Going Wild! Tackling the Biodiversity Crisis en Masse.
Saving the planet by rewilding gardens, parks, verges and ponds
LettsSafari’s founders pioneered rewilding for the masses. At the turn of the century when large scale conservationists were mostly trying to figure out how to rewild large national parks such as Yellowstone Park, our founders were trying to crack doing it on a small scale. You know, in gardens, small parks and verges. Everyone thought they were mad. Conservationists and wildlife experts scratched their heads.
Today what they have done is officially called smaller-scale rewilding which is classified as rewilding projects under 250 acres (it should be under 1,000 acres but that’s another story!). And, thanks to their pioneering efforts and those of a number of other citizen conservationists smaller-scale, mass market rewilding is taking off. And it needs to.
Smaller-scale rewilding could be the highest impact, most inclusive solution to the climate crisis. After all we have nearly as many gardens in the UK as cars. If everyone rewilded their garden they, combined would do more to reverse the climate crisis than all of us buying an electric car - and it would cost a lot less.
Garden rewilding has proven that it removes carbon, cleans the air and restores wildlife and plant numbers. Trees cool the ground and ponds hold running water. Regenerated soil provides better food and medicine.
We estimate that there are over 1 billion gardens worldwide, 250 million smallholdings and even more verges, edges of rivers, fields, roads and more. There are around 23 million gardens in the UK alone. More if you include terraces and green roofs. The combined network effect of these small spaces, if rewilded, could reverse the biodiversity crisis and make a significant impact on the wider climate crisis - removing carbon and cleaning the air from pollution.
It is much more cost effective to maintain a wild garden - something that could not be more welcome as we head into tough economic times. Not to add the health, happiness and wellbeing benefits of surrounding ourselves with ‘real’ nature as it should be.
The world's first dedicated, historic garden to be fully rewilded, LettsSafari network’s Capability Brown gardens, on the edge of Exeter city proves that you can create rewilded gardens that are just as stunning as any formal garden. The lawns might be wild meadows packed with wildflower, the beds might be full of diverse, naturally regenerating plants dedicated to bees, butterflies and insect welfare - and the garden edges might be packed with nettle, bramble and ragwort for wildlife.
Wild wetlands, bog and ponds replace paths and tracks. But the shabby chic, natural ensemble packs a huge eco punch and attracts more wildlife than any zoo and most nature reserves. Rare birds, butterflies, bees, mammals and invertebrates flock to it like an oasis in the desert. A desert of endlessly mowed grass, felled trees and overly ploughed fields that surround this extraordinary eco estate.
In these unique gardens trees are everywhere - providing shelter in the winter and cooling shade in the summer. Every tree is nurtured to spread its seed - with young saplings scattered throughout the 15 acre safari gardens overlooking the sea. At any one time you can count hundreds of young saplings growing in the eco gardens - naturally grown until they are ready to be replanted in other places.
According to the latest research urban greening initiatives such as planting street trees, creating wetland gardens and de-paving can help mitigate the impacts of urban heating due to the climate crisis and urban expansion, according to a study of 2,000 cities that has found urban areas have been warming by 0.5C a decade on average.
Scientists at Nanjing and Yale Universities analysed satellite data from across 2,000 cities and compared surface temperature readings between cities and rural areas from 2002 to 2021.
Urban greening schemes in which exposed land surfaces are replaced with natural vegetation, can help reduce the rate of urban warming by producing a cooling effect particularly at night, by capturing some of the surrounding surface heat for storage, according to the report.
In Europe, urban greening has been found to offset the rate of urban warming by 0.13C a decade on average. Likewise in Chicago, an urban greening scheme to increase tree coverage after a heatwave in 1995 has helped to decrease the rate of urban warming by about 0.084C a decade.
But, there isn’t one urban area within the UK with average tree street cover above 40%, which is the minimum amount of cover needed for a cooling effect to take place. According to one regional manager there are few better investments a city could make in the health and security of its residents than urban greening.
At LettsSafari + we have been reporting on urban rewilding initiatives for over a year and visited, informed and helped inspire urban and garden rewilding initiatives across the country. From Yorkshire to London and across the southwest. We provide the largest number of blueprints, tips and tools for smaller-scale and garden rewilding.
Ali Morse, water policy manager at the Wildlife Trusts, supports the approach: “There are 400,000 hectares of domestic gardens in the UK – a vast area covering much more than all the nation’s major nature reserves put together – and they have huge potential to help us tackle the interlinked climate and nature crises.
“Making your garden wilder and wetter will help wildlife and also play an important role in making your garden less prone to drought and in reducing pollution in local rivers.”
Even Natural England has started to change its approach as have the Woodland Trust and, to an extent, the Forestry Commission. The National Trust is making some early moves.
Tony Juniper, who leads Natural England, said that concreted-over front gardens, and backyards which do not hold much water, could contribute to sewage spills into waterways as surface water runs off the hard or dry surfaces.
He recommended that people turn their gardens into wetlands, which can hold water and prevent run-off. This would also create habitats for many creatures.
Ali Morse agrees saying that the loss or degradation of natural wetlands, she said, is linked to a huge decline in wildlife, from frogs and toads to water voles and insects.
“If you’ve no space for a traditional pond, consider a bird bath, a low-level water dish for hedgehogs and other mammals to drink from, a bog garden or a bucket pond, which can be a lifeline for insects such as butterflies and bees. Everything needs water. People are often amazed to discover the huge variety of aquatic wildlife that finds its way to ponds: dragonflies and damselflies, grass snakes, hedgehogs, foxes and birds all need water to survive.”
A spokesperson for the Rivers Trust agreed, adding that England has lost almost all of its wetlands as a result of farming and development.
More than ever it is up to us to make the change. A recent YouGov survey for major charities finds 81% of respondents believe that wildlife and the environment are under threat and that we urgently need to do more to protect and restore it. Half said they were willing to take action themselves to reverse the damage.
The majority of respondents said they had witnessed a decline in nature and wildlife in their local area, 65% in the number and variety of insects they see, 58% in birds, 60% in mammals and 59% in green spaces such as parks and woodlands.
What greater action could we take than to rewild our gardens and the small green spaces around us, in our schools, our community and at our work places. Surely it is time to create our very own safari gardens and combine to take our society and this planet on a journey to a much better place. Why wait?
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