Buying Land for Rewilding
- Search for degraded land which isn’t highly productive, to avoid increasing the farmland footprint.
- Avoid areas with official designations like ‘SSSI’, ‘National Park’ or ‘AONB’ as these will limit what you can do.
- Find land close to existing natural spaces, like woodland, nature reserves or a national park to benefit from their biodiversity.
Are you curious about rewilding land? It’s a great way to spend time outdoors with the family, getting closer to nature and leaving a positive legacy for the next generation. But you don’t need to introduce wolves to your garden - rewilding is simply about restoring natural processes and, if you follow the principles, you can create a garden, field or farm buzzing with biodiversity in (almost) no time at all!
Is Farmland Suitable for Rewilding?
The UK is about 70% farmland, and these farms produce a huge amount of food and other products. Rewilding it all would make the country into a lovely place for nature, but would also mean that we would need to import much more, contributing to climate change. We would lose rural jobs, and farmland would need to be created elsewhere, destroying valuable habitat in other parts of the world. So it’s important, when you’re choosing land, to only rewild farmland that is degraded and low in productivity. Otherwise, your nature gains will just be offset somewhere else!
Happily, Addland allows you to see DEFRA’s Agricultural Land Classification (in the Research tool layers, or the ‘Agricultural’ section of the land report) - that is, how productive the land is. If this is grade 1 or 2, it’s not good for rewilding as it’s too highly-productive. Grade 3 is borderline (small and degraded fields will be fine) and 4 or 5 are ideal. Of course, if the land isn’t already farmed, then you’re probably fine anyway, but given how much land for sale is a field, this information should always be at the back of your mind.
What Legal Issues Affect Rewilding?
Active rewilding involves lots of practical interventions to restore natural processes - these can be anything from creating ponds to planting woodland, introducing water voles, coppicing trees or seeding wildflowers. In a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), there are many restrictions on not only what you can’t do with your land, but also what you must do to maintain the existing biodiversity.
SSSIs are really designed in contradiction to an open-ended rewilding mindset - they were created for traditional conservation. They can help to act as refuges for some highly-threatened species, although their success rates vary. Rather than encouraging restoration and regeneration of abundant and biodiverse habitats, they require protection of existing conditions in perpetuity. Clearly, this is going to be a problem if you’re a rewilder with big ideas.
There are other land designations which can carry similar restrictions to a SSSI, from ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB) to ‘National Park’. It’s best to avoid these areas when choosing land to buy. Helpfully, the Research tool on Addland (a 90 day free trial is available) allows you to view all of these designations as layers on the map. The map also displays historic landmarks, such as Roman camps and ancient field systems, which will affect your ability to alter the land use. You can view the distance from the nearest designated area to the centre of your plot in the free land report.
How to Benefit from Wildlife Corridors
One of the 3 dimensions of rewilding is ‘dispersal’ - that is, enabling animals and plant seeds to move around freely. Most of our natural habitat is fragmented - isolated jigsaw pieces scattered across a wider landscape, but a connected landscape allows biodiversity to flow easily from one area to another. For example, a new pond will quickly become populated with dragonflies and frogs, or a new woodland will rapidly be colonised with fungi and beetles. You might know of this idea as a ‘wildlife corridor’ - a connection between two habitats.
You can improve ‘dispersal’ by buying land close to an existing area of high biodiversity and then replicating that same habitat on your plot with land management (e.g. tree planting, pond excavation). For example, if you were to buy a field near a woodland, you could plant similar species of trees to encourage nature to travel through connecting wildlife corridors and rapidly colonise your land. This doesn’t just apply to woodland, though - ponds, marshland, scrub, meadow, peatland - it doesn’t matter which habitat, so long as your land is suitable, it’s worth mirroring the conditions in the surrounding landscape to maximise your biodiversity.
On Addland, you can view Ancient Woodlands, National Parks, Nature Reserves, AONBs, SSSIs, SPAs, RSVPs (perhaps I made that last one up) and more by selecting them in the layers tab of the map view in Research mode. This lets you find land which is close to an area of high biodiversity, maximising that ‘dispersal’ dimension, which is key to the rapid establishment of a buzzing, thriving habitat.
Curious About Rewilding?
If you’d like to learn more about rewilding, you’ll be pleased to find that there’s lots of great information out there. Addland have published another article - ‘Rewilding - A beginners guide’, or if you’ve enjoyed this content, there’s lots more like it at howtorewild.co.uk - free and helpful rewilding advice. If you’re looking for an even deeper dive, take a look at the best rewilding books, as recommended by the author.