Top 5 Free Tools for Rewilding Projects
Rewilding can seem overwhelming at first, no matter how big your project is, but these free apps and websites help make it clear and easy to manage.
Restor seems like a glimpse into the future of rewilding – simply plot out the boundaries of your site and you can see all kinds of scientific data about it. Soil organic carbon, % tree cover, climate facts, elevation and biodiversity statistics are all available. You can even view a series of satellite images over time to see how your site has changed. Honestly, the list of features is so long that it’s worth signing up just to try it for yourself.
As with any futuristic tool, there are a few glitches – the list of native plant species is currently in review by scientists, and many datasets are very low resolution, so they’ll only be relevant to large landowners. Some measures also seem to be a bit inaccurate – e.g on our experimental site, the ‘live vegetation cover’ seems to have confused dry grass with bare soil. The water table depth is also listed as 33m, even though the land is just 6m above sea level (which is correctly identified in the elevation tool!).
Overall, though, this is a very helpful, free tool, and you can either keep your site private, or publish it to become part of the public network. You can store multiple sites, with photos and a customisable site profile, which specifies what type of restoration work is taking place.
Old Maps Online
Rewilding is often a process of rediscovery – finding out what you can about the past landscape and then restoring it so that natural processes can take over again. In many places, the best way to start your journey is by looking up old maps of the area. In Britain, Ordnance Survey maps can usually give you an idea of how the landscape has changed over the past 150-200 years.
Old Maps Online lets you navigate around a modern map of the world, then shows you all of the digitised old maps for that area. Select ‘Browse the old maps’ to get started and you’ll see a list of maps on the right of the screen – zoom in further to find those with more detail. You can then view a high quality online version of any archived map by selecting it from the list. It’s a great way to find the original course of rivers before they were channelised, or to discover whether your site was covered by a different habitat in the recent past.
Line Search Before U Dig
If you’re planning on moving earth, whether to dig a pond, put in a gate post or remove mole drains, you’ll want to avoid explosions, electrocutions and geysers. That’s what a line search does – just register for a free account and they’ll send you the details of any cables and pipes which run under your property.
It usually takes a few days for the details to be sent through, so be sure to do this in advance of your project. But the application process is easy and It’s a great way to protect yourself, and avoid annoying the neighbours!
If you want a quick and easy way to identify plants, animals and other organisms on your land, look no further than iNaturalist. This app, available on iOS and Android, is our recommendation for nature identification and recording, as it plugs into a database which is available to scientists. The built-in identification system is excellent, but the active community is there to help out when it fails. I’ve found that even the most obscure insects or plants are often identified manually within a few hours or days.
You can find out detailed information about a species by clicking on its name, and this also shows you useful seasonality data. It can be helpful in showing you how rare a species is, and you can also browse all records of a species. Any record which has been verified by the community (not just the algorithm) is marked as ‘RG’ – ‘Research Grade’.
My favourite feature is ‘Explore’ (in the side menu), which allows you to see records by area. Select the Maps icon at the bottom of the screen, zoom into the area around your rewilding project, then tap ‘Search Map Area’ and you can see which species are present. Most records have a photo, so you can check for yourself if you’re skeptical. The Explore feature showed me that grass snakes are present near our experimental site, which helped guide my plans for restoration.
While iNaturalist is a great place to get an overview of the species on your site, it’s not particularly scientific. Records are submitted by the community and certain areas lack data simply because they aren’t often visited. Some species are seldom-reported because they’re ‘boring’, too small or hard to photograph.
If you want a more exhaustive list of the species that can be found in your area, you should visit NBN Atlas. Here, you can draw a shape on the map and see all of the species officially recorded within it, then download a CSV of the data. It’s not anywhere near as fun to use as iNaturalist, but it’s much more detailed, with an order of magnitude more data, from respected sources.
NBN also hosts species profiles, with detailed distribution maps for all kinds of plants and animals, including very obscure ones. It’s useful to check whether a species is likely to occur in your area, which is helpful if you think you’ve found something obscure and want to check whether you might have misidentified it.
We thought it might be worth mentioning the free resources available from How to Rewild, which includes a list of UK rewilding organisations and a series of helpful articles, and these popular guides:
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