Small-Scale Wilding

Small-scale wilding differs in some key aspects from the bigger scale wilding projects you may have heard more about. While there is no hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes 'small-scale', it most often refers to sites ranging from garden-size up to a few hundred acres. Below is an overview of some of the important things to consider on smaller-scale wilding sites.

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BALANCING DISTURBANCES

In simplified terms, the habitat complexity and biodiversity of a site are formed by the interplay between disturbance and vegetation succession. For this reason, large herbivores, like cattle, boars, deer, ponies and bison, are often introduced to larger wilding sites. They generate different kinds of disturbance and move nutrients and seeds around, promoting a mosaic of different habitat types and preventing any one species or species composition becoming dominant. In too high densities, however, these animals can overgraze the landscape and reduce species diversity. On smaller sites it becomes more difficult to strike this balance, and humans may assume a greater role, particularly in the early stages of a project. Of course, one option is to pursue a completely passive wilding approach: leave a site and see what happens over time.

KEY SUBSTITUTIONS

It may seem like a paradox to allow nature to function through human intervention, but the principle behind this is to substitute for processes and certain ‘keystone’ species that have long been absent but would, at one time, have been vital to the functioning of an ecosystem. This is particularly the case on sites with a long history of human use, and/or with low natural recolonisation potential because of their distance from other wild sites.

RESTORING ECOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS

Examples of this kind of management might be: controlling particularly aggressive plant species to ensure they don’t dominate species compositions; sculpting the landscape or introducing certain features to generate micro-climates and habitats; introducing blockages in to small streams to create small bogs or pools; and so on. This process-based habitat restoration approach was seen to offer the highest risk-reward ratio of the possible wilding approaches considered by a recently convened panel of policy-makers and practitioners [1].

EARLY INTERVENTIONS

Through these early interventions, we provide a helping hand that gradually withdraws as nature and natural processes begin to take over and become self-sustaining.