A Heal 2nd birthday blog, by Sara King, Rewilding Britain and Heal volunteer
Rewilding is a beacon of hope – every day I feel positive about the future through learning about and speaking with the growing number of rewilding projects in Britain. In 2014, I visited my first beaver project and it opened my eyes to the wonder of nature and rewilding. The restoration of this keystone species has resulted in the return of an abundance of nature – insects, birds, bats, amphibians and plant species have all exploded within the beaver wetland, an oasis in the countryside. Since then, I have been lucky enough to experience bursts of wildlife and noise across several rewilding projects in Britain, amazed at how biodiversity can return and thrive. I am now a true beaver believer and rewilder, and I am fascinated by rewilding innovation and how our landscapes and seascapes can be restored for wildlife but also for people. There are so many examples of rewilding projects working with schools, deprived communities, adult education, respite for young carers and communities to reconnect people with nature.
Rewilding is about supporting people on the ground, whether that is through a diverse number of jobs or through supporting new volunteer opportunities. Rewilding Britain have found that across a sample of projects on the Rewilding Network, a community of rewilders who are sharing knowledge and experience, volunteer numbers increased more than ten-fold. The number of volunteer opportunities have increased from 81 pre-rewilding to 810 within ten years of rewilding. That’s an incredible number of people who are reconnecting with nature and becoming inspired by the process. It also provides an opportunity for communities to get involved in rewilding projects and have a stronger voice. The Knepp Estate now have many volunteer wardens patrolling the rewilding project, engaging with visitors and sharing their knowledge of the wildlife returning to the land. I’ve also been hugely inspired by the local communities who volunteer their time to check on beaver enclosure fencing daily to ensure that these fantastic animals can remain in our landscape. When given the opportunity, people really care about wildlife and nature and rewilding offers an opportunity for a range of skill sets to get actively involved.
However, volunteering is not always accessible to everyone, and we must look at increasing diversity within the industry. Some may not have the means or ability to travel to, often rural, rewilding projects. Some may struggle to move around the countryside or get involved in physical tasks such as removing internal fencing or tree planting. Some may find going to a volunteer day on their own a daunting experience. I believe that rewilding should be for everyone, and we must continue to work hard to be inclusive. With advances in technology, we can start to include those who cannot physically go to a rewilding project. Live web cams, camera traps and aerial photographs are becoming a vital tool when monitoring wildlife, and these can all be access remotely. MammalWeb, for example, is a citizen science project that gives volunteers access to camera trap footage to monitor mammals. This is joint initiative between Durham Wildlife Trust and Durham University, and allows huge amounts of information to be analysed from a whole range of different users. We are seeing this approach starting to be taken on by rewilding projects, and I am excited to see this further expand through the Rewilding Network.
Heal Rewilding are approaching their two-year anniversary and I have been a volunteer with them since they started. This fantastic charity has incredible ambitions to move forward the amount of rewilding in our countryside – not just for the benefit of wildlife, but also for people. I have enjoyed being part of their volunteering community, ‘meeting’ people virtually from a range of different backgrounds and skill sets. It’s exciting to be working in collaboration with a diverse range of people – something that would be difficult to organise normally. It also gave me a way to connect with others and with nature during lockdowns and the pandemic, and contribute to the collective action. Heal have offered a diverse number of opportunities, from helping with monitoring social media to developing strategies, marketing material and research. Volunteers can commit as much time as they can, giving flexibility to those with other commitments. This has helped to develop skills and knowledge, and I’m excited to see how this volunteer community will support Heal once they have acquired their first site.