Rewilding could be one the most holistic and natural solutions to the climate crisis. Large national parks started the practice nearly thirty years ago in places like Yellowstone Park in America. Large scale projects are focused on wildlife conservation and reintroduction through natural, wild habitat regeneration.
Rewilding solves three key problems at once. It restores our soil so that it can become an effective carbon sink, it develops habitats which support wildlife and it helps regenerate natural plant growth. Each are critical ingredients to saving the planet from the effects of global warming. If we get it right, our soil alone should be able to absorb the majority of carbon emissions that we produce each year.
Rewilding is about creating the right balance of three essential habitats: woodland, open scrub and wild grassland. Smaller-scale rewilding also involves the creation of a fourth, which is waterways. Larger-scale rewilding assumes that there will be natural waterways flowing through the land. With smaller-scale rewilding this often has to be created.
Up until recently rewilding has been the sole preserve of national parks and a few large farms. They have proven the model and provided some of the approaches for how to make conservation-based rewilding work. But it needed something else to deliver climate-fixing rewilding at scale.
“A few years ago a Letts Group project started playing with an idea which could end up cracking the code for scalable, mass market solutions to the climate crisis. It is called smaller-scale rewilding.”
We accidentally discovered rewilding in 2005 when we decided to create a small, wild space outside New York for a specific project. We built an ecosystem of wild grasses, wildflower, shrub, scrub and trees on just a few acres. Before we knew it the wildlife started arriving. First insects, bugs and snakes. Then birds and mammals. A wasteland turned into a wildlife haven in just a couple of years.
We decided to do it again in a larger space. In 2014 we bought an old, run down 100 acre park and garden, called Mamhead Park South, on the outskirts of Exeter in the southwest of England. It was a mess. It has become a leading smaller-scale rewilding park.
Smaller-scale rewilding has become an accepted practice and it is classified as a rewilding project smaller than 250 acres. Over the last few years Letts Group have taken it a step further and defined a number of practical and distinct models from garden-scale rewilding through to 250 acre projects.
Smaller-scale rewilding is more involved, more technical and much more scalable. It is also focused on solving the climate crisis and not just limited to certain objectives around conservation. Smaller-scale rewilders make green spaces that are effective carbon sinks and oases of low carbon energy and natural food production. Their spaces also accelerate natural plant growth in a more controlled environment while nurturing habitats for wildlife.
Letts have for years been practising what it is now called ‘Wildlife Gardening’ – a trendy new gardening method for rewilding your garden. But we have also developed practical models for rewilding verges, allotments, commons, parks, smallholdings and corners of farms and estates.
If you tour the towns and countryside in southwest England you can already see a number of the approaches developed and showcased at Mamhead Park South appearing in the region. Clearly something is catching on. Indeed, Letts Group regularly host and educate government and business leaders, environmental experts, landscapers, conservationists and land holders committed to a more regenerative form of farming. We have also established a private sculpture park, called Devon Sculpture Park, which is solely focused on environmental art to extend the climate message.
If smaller-scale rewilding can become a wider movement for change then perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the battle against climate change. After all, we estimate that there are over a billion gardens worldwide, more than 250 million smallholdings, and millions of smaller farms and parks. Imagine if they were at least part-rewilded.
Wildlife gardening is rewriting the book on how to garden, turning gardens into mini carbon sinks that support insects, birds and small mammals while advancing regenerative plant growth. Wildlife gardening practices zero watering techniques, zero chemical or pesticide approaches and zero use of petrol guzzling tools, making the new crop of electric tools truly du jour. All plants are left to seed and pruning techniques could not be more different. Wildlife gardens use outdoor lights that are solar powered.
Garden rewilding recreates small woodland with just a few trees, shrubs are carefully selected as proxies for scrub and wild grasses abound. Plants are generally chosen for their year round ability to support pollinators. And each plant is left to seed. We have established a three-tier waterway system which effortlessly links a pond to a bog garden and on to surface water over grasses which creates wetland. The insects and birds love it.
Letts Group has effectively miniaturised large-scale rewilding and repurposed it for mass market adoption – making it effective and understandable for everyone. We can all become a rewilding expert, no matter whether you have a small terrace garden, a roof garden, cottage garden or more. We will soon be launching a new Letts branded venture focused on delivering mass market adoption.
The Letts constantly remind us that in your garden you are the herbivore and herbivores are vital to managing projects that are larger than a garden or smallholding. When you walk across the Wildlands at Mamhead Park South you understand why. The extraordinary selection of conservation grazers that are unique to smaller-scale rewilding help maintain and shape the habitats keeping scrub as scrub, woodlands as healthy woodlands (where you can practice silvopasture techniques) and open grassland free of invasive species, scrub or tree shoots.
You can’t exactly reintroduce the bison, the wolf or a red deer into smaller-scale rewilding so at Mamhead Park you get to see what does work. The grazers are smaller and lighter with a reduced footprint, but no less wild and effective than their larger proxies. We even help to mathematically understand how many of these conservation grazers can be hosted per acre.
Smaller-scale rewilding is an eye opener and you are left with a profound sense of hope. We no longer need to wonder what we can do about the climate crisis. We don’t need to wait for the government or super-rich to act. Any of us can become a rewilding expert and planet saver. Greta Thunberg might soon be telling us about how she has rewilded her school yard!