Talks on the wild side

The President of Iceland will give a keynote address at the University of Leeds today.

Celine Cousteau


As part of his first official visit to the UK, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who swept to power earlier this year, will talk at The Future of Wild Europe, a conference examining various aspects of the wild places of Europe, “rewilding”, and how we perceive and value wild lands.

The interdisciplinary conference, co-organised by the School of English and School of Earth and Environment at the University, will also hear from filmmaker and explorer Céline Cousteau, granddaughter of marine conservation pioneer Jacques Cousteau.

President Jóhannesson will speak about “The past and future of wild Iceland”, explaining how people have only lived in Iceland for about 1,000 years. Since then, it has been subjected to continual attempts to “un-wild” its large swathes of untouched land, raising questions about how Iceland may be “re-wilded” in the future.

What are the benefits of returning the land to its pre-inhabited state? How would this affect the populations of the country, both human and non-human? Can woods be regrown, and wetlands restored? How can we minimise human impact on areas that have suffered from the development of infrastructure?

President Jóhannesson will address these questions and explore the story of Iceland’s wild lands and how they have been altered by human settlers over the last millennium.

As part of his time in Leeds, he will be shown the University Library’s extensive Icelandic Collection, used by scholars of Modern and Old Icelandic alike, and pay a visit to the School of Earth and Environment to meet several of the University’s renowned vulcanologists.

Céline Cousteau will talk about the legacy of her grandfather, Jacques Cousteau, and her many years of exploring and mapping the world through oceanography and bring to the audience’s attention the fragility of our underwater ecosystems.

She will offer up her own thoughts on how humanity can protect, preserve, and celebrate life in the oceans, which depend on – as well as support – other forms of life across the rest of the planet, including, of course, human life.

Other speakers during the five-day conference included writer, vet and barrister Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast – as part of his philosophical investigations relating to authenticity and identity, he tried living as various animals, including a badger.

At the weekend, delegates enjoyed a family day at Potteric Carr nature reserve, near Doncaster, and a field trip to the Scar Close rewilding site in the Yorkshire Dales.

One of the conference organisers, Professor Graham Huggan, from the School of English, said: “We welcome the different approaches the conference has shown to current problems attached to rewilding and conservation more generally. We also appreciate the valuable work being done by humanities scholars as well as by social and natural scientists in these areas.”

The event has been organised by the University in conjunction with an EU-funded international doctoral programme that includes the University of Munich, the Deutsches Museum in Munich, and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

For further information about the conference, see

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