Producer Emma Crome describes the impact ‘rewilding’ has had on her perception of the UK’s wild spaces, and how it sparked the idea for our latest film project at Coldhouse.
We gazed up at the red sun as the wind whistled through the spruce that snapped and sprang above our heads. The plantation forest gave way to a clear cut area littered with white stumps and stacked with dead wood on a bed of mud and stagnant water. Beyond that lay the monoculture, the empty grassland that makes up the majority of the uplands in the Cambrian mountains. The man stood next to me spoke with enthusiastic authority about the significance of this area in relation to what he’s come to call ‘rewilding’. I winced when I heard him use the word. Even after two years of research, I was not entirely comfortable with the interpretations of this somewhat controversial concept. But the red sun beat down on the wet desert, and it felt somewhat appropriate that on this particular day, we were lingering on the last gasps of a distant storm.
As a keen climber and hillwalker I spend the majority of my free time in the British countryside - in particular our National Parks. I grew up on the edge of Dartmoor, spent childhood holidays in Snowdonia and the Lake District, and have lived in the Peak District for the last three years. Passing through and interacting with these beautiful places and their communities has been and continues to be an important part of my life, and consequently I always felt a familiarity and love for the landscapes that make up our small island.
So when I stumbled across ‘rewilding’ and the ideas that underpin it a couple of years ago, I do not exaggerate when I say it had a profound effect on my outlook and understanding of our natural spaces. Scrolling through the usual newsfeeds online I happened across the Sustainable Earth Institute’s edit of George Monbiot’s Ted Talk, ‘How Wolves Change Rivers.’ His description of trophic cascades and their impact on ecosystems fascinated me. I began to delve a little deeper, and from there the once familiar landscapes of Britain unravelled. My eyes were opened to the many political, environmental and economic issues surrounding our land - vested interest, system justification and societies creeping withdrawal from natural space, conscious or otherwise. The National Parks I had perceived as ‘wilderness’ playgrounds for many years were in reality shadowlands and theme parks, complex in structure and influence, and denied their full potential.
The seed was sown and my appetite for this subject insatiable. I felt inspired to find a way to get people - in particular the UK outdoor community - engaged with the subject of the future of our British countryside, and perhaps induce a perspective change as profound as the one I am still experiencing. Making a film seems like a sensible step forward, although as a friend quite rightly pointed out recently, the subject is far more important than the film itself. But as emerging documentary filmmakers, it’s our responsibility to unpack ideas and to present the whole truth. Asking for George Monbiot’s input - author of ‘Feral’ and one of the most passionate and enlightened thinkers of our time - seemed like a natural first port of call.
Storm Ophelia’s exhalations whipped up some strange weather in the UK in October. As we set the cameras rolling the atmosphere was post-apocalyptic and unnerving. We felt exposed and vulnerable under the Saharan dust as George shared his insights into what he describes as an ‘ecological disaster zone.’ It was a profound beginning. Later we crept into the nearby ancient woodland where the idea for ‘Feral’ first came to George’s mind. It was calm even though the river was loud and running fast under the green canopy, and we watched as the salmon took temporary flight up and over the waterfalls. The contrasts of the day were not lost on us.
As a company with the outdoors at the very core of what we do, it seemed quite natural to explore the subject of rewilding with George. Having a voice within the UK outdoor sector is not something we take for granted at Coldhouse, and I feel compelled to consider the implications that recreation, agriculture, industry and politics have on our green spaces. How can we maintain our cultural heritage, whilst at the same time restore and protect that which may be lost?
George Monbiot was our first contributor to answer this question - he won’t be the last. As he quite rightly points out ‘..rewilding should take place for the benefit of people, to enhance the world in which we live, and not for the sake of an abstraction we call nature.’
It feels as though we are chasing the storm by reaching out and dipping our hand into this sensitive subject; yet to engage with and challenge our own perceptions of our ‘wild’ land here on our doorstep is as fulfilling a past time as any I can think of. Through this project, I hope we can contribute to making a positive difference to environmentalism in the UK.