We can all make a difference and help tackle our biodiversity crisis by working together and introducing subtle, ecological practices that can transform any outdoor space into a haven for wildlife.
This was the resounding message to come out of the thought-provoking Rewilding the Mind: The Beth Chatto Symposium 2022, which took place on September 1 and 2 at the University of Essex’s Colchester campus.
Bringing together more than 500 attendees from the green space sector, the event raised funds for The Beth Chatto Education Trust. Set up by the late Beth Chatto OBE (1923-2018) in 2015 (when she was 91), the charity offers a wide range of horticulture education opportunities to people of all ages. As Chatto said: “I wish to set up an Education Trust in my name to carry forward my passion for plants and ecological approach to all.”
With nearly half (41%) of the UK’s species in decline*, the Symposium’s high-profile line-up of speakers examined how the popular concept of rewilding interfaces with horticulture in urban and/or smaller settings.
Rewilding specialist Professor Alastair Driver explained that Rewilding Britain’s projects have successfully restored areas of land greater than 250 acres and aided the return of vulnerable species such as turtle doves and nightingales, and purple emperor and brown hairstreak butterflies.
But Driver noted that every outdoor space – no matter how small – can help support nature recovery and boost biodiversity.
He asked: “If we as individuals seek to maximise the wildlife in our gardens [and outdoor spaces], but also try and go a step further and help others move forward – gradually build up that connectivity – who’s to say that one day we can’t have 250 acres of wildlife-rich garden in our community? That’s quite possible.”
Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, noted that there are some 22 million private gardens in the UK. “Just imagine if most of those were wildlife friendly?” he asked, adding: “Gardens can support an extraordinary diversity of creatures if we just manage them in the right way.”
Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter – the East Sussex home of the late gardener and friend of Beth, Christopher Lloyd OBE (1921-2006) – opined that gardens are the “the perfect storm.” He said this is because they serve as today’s “woodland edge;” namely, the biodiverse ecotone of woodland merging into grassland that, over the years, has been tidied up and lost.
He asserted: “Small gardens can add up to be very significant and so can urban spaces, rooftops, parks, pavements, cracks, walls. Every space can play a part.”
The Symposium’s speakers agreed that nature would be given a much better chance of recovery if everyone – including private individuals, gardeners, architects, builders, councils, ecologists, farmers, garden designers, growers, landscapers, landscape architects, politicians, town planners, and volunteer groups – worked together to create a national nature network.
Town planner and urban designer Dr Wei Yang – a leader in the promotion and implementation of 21stcentury garden cities – explained that the 21st century garden city movement could help achieve this aim as it aspires to create towns that incorporate nature-based solutions that “provide resilience and bring the beauty of nature into our communities.”
The importance of upskilling and supporting the horticulture sector to maintain sustainable and nature-friendly landscapes was also emphasised by the speakers, as was the need to ensure the continued and vital help of local volunteers.