Creating a Small LettsSafari Park
Do you want to build your very own mini safari park? Here's how.
Creating a mini LettsSafari park or garden is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. And rewilding is not for large landholders alone - our approach makes it possible for anyone with access to a small green space. Today we look at how to design your very own small LettsSafari park.
We classify small LettsSafari parks as green spaces that are between 10 and 25 acres. They are typified as walking parks that are packed with wildlife and plantlife - driving a whole range of dynamic biodiversity benefits while removing carbon - but they do not keep herbivores enclosed within perimeter fencing. It would have to be a medium size LettsSafari park (25 - 75 acres) to achieve this.
Designing your small LettsSafari park most people or communities start with a space that used to be utilised for grazing with perhaps a few trees strewn around. The ideal plot to get going would have around 20-25% tree cover, a bunch of wild grasses and some open scrub - with a stream that runs through the middle! The chances of starting with this are almost zero. But, bear in mind that from a very high level this is roughly where you will want to end up.
Before you get going with whatever piece of land you have you will want to develop a checklist:
how do you want to enjoy the space?
do you have any specific carbon removal or wildlife conservation goals?
boundary fence or not?
access points and tracks
predominant wind direction
natural tree types in situ
predominance of local wildlife species
land typography and water retention/run off.
The word ‘safari’ means journey in Swahili. We called it LettsSafari because setting up and running any safari park or garden is a journey. Perhaps one of the most satisfying and valuable journey’s of your life - alongside family, career, hobbies and trips. So plan this journey well and recognise that it might require you out there with a spade, saw or clippers on a number of rain-drenched weekends.
“Done right you can set your small safari park up in about 5 years - so long as you keep moving and design it right”.
Your objective is to end up with 3 core zones - each roughly a third of the space. Think 3 interlinked circles. Circle 1 will focus on trees, circle 2 wild grasses and circle 3 centres on open scrub. You will also want to dig out and place a pond in the wooded area and you will likely, over time, plant more trees or even hedgerow around the perimeter.
But, before you create your zones think hard about where they should be given your open grassland wants as much sun on it as possible - so if you do not already have a wooded zone, you will want to plant your woods to the north of the plot so it does not shade the open grassland too much - giving you the ability to develop wild flowers or a small prairie over time.
Perimeter fence and tracks
One of your earlier decisions will be whether you want to have a perimeter fence or not. Given we are designing a private safari park, many people opt for a perimeter fence, but you do not have to and you should bear in mind that fencing costs money to install and maintain. If you do go for a fence we recommend a standard 4 foot fence which will allow deer to bounce in and out (assuming you have them in your area).
You will also want to think about an access track for maintenance or just for walking around the place. A track could be as simple as a mowed walkway through your wild grasses or a meandering track through the woodland. The access track will be important to get vehicles in if you decide to top your wild grasses once a year or to access the edges of your plot for later planting schemes - so design it in carefully.
Zone 1 - woodland
This zone should be about a quarter of your overall land and takes the longest to develop from scratch so we generally recommend starting here. Naturally, if your plot of land already has a wooded area or a bunch of trees in one part of it, then you will want to build around what you already have. Bear in mind that planting trees will prove to be the most time consuming part of the exercise and take the longest time to establish.
Assuming you are planting from scratch you should design in 6 or 7 copses of trees (that way you keep the trees together in the same family which is important for their wellbeing) that interconnect. At least one copse should be coniferous trees, 3 should be deciduous trees and 3 copses should focus on fruit bearing trees. A nice mix for lowland England could be pine, oak, beach, birch, English maple, elder, wild cherry and crab apple. The trees should be planted 8-10 metres apart so that plenty of light can hit the floor and vegetation will grow underneath.
Remember to wrap your young sapling with protective covers so that they do not get eaten by rabbits or deer.
Your woodland area will prove to be an essential habitat for any number of birds, insects and small mammals. As your woodland matures building small wood biodomes will provide further homes for small mammals and birds as well as natural hives for certain insects. Remember any branch that naturally falls to the ground and is more than 8 inches wide should be left on the ground as it will help to breed soil enhancing bugs.
You will want to dig a pond in your woodland if you do not already have a natural waterway on your land. If you are creating one from scratch by placing it in the wooded area it will dry out less thanks to the shade from the trees.
Zone 2 - wild grasses
If you are creating a mini LettsSafari park you will almost always start with an area of grassland. If you do, then this will be your easiest space to enhance. Remember, by creating your very own LettsSafari park you will be nurturing wild grasses. This zone should be about 30% - 40% of your total land.
This type of grassland is very different to a mowed lawn or pasture for grazing. The key is to LEAVE IT ALONE. Let nature take its own course. But, bear in mind that your small park is not big enough to have herbivores manage the grasses for you. As a result, you will have to pull out invasive species such as dock, nettle and creeping bramble. Just use strong, thick rubber gloves and pull them out when the ground is saturated with water after some heavy rainfalls and they should come out easily.
If there is one plant you will want to add to your grasses it is yellow rattle, which creates the conditions for wildflower and grass diversity by naturally weakening the grasses just enough to create the space for other things to grow between them.
If you do not have an area of grassland then see below.
Zone 3 - open scrub
Shrubland, scrubland, scrub, brush, or bush is a plant community characterised by vegetation dominated by shrubs, often also including grasses, herbs, and geophytes. One of the reasons why we have lost so much wildlife in the western world is because we have almost entirely eliminated open scrub. This is your chance to bring it back.
Shrubland may either occur naturally or be the result of human activity. It may be the mature vegetation type in a particular region and remain stable over time, or a transitional community that occurs temporarily as the result of a disturbance, such as fire.
A shrub is defined as a much-branched woody plant less than 8 metres high and usually with many stems. Tall shrubs are mostly 2–8 metres high, small shrubs 1–2 metres high and subshrubs less than 1 metre high. Good examples include blackthorn, gorse, ferns and bramble. Some of the best wild shrubs for wildlife include berberis, cornelian cherry, dogwood, guelder rose, hawthorn and spindleberry.
Well-managed scrub and its margins support a range of wildlife. Scrub provides nectar, seeds, fruits, shelter and nest sites for invertebrates, birds and mammals. It also offers suitable habitat for many flowering plants.
Diverse scrub is the most valuable to wildlife
Scrub of varied age, species and structure supports the widest range of wildlife, as some species depend on specific growth stages of certain plants. Some species require particular shrubs and others a range of habitats in a small patch of scrub. It is important to maintain all growth stages, from bare ground through young and old growth to decaying wood.
Birds nest in a range of scrub types. Yellowhammers, linnets, grasshopper warblers and whitethroats favour young, scattered scrub. Dunnocks and willow warblers use low-growing, closed canopy scrub. Turtle doves, song thrushes and bullfinches use older, mature stands of scrub. Nightingales for example, require very dense stands of blackthorn or brambles.
Perimeter trees and dead hedges
To complete the basic design of your small LettsSafari park we would recommend planting two rows of trees around your perimeter, where there are not already trees, as well as adding the odd dead hedge or wildife biodome in between. It will really enhance this extra, outer space.
If you follow the approach outlined above, within 5 years you could be wandering around your very own safari park. A place that will constantly evolve, bringing you, your family, friends and the community a place of natural wonder. If you have any questions as you embark on this journey of a lifetime - put it in a comment.
And if you think this article could inspire anyone else to set up their own mini LettsSafari then forward the email - and help us spread the word. You might even want to forward it to your local MP or councillor.
And if you do decide to build your small LettsSafari park, keep us posted and we’ll make sure that you join the growing LettsSafari Network of Parks. An amazing network of landholders making the rewilding difference.