What is rewilding?
Parts of our planet, particularly the British Isles, have had much of their fauna exterminated.
Rewilding is the reversing of this extermination. It is a branch of conservation that doesn’t just protect habitats but creates them, that doesn’t just save endangered animals but returns them.
And to get started, rewilding depends on humans such as yourself. After you’ve written to your politicians, signed a few petitions, lent your copy of Feral to a friend and maybe volunteered at a local rewilding project, you might want to take things into your own hands. After all, the land immediately around you is part of our de-wilded landscape.
This Mini Rewilding Guide is organised into seven overlapping themes:
Where to rewild
Where to rewild
Don’t have access to a garden? Why not rewild your…
You might already have a local rewilding movement – especially if you live near the Isle of Arran, Horsham, the Lake District’s Ennerdale Water or London’s River Wandle. Trees for Life are always on the lookout for volunteers.
In a recent Facebook Q&A, rewilding writer George Monbiot suggested “people creating wildlife corridors through their gardens, by collaborating with their neighbours to create continuous habitat.”
This could be as simple as creating (or not closing) gaps at the bottom of your fences.
Such tiny adjustments would immediately slow the decline of hedgehogs, and in a few years, with a few more neighbours and a couple more tiny adjustments, what’s to stop other animals following them?
Imagine a neighbourhood visited by badgers, night herons, shrews, red squirrels, wart-biters, stoats, weasels or even the occasional pine marten.
Why not remove the fence entirely?
Our urban areas are greener than you might think, with many gardens only a few centimetres of fence away from being continuous habitat.
This accounts for 1-3.7 per cent of total land use – potentially 9,000km² of shared habitat.
A couple of wildlife bridges/tunnels to navigate those main roads, and if we wanted to, we could be part of something close to a jungle.
The word lawn comes from the Middle English laund – meaning a glade or opening in the woods.
The European aristocracy used lawn as a status symbol, displaying to their friends and serfs that they owned so much land they didn’t even need to use it for anything.
These mini-pastures behind our houses might also be part of what George Monbiot has called agricultural hegemony.
Whatever its social context, lawn is essentially a monoculture. This means that in terms of wildlife friendliness it is only a modest step up from plastic astroturf and poured concrete.
That said, lawns have become part of our lifestyles. Many of our sports and other cultural activities rely on them. As Chris Packham explains in the video below, rewilding is not about destroying all lawns, it’s about “building a mosaic”:
“The park has to be something for many people. It has to be a place where people want to walk their dogs, where they want to jog, where they want to sit and have their lunch, and where they want to kick a football or hit a cricket ball about. But it’s a question of building a mosaic. We don’t ask for the whole park … if there were strips of it, then it would be a resource that people could enjoy, it would open their eyes to the fact that life is richer with it. But at the same time they could be kicking a football alongside it.”
Why not leave parts of lawn to regrow into grass?
You should also leave dandelions alone if you want to welcome bees, hoverflies, beetles, butterflies, birds, rabbits, hares and maybe even some larger mammals if you’re lucky.
Another very easy rewilding task is resisting the urge to rake up all your leaves. Leaf them alone, or at least pile them somewhere nearby. This is for hedgehogs, caterpillars, butterflies, moths, frogs, toads, newts, beetles, grasshoppers, snakes and countless other species (many of which hunt slugs).
The UK has lost almost half a million ponds in the last century, and more than 100 priority species depend on them.
Here’s an inspirational video on how to do some aquatic rewilding:
These pond guides are also useful:
- Wildlife Pond Pack
- Froglife: “How to build a wildlife pond”
- RSPB: “Ponds for Wildlife”
- Pond construction tips from Gillian Dunkley
- Plants for ponds list
- The National Trust: “Creating and maintaining ponds for wildlife”
- Restoring Norfolk’s Ponds
Whether it’s dead leaves, dandelions, wild grass or ponds – the point is this:
You can’t spell biodiversity without diversity.
The stag beetle has become a threatened species, mainly because of the tidying-up of trees and the destruction of dead wood.
Their larvae live in dead wood for up to seven years while they are maturing.
Scientists estimate that of the 150 woodland insects listed as threatened in Britain, 65 per cent are threatened by the removal of old and dead wood.
As Trees for Life explain, up to 30% of a healthy wild forest can consist of dead wood, which is essential for:
- Slow nitrogen and nutrient cycling
- Carbon storage
- Soil stability
- Fungi, lichen, mosses and invertebrates
- Bat roosts
- Bird nests and lookouts
The solution is easy – allow dead trees to flourish.
If parts of your dead tree become genuinely unsafe, you can amputate them into a wood pile.
Some wood piling tips from the RSPB include:
- Big pieces
- Compact piles
- Some pieces buried vertically
You can expect mosses, lichen, fungi and all sorts of insects to make their home in the woodpile, and then more insects, along with birds, amphibians and mammals to come along and eat them.
As a general rule, your garden should be as rotten and decaying as possible.
And of course this brings us to the virtues of composting.
Wild About Gardens have written a great guide to composting, which you can read here.
“Slugs and snails, woodlice, millipedes, earwigs, worms, beetles and other creatures consume the decaying matter and these attract hedgehogs, birds, frogs and toads who feed on them. The decomposition process generates heat which makes the heap an inviting place for reptiles like lizards, slow-worms and, if you’re lucky, grass snakes to hibernate.”
The more open the compost heap, the more accessible it is to wildlife.
If you live in a city, this means you could attract a few rats. If this does happen you just need to close up your compost heap (and maybe close down any bird feeders for a while) and the wild rodents will move on when there’s nothing around to eat.
Predators like owls, hawks, falcons, foxes, wildcats, lynx, stoats and weasels will hunt rats.
Fruit trees, berry bushes and seeding plants are self-sustaining bird feeders. Wildflowers are essential, as are shrubs and bushes providing shelter and protection.
Make sure you avoid any invasive species.
And here are some plants to get you started:
Here are some helpful planting guides:
A weed is just a plant in the wrong place. How about a “Weed Relocation Zone”?
Yellowstone National Park is one of the greatest rewilding success stories. During a seventy year absence of wolves, the deer devoured much of the park’s vegetation as they grazed and bred out of ecological control. When the wolves returned in 1995, so did the forest and its wildlife.
If you have a slug problem it could be due to a similar lack of predators. Instead of slug pellets and other poisons, try welcoming some of these micro-Yellowstone-wolves:
- slow worms
- rove beetles
- ground beetles
- thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and other birds
Predation is the cheaper, easier, safer, self-sustaining pest control option.
A similar cascade theory could also apply for mosquito and midge problems. Their overabundance is often the result of a young or unhealthy pond, where an absence of while biodiversity allows their larvae to (like Yellowstone’s deer) graze out of ecological control. Tadpoles, newts, toads, frogs, dragonflies, damselflies, fish, spiders and a whole host of aquatic insects will happily devour mosquito larvae, while bats will hunt their parents.
If you enjoyed this Mini Rewilding Guide, you might also enjoy these: