We want to share our knowledge to spread the message about the benefits of wilding.
We regularly get asked questions about rewilding, what it is and why it is important. Below are some of the answers to these common questions. Should you have any or many more, please do get in touch and we would be delighted to answer them.
What is wilding?
Wilding or rewilding (both terms are used) is restoring the natural processes.
We are enabling land to regenerate itself, return to nature and provide the environmental goods of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
How do your rewild?
Essentially, you let it go. Benign neglect even!
If you don’t mow your grass you will find it grows, that there are other plants and flowers in there. Let the grass die down in the winter and it breaks down back into the soil, feeding it again. If you leave it for a year, next spring you will find a tree or shrub has seeded itself and it grows and so it goes on.
The ‘How’ also depends upon the scale of the land to be rewilded and management constraints. The process should be outcome led but the larger the area the greater the opportunity to introduce animals that carry out the ‘management’ activities that create a biodiverse environment, such as Longhorn Cattle and Red Deer. They maintain some areas as grass land, eating shrubs and trees or knocking them down, in others areas the trees can grow tall. This combination of trees and grass is known as ‘wood pasture’.
At a smaller the scale, like our 20 acres, introducing animals is harder. One sow to turn the soil over and expose seed banks would plough up 20 acres in a year and so nothing would get a chance to grow. But in the future we could, periodically, borrow some pigs and move them around the field for a time limited portion of the year. We would benefit from their ploughing and their pig poo! Initially at Jordan’s farm we intend to turn over small areas of soil ourselves to replicate the activities of the pigs and encourage biodiversity. This is mimicking natural processes, this is sympathetic management and this is what we will have to do at Jordan’s Farm to help rewild this field.
The ‘How’ must consider constraints. It is important we have wilded areas in populated areas as well as remote areas. There needs to be variety of habitats and they need to be connected. However, there are always practical constraints. For example we have a number of utility services running across our land or along its boundaries. There is a gas pipe under ground and electricity lines across the field and along a boundary. These utilities must be kept clear of tall vegetation and so managed. If the area to be wilded has footpaths or roads going though it and therefor public interaction we must ask how do you ensure that the aims of wilding and the activities of animals are compatible with human activities, especially those people who don’t know how to interreact and keep safe with animals close by.
Finally, the ‘How’ also depends upon your land type and the opportunities available. We don’t have a river, but if we had I would be on the phone to Mr Beaver Man if I could! I do have ponds though, ponds that have degraded over time and these too can be actively managed, opened up and brought back to life just like Mr Beaver would do if he were here. We can’t wait.
Why don’t you plant trees, is that not faster?
Interestingly not it seems. It is well known that if you buy a semi-mature tree, say 5m high, and plant it you will have an instant tree. However, a whip, a stick of 1m high will catch up pretty quickly. That 5m high mature tree will have gone through a lot of stress when it is moved and planted and adapting to its new soil, it takes years to recover and grow. It appears that allowing trees to regenerate naturally (by seed) is just as fast and indeed faster as planting them. Thinking about it, there is less disturbance, and a tree will only grow where conditions are right for that species, it makes sense.
We are, however, planting some trees in the Outback. We will plant some willows in a damper area of the field which we do not believe would arrive easily by themselves and see if we can create a habitat for the Purple Emperor Butterfly. Over several years we will plant some natives at the northern end for coppicing, a specific long term management technique that will also create a special wildlife habitat over time.
How will you manage the wilding project?
We have written a management plan to set out exactly what we will do. It is informed by back ground research and study of the Outback, its history and the environment around its boundaries. We expect that over time this will change depending on how the project evolves. It will be learning experience, and we aim to be led by the regenerative process that will happen on the ground. It is possible that some of the actions will change or be omitted and others added.
We welcome further questions and discussion on this.
You can read the plan if you become a guardian.
How do you know if the wilding is working?
Like any good project or business we monitor and record.
In year one we have begun base line studies of plants that we can identify. We will take a soil sample to measure the amount of carbon in the soil and we will continue to monitor and record. We hope over time we will see and hear more birds, animals and plants too and that we will be able to share them with you.
What is 'The Outback'?
The Outback is a large 20 acre field in North Essex in Wakes Colne. It was once 3 fields. Its interior hedgerows and trees were removed. Recently, it has been used for grazing (sheep then horses) and hay making. The soil is heavy Essex clay and it is drained with deep ditches and fragmented ponds to some boundaries. It is currently classified as ‘permeant pasture’ with strong perennial grasses. It is bounded by hedges and some hedgerow trees in various states of health. Some native trees have been planted in the Southeast corner and are thriving. But that is it at the moment. We have a biodiverse hotspot in waiting.
Is this a carbon offsetting scheme?
No. We are not convinced by the concept of carbon offsetting. It looks and feels like an excuse to say I have paid someone to plant a tree and therefore I can continue my polluting ways with a clear conscience. We need to conserve the environment AND take steps to cut our own carbon output. Our wilding scheme will be the icing on your ‘green credentials cake’ and give you a stake in a local journey to enable a new wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration by making it viable for land to be returned to nature.
How do we know that carbon is being successfully captured by the soil?
We are monitoring the carbon content of soil over time. Annually random soil samples will be taken and sent to a lab to be tested. This is important information for us, for you, but also for climate change science given we need to understand and implement the best methods of reducing carbon in our atmosphere.
What about ‘proper farming’, we need to eat?!
We do. However, there is a place for both food production in our countryside (and urban areas), as well as initiatives such as this. Currently, as a country and planet, we are flogging our land to produce more and more yet we have this strange dichotomy whereby much food is rejected for human consumption, too much is produced. If we continue working our ‘soil to death’ then we will not be able to produce the food we need in the future. The quality and the nutrient value of our food is also dropping because the minerals and nutrient levels in the soil are dropping. We need to eat more sprouts than we used to for the same nutritional value. That’s a discussion for the Christmas table…
Rewilding does not mean that land cannot be used to grow food in the future, meat or arable. A field that has been wilded can support grazing animals, and enable them to live a very natural life producing high quality and healthy meat for human consumption. A rewilded field’s soil has been restored to health, therefore in year 11 the field could be returned to crop production and the rewilding treatment applied to the field next door. This could the ‘new’ long term practice of leaving a field fallow for a year, really allowing it to regenerate its nutrients and soils.
Will you have animals on the Outback?
With much larger areas of land, 100’s or 1000’s of acres are normally required to support wild herds of hardy ponies, pigs or cattle. The absence of these animals, which contribute towards coppicing trees, trimming pasture and turning over the soil, means we will have to do some of these things ourselves. So initially the only animals will be those wild animals that we hope will arrive because the habitat will suit their needs. However, it may be that in the future we can have some animals such as pigs in the outback for limited periods of time and allow them to do a great job ploughing up the soil and trampling brambles. But sadly they could not stay the whole year or the entire 20 acres would be ploughed up very quickly!
What wildlife do you have in the Outback?
We will survey the species we have each year and keep records that will be available for our guardians to see. We want to see which animals, birds and insects arrive and hopefully, we will have a greater variety and more over time. It’s pretty exciting. We have a Barn Owl that hunts over the field and Skylarks who are nesting. Skylarks were once common farmland bird and have declined with intensive farming, but they love our long grasses to nest in and their song is a joy to hear.
Are you keeping records of the plants?
Yes, we are. We have a list and that list will be updated every year and will be available to our guardians so you can monitor progress too.
What else do you do that is ‘Green’?
We are working on initiatives and businesses that follow the green ethic. Simply put we want to ‘do no harm’, but more than that ‘do good’ where we can.
Within the boundaries of the farm we look after the fields and hedgerows in a sustainable way. We do not use chemicals on the land and we are working on creating wildlife corridors from the Outback so that wildlife can migrate to and from the Outback.
We are developing a cut flower farm business, growing sunflowers that have not travelled 1000s of miles before they reach your vase.
As a family, we make everyday choices about what we buy and how we live which we hope will also help support other environmentally friendly businesses out there.
We want to spread the word and invite others to enjoy what we are developing here; it is only through understanding and learning to love nature that we will be able to save it and ourselves.
Most voluntary work we undertake has a green ‘bent’. I have written environmental policies for a Neighbourhood Plan, campaigned on incineration and help organise an annual local Eco Fair to give a platform to local business who are doing the right thing by our planet.
Can I visit the rewilding site?
Yes, you can if you are a signed up guardian you are invited to come on an annual basis and join a tour of the Outback and learn more about the project.
Can anyone rewild?
Of course. If you have 1 square meter or 1000 hectares every bit of green helps. Allow your verge and lawn to grow long until June before you cut it. Set side an area of your garden for a wild patch and let it go. That over grown ivy, the brambles, they are so valuable its incredible the habitat they offer to birds, animals and insects that are all in decline. Our domestic gardens are currently one of the most important resources we have. So plant a hedge rather than a fence so animals can move between your and your neighbour garden, plant a tree tomorrow, anything and everything you can do in your private space, at your place of work or in your community spaces really do count and there is lots of advice and resources out there to help you now.