Rewilding your garden will help you give something back. Just a few simple changes can have a massively positive impact on both wildlife and the environment.
Rewilding is often talked about on large scales – planting millions of trees, leaving large swathes of land untouched and reintroducing keystone species back into ecosystems. This type of large-scale rewilding is incredibly important and will have a huge impact.
But (if there can be a contrasting view to this), it can often seem a little distant and other-worldly, particularly for those of you like me, who live in a densely populated city. Can I do something for the environment from my own little quarters? Can I make a difference?
The answer is YES, and it’s where rewilding your garden comes in.
Not only will a more wildlife-focussed garden benefit the local animals and plants, it’s also fantastic for you. It’s also more than possible to rewild at home, no matter the size or make-up of your garden, yard or plot.
So, let’s take a closer a look at rewilding and what rewilding your garden looks like in practice.
What is rewilding?
According to truenationalfoundation.org, rewilding is:
“A form of environmental conservation and ecological restoration that has significant potential to increase biodiversity, create self-sustainable environments and mitigate climate change.”
In simple terms, rewilding aims to take an area of land and bring it back to a more natural ecosystem. Nature is more than capable of doing this on its own, repairing and regenerating, it just needs to be given the chance.
The main term rewilding was only coined in the 1990s and has since evolved into different rewilding pathways. There are now quite a few different types of rewilding, such as passive rewilding, translocation and Pleistocene rewilding.
All types of rewilding share a number of key principles at heart. These rewilding principles can also be shared no matter what scale you’re talking about – large scale, small scale or garden rewilding. They include:
- Embracing natural processes
- Encouraging biodiversity (plants, animals and microorganisms) to thrive
- Taking a more hands off approach with less precise management
Rewilding Britain is charity whose mission is crystal clear – to see the expansion of nature across Britain’s land and seas. They want at least 30% of Britain restored to a mosaic of species-rich habitats that are connected by natural corridors by 2030.
What’s the difference between small-scale rewilding and rewilding at home?
Small scale rewilding is classified as anything under 250 acres, which is just over a million square metres, yes a million. To put this into context, a football pitch is around 1.5 acres, so 250 acres would be around the same amount of land that 166 football pitches take up.
I don’t know about you, but my garden is a touch off a million square metres.
Of course, people with large estates and farms in the countryside will have this amount of land that they can rewild. And that’s fantastic news if they choose to do so.
When it comes to rewilding your garden, I’m talking with space more like 25m2 rather than 250 acres.
We all have to focus on where we can have a positive impact and if that’s in our gardens, homes, yards and even window boxes, then all contributions count.
Think about this: there are 22 million people in the UK with access to a garden. Small contributions from many people will soon compound up to benefit nature.
What are the benefits of rewilding?
The benefits of rewilding areas are wide-ranging, multi-level and profound. Not only can rewilding help local plants and animals, it can have an incredibly influence on the wider natural environment.
3 main benefits to rewilding:
- Better for all wildlife – rewilding will increase species biodiversity of plants, animals and vital microorganisms in our soil
- Restore ecosystems – humans have impacted every single part of the UK, mainly to the detriment. Rewilding will help tip the balance back towards nature and a more sustainable future
- A natural solution to climate change – more woodlands, more plants and improved soil condition all help absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
There’s also another main benefit.
Rewilding and having more nature around makes us feel better: it improves are mental health and wellbeing in ways many of us wouldn’t think possible.
On a personal level, after ‘rewilding’ a small corner of my garden last year, I loved sitting close by watching the birds feed, the bees come and go and the plants grow and change over time. It made me feel good.
From reducing stress, boosting your mood and making you feel more relaxed to improving physical health and even illness recovery, there’s a whole load of scientific studies and literature that back up the claims that nature and green space improves mental health. You can find out much more information on this here, here and here. This also goes for indoor house plants, which can have a big impact on wellbeing and mental health.
Whether you plan on a long walk through the woods, a stroll through a field or just observing the naturel processes in your garden, your wellbeing will benefit. Even just getting more sunlight and fresh air will have a great impact.
When nature is healthier, so are we. Let’s not underestimate this. We wholly rely on nature for the air we breathe, food we eat and water we drink. We need to work with nature and not against it. That way, we’ll all benefit.
How can I rewild my garden?
A pristine, no leaf out of place type of garden is often one of little biodiversity and thriving life. This isn’t what rewilding is about.
Rewilding your garden, or just an area of it, requires you to take more of a hands-off approach and embrace what nature intended. It might require a slight adjustment on your behalf to get used to the new, natural beauty look. But it’ll be more than worth it.
A true wild area has many different habitats, and this is what rewilding aims to bring back. Even in a small garden, you can create many types of habitats to benefit different plants and animals. Different types of small garden habitats can include everything from long grass, borders, shrubs, trees, ponds, log piles and compost.
The good news for you is that rewilding your garden doesn’t have to involve drastic steps and major changes. It’s achievable for everyone and can be done really simply and sustainably.
Now you know a little more on rewilding, here are 13 steps on how to rewild your garden.
How to rewild your garden
- Make use of vertical space in your garden
This applies to any fenced or walled garden. It’s a particularly good way to green your space for those with small paved yards, a common type of garden for inner-city terraced houses.
To make the most of the vertical space, fix trellises and wooden ladders to the wall to help plants climb up. You can fix (as along as it’s safe) almost any kind of box shape to the wall to provide planters, even a full pallet where the spaces have been lined and filled with soil or just little pots.
The fantastic native ivy (Hedera helix) we have in the UK will happily grow up without any further support other than the wall. This ivy is a superb habitat for a number of garden creatures and birds.
Think how much more pleasant a lovely green living wall will be to look at than a brick one.
- Plant a tree
Trees play a remarkable roll in ecosystems and the environment. Just one tree can create so many different habitats, supporting an abundance of biodiversity numbering in the thousands of species. Everything from the root system, which supports soil ecosystems, to the trunk area, branches and leaves provide much needed habitats, nesting areas and shelter.
Trees also suck up and fix away plenty of carbon dioxide over the decades they’ll hopefully be alive – a natural remedy if ever there was one for the climate crisis.
This might seem like a big ask if you have little space or no soil to plant a tree in. Don’t worry, there’s always a way. Some tree species will happily grow in a large pot, so do a bit of research and plant a tree.
- Think about the bees and the butterflies
Bees and butterflies are key pollinator species. They do the thankless task of pollinating plants by flying from one flower to the next one. Say thank you to these incredible insects by choosing flowering plants and those labelled ‘bee-friendly’.
In turn these insects will naturally attract birds and other predators and before you know it you’ve already created a life-filled ecosystem in your garden.
I sowed some insect-friendly wildflower seeds last year and not only did they grow quickly and constantly change, they attracted so many bees!
- Create a compost heap
There’s no such thing as natural waste in nature. Pretty much everything gets reused and recycled back into the system as an important resource – the way things should work!
Leaves, branches, petals and the like fall to ground where they are systematically decomposed by small animals, invertebrates, microorganisms and earthworms. The plant litter is radically changed into a form that the root system can reabsorb and reuse. Amazing.
You might not be able to create a jungle in your garden, which is where creating a compost pile comes in handy. Add your garden waste to your compost bin and you’ll eventually be able to add the nutrient-rich compost back to your soil to complete the circle. There is a bit of an art to managing a compost heap as it requires certain amounts of green and brown waste, as well as water and a good amount of oxygen.
- Add a water source to your garden
As you know, water is vital for life and is at the heart of all ecosystems. Although we’re not exactly short of rainfall in the UK, adding some form of watering hole will attract a whole new level of wildlife to your garden.
A small pond will attract frogs, newts and snails, which in turn will attract other life. A ‘pond’ can be as small as you like. For example, I’m intending to add one to my garden that will be less than a metre across. Top tip: to stop the water from going stagnant in a pond, add pond plants to oxygenate the water.
Even a water source such as a bird path, an overturned lid, large dish or the cove of a brick will do a good job in their own right.
- Let the grass grow or create a wild corner
This rewilding step is fairly easy – it requires doing nothing for a while.
If you have a lawn, let a patch or strip grow longer and you’ll soon see different grass species as well as flowering plants coming through. Long grass is also a fantastic habitat for many animal species, including insects, small mammals and ground feeding birds.
I have a very small patch of grass (that Murphy likes to use), so I decided to create a wild corner in my garden. This involved letting the grass grow a bit longer, spreading wildflower seed, letting next doors plant overhang the fence and adding a couple of bird feeders.
I loved this area as it became a haven for wildlife over the spring, summer and autumn. I’m definitely aiming to expand on it in 2021.
- Add a green roof on your shed
A green eco-roof will be a superb addition to your garden shed and a fantastic use of space.
They not only look great but are very beneficial to local ecosystems. A green roof will provide habitats for birds and insects, soak up rainwater and aid air quality.
Do make sure that an existing shed is strong enough to take the weight of a green roof system, which can weigh very heavy once you’ve added the substrate, soil and the plants.
I’m planning on adding a green roof to my shed this spring, so watch this space.
- Create a creature friendly log pile
Naturally formed micro-environments that occur in the wild, such as fallen branches, dead trunks and piles of leaves, host a whole load of biodiverse life. Replicate this in your garden by creating a log pile in one of your quiet corners where animals will live, feed, hide and even hibernate.
If you want a structure to hold the materials, a wooden pallet works very well. You can then slot an assortment of twigs, branches, leaves, bark, pine cones, moss and any other organic materials into the spaces.
It will attract a good array of bugs and insects that will also help to keep some of the more pest-like species at bay in your garden. All part of a thriving ecosystem.
- Keep it organic
Pesticides, chemical fertilisers, slug pellets and other artificial chemicals are simply not cool for ecosystems. Use of chemicals will eventually kill the life that we actually rely on.
Instead, let your garden be a sanctuary for wildlife and if you have a pest problem try a more organic solution that will fit in with the ecosystem at large.
Keep your soil healthy with the use of organic mulch and natural compost that will add all the nutrients needed.
- Entice the birds
Add a few bird feeders around your garden to increase the wildlife count. If you can, it’s good to have a mix of hanging bird feeders and bird feed on a flat elevated surface to attract as many different species as you can.
Of course, different birds like different types of seeds and nuts, so put out a mixture and see what birds come-a-flocking. Fat balls are always a winner too.
Not only are the birds fascinating to observe and beautiful to look at, they also eat various insects so will help keep on top of these populations too.
- Get a bit potty
Pots are especially important for yards, paved areas and concrete-based gardens. We don’t all have lawns and big open spaces that we can let overgrow, so pots, planters, hanging baskets, hanging planters and window boxes can all play a crucial role.
These will be slightly more managed than an environment set free to do what it pleases, but pots can fill gardens, transform the environment and create all the types of ecosystems fit for garden rewilding.
- Create garden corridors
Connecting different habitats forms an important part of the Rewilding Britain manifesto. Birds can fly from one isolated habitat to another, but ground dwelling animals, such as hedgehogs, don’t have the same luxury. Not without facing plenty of obstacles and unnatural dangers.
Allowing creatures to move from your garden to your neighbour’s garden is an excellent start. It may also help you spread the rewilding message, which is really important. Please speak to your neighbour before sawing a hole in the fence!
If you have a dog, the hole may have to be discretely placed in a corner or half submerged under soil
- Build a small rock garden
A rock garden is a very simple addition and will add yet another habitat to your garden. It acts very much in the same way a log pile does by creating some nice nooks and crannies for the local bugs and creatures to investigate.
Anything from old rocks to tiles and bricks can be used, which will soon be transformed once nature takes over.
Hopefully that gives you some good ideas on how you can rewild your garden no matter what size space you have and turn it into a fantastic nature-filled retreat.
Rewilding is such a rewarding and massively beneficial practice that you can undertake to make a positive impact on biodiversity, ecosystems and the wider environment by helping to take excess carbon dioxide out of the air.
It only takes a few small changes and reuse of existing materials to start rewilding your garden and you’ll be well on your way to a more sustainable and fulfilling way of doing your part for the environment.
To learn more about Rewilding Britain please visit their website https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/