacity of a place including its land, waters, plants, animals and people are the focus of this project. We call them land practices for short and they can have a wide range of purposes and motivations. They can be social and cultural practices, they can be spiritual practices or nature recovery and conservation motived. 

Some of them may not even have the explicit objective of land or nature regeneration, but do have such an effect, like in the case of Bhutan's Ridam practice.

Fire for Food May 2023 - cultural burn in progress.jpg
Collecting materials from mountain forests Bhutan
Mossy trees Wales - photo by Isabel Sebastian

The practice of cultural-burning in Australia has been passed down through generations by the Indigenous peoples of Australia for at least 65,000 years and potentially even longer. The practice of cultural-burning and associated knowledge systems vary depending on the type of 'Country' and its clans. While there are some similarities in the general principles there are many different kinds of cultural-burning. Also, cultural fire practices of today are likely to be different than they were pre-colonisation as the condition of the land has changed drastically and Indigenous peoples were removed and disconnected from their lands.

The Indigenous Firesticks Alliance describes cultural-burning as "burning practices developed by Aboriginal people to enhance the health of the land and its people". Similarly, Indigenous scholar Lauren Tynan says "whilst cultural burning serves as a land management practice, its primary purpose is the health and wellbeing of Mother (Country) and all kin who rely on her."[1]

Cultural fire practices were prohibited soon after colonisation of Australia began in 1788 [2]. Natural resource management was adopted in the 1920s which evolved into today's land governance system based on Western scientific methods and thinking. This means land is managed for conservation, timber harvesting, food production, urban settlements, industry and private land use. The practice of cultural-burning was mostly displaced in the South Eastern parts of Australia due the early and lasting impacts of colonisation. The forced removal and dispossession of the Indigenous peoples from their lands and the increasing privatisation of land in NSW over time are key challenges preventing access and rights to land for cultural fire practice. Despite these challenges, cultural fire knowledge still exist and is being  remembered and revitalised in NSW in recent years. 


Although, the motivation for ‘cultural-burning’ by Indigenous peoples was not primarily the reduction of leave litter to prevent large-scale wildfires, the significance of its protective and regenerative impact is being re-discovered since the devastating wildfires on Australia's East coast in 2019/2020. Dubbed, the 'Black summer bushfires', they destroyed an area of forests the size of England and caused a biodiversity loss of 3 billion animals [3]. Combined with the drought in the years prior to these bushfires, they released "an amount of carbon that is nearly double Australia’s annual fossil fuel emissions" [4]. The losses and damage to the land and its plants, animals, waters, rocks and more, have added to the perpetual grief [5] experienced by Aboriginal peoples across Australia.  Colonial trauma and settler-colonialism are not in the past but are daily lived experiences by Aboriginal peoples of Australia. [5]

For more detailed discussion on cultural-burning please see the Australia case study focussed on Yuin Country which is the Aboriginal name for the South Coast region of New South Wales.


Sacred natural sites and practices in Bhutan that recognise land and nature as living beings, have been a way to protect species and the regenerative potential of local ecosystems for centuries[6]. As one of the few countries in the world that was never colonised by a foreign power, the significance of biodiversity is still deeply rooted in Bhutan’s worldview informed by history, spiritual and culture belief systems[8]. Today, the relationship between land, waters, plants, animals and humans is still considered sacred and implicit [7]. In particular, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are considered an important safety net for those mountain communities who traditionally relied on mountain and forest resources for their livelihoods [8].  


The customary practice of Ridum/Ladam was known in many parts of Bhutan and commonly practiced by mountain communities and helped to maintain the safety net. The practice involved restricting access to specific mountain areas and forests, for certain time periods usually between March and October, prohibiting most forestry related activities such as firewood or mushroom collection, or cow herding. The practice had foremost a spiritual purpose but coincided with the main regeneration season within mountain and forest ecosystems. It ensured biodiversity and habitat protection, as well as continued forest productivity and livelihoods for many communities during the winter season.


When the Bhutan Forest Act was passed in 1969 all forests were nationalised as Government Reserved Forests and Ridam/Ladam as a practice began to be marginalised and forgotten [9]. Today, Ridam/Ladam is still practiced in some parts of Eastern Bhutan but knowledge of it is dwindling, with only 35% of Bhutanese still observing the Ridam/Ladam practice (2008) [10].



The concept of rewilding emerged in North America in the 1980s from initiatives focussed on “wilderness recovery”. Its aim was native biodiversity restoration across large scale conservation areas to a past state of wilderness. Then in the late 1990s Soule and Noss [11] developed a scientific model for rewilding which is known as the 3Cs model. It involves reintroduction of carnivores and keystone species across large core protected areas connected by corridors to create ecological connectivity. Yellowstone National Park in the USA is a well-known example of rewilding, involving the reintroduction of wolfs as a keystone species across nearly 9,000 square kilometers of conservation area. For comparison, the entire nation of Wales is barely 8000 sq klms, highlighting the vastly different scale and nature of the land where rewilding practices might take place.

As the result of the translocation of the rewilding concept from one type of land management context into others like in Wales, it becomes challenging to define what rewilding means in a place-based context. There are currently many definitions and approaches to rewilding and no agreement on one that works for all stakeholders. The popular use of the term rewilding does not satisfy scientific rigour, and the science definitions are not necessarily helpful for policy and decision makers. In many circumstances it is difficult to know who is talking about what kind of ‘rewilding’. There are efforts underway by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) to work towards an internationally recognized inter-disciplinary definition and establish a set of universal guiding principles. They describe rewilding as

"the process of rebuilding, following major human disturbance, a natural ecosystem by restoring natural processes and the complete or near complete food-web at all trophic levels as a self-sustaining and resilient ecosystem using biota that would have been present had the disturbance not occurred. This will involve a paradigm shift in the relationship between humans
and nature." [12]

While there are many 'nature recovery' initiatives in Wales and broad ranging support for conservation and biodiversity initiatives among a wide range of stakeholders, rewilding has been controversial over the last 5 - 10 years.  Debate continues around rewilding within the existing land governance systems and the uniquely Welsh sense of place, called 'cynefin'. 

For more detailed discussion on rewilding, please see the Wales case study.

REFERENCES 1. Tynan, L. (2021), What is relationality? Indigenous knowledges, practices and responsibilities with kin, Cultural Geographies, Vol28(4) 597-610 2. McKemey, M. B., Patterson, M. L., Rangers, B., Ens, E. J., Reid, N. C., Hunter, J. T., & Miller, C. (2019). Cross-cultural monitoring of a cultural keystone species informs revival of Indigenous burning of Country in south-eastern Australia. Human Ecology, 47(6), 893-904. 3. WWF Australia (2020). Australia’s 2019-2020 Bushfires: The Wildlife Toll. Sydney, Australia 4. 2021: Devastating Black Summer bushfires had lasting impact on Australia’s carbon cycle - University of Wollongong – UOW 5. Williamson, B., Weir, J. and Cavanath, V. (2020), Strength from perpetual grief: how Aboriginal people experienced the bushfire crisis, The Conversation, 20 January 2020 6. Kuyakanon Knapp, R. (2014). Contemplations on a Bhutanese Buddhist Environmental Narrative. Bhutanese Buddhism and Its Culture. Vajra Publications, Kathmandu, 183-205. 7. Phuntsho, K. (2018), Ridam/Ladam: Closing Mountains to Human Activity, Cultures of Bhutan  8. Katel, O. and Grung, D.B. eds (2017), An Introduction to the Biodiversity of Bhutan. Centre for Rural development studies, College of Natural Resources, Royal University of Bhutan, Punakha 9. Wangdi, S., Norbu, N., Wangchuk, S., & Thinley, K. (2015). Social restriction in traditional forest management systems and its implications for biodiversity conservation in Bhutan. J. Bhutan Ecol. Soc, 1, 112-122. 10. Wangdi, K. (2009), Chapter 7, Education, Gross National Happiness Survey Results 11. Soulé, M. E., & Noss, R. (1998). Rewilding and biodiversity: Complementary goals for continental conservation. Wild Earth, 8(3), 18–2 12. IUCN (2021), CEM Rewilding Thematic Group, based on Carver et al. 2021, Guiding Principles for Rewilding

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