Smaller-Scale Rewilding - an Introduction
This is the first in series to help frame mass market rewilding
At Letts Safari we are big believers in smaller-scale rewilding. We use a variety of green technology techniques to create our eco safari parks but this is one of the most important. As a result we are publishing a series on smaller-scale rewilding models and approaches. By the time we finish, it will add up to a book - the first major book published on smaller-scale rewilding.
But it will be delivered digitally at Letts Safari + alongside film and photography and inputs from a number of different experts with specific, detailed inserts from the hands on work at Letts Safari parks and gardens.
See Letts Safari’s ‘What is Rewilding?’:
Today smaller-scale rewilding is defined as rewilding projects from garden-scale up to 250 acres. It is important as smaller spaces can get up and running faster and yet make as much of an environmental impact as larger projects. At the same time, smaller-scale rewilding does not put undue pressure on farmers to change their current approaches and methods. It assumes that the vast amount of smaller, more easily accessible green spaces can be rewilded with less political contention or economic prevention.
A larger spotlight is being shone on smaller-scale rewilding as it is considered a key infrastructure technology (with a small 't') for natural climate solutions. Further, COP26 and the new Paris Agreement will have a greater focus on nature restoration and natural solutions to the climate crisis.
Most smaller green spaces are in the hands of private owners or smaller, regional government bodies and in community ownership. The vast majority of these smaller green spaces do not rely on food production as their primary source of income. After all, we estimate that there are over one billion gardens worldwide, there are over 250 million smallholdings and there are billions of allotments, mini-parks, verges and roundabouts in both the public and private sectors. On top of this, there is a considerable opportunity for small slithers and corners of large farms and parks.
Smaller-scale rewilding is the mass market climate solution and offers rewilding approaches for the people.
The Letts Group accidentally created smaller-scale rewilding in the early 2000's when they were setting up a new creative centre for the next generation of outdoor art outside of New York City. They wanted to develop a mini-park for open-air art on just a handful of acres. An innovative space that would liberate the artists (and push them to develop conceptual art for the outdoors). They imagined a wilder, lusher and more wildife friendly space. They had heard about some early large-scale rewilding projects in the odd national park such as Yellowstone Park and so they approached some of these initiatives niaively asking how to rewild a smaller space - say around 5 or 6 acres!
The ensuing pushback that they received centred mostly around the fact that you could not manage smaller spaces with large herbivores such as the elk, bison and red deer that were so popular in larger-scale rewilding projects. These herbivores needed vast wild spaces to roam free. The Letts family were not put off. In the process they had had explained in detail how larger-scale rewidling worked, how to set up the habitats, how the ecosystem approach operated, the specific benefits that herbivores provided and the methods to attract and support key wildife species. Plus they were introduced to a number of the leading experts and contractors. So they got going.
Given that their first project was less than 6 acres they focused on setting up the habitats and used humans to mimick the benefits of rewilded herbivores. It was not long before they had planted trees to create an area of woodland - planted in copses of mostly deciduous trees - keeping the same family of tree together (read The Hidden Life of Trees). To this they added areas and corridors of open scrub and areas of wild grassland - only mowing paths and spaces to sit in. They were suprised by how quickly insects, then birds and then small mammals and invertebrates started appearing in their secret garden.
Over the next few years they developed wildlife gardening techniques and learnt about the benefits and systems required to make garden-scale rewilding work - creating a real safari garden. They understood that the slowest and most expensive part of the project was planting and nurturing woodland areas.
They learnt that smaller-scale rewilding projects needed to develop natural or semi-natural waterways, something which you do not need to do in larger-scale rewilding. Since then Letts Safari has developed a ground breaking three-tier waterway system for any size or type of garden - including a roof garden. Going seamlessly and naturally from pond to bog to wetland - all in miniature!
We were also quick to develop the key goals for smaller-scale rewilding projects which include:
1. absorb emissions (mainly carbon) back into the soil
2. grow wildlife (diversity)
3. grow natural plant life.
Fifteen years later the Letts Safari has developed a number of different models and approaches for smaller-scale rewilding and defined it as rewilding projects from garden-scale up to 250 acres - soon we will increase this to projects up to 500 acres.
The Letts family acquired Mamhead Park (South) in 2014, where Letts Safari’s first safari park is located, which was an old run down estate in southwest England, to be able to run the gamut of smaller-scale rewilding models, systems and approaches.
Today within our initial Letts Safari park and gardens we have established six foundational models up so that Letts Safari members can create mini Letts Safari’s in their garden, school, work or community space:
- large garden-scale
- smallwild kitchen
- garden verges
- municipal park
- corner of farm or national park
For the larger spaces (over 25 acres) we had to figure out smaller proxies for the kinds of herbivores found in larger-scale rewilding projects. Today Mamhead Park (South) nutures and breeds smaller-scale rewilding herbivores for other Letts Safari parks.
We are constantly developing new models, tools and approaches - all of which we will share with you. Nearly seven years later Mamhead Park (South) has become one of the worlds leading centres for smaller-scale rewilding as well as the first Letts Safari park. We have helped inspire a growing number of projects in rural and urban settings in the UK and internationally.
Going forwards Letts Safari + will examine, amongst other aspects, how to develop each of the smaller-scale rewilding models and the pitfalls, approaches and financial structures. We recognise that anything garden-scale must be simple and relatively quick to get up and running. Anything larger than garden-scale needs to have some kind of funding model and ongoing financial returns.
See more updates about rewilding at Letts Safari +:
We hope this series and the film, photography and stories that support it will help us all to consider rewilding our green spaces no mater how small - or where they are. Creating a mini Letts Safari in your garden could be one of the most satisfying and fun projects for you, your family and friends. Join us.
Get even more Letts Safari updates and wildlife photos at our twitter.