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WALES became a devolved nation within the United Kingdom in 1999, which gave it legislative power to self-governance for the first time since the 13th century. With these powers the Welsh government can determine laws and policy in a range of areas including environment, forestry, agriculture and land use planning. One of the innovative legislations passed by the Senedd (Welsh parliament) is the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (2015), prioritising a long-term sustainability view to ensure the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. 


The diverse landscape of Wales contributes greatly to the well-being of its people. Its varied coastline stretches for 970 kms from Liverpool Bay in the north, the Irish Sea to the west to the Bristol Channel in the south. It borders with England to the east. Its  land area is 20,735 km2 and the interior features mountainous upland areas with the highest mountain Snowdon at 1,085 meters altitude. The population of 3.1 million (in 2022) includes nearly 18% of Welsh speakers. The government recognises language as a key part of the Welsh identity and culture and aims for 30% of Welsh speakers by 2050. The Welsh language is deeply connected to the Welsh sense of place and connection to the land and nature.




As mentioned in the Place(s) page, cynefin is an ancient concept in Welsh culture and language that has no direct translation into English. It describes a physical, temporal and spiritual connection to the land. Although it is "often translated as habitat, cynefin is not just a place in a physical geographical sense; it is the historical, cultural and social place which has shaped and continues to shape the community which inhabits it” [1] (Welsh Government, 2021).

Dylan Adams [2] describes how a Welsh farmer explained it to him 

“It feels like you’re part of the land and the land is part of you...
You feel it’s where you belong”.  This sense of “feeling the land” therefore expresses a sense of connection with the landscape that is beyond merely the topography of a geographical area.
Instead, it acknowledges our ability to know in ways beyond purely rational, logical understandings. It expresses those moments when we feel a sense of relation with a living, animate landscape."

The concept invites people to engage with the more-than-human world as an equal partner and living being. This can be a challenging idea for many people trained in 'modern' land and natural resource management, which often creates a separation and hierarchy of humans being in control and dominating land and nature.

Cynefin is also a decision-making framework developed by Welsh academic David Snowden for making sense of complex challenges. It helps to look at a situation from a systems perspective and to understand the 'landscape' and context of a situation. It suggests that there are simple, complicated, complex and chaotic dimensions of a challenge that all need different approaches and responses. The cynefin framework is an application of the cynefin concept to deeply connect and understand a situation within its context.



The Wales case study as part of this project focuses on the practice of rewilding. The origins of rewilding started in North America in the 1980s with the idea of “wilderness recovery”. Its aim was native biodiversity restoration across large scale conservation areas to a past state of wilderness. In the late 1990s Soule and Noss [3] developed a scientific model for rewilding which is known as the 3Cs model (see Figure 1 below). It involves reintroduction of carnivores and keystone species in large core protected areas, which are connected with landscape corridors. Yellowstone National Park in the US is one example where the 3Cs approach was implemented across an areas of approximately 9000 square klms in size. For comparison, Wales is about 8000 sq klms, highlighting that the scale and nature of the land in North America is very different to the Welsh landscape. 









Although, there is no agreed definition of rewilding there are efforts underway to develop principles and a definition that is acceptable across many disciplines and sectors [4]. Others suggest defining rewilding is ultimately a political and social process and that relevant stakeholders have to first decide what 'wild' means to them, before they can define what rewilding will involve in their place [5].


There is  a useful diagram [6] that shows the degree of naturalness and remoteness of a place in context of varying levels of human modification to a landscape. It indicates  where the 3Cs rewilding model is more and less appropriate. 





Source: Carver et al. 2021, The wilderness continuum (after Carver [2014], Lesslie & Taylor [1985], and Van Maanen & Convery [2016]) 


In the UK, rewilding emerged gradually as a response to concerns that existing conservation techniques were not improving biodiversity loss.  This also coincided with a conservation shift from habitat protection to habitat creation. In England the Wildlands Network’s Beyond Conservation – a Wildland Strategy published in 2005  was an early advocate of rewilding projects. Rewilding became popular and contested with the publication of George Monbiot’s book Feral in 2013. 

There are a number of rewilding projects and networks in Wales and many nature restoration projects that don't call themselves rewilding but implement similar activities. Most of the rewilding projects are initiated by private landowners and not-for-profit organisations, while government initiatives are more often called nature recovery or restoration rather than rewilding.  


Senedd session on biodiversity and rewilding in Dec 2020 documented many diverse views from a wide range of stakeholders in Wales about the benefits and challenges of rewilding.  Some of the considerations raised in the Senedd session included

  • the loss of livelihoods especially for farmers as a result of rewilding

  • the impacts on the Welsh economy if agricultural outputs were to reduce due to farmland reduction

  • the loss of biocultural diversity and traditional land use and landscapes

  • the urgent need to reverse biodiversity loss

  • the urgent need for trees and vegetation to act as carbon sinks

  • whether trade-offs from land use changes require prioritisation between trees and agricultural land 

  • who makes decisions about rewilding land in Wales


After the exit from the European Union in 2020, the UK and Wales are readjusting and implementing new legistlation and policy regarding sustainable land use. Some uncertainty exists in this changing regulatory environment, however opportunities exist for clarifying the role of rewilding and nature recovery initiatives.


Presentations introducing this project to the Brecon Beacons National Park Society and to Insights Wales have lead to a wide range of stakeholders being identified with an interest in rewilding in Wales. We are currently preparing for interviews to start in July to run through to September 2023. In the interviews we will be exploring barriers and enablers of rewilding initiatives and pathways for its practice in the Welsh land governance context and understanding of place.


3Cs model of rewilding
Rewilding Continuum

REFERENCES 1. Welsh Government (2021). Hwb Curriculum for Wales. Area of Learning and Experience. Humanities Available at: 2. Adams, D. (2022), Exploring Cynefin - Being in Place, Holistic Education Review Issue: Placed-based education and the natural world. Vol 2 (1) 3. Soulé, M. E., & Noss, R. (1998). Rewilding and biodiversity: Complementary goals for continental conservation. Wild Earth, 8(3), 18– 28. 4. IUCN, Rewilding framework principles,  5. Schulte to Buehne, H. et al (2022). The policy consequences of defining rewilding. Ambio, 51:93-102, Springer 6. Carver et al (2021). Guiding principles for rewilding, Conservation Biology, Vol. 35, Issue 6

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