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The 5 essentials of any rewilding project

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

The energy and enthusiasm around the rewilding movement is both exciting and contagious. Many landowners, charities and businesses have already started to seek ways in which to contribute to the movement. However, rewilding is also a new and emerging area, and it’s by no means an exact science.

So for a newcomer (which most of us are), how do you get a project off the ground, or at least know that you’re on the right track? Essentially, the key principles of any conservation and rewilding project are pretty simple.

1. Have a vision

It sounds obvious but a vision is essential and surprisingly, often missing! Traditionally, most nature conservation projects tend to focus on what they will do (e.g. coppicing, releasing red kites), rather than what they’re really want to achieve. The vision is the first critical step in realizing the project. Ask yourself, in 50 years that does the landscape look like; what processes are in place; who is there? Knowing all of this, will help you develop a plan.

Is this the future? Credit: Rhona Anderson/flickr

2. Know your neighbours

Unless you own an awful lot of land, it’s likely that at some point in the lifetime of your project you will need the support of other people, because at some point your species populations will need to grow and connect with other populations in order to thrive.

Although it’s not essential to have every difficult neighbouring landowner on board, if we’ve learned anything from the international conservation sector, it’s that the ‘people out; walls up’ approach does not work in the long-run. This is especially true in heavily populated geographies like the UK, and for rewilding projects, which typically work at a landscape scale.

“Nice experiment, but not one I'd like to have on my doorstep, blowing thistle & ragwort seeds across my land.” Anon. Credit; Vision Wild

Unanimous agreement on the merits of the project is probably rare at the outset but working towards a supported and locally relevant project should be part of your project design and inform your approach to other people who live and work around you. If you can bring people on board, great but even if people are not initially supportive of your work, make sure you know their motivations and aspirations as this is likely to help you achieve a positive outcome.

3. Ask the right people

One thing to know straight out is that you’ve probably already got the right tools and knowledge to undertake your activities – you’ve been managing land for years. But as discussed in the vision, to increase the chances of success it’s useful to look beyond just the activities you want to do. So think about what you’re you missing.

Rewilding projects often require a diversity of skills including (but not limited to); land management, animal husbandry, social work, ecological survey, project management, online communications, entrepreneurship, fundraising; and the list goes on. You don’t need to possess all of these skills but in areas you know you’re lacking, seek advice and guidance when you need it from people that do.

Seek advice from those that know Credit: Vision Wild

To do this seek new connections and join established networks like Nature Friendly Farming Network from the outset. Or take the steps to develop a strategic plan – this will help you identify people you can collaborate with or learn from. There are specialist people, like Vision Wild, who work on nature conservation and rewilding projects and are well networked, who are happy to provide basic help and advice to land managers for free.

4. See the change

As with the first essential – this principle is likely to be easier said than done. No one is persuaded by theory and at some point, for some reason, you’ll probably want to demonstrate how successful you’ve been – or at the least, that you’re on your way to success. Whether that’s to sell camping experiences, attract donations or encourage your peers to replicate your approach, evidence is key.

The best way to prove your success is through monitoring of the species or habitats on your land and despite what a quick Google search might suggest, there’s always a simple, easy and even, fun ways to do this. To start monitoring you could get in touch with ‘the right people’ that can advise you on how to set it up or, if you’re confidant, you can read guidance online, such as the PRISM manual, which is completely free.

Despite the name, monitoring doesn’t have to be boring Credit: Vision Wild

5. Patience is a virtue

We all know this, but it's key; achieving your rewilding ambitions will take time. The recovery of land works over a period of centuries, not weeks. It can be difficult to work on timescales beyond your lifetime but, this patience is essential in achieving all elements of your project; from winning your neighbours over to getting land management working effectively.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience”, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Credit: Vision Wild

The experience of the Knepp Estate shows that working within existing land policy and frameworks (that aren’t really set up for rewilding approaches) can also take time. Whether you’re passively letting nature take its course or actively releasing herbivores to your land, patience is something you’ll need above all else, alongside its close friends, perseverance, and pragmatism.

If you’re able and willing to undertake all of the above, you can have a successful project. To seek advice on planning, improving or monitoring your project, visit our contact page.

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