How to rewild your land

How to rewild your land

If you want to start rewilding, or you are just interested in a rewilding approach, then take yourself down these 10 steps…

Rewilding is all about giving nature the space and time it needs to thrive. There is not a defined set of actions to take, rather it is about understanding what may be missing from the land (key species, natural processes) and restoring some of these missing pieces and giving a helping hand to nature.

Rewilding practitioners from across Europe have co-formulated a set of principles that characterize and guide rewilding in a European context. All equally important, you can find out more about them here.

So how can you rewild your land? This will depend on the size of your land, the state of your soil and water, the features in your landscape, and your neighbors’ activities, to name a few. The steps below can guide you down the right path.



This may sound counterintuitive, but as human beings we have an instinct to want to do things. The truth is sometimes you may not need to do anything at all. Our first piece of advice is not to dive in headfirst making changes to your land.

If you have just purchased land, or you have been managing it in a particular way, then leave it be, while you work out what you want to do. This can be applied to any type of land use, from arable land to woodland, or anything in between. You will learn something about your land simply from waiting and watching, and while you are waiting you can move on to step 2.

2. Gather information about your land

Gathering information about your land is one of the most important steps, as it will tell you whether you need to do something to rewild it, or if protecting it and letting it be is the best course of action. There is no one-size-fits-all universal rewilding plan. Every piece of land is different, and you need to tailor your approach accordingly.

Is your woodland ancient? Is that a species-rich grassland growing over there? Why is that field flooding? A proper inventory of what you have, and what is going on, will reveal important habitats and wildlife features, the state of your soils, important geological and hydrological features, seed sources and more.

Information may already exist – for example, biodiversity data and information related to ecosystem services such as carbon storage, flood risk, water quality and soil condition. You need to find out where it is, who owns it and whether you can access it. You can start doing this yourself. However, keep in mind that it may not be easy to find this information.

Understanding what habitats and wildlife you have, what might have been there in the past and what lies beyond your boundaries, is vitally important. This information will help ensure your strategy is appropriate and relevant to local conditions. It will also help keep you in line with legal requirements. You can gather this information through observation, historical records, and, simply, by talking to people. Get as much as you can from as many sources as possible.

Here are some ways you can find out more about your land and local area:

Habitats and species


3. Get expert help and advice

You need to find someone with expertise and knowledge – especially for large-scale rewilding projects. Ecologists can help you understand what is on your land and can help you navigate publicly available resources. You can enlist help and expertise from a local rewilding group. Check out this map of the European Rewilding Network to see who is in or near your area. Other local conservation groups are also buzzing with enthusiasts able and willing to help nature-boosting projects like yours.

From funding and finance to legal and ecological advice, there are many aspects of designing your project plan that will need expert advice. When you have finished your own information gathering, we recommend you seek the relevant expertise to check and help develop your strategy before you start. Then it is time to look beyond your own boundaries.

Nelleke de Weerd

4. Look at what’s next to you and near you

Look at the land outside of your site to see what is there. Talk to your neighbors about what they are doing and what you want to do. Find out if they share your rewilding ambitions or might with a bit of encouragement. Consider some specifics. Can you connect those disparate pieces of woodland? Could you give access to a neighbor’s grazing animals? If you are bordering a nature reserve or a designated site, can you help create a larger space for wildlife?

Connectivity and scale are crucial in nature. Connecting rewilding areas gives wildlife the best chance to thrive. It is good for people too – you can support each other while supporting the rebuilding of ecosystems. The larger the area you are rewilding, the less management is required and the more you can relax and let natural processes lead the way.

Connectivity is vital for wildlife and linking to other initiatives will improve the impact that your project has on nature — allowing wildlife to find your site and migrate to other areas.

5. Develop a plan

You need a plan. It can be in your head, or it can be a beautifully constructed document, but try to have an idea of what actions you want to take. Rewilding is not about having a hard and fast endpoint in mind. It is about helping nature do its thing and go its own way as much as possible. But you need to determine and plan the interventions that will help to kick-start the rewilding process. Rewilding is a long-term thing, but you want to do as much as you can to get things going. The steps below cover the main areas to consider when developing this plan, which will also be informed by all of your previously gathered information about your land.


6. Think natural processes and mimic them

This is a crucial part of rewilding. You need to understand what natural processes are and which natural processes may re-establish on your land – with or without a helping hand. This includes tree regeneration, natural river processes and flooding regimes and natural grazing levels.

Human actions have suppressed natural processes across most of Europe over the centuries. If hundreds of sheep have grazed your land for decades, if rivers have been straightened or wetlands drained, or if woodlands have been felled, then nature has been altered and constrained and natural processes no longer prevail. Rewilding is about unleashing the power of nature and helping it when needed. Rewilding lets nature drive its own recovery. But we have lost many large herbivores and some key predators. Grazing and predation, two important natural processes, are therefore limited. However, domestic or semi-wild species can act as proxies for large grazers. Are there small or large herbivores on your land? If your land is not being grazed and you would like to introduce some domestic grazers as a proxy for wild species, many native breeds are associated with certain areas and local identities. Understanding local native breeds can help inform what proxy herbivores might be suitable for your land, as well as promoting a sense of local identity and place.

If you are interested in introducing large grazers, some key considerations include the area available for grazing, the productivity of the land (and thus its carrying capacity) and how you will deal with the animals once your have reached that carrying capacity. Does you area have natural predators that can control the number of animals? In areas with no predators, a wild-meat initiative may be considered – for inspiration check out what the Knepp project is doing. Alternatively, if you are using a rare or threatened breed, consider getting in touch with other breeders or other rewilding projects to exchange animals, contributing towards their conservation in the long-term. Nature is complex and complicated, though. It is not possible to perfectly replicate natural functioning ecosystems without the full complement of key native carnivores and herbivores being present. Still, we can move a long way up the rewilding spectrum if we seek to mimic natural processes in this way.

7. Encourage the return of native species

Simply restoring habitats and natural processes will bring back many species that have disappeared from your land. For example, the creation and restoration of wetland habitats has led to the remarkable recovery of bird species, insects, fish, and mammals. Restoring populations of native species near the top of the food chain will still be a priority in many rewilding sites, especially the large-scale projects. We have led many species to extinction, and we have pushed others to the brink.

Reintroductions can bring some species back, and are taking place all around Europe, from beavers in Scotland to bison in Romania and Bulgaria. If you have land that is suitable for a reintroduction, it is certainly something to consider. However, keep in mind that reintroductions require licenses and adherence to careful procedures, so you will definitely need expert help.

8. Embrace the unexpected

Rewilding is about helping nature to work on its own terms. It is a journey of learning and unlearning, of embracing change and surprise, of delight and sometimes disappointment. Some species of wildflower may disappear from an area where you have known them to be for years, but when changes in grazing regimes take hold, they may pop up elsewhere. Other species, which you have never seen on your site nor ever expected, may suddenly appear, and start to flourish.

A good motto to remember here is ‘conserve the very best and rewild the rest’. Rewilding embraces the complexity of nature so do not be afraid of change and be prepared to adapt your thinking over time. And as the story of your land begins to unfold and surprise you might want to record what happens, so this leads us to step 9.

9. Measuring and monitoring

Rewilding is not about fixed targets, but rather a continuous journey of letting nature ebb and flow while intervening as minimally as possible. But you should absolutely record what is happening on your land. It enables you to understand what is happening and share stories about it. You can enlist expert or volunteer help with your monitoring or get stuck in yourself. Finally, we move on to the last step, which is all about collaboration with others.

10. Collaborate, connect and communicate

Connectivity is vital for wildlife and linking with other entities and initiatives will improve the impact that your project has on nature — allowing wildlife to find your site and migrate to other areas. We would also encourage you to communicate widely about your rewilding project – with your neighbors, your local community and others around you. Try to take them with you on your journey by sharing your experiences and your ambitions for nature. Create a conversation in your local community, and further afield if the chance arises.

Not everyone will like what you are planning or doing. Some will be skeptical, and a few may be strongly opposed. Do not let this put you off. Follow Rewilding Europe’s rewilding principles and you will steadily win people over. Then you’re not only restoring a healthy environment for wildlife and your local community, you are inspiring others to start down their own path to rewilding.

Rewilding is about people and local communities as much as it is wildlife. We are, after all, part of nature. Funding is likely to be a crucial part of your project. One way to diversify your business is to look for enterprises or business opportunities that link to your project’s ambition. You will need to do some market research and find out what enterprises your land can support. For example, if you are looking to develop a tourism and camping business then local infrastructure, access and transport links are crucial. There may be opportunities to do business with others in your area, such as providing wild meat to a local restaurant or pub.

This is an adapted version of Rewilding Britain’s guidance, part of series of online resources for rewilders.

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