Everyone needs to play a role in the recovery of nature. Here, we look at small-scale rewilding, for land parcels that cannot accommodate free roaming grazers - and require more human management to replicate their impacts.
Drawing a distinction between rewilding and small-scale rewilding
In the section 'What is Rewilding?' we set out the main aspects of rewilding, with natural grazing and regeneration being the key to structurally diverse and dynamic ecosystems. Free roaming native herbivores in natural densities keep ecosystems in balance, as they have done for millions of years. This creates the opportunity for nature recovery at scale, and the complexity of habitat that arises from this is beyond anything that people could hope to mimic.
Therefore, rewilding is defined by a scale that is sufficient for free roaming herds of cattle, ponies, deer and pigs/boar to exist. Now, given that one pig can plough up to 60 acres of land a year, and that the stocking densities of herbivores required for natural regeneration are low - a reasonable land area of at least 200 acres is needed for a rewilding project. That is what Tir Natur is looking to do - purchase an area of land of this size and showcase rewilding, in the hope that this inspires others. But landowners coming together to form farm clusters and achieve rewilding at scale is the best way forwards. From 200 acres upwards to thousands of acres, the functionality of ecosystems and natural processes will increase - and this is what we hope to inspire.
However, we recognise that not all land in Wales is managed for farming, and that many land holdings are much smaller. It is important that the road to nature recovery is inclusive of everyone, but at the same time we cannot diminish or dilute the true meaning of rewilding – which is the recovery of ecosystems so that nature can take care of itself. Small-scale rewilding is a way of trying our best, on smaller land parcels, to mimic the disturbances caused by large herbivores and omnivores within an ecosystem.
This is an important distinction - as the word rewilding is sometimes used to describe all manner of positive actions for nature. Small-scale rewilding covers a much broader range of actions that rely on human interventions - but where the desire for more structurally diverse and dynamic habitat that serves all species rather than specific ones, remains.
What does small-scale rewilding look like?
In the 'What is Rewilding?' section, we laid out what the ‘initial interventions’ are - we call these ‘laying the foundations for natural processes to take over’. Many of these actions also apply to small-scale rewilding.
The removal of internal fencing.
The removal of any drainage blockages to restore functioning wetlands.
The planting of whips and the sowing of seeds, where there is a clear absence of certain species. Natural regeneration will always be the default setting, but the reality is that we have depleted nature so much in this country, that there is an absence of some species to regenerate. This will be site specific.
Preparing the ground. Overgrazing has created very tight-knit, species poor grasslands, and it will be important to break up this sward, and expose any latent seed bank, to give natural regeneration a leg-up. This could be done through mechanical rotavating, or our personal preference, focused pig rootling.
Removing nutrients – Much of our landscapes have had chemical or organic fertiliser applied heavily and consistently for many years. This saturates the soil with nutrients, and it can take some time for these nutrients to leach out of the soil to the point that the chemical profile of that soil is neutral. Too many nutrients in the soil might lead to species poor regeneration.
Invasive Species removal – Take steps to remove any invasive, non-native species if present.
Ponds & Scrapes – nature won’t dig the ponds and scrapes that have been filled in over the years.
Whether you have a few tens of acres or a small garden, any and all steps to recover nature will be crucial moving forwards. Small-scale rewilding widens the scope of engagement for this recovery, and gets people thinking differently about how we can bring nature back into our landscapes, and into our lives. Actions like digging a pond in your garden, or allowing a lawn to develop into wildflower rich, structurally diverse habitat are becoming increasingly popular. It is an incredible experience to witness the capacity of nature to come flooding back into small spaces, if given the opportunity to do so.
If you have more land, but not enough to accommodate free roaming grazers, then having those animals on the land for shorter periods, and moving them on and off is a way of replicating what a rewilding project would look like. Bringing native cattle into graze, or pigs to rootle for a few weeks in the winter will bring many of the benefits that rewilding offers.
At Tir Natur, our goal is not just to purchase land to showcase rewilding, but also to purchase smaller land parcels for small-scale rewilding. This will allow us to try different approaches to creating structurally diverse and dynamic habitat, and we will share these findings with you. With the help of our Wilder Wales Network, we hope to coordinate with others and find out what is working elsewhere. These smaller-scale projects can act as connective tissue for larger areas of nature recovery, and this is what we hope to achieve.
Photo credits in order - Goldfinch (Shutterstock), Wildflowers (Shutterstock)
Underhill Wood Nature Reserve
Here is a Wonderfull webinar about the Underhill Wood Nature Reserve, which showcases what can be done on a smaller scale.