Why Smaller-scale Rewilding is Important

Rewilding could be the most holistic and natural solution 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 our vital 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 vast majority of emissions that we produce each year.

Rewilding is about creating the right balance of three essential habitats: woodland, open scrub and open 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.

Around fifteen years ago a Letts family project started playing with an idea which could end up cracking the code for scalable, mass market solutions to the climate crisis. It’s called smaller-scale rewilding.

Today it is an accepted practice and smaller-scale rewilding is classified as a rewilding project smaller than 250 acres. Over the last fifteen years the Letts Group have taken it a step further and defined a number of practical and distinct models for garden-scale rewilding through to 250 acre projects.

Smaller-scale rewilding is more involved, more technical and much more scalable. It is also more broadly focused on solving the climate crisis and not 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.

The Letts have for years been practising what it is now called ‘Wildlife Gardening’ – a trendy new gardening method for rewilding your garden. But they have also developed practical models for rewilding verges, allotments, commons, parks, smallholdings and corners of farms and estates. They have a new centre that is up and running in the southwest of England called DSP which you can visit to learn about the various models and methods.

If you tour the surrounding towns and countryside you can already see a number of the approaches developed and showcased at DSP appearing in the region. Clearly something is catching on. Indeed, DSP is regularly hosting and educating government and business leaders, environmental experts, gardening professionals, conservationists and land holders committed to a more regenerative form of farming. They have even established a private sculpture park solely focused on environmental art to extend their 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 on this planet, more than 250 million smallholdings, and millions of smaller farms and parks. Imagine if all of them 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 have lighting that is solar powered.

Rewilded gardens recreate 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. At DSP you can see the team’s three-tier waterway approach 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.

The Letts Group has shrink wrapped large-scale rewilding and repurposed it for the masses – making it effective and understandable for everyone. By following the practices and updates at DSP Online anyone can become a rewilding expert. No matter whether you have a small terrace garden, a roof garden, cottage garden or more.

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 outer wildlands at DSP 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 endless weeds, scrub or tree shoots.

You can’t exactly reintroduce the bison, the wolf or a red deer into smaller-scale rewilding so at DSP 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. The Letts even help us mathematically understand how many of these conservation grazers can be hosted per acre.

A visit to DSP Online or in-park is a real 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. No pressure Greta!

Book one of DSP’s rewilding tours or get more in-depth at a rewilding workshop – click here.

This article first appeared in a newsletter from a Letts Group think tank called Surviving.

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