Rewilding: what is it and how does it work?

Written by Ollie Wilkinson

Rewilding has existed for thousands of years, but the word has only been around since 1990. That’s because nature has been rewilding for pretty much forever, but us humans have recently been trying to give it a helpful nudge in the right direction. 

Britain is losing wildlife at an alarming rate due to deforestation, pollution and industrialisation. But nature is an incredible beast, with more bouncebackability than Rocky and the Karate Kid combined. Rewilding gives it the tools to do what it does best, conserving wildlife, healing landscapes, and restoring those wonderful ecosystems we all know and love. 

Ready to take a walk on the re-wild side and swap powerplants for the power of plants? Learn all about this sustainable way of looking after the earth with our rewilding guide. 

The facts 

  • – The RSPB report that 41% of UK species are in decline (RSPB).  
  • – Native woodland covers just 2.5% of our land (Woodland Trust
  • – We’ve lost over 100 species since 1500 (RSPB
  • – Almost half of all birds and fungi are at risk of dying out (Country Life
  • – 26% of UK mammals are at risk of going extinct (RSPB
  • – 97% of UK wildflower meadows have been lost in the last century (RSPB

What is the concept of rewilding? 

Rewilding is the process of restoring an area to its natural, uncultivated state. You know, kind of like your hair the morning after a big night out. Only, this will create actual bird nests and habitats for critters, rather than just looking like one. 

Turns out, we’re not the only ones who love a bit of return and reuse. Just like our milk, soft drinks and glass bottle collections, all creatures great and small thrive off a replenished landscape, in which nature can grow, re-grow and flourish. 

Rewilding is all about achieving environmental balance, reinstating natural processes and missing species to bring wildlife to heal and extinction to heel. The ultimate aim is to reach a point of almost pre-human existence. 

You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, and we’ve been paving paradise with a lot more than car parks over the years. But rewilding restores and protects areas, bringing them to a point of almost pre-human existence as we retrace nature’s roots and return to the wild. Mother Nature was around long before we arrived, and has been trying to clean up after us ever since. This lets her do her thing in peace. 

Rewilding means embracing the wonderful wilderness, with no more human interference, and no more tidying up. It’s basically a messy toddler’s dream. 

What is an example of rewilding? 

Wild moose once roamed the land upon which we’ve since built factories and skyscrapers, with the woolliest of mammoths ambling over terrain now laced in concrete.  

At one point in history, crocs and sharks even rubbed shoulders (wait, do these guys have shoulders?) in our now trolley-filled waters. Heck, we’ve even found 100,000-year-old hippo remains in Brentford! The royal we, of course.  

Rewilders aren’t saying we should go all Jurassic Park and start creating T-Rexes in a lab, but they do agree that wildlife has been dealt a pretty rawr deal over the last hundred or so thousand years.  

So, how do we give land back to wildlife without letting wolves in our shopping centres and moose in our office blocks? By restablishing vital processes, ecosystems and biodiversity.  

Rewilding examples include: 

  • – Restoring wildflower meadows 
  • – Reintroducing lost species 
  • – Reducing the population of anything that throws a cat amongst the pigeons* when it comes to ecosystems.  

*Rewilding doesn’t necessarily include throwing cats at pigeons.  

Check out these real-world UK rewilding projects for inspiration: 

Scottish Highlands 

Trees for Life is a hefty rewilding project that invites volunteers to plant trees to restore the Caledonian Forest, a woodland once dominated by stunning pine trees, wild cattle, wolves and lynx, which has since been destroyed to create fuel, buildings and farmland. 

The Highlands has several rewilding projects underway. Another one that’s well worth getting excited about is in Cairngorms, where they’re reintroducing red squirrels and golden eagles!  

Kent 

Forget American werewolves in London, we’re getting European bison in Canterbury! The species are among the largest surviving terrestrial animals in Europe, and will be re-introduced to “help fell trees by rubbing up against them and eating the bark”. This provides more space, light and deadwood for plants and other animals. 

The bison will be released as part of a £1.5 million project led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust. 

Devon 

2020 saw rewilding history, with the UK government announcing the first legally sanctioned reintroduction of an extinct native mammal to England. Devon’s beavers are little furry record breakers, and have proven dam good at conserving wildlife. 

Their structures help clean water and prevent flooding, creating more opportunities for humans and nature to prosper together. 

Why is rewilding important? 

From beavers to bison, you’ve probably got a decent idea of why we’re big fans of rewilding by now. Sustainable, eco-friendly and healthy for the planet, it ticks a lot of our boxes, and is more than just our type on paper.  

Rewilding is like giving nature an eraser to rub out all of the mistakes we humans have made along the way. Think of it like Ebenezer Scrooge, only instead of ghosts, it’s the environment that has shown us a window into our scary future, and given us a chance to redeem ourselves. 

The benefits of rewilding 

Rewilding restores vital food chains and biodiversity, repairing ecosystems involving predators, prey and scavengers.  

Think of it like this. If we didn’t have restaurants, you’d be deprived of that delicious pizza you love. And if you and your fellow pizza lovers weren’t there to order it, the restaurant would struggle to stay open. And if your mate didn’t tag along and hoover up your leftovers, you’d be creating food waste.  

The same can be said about our milkround. Without our planet-loving, plastic-hating customers, our sustainable packaging wouldn’t be used, and we wouldn’t have been able to save almost 400 tonnes of plastic in 2021

Nature works in a similar way, with ecosystems relying on the natural, symbiotic relationships each species has with one another. 

Here’s why rewilding could be the solution to many of the problems our planet currently faces: 

  • – It alleviates the growing risks to our endangered species. 
  • – It restores habitats and provides more space and options for animals to cope with climate change. 
  • – It plugs gaps in ecosystems and promotes healthy food chains. 
  • – It regulates the climate and provides us with food and healthy soil. 
  • – It purifies our air and cleans our water. That’s right, it’s not just about critters! 
  • – It prevents flooding, by reconnecting water sources like rivers and oceans. 
  • – It’s a nature-lovers dream. Because who doesn’t want to spot a wild beaver or soaring eagle on a countryside stroll? 
  • – It puts nature back in control of what it does best. 

Why is rewilding sometimes considered controversial? 

Rewilding is all about creating balance, so it wouldn’t be fair to talk about the positives without tackling the following potential negatives, which include:  

  • – The reintroduction of apex predators (which are often keystone species) can have a negative impact on herbivores and therefore plant species. This is why British rewilding projects have largely focused on reintroducing the likes of beavers and bison, rather than those at the top of food chains. 
  • – It reduces the amount of farmable land used for crops and fresh produce. This can reduce food production and negatively affect the livelihoods of farmers. 
  • – People may grow to rely too heavily on rewilding if it becomes common practice, which could halt the traditional methods of protecting endangered species. 
  • – Releasing animals into the wild often relies on law changes and legal procedures. 
  • – Rewilding is all natural. This means it may not always look as pretty as man-made parks and well-groomed fields. 
  • – It reduces the amount of land available for livestock. 

Can I rewild my garden? 

Rewilding your garden couldn’t be easier. In fact, if you’re behind on your weeding and keep putting off mowing the lawn, you’re already half-way there. Here are a few steps to help get you started: 

  1. 1. Install wildlife-friendly features such as bird feeders, bug hotels and piles of sticks for small mammals. 
  1. 2. Increase biodiversity by allowing weeds to grow freely. This provides extra pollen for insects and more room for critters to play.  
  1. 3. Let the grass grow a bit longer. This will welcome new plants that provide a healthy dose of food and nectar. 

At the very least, rewilding at home gives you a readily available excuse next time your neighbour scoffs at your unkempt garden! 

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