What is rewilding and how can I get involved?

Get ready to let nature thrive through the cracks of our industrialised world to help tackle climate change.

There’s nothing like spending time in nature to reset you. Whether it’s the feel of warm sunshine beating down on your skin, a fresh breeze on your cheeks, or the earthy smell of a forest after summer rain, we desperately need the natural world around us. It’s vital for not only our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, but that of our planet, too.

Caring for nature not only benefits us, but it can help tackle climate change, ensuring a healthier and greener planet for us all. This is why we need to get rewilding.

What is it?

Rewilding is a progressive approach to conserving the natural world. The rewilding movement aims to restore nature to how it was before human intervention happened. Why is it important? Well, scarily, a report last year from the World Wildlife Fund found that human behaviour has caused the planet’s wildlife population to plummet in the last 50 years by as much as two thirds. A further paper from the United Nations revealed that continued loss of biodiversity, caused by humans’ destruction of nature, would cause an increase in diseases that jump from animals to people, such as Covid-19 – not to mention the catastrophic effect on climate change.

Science says that if a third of the earth’s most degraded areas had their natural habitats restored, and places where nature is still thriving were protected, it would take care of half of all the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution. The good news is, we can all help to restore nature’s rhythms and help rewild the planet.

How to get rewilding 

You don’t need acres of land – you can apply the principles even if you live in a flat with no garden. That houseplant on your windowsill? A study by NASA found certain plants help purify the air we breathe – with snake plants, areca palms and money plants coming out top. But pay attention to what it’s growing in. The government recently committed to banning the sale of peat-based compost from 2024. The UK’s peatlands are our largest natural storers of carbon and some of the most valuable ecosystems on earth, but they’ve been depleted at an alarming rate. Avoiding buying peat-based compost until its definitive ban in three years will ensure you’re doing your bit for these precious natural habitats.

Invest in some window boxes to bring pops of green to a concrete jungle, and nature will follow. And be mindful to maximise it for all seasons. “Spring can be tricky for pollinators as they emerge from hibernation,” says forest bathing coach Sonya Dibbin. “Try to have native, pollinator-friendly flowering plants in your outdoor space all year round. The beauty of emerging buds is a classic sign that winter is over, providing a welcome boost to the spirits. Snowdrops, bluebells and primroses are all incredible when there are few other flowers around.”

Rewilding your garden

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you can really switch your biodiversity duties up a gear by doing, well, less really. “It’s about a change in mindset and a loosening of control – people are used to making outdoor spaces look very neat and tidy, but that’s actually detrimental to the environment,” says landscape gardener Matt Rees-Warren, who in his new book, Ecological Gardening: Beauty and Biodiversity from the Soil Up, explains how to turn your outside space into a self-sustaining haven for nature and wildlife. “Traditional gardening has a strong idea of order, of neatness – think National Trust properties with neat hedges and bowling green lawns. That’s almost like treating a garden as an outdoor room. It’s the antithesis of rewilding.”

Even if it’s just a concrete drive, you can let the rewilding commence. “You know the cracks in paths where you’d normally pull up weeds? Let wandering wildflowers colonise the space,” says Matt. “Over-gardening like this is backbreaking work, for no benefit to nature.

“Wildflower heads in grass not only look beautiful and create movement, but they are hugely beneficial to the wildlife you can’t see. We are all aware we need to help bees, but just as important are the tiny bugs that go about unseen, and leaving grass unmown allows these creatures to develop the special relationships that they have with the wildflowers.” 

Leave the weeds

Matt says try to resist the urge to pluck weeds as they emerge: “People traditionally buy plants from a nursery, and see everything else that grows as a weed. But if you look at the leaves as they start appearing, and use a plant-identifying app, you may find you’ve cultivated a bloom that would cost a fortune in a garden centre, at no cost at all.”

Of course, it’s understandable that switching from a neat, tidy garden to a biodiverse eco-haven overnight could be a shock to the system. If you feel seen by this, fear not – it’s all about the baby steps. “I’ve got two kids so I know we sometimes need cut grass to play on, so I give a small chunk over to nature and leave it alone from April through to October,” says Matt. “I leave the edges of the lawn to grow. Do it – you’ll be amazed at what comes up.”

Providing food for birds (think sunflower seed hearts, soaked mealworms and raisins), hedgehogs (dried cat food, but not milk) and foxes (whole, raw eggs) will encourage nature to thrive, and protecting nesting areas will ensure our feathered friends have a safe place to rear their young. Cutting hedges is a no-no, especially in the summer. “In the countryside, by law, farmers aren’t allowed to cut back hedges from March through to autumn,” explains Matt. Cutting also robs the birds of a vital food source – fruits and berries, because wood needs to be able to grow for two years before it can produce them.

To help with rewilding on a larger scale, Matt says look to your local community groups. “You could join your local Food Forest group and get together with others to dig a wildlife pond, use social media to find local permaculture groups and join in tree-planting projects. Write to your local council or MP and encourage them to get on board by leaving grass verges to grow – mowing verges for seven months of the year is madness when nature could be left to flourish.”

So next time you go to whip out a weed, think of all the tiny creatures who could benefit from allowing it to grow. Sometimes, all we need to do to let nature creep back in is to stand back a bit – who cares if the neighbours think your garden looks unkempt? You can sleep well, knowing you’re doing your bit for the planet. And humanity might just depend on it.

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