The vision of rewilding is to return ecosystems to a “natural” or “self-willed” state with trophic complexity, dispersal (and connectivity) and stochastic disturbance in place. The concept is gaining traction, particularly in Europe where significant land abandonment has taken place in recent years. However, in reality, the purest form of rewilding (Rewilding Max) is constrained by a number of context-specific factors whereby it may not be possible to restore the native species that form part of the trophic structure of the ecosystem if they are extinct (for example, mammoths, Mammuthus
spp., aurochs, Bos taurus primigenius
). In addition, populations/communities of native herbivores/predators may not be able to survive or be acceptable to the public in small scale rewilding projects close to areas of high human density or agricultural land. Therefore, the restoration of natural trophic complexity and disturbance regimes within rewilding projects requires careful consideration if the broader conservation needs of society are to be met. Here we highlight the importance of herbivory as a key factor in rewilding. We argue that the use of the suite of livestock species, and in particular traditional breeds, offers the opportunity, under both land sharing/sparing strategies, to reinstate a more “natural” form of herbivory but still retain the option for management interventions (Rewilding Lite). It will even be possible to gain economic returns (ecotourism, sale of livestock products) from these systems, which will make them more acceptable to state and private landowners. We develop our case based on the advantages of using landraces versus de-domestication strategies, and on the implementation of eco-shepherding herbivory as a restoration tool in fine mosaics of agriculture/natural patches. If this approach is adopted, then larger areas can be given over to conservation, because of the potential broader benefits to society from these spaces and the engagement of farmers in practices that are closer to their traditions.
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