The Wilderness Debate
The word wild dates back to before 450 A.D. (Old Teutonic language), meaning ‘not domesticated’ or ‘not cultivated’. While it might have a long history, the way we use it today has mostly been influenced by Western principles of recent centuries.
Consider the related concept of ‘wilderness’, first occurring in Old English, meaning ‘land not farmed or settled’ or ‘land in its natural state’. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the Romantic movement cemented the definition of wilderness as the idea of a pristine, unspoiled nature.
But to what extent does this pristine, untouched nature exist? In the UK, there is certainly very little land left that has been unaffected by humans. When people visit areas such as the Lake District, for example, they sometimes think they are going to experience the wilderness, a ‘pure’ landscape absent of people in contrast to industrial and built-up areas.
Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
In reality, though, our wild landscapes are the outcome of many generations of human use – they are agro-ecosystems, shaped by agriculture and intervention, making it difficult to determine which spaces are truly ‘wild’.
Similarly, it can be increasingly difficult to tell which plants are wild. How do you know a plant that has grown independently of people is not one that escaped cultivation? What about a plant that has then been transplanted from the wild into a garden?
Ultimately, it is important that ambiguities are recognised, and the word ‘wild’ is defined in context.