Can rewilding work for everyone? Navigating actor perspectives towards upland rewilding

  • Joseph Glentworth

Student thesis: Phd


Rewilding, the radical new approach to nature recovery that aims to restore ecological processes, is being positioned as critical to overcoming the global biodiversity and climate crises. Whilst rewilding has become a focus of attention as an alternative land-use strategy for upland cultural landscapes in both policy and research, it remains a highly contentious concept because of concerns that it could erase cultural histories and displace local communities by promoting the highly controversial concept of people-free wilderness. Critical to these concerns is a lack of research that explores if and how rewilding can be applied in ways that work for a diverse range of actors closely connected to these cultural landscapes. This research aims to evaluate how diverse values, beliefs, and worldviews shape responses to rewilding and explore different types of rewilding from different viewpoints. The research combines emerging concepts of the ecology of rewilding with social science literature to present a new conceptual framing of rewilding in cultural landscapes. The framework demonstrates that different trajectories of rewilding can be understood according to the place for people in rewilding and the degree of ecological complexity they aim to restore. This way of understanding rewilding challenges existing academic approaches, which focus primarily on the ecological processes of rewilding. This thesis demonstrates that restoring ecological complexity through rewilding can create a myriad of different wilder futures for cultural landscapes, each with differing social and cultural implications. The empirical contribution of this research draws on in-depth engagement with 55 upland management actors (including farmers, grouse moor representatives, conservationists, recreation representatives and local community members) living and working in the Dark Peak Landscape Character Area (Peak District, UK) to explore this conceptual framing of rewilding. This involved an innovative blend of Q-methodology alongside five narrative-based rewilding scenarios. The results delineated three overarching Actor Perspectives on upland management and rewilding, demonstrating an evident polarisation between those who defend traditional upland management (Perspective 1) and those who advocate for ‘wilder’ land-use change (Perspective 3). However, many participants in this study occupied a midway point between these conflicting perspectives and saw opportunities to adapt existing forms of land use to foster greater biodiversity while also meeting other contemporary societal needs (Perspective 2). These three perspectives are utilised as a heuristic tool to explore the potential impacts of rewilding from different vantage points. The findings extend current perception-based studies on rewilding by demonstrating that different forms of rewilding trigger different responses from different actors and that spatial context plays an essential role in shaping many participants perspectives. The findings also shed light on the temporal dimension of rewilding (as a future-focused but uncertain practice), which further heightens conflicts between actors in ways not inherent in traditional conservation. These findings raise important questions about the potential for rewilding to deliver meaningful outcomes in the face of the biodiversity crisis if such complexity is neglected. As such, the thesis closes with a series of policy and practice-based recommendations for implementing rewilding theories in the context of cultural landscapes.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarys Jones (Supervisor) & Anna Gilchrist (Supervisor)


  • Rewilding
  • Cultural landscapes
  • Uplands
  • Perceptions

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