While many people are rightly concerned about the climate crisis and the catastrophic collapse of biodiversity across the planet, it can feel difficult to know how to help.
Globally, more than half of our wildlife has been lost within living memory, largely due to deforestation, grazing, industrialization, pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources.
The respected State of Nature report has ranked the UK 189 out of 218 nations – one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
The picture would be even worse were it not for rewilding initiatives that have begun to spring up. Rewilding us the opportunity to begin reversing biodiversity loss, and to help nature flourish again.
Rewilding projects don't have to be done on a large scale. Small spaces such as gardens can also be made wilder to benefit nature, says Gwyneth Rees
Photographs by Izzy Bunting
“Rewilding offers hope and the opportunity to give nature, including all of us, a fighting chance – saving wildlife, tackling the climate emergency, and benefiting people and communities. Rewilding our local areas and gardens also provides a great way of reconnecting with nature,” said Richard Bunting of Rewilding Britain, and who also runs environmental project Little Green Space.
Rewilding means restoring ecosystems, natural processes and – where appropriate – missing species, to the environment, allowing them to shape the landscape and improve biodiversity.
It is not a 'human-led' approach with a specific conservation goal in mind.
Instead, as rewilding pioneer Isabella Tree says, it means to 'sit back and let nature take the driving seat'.
The greatest rewards from rewilding are seen in large-scale projects such as America's Yellowstone National Park, and in the UK at sites such as Trees for Life's Dundreggan estate near Loch Ness or Knepp Wildland in west Sussex. But much can be done at a smaller level, in our communities and gardens.
In the UK, an estimated 22 million people have access to a garden.
Within these gardens and in our community spaces, dips and hollows, areas of water and a range of plants and trees can all be nurtured to replicate wilder habitats. And by linking up, replacing fences with hedgerows, and allowing nature and natural process to take the lead, wildlife and biodiversity will have a chance of returning.
Here are eight ways to make land wilder for wildlife.
Let the grass grow
Mixing up grass types will help biodiversity. Mow the grass nearest to the house, because closely mown grass mimics the grazing pattern of wild ponies and attracts certain birds. Leave other areas to grow longer or create an area of wildflower meadow. This will need cutting just once a year – providing a sequence of flowers and seed heads that will change weekly. Leaving weeds to grow in a wild corner will also attract interesting bugs.
Ditch the poison
One reason behind the massive losses of insects in our countryside is the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides – not only on farmland but also in gardens. Instead, use nematodes to deal with slug issues and swap fertilisers for an organic seaweed feed.
Native trees have the greatest benefit to our wildlife because they evolved together. Consider silver birch, rowan, hawthorn, elderberry, holly, yew or crab apple. All top fruit trees such as apples, pears, plums and cherries are good for wildlife. Plant at a mix of heights for different species. Long-tailed tits require trees above head height, whereas wrens and dunnocks need dense cover low down.
Scrub – including thorny shrubs, grasses and young trees – provides an invaluable source of nectar, seeds, shelter and nest sites for invertebrates, birds and mammals. Brambles, sallow, hawthorn, blackthorn, honeysuckle and wild rose will all naturally form dense mounds or thickets. Scrub of varied age supports the widest range of wildlife, as some species depend on specific growth stages of certain plants.
Go wild for water
Water attracts wildlife. If you have a stream in your garden, create a bog or wetland area by making a dam, mimicking the work of the beaver. Ponds, too, are 'pound for pound' the most wildlife-rich habitats in the country. Make sure one side at least is very shallow – most wildlife, including amphibians such as newts and frogs, like shallower water than is generally thought. Don't introduce fish as they can have an adverse impact on other amphibians and aquatic insects. Allow water plants to colonise naturally.
Embrace the mess
Dead branches, piles of leaves, logs and rocks can provide a habitat for insects and hedgehogs, or food for beetle larvae. Decay is part of the natural cycle of returning nutrients to the ground. A compost heap will also provide home to all manner of creatures. Andrew Salisbury, Royal Horticultural Society principal entomologist, says: “The more foliage there is, the more invertebrates you will have in your garden.”
Look after the soil
Healthy soil will create a biodiverse garden from the ground up. Use organic mulch, avoid too much digging and let worms get to work.
For inspiration, check out , and the features pages of .
Little Green Space is a non-profit project sharing solutions to the nature and climate crises, and offering inspiration for a greener lifestyle. If you like our content, please help keep us going with a small donation!
Little Green Space February 2021
Plant with nature in mind
To encourage wildlife, select plants that provide all-round nectar, pollen, seeds and berries. Try pollinator-friendly clover, lavender and snowdrops. Encourage ivy and tolerate nettles – they are where butterflies lay eggs. Ditch cheap supermarket perennials as they can be full of chemicals. Don't deadhead all your plants in autumn – leaving a selection will benefit birds such as sparrows and finches. Evergreen plants such as holly will provide shelter for invertebrates in winter months.