How Letts Safari Discovered Rewilding
The Letts have been pioneering smaller-scale rewilding
We’ve had quite a flurry of early Letts Safari subscribers. So, this week, we will publish two updates - that way we can catch up on our intro pieces - which we were planning to drip feed to you.
Today, we delve into more of the backstory to Letts Safari and take a look at one of the key ecological infrastructure technologies we utilise, called smaller-scale rewilding. It should also help one of our new Letts Safari subscribers, Gill, and her co-villagers at Whimple, who are considering embarking on a rewilding adventure of their own.
If any of you lovely Letts Safari members have questions about how we do what we do, about climate change, the biodiversity crisis, rewilding or eco life in general (ouch!), feel free to put it in a ‘comment’. *Only subscribers to Letts Safari can access the comments feature.
It started in 2006 when we created a small, wild space outside New York and accidentally discovered rewilding. We had just heard about the rewilding project in Yellowstone National Park, made famous after they reintroduced wolves, so we contacted the team and asked them how we could rewild our little space. They thought we were completely mad - reminding us that rewilding was for vast tracts of wilderness! None the less, we persevered.
We built an ecosystem of wild grasses, wildflower, shrub, scrub and trees on just a few acres. Before we knew it the wildlife started arriving. First insects, bugs and snakes. Then birds and mammals. A wasteland turned into a wildlife haven in just a couple of years.
We decided to do it again in a larger space. In 2014 we bought an old, run down 100 acre park and garden on the outskirts of Exeter, in southwest England. It was a mess. Today it’s a leading rewilding wildlife park. We created Letts Safari so we can share our approach to ‘renewable nature’ and build many more safari parks. What we accidentally discovered back in 2006 is today called smaller-scale rewilding. If enough of us do enough of it, we can fix the climate problem
Rewilding could be the most holistic and natural solution to the climate crisis. Large national parks started the practice nearly thirty years ago, in places like Yellowstone Park. Large scale projects are focused on wildlife conservation and reintroduction through natural, wild habitat regeneration.
This ecological infrastructure technology can solve multiple climate problems at once. It can restore our soil and waterways so they effectively store carbon dioxide and it develops habitats that remove carbon, purify our air and support our depleted wildlife. Rewilding also helps regenerate natural tree and plant growth. Recent research has shown that natural regeneration can potentially absorb 40 times more carbon than plantations.
Each of the methods that we use to build Letts Safari parks form critical ingredients to saving the planet from the effects of global warming. If we get it right, our soil alone should be able to absorb the majority of emissions that we produce each year.
Rewilding is about creating the right balance of 3 essential habitats: woodland, open scrub and wild grassland. Smaller-scale rewilding also involves the creation of a fourth, which is waterways. Larger-scale rewilding assumes that there will be natural waterways flowing through the land. With smaller-scale rewilding this often has to be created. We have developed an innovative 3-tier waterway system that enhances biodiversity, removes carbon and supports marine life, water birds and insects.
As a subscriber to Letts Safari you help us plant trees, introduce endangered animals and create more parks. Each tree we plant removes 1 tonne of CO2 during its life. Trees are excellent at sucking carbon in from the air and trapping it in their trunks, roots and leaves. The right trees also provide habitat for birds, mammals and insects, purify air and water, and protect land from flooding.
Up until recently rewilding has been the sole preserve of national parks and a few large farms. They have proven the model and provided some of the approaches for how to make conservation-based rewilding work. But it needed something else to deliver climate-fixing rewilding at scale.
Today smaller-scale rewilding is an accepted practice and is classified as a rewilding project smaller than 250 acres. Over the last fifteen years Letts Group have taken it a step further and defined a number of practical and distinct models for garden-scale rewilding through to 250 acre projects.
Smaller-scale rewilding is more involved, more technical and much more widely applicable. It is also focused on solving the climate crisis and not limited to certain objectives around animal conservation. Smaller-scale rewilders make green spaces that are effective carbon sinks and oases of low carbon energy and natural food production. Their spaces also accelerate natural tree and plant growth in a more controlled environment while nurturing habitats for wildlife. They fuse tree planting techniques with natural tree growth to accelerate woodland development.
We have, for years, been practising what it is now called ‘Wildlife Gardening’ - a trendy new gardening method for rewilding your garden. We have also developed practical models for rewilding verges, allotments, commons, parks, smallholdings and corners of farms and estates. We will share them in future updates.
If you tour the surrounding towns and countryside you can already see a number of the approaches showcased at Mamhead Park South appearing in the region. Clearly something is catching on. That is why it is so important that we create more Letts Safari parks in more places.
If smaller-scale rewilding can become a wider movement for change then perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the battle against climate change. After all, we estimate that there are over a billion gardens on this planet, more than 250 million smallholdings, and millions of smaller farms and parks. Imagine if all of them were at least part-rewilded.
Wildlife gardening is rewriting the book on how to garden, turning gardens into mini carbon sinks that support insects, birds and small mammals while advancing regenerative plant growth. Wildlife gardening practices zero watering techniques, zero chemical or pesticide approaches and zero use of petrol guzzling tools, making the new crop of electric tools more than timely. All plants are left to seed and pruning techniques could not be more different.
Rewilded gardens recreate small woodland with just a few, select trees. Shrubs are carefully chosen as proxies for scrub - and wild grasses abound. Plants are often designed in for their year round ability to support pollinators. And each plant is left to seed.
Strips of wildflower meadow edge wild grassland - gradually seeping into the general grassland mix. You just mow paths to walk through the wild grasses and areas to sit or play in. At Letts Safari our three-tier waterway approach effortlessly links lake to bog and on to surface water over grasses, which creates wetland. The mammals, insects, reptiles and birds love it.
We have shrink wrapped larger-scale rewilding and repurposed it for the masses - making it effective and understandable for everyone. By following the practices and updates at Letts Safari anyone can become a rewilding expert. And hopefully you will go on to create your own wildlife haven in your backyard, work, school or community. We’ll share the secret source.
The Letts constantly remind us that in your garden you are the herbivore and herbivores are vital to managing projects that are larger than a garden or smallholding. When you walk across our first safari park, at Mamhead Park, you understand why. The extraordinary selection of conservation grazers that are unique to smaller-scale rewilding help maintain and shape the habitats keeping scrub as wild shrub, woodlands as healthy woodlands and wild grassland free of endless weeds, scrub or tree shoots. These specialist herbivores drive the forces of habitat regeneration with their mouths, their feet and their horns.
You can't exactly reintroduce the bison, the wolf or a red deer into smaller-scale rewilding, so at Mamhead Park South you get to see what does work. The grazers are smaller and lighter with a reduced footprint, but no less wild and effective than their larger proxies. We have developed breeding programmes to ensure that we maintain the optimal number of conservation grazers per acre - and so the young can go off to help support new Letts Safari parks.
Our rewilding safari park’s are a real eye opener, leaving us with a profound sense of hope. We no longer need to wonder what we can do about the climate crisis. We don't need to wait for the government or super-rich to act. Any of us can become a rewilding expert and planet saver. And anyone can subscribe to Letts Safari.
Help us spread the word. The more subscribers we get to Letts Safari, the more safari parks we can build. Our first safari park is at Mamhead Park, the next one is up to you.