As spring hits, the inevitable happens. Out trundle the lawnmowers, the weed killer, and the spades, all in aid of tidying the back garden ahead of the coming sunny months. Unfortunately, this all has a rather unfortunate and mostly unintended effect – the destruction of a home, one which houses all manner of wildlife and nature.
That’s where rewilding comes in. Rewilding is a conservation process whereby nature is allowed to take care of itself, albeit with a still carefully managed approach. “The beautiful thing about it is that it gives people a chance to engage with nature in their own home or area,” says Richard Bunting, a director for nature magazine Little Green Space and spokesperson for the charity Rewilding Britain.
“Often, it’s easy, it can involve less time, less effort, and less expense. Avoiding pesticides and herbicides and unpleasant chemicals is an easy first step.”
Beyond the heavy-duty chemicals, which should be a no-no for anyone with an eco-friendly bone in their body, a large part of the garden rewilding process is allowing yourself to, as Elsa would say, let it go.
“I think we are a really neat and tidy nation and that’s one of the reasons why so many of our landscapes are being managed the way they have,” says Bunting. “A neat and tidy approach, it creates problems. It manifests itself with local authorities feeling obliged to keep road verges mown within an inch of their life, even when there aren’t visibility issues for traffic. Or green corners around towns, mown so you’ve got these green, grassy deserts. Biodiversity-free areas.”
Here are a few steps you can take then to allow your back garden and the wildlife within it to flourish.
Allow Yourself A Scruffy Corner
“You don’t have to let your garden go completely wild,” says Bunting, lest anyone worry about six-foot grass blades rising up. “You might want to keep some areas neat, but allow a scruffy corner or an area of grass to grow. Don’t mow it for a year. and see what wildflowers spring up.”
A Pond Can Have A Big Impact
“If you’re doing one thing to your garden, putting in a pond is hugely beneficial,” says Bunting. Water is life, and a pond will rapidly start to house a huge range of species. “Eventually, you should see all manner of thirsty birds flock to your wetland, along with the potential for dragonflies and frogs. If you’re stuck for space, then a birdbath is a good alternative.”
Use A Hedge, Not A Fence
Looking for some extra privacy? A fence is usually the first port of call, but putting one up misses a golden opportunity to build another ecosystem booster. “If you can, put in a native hedge rather than a fence,” says Bunting. “Big biodiversity benefits.”
Get Picky When Weeding
The first sign of a weed and most avid gardeners are at it with the gardening fork quicker than you can say Monty Don. But hold fire.
Teasel, for example, is a beacon for bees and insects, and is far from an eyesore, especially in their second year when its egg-shaped flower heads start to resemble a sculpture you’d find in a modern art museum. Take a selected approach then, allowing weeds that fit into your garden aesthetic to flourish.
Bring In A Bug Hotel
Roll the red carpet out and look to bring a bug hotel into your garden. Having one will provide endless nooks and crannies for invertebrates to shelter, especially if you’re one to sweep away the garden debris they’d usually take up in. You can easily buy one from the garden centre, but extra sustainable gardening cred goes to those willing to build one out of second-hand materials.
Plus, putting it together is a fun activity the whole family can join in, requiring only a few used pallets, logs, old cardboard rolls, and whatever twigs you can find lying around.
Carve Out A Space For A Tree
“If you’ve got space, put in a tree,” says Bunting. “If you put in a fruit tree or two, fantastic, you’re giving yourself a potential fruit crop which is packaging-free and pesticide-free, and food mile free. We’ve lost loads of our orchards in this country [the UK], so the more fruit trees we plant is often to the good.”
Look Into Creating Your Own Mini Wood Meadow
“What people might want to do as well is create something called a ‘wood meadow’,” says Bunting. Wood meadows tend to be a mix of basic woodland providing shade for a wildflower meadow around it. “It’s essentially 50, 50, and you can do that even in a very small space, with a fruit tree or two and wildflowers underneath. They’re not well known in this country, but they are in Scandinavia and the Baltic states.”
As a potential biodiversity booster, it’s arguably one of the best things you can do with some Estonian wooded meadows recording world record species densities. “There’s all manner of opportunities for habitats like wood meadows in our communities,” says Bunting, “whether in school grounds for example, or community spaces, and edges of playing fields. It’s a really simple thing to do, with long-term benefits for nature. And for people too.”