A few weeks ago the Word of the Week was Bugbear, which naturally led on to an investigation of bears. I’ve always regarded the investigation of bears as something that’s best done from the other side of a TV screen, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that they’re planning on releasing a bunch of brown bears into the woods just down the road near Bristol.
OK, so Bristol is a fair old walk from Reigate but try telling that to a bear. If Laurie Lee could walk from the Cotswolds to Spain, a bear could make it up the M4, no sweat. Next thing you know you’ll be finding fur in your frappuccino and the dog will go missing.
Further investigation revealed that the release of bears in Bristol is part of a wider campaign to return the country to the way it was years ago. I know, crazy idea, huh. I can’t see that happening in a hurry. Nevertheless, an idea that kicked off in the US in 2016 with a large, prehistoric pig being let loose in Washington has come to Britain with a vengeance.
It’s called rewilding – a word coined some time in the 1990s and still unfamiliar to autocorrect, which keeps trying to change it to rewinding. And in a sense it is: rewinding the clock to a time when bears, wolves, lynxes and wolverines (yes, that’s a real animal) had the run of the place. For a country whose apex predator is Basil Brush, this is pretty exciting stuff.
The idea is that these predators restore the ancient ecosystem by reducing the damage caused by grazing animals, through gentle persuasion and having them over for lunch. This encourages vegetation to grow, other species move in, everybody’s happy. But don’t expect this harmonious balance to be established overnight. The last time bears roamed England’s woodland was at least a thousand years ago. They’ll find things have changed a bit since then. There are the cyclists for a start. That’ll be an interesting face-off.
So where do humans fit into the whole rewilding process? Well, apparently it stops short of us all having to strip off, cover ourselves in blue dye and run around challenging one another to fights to the death. Someone ought to tell Jacob Rees-Mogg.