By Sam Wasson
Updated Oct 14, 2022
As industries expand and new towns, communities, and properties are built, we slowly continue encroaching on wild spaces. While this process was left unchecked in the past, today, habitat restoration movements and programs to fight climate change have begun to take hold. Government agencies, large corporations, and even budding online communities have adapted conservation strategies. Rewilding (sometimes spelled re-wilding) is one such ecological restoration movement that has seen a massive uptick in popularity since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent quarantine.
In this article, we’ll explain what rewilding is and go over the benefits of rewilding. We’ll also describe its environmental conservationist roots and list how you can rewild your backyard or garden.
Rewilding can be divided into two subcategories, large-scale conservation projects, and smaller-scale at-home landscaping. Conservation rewilding, also called trophic rewilding, was established by biologists Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, and it aims to reverse biodiversity loss. What separates rewilding efforts from other conservation projects is that it focuses on reintroducing apex predator and prey species to their natural ecosystems. The ultimate aim of rewilding initiatives is to reestablish key ecological processes, such as trophic complexity – the complex network of food chains within an ecosystem.
Rewilding also focuses on creating wilderness areas where the well-being of wildlife is protected while ensuring the connectivity between those areas is maintained. In these spaces, conservationists will see the reintroduction of keystone species. Typically, it will be dominant carnivores like wolves, cougars, and jaguars, herbivores like beavers, deer, and bison, and megafauna like elephants, whales, and giraffes. Once species are reestablished, efforts are made to minimize further human intervention.
From its conservationist roots, rewilding has grown to encompass a large online movement, influencing many gardening and landscaping trends. Many homeowners, gardeners, and blossoming conservationists have applied the core tenants of rewilding to their own at-home spaces. This trend boomed in popularity during the outbreak of COVID-19 and the following lockdown and quarantine. Many homeowners began to bring the natural world into their backyards since they could not go out to experience it firsthand. This scenario led to a widespread increase in many nature-focused online movements, including rewilding. Then many younger socialites adopted the aesthetic concepts of rewilding, spreading it like wildfire online as a viral TikTok trend and broader online movement. Since then, rewilding has joined the wildlife conservation-themed gardening movement that has been growing in recent years.
On a larger scale, rewilding projects are important for their focus on reestablishing natural processes and creating sustainable cohabitation with nature. While rewilding as a full-blown conservation technique has received some criticism, it has seen success in certain instances, such as reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park. While the jury may still be out on its grander application, you cannot deny its impact as an online movement and its influence on current gardening trends.
On an individual level, rewilding can help turn your backyard into a natural oasis for local wildlife, therefore helping improve local ecosystem functions. Rewilding also has many generally eco-friendly practices that aid in lowering your carbon footprint, reducing household emissions, and creating a more organic, self-sustaining backyard landscape.
Just about anyone with their own backyard can try out rewilding. From incorporating small practices like adding bird feeders to full-blown sanctuary-esque conversion, there are plenty of ways to dip your toes into the rewilding style.
As an online movement and landscaping style, rewilding is a mishmash of practices and aesthetics. Overall, this results in a wild, animal-friendly, and biodiverse backyard with a general “wildlands” aesthetic. This look may not appeal to some homeowners, and the influx of insects and small animals may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Thankfully, rewilding does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach, and homeowners are more than free to try out some simple practices and grow their interests from there.
Adding a bird feeder is one of the first steps into the rewilding space. While a small and inexpensive practice, bird feeders can immediately impact the wildlife in your backyard. When using feeders, we recommend using local, filler-less birdseed, as these products can help attract and nourish many native avian species.
Bird boxes are also an excellent choice, as they can provide valuable shelter and nesting locations for migratory and local species. Some species, like cardinals, can even return year after year, becoming familiar friends. These features can benefit mammals like squirrels and chipmunks.
While effective and convenient, herbicides and pesticides contain harmful chemicals that can damage a local ecosystem. These chemicals kill important microorganisms, potentially beneficial insects, and plants. Therefore, one of the next steps to rewilding a backyard is switching to more organic, less harmful pest control and weed control solutions.
You can try introducing helpful predator species like lady beetles and dragonflies to remove pests. Companion planting (the technique of growing two beneficial plants together) can also be an effective way to protect gardens from damaging insects. For weed control, we recommend good old fashioned manual removal, combined with organic mulches for prevention.
While some of the more intensive elements of rewilding can be intimidating, growing wildflowers is a great introductory practice that can have huge benefits. Wildflowers are valuable for local insects, critters, and pollinators. They can attract bees and hummingbirds while adding a wave of vibrance to your yard. We recommend sectioning off a small portion of your backyard or garden, grabbing a native wildflower mix from a local greenhouse, and creating your own backyard meadow.
While a tall fence affords you a great deal of privacy, it also keeps out animals and insects. By switching to hedge walls, you can have the best of both worlds, allowing critters to pass through while keeping out prying eyes. When switching to hedges, use native species, as this will help encourage birds, bees, and other wildlife to nest inside them.
Wildlife corridors, sometimes called hedgehog highways, are intentionally placed openings or “pathways” on your property. While birds and bugs can fly from place to place, land-dwelling animals, like hedgehogs, raccoons, squirrels, and possums, have to walk to find food and seek habitats. Unfortunately, often, they have to walk around urban areas, with walls, buildings, and other structures that make travel difficult for them. Wildlife corridors allow land dwellers to traverse your property quickly, easily, and safely.
A log pile is one of the best features you can add to your backyard to help out insects. Logs provide valuable cover, food, and nesting for many native species, such as ground beetles, which prey on soil-dwelling pests. When creating a log pile, be sure not to use treated wood, as it can contain insecticidal chemicals. You should keep the log pile at least 30 feet from your home, as these features can attract insects that are all too happy to take up residence in your house.
A water feature is a great addition to any backyard, adding the serene sound of trickling water and acting as a striking visual centerpiece. But did you know that water features also help out local animals and attract native wildlife? Adding a small pond or birdbath can turn your backyard into the local watering hole, bringing in birds, frogs, lizards, and squirrels. You should always clean your water feature at least once per week to avoid the buildup of harmful bacteria, and if you go with a larger installation, you’ll want to ensure it’s equipped with a proper pump.
This step may be the biggest hurdle for some, as many of us are taught that a neatly trimmed lawn and backyard are paramount in homeownership. But, by letting your grass grow, you provide valuable cover for insects and small mammals. While we don’t recommend letting your entire lawn run rampant, selecting specific areas for tall grass can be a conscious, effective landscaping decision.
Select locations along the perimeter of your backyard or at the base of trees or shrubs, and allow the grass to grow tall and unaltered. If you want something more controlled, you can purchase native ornamental grasses to use as border plants in beds that can serve the same purpose.
While weeds get a bad rap, many can be vibrant and beneficial for your yard. While we recommend weeding your gardens and flower beds, it doesn’t hurt to let weeds thrive when it comes to your yard or tall-grass areas. Weeds are often hardy native plants used by many species to source food.
Rewilding has a long history in the conservation community, mostly in North America, Britain, and Wales, but is a relatively new addition to the landscaping and gardening world. As such, there are plenty of mixed opinions about it online. Some advocates call it a beautifully effective way to help the Earth while revitalizing your backyard. Others, however, see it as a calling card for pests. If done correctly, rewilding can be an effective and attractive landscaping style for your outdoor space or garden. However, some of its practices may attract pests if done incorrectly, but thankfully there are organic pest control practices to keep these unwanted bugs in check if it does.
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