rewilding
(Image: REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel)

For years we have talked about “conservation”. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) runs the crucial Red List of threatened species. People who work for nature call themselves conservationists. I am a trustee of the excellent Zambia NGO Conservation South Luangwa.

But of late people have begun to question the term and everything it implies. If you conserve something you are seeking to look after it, to keep it as it is, to make sure nothing bad happens to it. You conserve a Renaissance painting by keeping it safe from vandals, humidity, direct sunlight, fungi and insects so it stays as lovely as always.

Conservation was the big word at the beginning of the environment movement. Different authorities prefer different dates for its starting point: a favourite is 1962, when Rachel Carson’s revolutionary Silent Spring was published. I prefer 1946, when Peter Scott set up the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge, in Gloucestershire, and a few years later established an unprecedented and highly successful initiative to save -- or conserve -- the nene or Hawaiian goose.