Rewilding. It sounds quite grandiose, like the sort of thing you can only participate in if you’re a remote billionaire, but is it? Well, I’m not so sure.
If you have a patch of land, and this patch can be anything from a window ledge to a country estate, then you can help make a difference for wildlife.
Biodiversity exists everywhere, from the urban sprawl of towns and cities to parks and gardens as well as the countryside. Sadly, in no small part due to human alterations of landscape and climate, biodiversity is declining on a global scale.
The concept of rewilding sets out to halt, and even reverse the loss of biodiversity through natural means. Everyone can play their part to help, and I hope that this post might inspire a few folks to make even one small change to the way they manage their land.
If you haven’t done so before, next time you see bags of soil, have a look at their peat content – it will probably blow your mind.
Despite the Scottish Government acknowledging that “the impact of peatland degradation on climate change cannot be overstated” and chucking tens of millions of pounds into peatland restoration, you will probably struggle to find peat-free compost but it is a fundamental of an eco-friendly garden.
Using only peat-free compost in any gardening activities is a small and seemingly insignificant act but it increases demand for peat-free soils and so commercial peat extraction becomes a less attractive business prospect.
It might be one of the most important things any keen gardener can do for the planet.
The best thing that everybody can do to help re-wild their gardens is to add native plant species or replace some non-native plants with native ones.
A fantastic quote that I have seen around and which I can’t find any attribution to is “If nothing is eating your plants, then your garden is not part of the ecosystem”.
It’s totally true, plants and animals evolved together and the base of (almost) every food pyramid is plants. If your garden planting is based exclusively on non-natives which don’t provide food or accessible nectar then, from a wildlife perspective, your garden may as well be a plot of concrete.
Depending on how wild you want your patch, you could go for some wildflower seeds and spread these at random through a border or pots, a great source in Scotland would be Scotia Seeds who supply a huge variety of seed packs from single-species packs through multi-species packs to suit any conditions.
You can also source native plug plants online if you’d rather have a little more structure and control over what the end-result is for your garden; I’ve used Cumbria Wildflowers before and of the 30 plugs I received I would say maybe 3 have failed to establish very well which is pretty good.
The inclusion of native plants and especially flowering plants provides food resources for invertebrates who may eat the leaves and stems, for nectivorous invertebrates which will feed from the flowers, and birds who will feed on these invertebrates or pick apart seed heads.
Adding native trees and shrubs to your gardens or replacing a fence with a hedgerow would create sheltering and nesting habitats for all manner of wildlife.
Depending on the species mix that you use, they can also provide excellent foraging resources. Species such as hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) provide flowers for foraging invertebrates as well as thorny thickets which provide shelter and safe nesting sites for birds, later in the year the rich source of berries provides for migrating thrushes and a plethora of other wildlife species.
They also can be cut regularly and make a great hedgerow species.
The Woodland Trust has an online shop where you can purchase hedgerow mixes and individual trees though these are typically provided as small “whips” and if you are seeking instant impact with more mature trees you can find these online but try to ensure that you are using native varieties and not hybrids or other cultivars.
Wherever possible, planting regimes should aim to have at least one (ideally more) flowering species alt any one point throughout the year so as to provide a rich resource for foraging invertebrates.
For example, spring flowering bulbs can be a welcome source of food for early flying invertebrates such as white-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lucorum), the queens of this species can be in flight as early as late February.
Currently, the projected climate trend for Scotland will lead to warmer, drier summers and so perhaps one of the most unusual things we will face, in Scotland of all places, is drought. Consequently, adding some sort of water source for your local wildlife will carry high beneficial impact.
This doesn’t need to be anything massive, great examples of old, discarded sinks or plastic boxes can be laid out or dug into the ground supplied with some rocks and branches to facilitate escape of anything which falls in. In my garden, the pond is the most active area, in the six months since I dug them in, I’ve observed large red damselfly laying eggs, common frogs, all manner of birds including grey wagtail, and the local hedgehogs stop by most nights for a drink too.
It’s best to let your ponds fill with rainwater as this is, by definition, distilled and therefore doesn’t contain all the components of tapwater which promoted growth of algae, a problem I have faced by virtue of being a little impatient.
Additionally, if you’re going to introduce plants to your pond, in order to reduce the risk of spreading diseases such as amphibian chytridiomycosis, it would be wise to use google maps or similar to find a pond on public land close to you where you can source a few aquatic plants to introduce.
However, if like me you live in an area where your nearby ponds are mostly dried SuDS and degraded puddles at the edges of fields, you may need to source some pond plants.
I’ve introduced now some eight plant species to my ponds of which all but one (a water lily) is a UK native and were sourced from Lincolnshire Pond Plants who have provided great service.
As a general principle, to keep water fresh and clean you should add some oxygenating plants such as hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) which is remarked by many as being the silver-bullet in stopping algal blooms in their tracks by growing quickly and removing the nutrients that algae require to survive.
Every ecosystem has a carrying capacity for its occupants – this is the point at which the population present is at its largest whilst still having enough resources to support it.
Resources could be food availability, or resting place availability. In urban environments, the carrying capacity of a lot of species is actually very low, if you take amphibians as an example, the availability of ponds essential for breeding is low whilst anthropogenically modified landscapes such as crop monocultures and roadways offer little suitability for shelter and forage, and road mortality can be exceptionally high.
The same is broadly true for birds but the limiting factor is often food resource availability.
Whilst the end goal of any wildlife garden or rewilded environment would be to increase the naturally available food resource, you can help local wildlife populations by providing supplemental feeding.
For my birds I supply a year-round source of sunflower hearts which attract most species including great and blue tits, chaffinches, goldfinches bullfinches and greenfinches.
This is all I provide between March to September inclusive as during this time feeds such as peanuts and fats can choke chicks to death and go rancid quickly respectively.
However, during the winter I also provide suet and peanuts to my birds. The highest possible variety of feeds provided will support the largest variety of species and provide resources during the various weather conditions encountered during the colder winter months.
It is advisable to provide only single-seed feeders (e.g. separate feeders for sunflower hearts, nyjer seed, peanuts etc.) as birds will pill out and discard what they don’t want in favour of what they do – this serves only to attract rodents and pigeons which your neighbours might not be overly pleased about, though these species have their place and are welcome additions to my garden at least, your neighbours might disagree (much like mine!)
I also provide some supplementary feeding to our local hedgehogs, some hedgehog kibble can be purchased online or from pet stores and supermarkets.
We have affectionately called the hedgehog feeding station in our garden the “Kibble Palace” as a nod to the glasshouse at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. It’s not quite as impressive though.
The Importance of Mess
I know it can be quite difficult to look at your garden and see fallen leaves and branches littering the place, indeed the woodland out back of my garden is currently shedding a plethora of leaves in to the garden and I’m quite torn with leaving them in-situ and raking them in to a corner.
My neighbours, however, are quite happy to fill the garden waste bin with their leaves and keep their garden tidy.
From a biodiversity perspective, fallen and rotting leaves provide rich resources, they help feed the fungi in the soils and support a whole invertebrate community within these soils, in turn the mess provides sheltering opportunities for small wildlife species such as wood mice and toads and a rich foraging resource for thrushes and dunnocks who will flip leaves and feast on the invertebrates underneath.
If you are managing a wildflower meadow then removing leaves will be essential to keep the nutrients of the soil low, otherwise raking the leaves and other bits of dead plants in to a corner or spreading them over a border can increase soil fertility, provide shelter during the harsher winter period, and provide food for a huge variety of species in the garden.
Mess is good, embrace it.
The Little Things
There’s a few excellent initiatives out there including the “hedgehog street” which encourage people to take simple steps to provide opportunities for hedgehogs by cutting a small hole in your garden fence to create a hedgehog highway.
I dug down under my rear fence and created a few small mammal underpasses which get used by hedgehogs and squirrels as well as dunnocks and blackbirds for skipping between my garden and adjoining woodland.
Lastly, if you, like me, live in an area where the trees are all rather small and thin without any of the good cavity features of more mature trees, installing bird boxes in your garden or within local woodland patches can provide opportunities for cavity-nesting bird species within the landscape which wouldn’t otherwise be available.
Rewilding in Miniature: There’s no act too small.
Small changes on a small scale may feel futile, but rewilding our landscape doesn’t just mean rewilding the countryside, towns and cities have their part to play in encouraging wildlife and helping to fight climate change.
This an ethos we at Kaitiaki Consulting fully believe in, rewildling urban areas such as disused brownfield sites as well as parks and gardens is, we believe, key to engaging communities in a green recovery.