Rewilding our gardens

A case of letting go

There is a new practice doing the rounds out there, and it bears the rather unapologetic and graphic title of ‘rewilding’. This daring practice is essentially about the restoration of nature in selected spaces. It is daring because it calls for total restraint, and while we may have heard this kind of mantra many times in bygone days, there is one essential factor that makes this movement different from the rest: in its purest form we are asked to do nothing!

What this means is that to properly ‘rewild’ an area, we simply need to let nature ‘run to the wild’. The very thought of this may make most of us cringe in horror, but perhaps the more we think about it, the more we will see the benefits of this approach. It should be emphasised that closer to home – in our own gardens – rewilding is not about simply letting the entire garden run to an overgrown, weed-infested, untidy mess. Rather, it’s allowing a section of the garden to become a proper exclusion zone – free from over-interference and intervention. A rewilded space is one where we simply let go and free the area from all human activities, allowing nature in without our intrusion. Rewilding is largely about reconnecting society with uncultivated and pristine nature. The core value embedded in this idea requires that we must first acknowledge that unspoiled nature creates more biodiverse habitats. Having said this, there are some key things we need to consider:

Our own wellbeing in the spotlight

We are healthy when the natural world around us is healthy. Our reliance on the natural world for water, food and air makes bringing nature back to health a core imperative. There is an increasing and earnest realisation that connecting with wild nature, and this also means rewilded nature, makes us feel good and keeps us mentally and physically well. Healthy, functioning ecosystems provide us with essential elements, and they store crucial carbon among many other things. Rewilding also links ecology with modern economies. Furthermore, in a rewilded or pristine space, nature tourism flourishes and local communities earn a living from nature-based enterprises.

Rewilding: Inspirations from Wild Spaces

Experiencing the thrill of wild nature reconnects people with our living planet. Because wild spaces improve health and wellbeing and build a shared sense of humanity and pride, both in the countryside and in cities, we gather inspiration from them. Recovering ecosystems Apart from the need to protect the natural world around us, much of it needs restoring to a rewilded level. Many ecosystems – the basis of our natural wealth – are severely damaged. Rewilding offers an opportunity to rehabilitate them. Robust and connected ecosystems make us more resilient to the impacts of pollution and climate change. Letting natural processes shape our landscapes and ecosystems makes more sense and is more sustainable than us having to continuously intervene, manage and regulate.

When it comes to rewilding what can we do in our own small way?

As was said earlier, rewilding is not necessarily about abandoning the whole garden, but more about allowing the garden or sections of the garden to ‘run to the wild’. There is no finite endpoint or outcome for rewilding: bringing nature back and learning to let go takes time, self-control, prudence and space. If we create and protect areas where rewilding can take place, both people and wildlife will benefit hugely over time. In the domestic residential world, there are small ways that we as gardeners can make a difference. A lawn, or even part of a lawn, is a good place to start. Wild grasses are the habitat for many insects and, it follows, a food source for bird species as well. These grasses are easy to introduce in mixed, wild seed form and have the added benefit of creating softly swaying movement to the garden space. This one small step can have a major impact on the wild ecology around us. If we are to improve the world around us, habitat creation or restoration projects need to get underway sooner rather than later.

A re-established wilderness can look after itself

Once we have helped to create the right conditions by allowing natural wild regeneration and reintroducing species that have disappeared as a result of our actions, we can step back and let nature manage itself.

Wildlife needs a comeback

Wildlife in the garden and landscape, from birds, insects and small creatures all the way through to larger species, has declined, and this decline is often exponential as we spread our footprint ever deeper into the environment. This is true not only in our cities and suburbia, but in the countryside and across farming communities as well. Rewilding works to restore lost species by giving them space to thrive.

Mike Rickhoff is the Faculty Head of Lifestyle College as well as a landscape consultant. He can be contacted at Lifestyle College on 011 792 8244, enquiries@lifestylecollege.co.za or at Michael Rickhoff Landscape Consulting on 083 408 1610, mike.rickhoff@ gmail.com.
The Gardener