How to Rewild

Busting 7 Common Rewilding Myths

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Busting 7 Common Rewilding Myths
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I started How to Rewild back in 2021, and have been managing land since 2022. I’ve worked professionally in the field for over 2 years and have researched and written over 60,000 words for this site alone.

So it’s about time I busted some myths…

Myth #1

Grassland is easier than woodland.

Woodland is much easier to manage in the long term than a wildflower meadow, with more useful products.

Planting trees is a difficult job, and it can take many days to cover a field for the first time. But you’ll find that people are keen to help, and once trees are in the ground, little maintenance is required. That maintenance creates useful produce – rods, roundwood, timber, firewood – which can be used or sold.

Creating a meadow can be labour intensive, too, especially on nutrient-enriched soils. But once it’s in, you’ll need to not just cut the grass, but also rake it off and stack/compost it to avoid nutrients building up again. This takes a huge effort every year, with little reward.

Livestock technically make this easier, but looking after animals is a logistical nightmare, requiring DEFRA compliance, fencing, water etc.

Native British Woodland
Woodland like this doesn't 'just happen' - it evolves over a long time. Recreating it from scratch means planting a diverse mix of trees, managing them effectively and avoiding planting in lines.
Myth #2

You should remove all the fences.

Boundary fences may be a legal requirement, and good fences make good neighbours.

Rewilders often champion the idea of pulling out fences as a way of improving movement of animals across the land. And it’s true that removing internal fences on your land can be a great idea if you use NoFence collars or don’t own livestock.

However, boundary fences are often either a) legally required to be maintained, or b) necessary to prevent your neighbours’ livestock encroaching on your land. This encroachment may seem fine at first, but it could get you in trouble with DEFRA, and some livestock like sheep and goats cause serious damage to woodland.

Fencing can help to prevent dog damage and pollution in ponds, or disturbance in sensitive areas adjacent to public footpaths.
Myth #3

Remove cows to heal the planet.

Our planet needs large land animals to maintain ecosystems in a healthy state – without them, we are a poor substitute.

I’ve often heard of ‘rewilders’ buying up dairy farms and chucking out all the cattle. As if that’s ‘rewilding’! Rewilding is a process of restoring natural processes on the land, and livestock are an essential part of that – contributing grazing, poop and trampling among other things.

It’s true that commercial farms have unnaturally-high levels of disturbance from grazing cattle. But reducing their numbers and changing to a more resilient breed over time is a better solution for healing the land. This also reduces the food debt created by the rewilding process.

Moo cows
Cows are a useful substitute for the extinct, cattle-like Aurochs, which used to roam the UK before we killed it off.
Myth #4

Ponds need pond liner.

In fact, the most biodiverse ponds are natural ponds, which are simply pits in the ground, recreating natural processes.

With a pond liner, you’re missing the bottom layer – that important muddy pond bed which allows plants to get rooted and is a feeding surface for many bugs within the water. Ponds can be dug in any ground that sits below the water table for some of the year – it’s actually OK if they dry out!

Liners are only essential in ponds that you want to keep year-round, or those above the water table. In summer, you’ll find that as a wild pond dries out, more of the shoreline is exposed. But with pond liner, you’re missing this marginal zone, which is rich in plant and animal diversity.

Winter Pond
Water levels in a wild pond fluctuate across the year, creating interest through the seasons.
Myth #5

Public footpaths are a nightmare.

99% of walkers are lovely – if you have a public footpath on your land, it can be a source of joy (if you do things right!).

Most walkers who pass through a rewilding project see it as a positive development. This is land that is becoming richer in nature, with more visual interest – a much more pleasant place to spend time.

That said, some landowners develop a negative relationship with walkers by working against them, rather than with them. Leave wide margins around footpaths – you’re lucky to own land, so please share it generously. Negative, proscriptive signs often cause negative reactions – try using positive language and providing interesting interpretation boards instead.

Rewilding project
Yes, every once in a while you'll get someone who behaves badly, but the vast majority of walkers are lovely - treat them well and they'll respond generously.
Myth #6

You need 25 acres or more.

For most people in search of a bit of solitude and the Good Life, a couple of acres will be more than enough.

It’s easy to get carried away when buying fields, especially if you’ve never owned land before. Even more so if you’re lucky enough to have a generous budget. But remember that managing wildflower meadows, cutting back hedgerows, installing and maintaining fences is hard, time-intensive work.

Farming is a full time job, and a larger rewilding project is difficult to run effectively without livestock. But keeping animals will triple your workload and commitments. So start small – you can always buy more, and you can spend the budget on gadgets that help with the work!

Grassland habitat with late successional scrub
Some people's eyes light up when they see the price of land. But maintaining a rewilding project like this one is a lot of work!
Myth #7

You can do what you want on your land.

If only! Neighbours, laws and logistics are likely to decide what works on your plot.

So you’ve bought a field. Now you have grand designs for a house, a lake and free-roaming wild boar. Steady on! Before you start making plans, it’s worth familiarising yourself with your local planning laws.

You’re unlikely to get permission for a home, though you may be able to erect a ‘field shelter’. The lake will cost you an arm and a leg, and will probably need to be signed off by at least the local planning office, if not the Environment Agency. And wild boar are illegal to introduce – just like many native British animals.

It’s probably better to read up on what you can do, rather than focus on what you can’t, so here’s how to rewild a field.

Rewilded pond
This is my own project, just 2 years in - it didn't take long for the ponds to fill up.

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