Rewilding - A beginners guide

Key info
  • Having a complete understanding of the ecology of your land as you create your rewilding plan is the key to your success.
  • The UK government has no specific legislation on rewilding. However, you’ll want to research legislation on the specific actions you plan on taking on your project. For example, checking the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 if you plan on repopulating a species.
  • Rewilding is a game of patience and empathy with your land. Good practice of rewilding maintains an open-ended perspective on the outcome of the project.

Whether you’re looking to fight the Climate Emergency, or create a natural utopia for your loved ones to admire, rewilding is a crucial part of conservation biology and essential to managing human influence over the planet.

In this guide, we’ll help you to understand the key principles for rewilding effectively.

What do I need to begin rewilding?

The great part about the practice of rewilding is that it takes minimal amounts of effort, and the only thing you need to get started is... land! The land is designed to do the natural regeneration "heavy-lifting" whilst your job is to manage the land with as little human intervention as possible, in order to restore lost ecological processes and biodiversity to the area.

Most land is eligible for rewilding. What’s more important is having a deep understanding of the land you’re working on and a vision of how it would’ve looked before human intervention. This may mean letting the land sit unmanaged for a season to understand the biodiversity dynamics. Depending on your project, some factors of interest to you may be your land’s soil type, flood potential, and geological/hydrological features.

Attitudes towards rewilding vary on the initial plot choice. You may prefer choosing a more degraded landscape so that you're maximising the ecological restoration of your project. On the other hand, well stewarded land may allow you to monitor the natural regeneration of your land and therefore help you achieve your aims of rewilding. However, you should search for degraded land which isn’t highly productive, to avoid increasing the farmland footprint.

When choosing your land, make sure to be wary of protected areas and SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), as the legislation in these areas may limit the freedom you have with your rewilding project.

The Addland Professional Land Report allows gives you access to cm level accuracy of a plot's proximity from nature reserves to SSSI sites, as well as research many more of your land's intricate features to empower your decision-making.

Legal considerations for rewilding

Whilst rewilding itself has no specific UK policy, there are many related policies that you’ll need to be aware of in order to manage your land within UK law.

The main policies to consider are the Environmental Land Management schemes, rewarding local landscape and nature recovery. From there, the policies you’ll need to consider will depend on the type of rewilding you’re doing. The government body DEFRA deals with most legal issues in the UK regarding land and rural development, and are worth contacting if you’re unsure about the regulations regarding the type of rewilding you’re doing.

If you’re planning on having your rewilding project feature any animals or rare plants then there are a few factors to consider. You may need a license if you plan on keeping wild animals in captivity. In addition, if you plan on repopulating your land with rare species, they may be protected under the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 and so you’ll be responsible for maintaining their protection.

You may want to think about the legal hidden costs your land may have as you start the rewilding process. For example, woodland at the border of your land may grow over public property such as roads, and therefore will have to be managed.

It’s also worth considering the legal implications of your rewilding project when initially buying the land. See our guide on buying land for detail on buying land the right way.

How to start your rewilding project

Human intervention has caused many ecosystem components to simply disappear. For example, biodiversity indicators suggest the mass extinction of large herbivores and predators has significantly reduced grazing and predation, affecting the rate at which many other animal species are able to feed and reproduce. In order to excel at rewilding, and reverse biodiversity loss effectively, it's best to audit the natural processes that would’ve occurred before human intervention and construct a plan from there. If you’re unsure about your land’s natural processes, a trained ecologist will be able to help you. If you have, not yet bought land for rewilding but are looking to do so, read Addland's guide to buying land for rewilding by rewilding expert Chris Chris D'Agorne MSc. 

It’s important to consider your neighbours when forging your plan. Land aims to connect itself, and so something as simple as blocking a ditch could have a negative impact on the neighbouring plot. In addition, neighbours may be able to help with your project. For example, your active management approach may be able to mimic the behaviour of lost keystone species for free by allowing farmers’ animals to graze on your land.

Once you have an idea of your goals for rewilding through the ecological processes you want to bring back to your landscape, you’re ready to begin your initial interventions for restoration. Patience is key here, as there may be seasonal requirements for certain species, and natural processes can take much longer than artificial systems. However, slowly restoring the crucial ecological processes to your landscape will naturally lead to the return of some animal and plant species. Some you may not have even expected! The longer you work on your land, the more you will be able to learn and understand it.

The main concept is allowing the land to restore itself, so “listening” to the land and having an open mind about the outcome of your rewilding project, as well as having a good understanding of biodiversity research is crucial. Some processes that may seem damaging at first can lead to the recovery of rich ecosystems. For example, whilst landowners normally aim to clean up and remove dead and uprooted trees from the land, this could have unintended consequences for the recovery of ecosystems specific to your land. Under those trees could form whole new insect cultures, cascading into the recovery of entire food chains as certain insect-feeding animal species are able to repopulate.

This highlights the importance of scaling rewilding, as having more land allows for a greater level of ecological connectivity and overall rewilding progress. However, don’t fret if your land isn’t going to be the next National Park. It will form its own unique ecosystem over time, and your understanding and vision can only become clearer as you get to know your land better. For a breakdown of some of the best approaches, How To Rewild offers science-based guides on the different approaches to rewilding a garden, field or farm.

One venture you may wish to take in your bio-diversity journey is the repopulation of key species to your land.

To maximise the effect of your repopulation effort, it's worth getting to understand trophic rewilding. This is the concept of restoring the food chain top-down, leading to a positive cascading effect as complex ecosystems begin to form over time. Ecosystem restoration can often rely on this megafauna to dictate the landscape on a macroscopic level, and so when choosing an animal to repopulate, consider the effect they will have on large-scale ecological processes and consequences for ecosystems some processes such as grazing and predation. Again, be careful of scale here, as certain species need a large amount of space to hunt and survive. You may experience significant overgrazing/overhunting issues if the species you decide to reintroduce doesn’t have enough land to feed off.

Once you’ve completed the initial hard work, you’ll be able to relax and admire your land as your very own cluster of wild nature begins to take care of itself within its own unique ecosystem, not only acting as a key conservation effort but also helping to fight the climate crisis.

Addland makes it easy to find, research, buy or sell land. Start your land journey today.

Published: 04 August 2021
Last updated: 13 December 2022

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