What is Urban Rewilding?

What is Urban Rewilding?

As with rewilding itself, there is no clear definition and no simple answer to this question. However, we believe urban rewilding should also look to the past to take inspiration for how urban spaces can support wildlife and some level of ecosystem functionality. Where it differs from rewilding in rural areas, is that our urban spaces are entirely human constructs. With some innovative thinking, these could be altered to create novel but functioning ecosystems. By taking inspiration from the past, we can begin to reimagine our city landscapes as unique ecosystems as we have never seen before, but that can support the species of the past within the confines of urban spaces.

At Citizen Zoo, we believe six key principles define Urban Rewilding:

1. Established green spaces must be managed, at least in part, with wildlife in mind.

Our established green spaces, including gardens, parks and allotments must be managed under a multifunctional framework. Their core value as spaces for humans is vital for well-being and health but can provide valuable support to a wealth of species as well. Our parks must have at the very least strips of long grass or wildflowers and where appropriate ponds, as should our gardens. Allotments should be managed with nature in mind (see Rewilding People), without pesticides and herbicides, and living roofs planted up with nature-friendly plants.

2. Management of our largest green spaces should be altered to help them reach their ecological potential.

Richmond Park alone is 1,012 hectares and home to 600 red and fallow deer whose grazing and browsing behaviours help to shape the landscape. We can manage wild populations of animals within an urban setting. These methods should be rolled out into similar parks and nature reserves. We whole heartedly believe that by adapting methods and techniques used in rural rewilding projects, we can harness the power of free-roaming domestic and wild animals to drive habitat restoration in pockets of green space across our cities. Citizen Zoo have ambitions for this at Tolworth Court Farm in Kingston, which you can read more about here.

3. Our urban areas must be considered as a microcosm of what we want to achieve in the wider landscape (as in Rewilding Principle 4).

Just as rewilding was born out of the three C’s and now focuses largely on Cores, Connectivity and Co-existence, our cities must be considered in much the same way. From our roads, pavements, and buildings to windowsills, gardens and parks. We must start bolstering wildlife in these spaces, increase connectivity and learn to live with the wildlife on our doorstep.

4. Within the confines of urban areas, we must be practical about what is feasible.

While we advocate the application of rewilding methods used in large scale rural projects, within cities we know this is not always feasible. Our cities are awash with small pockets of green space that back onto houses, roads and large infrastructures. In these locations, applying ‘proper’ rewilding methods in which we return lost species or their analogues or allow nature to control outcomes is not always feasible. Invasive species will encroach from surrounding areas and free-roaming, large animals just aren’t viable. Here, we accept that urban rewilding very much mirrors that of traditional conservation.

However, we advocate that sites shouldn’t be managed with just one habitat or species in mind, but rather as diverse a range as possible. However, while we believe the reintroduction of lost species is not always feasible, appropriate species should at least be considered. This is especially true for those that can be, at least initially, confined, such as beavers.

5. Rewilding people must be at the heart of Urban Rewilding.

55% of the world’s population is classed as urban and this is set to rise to 68% by 2050. Sadly, we are the main drivers of the ecological declines seen throughout the globe. Therefore, a vital part of urban rewilding is the rewilding of people.  We must connect people to the natural world and help them to make more environmentally and ecologically friendly decisions. Where better to engage the maximum number of people than in our towns and cities? Rewilding people is at the heart of our work. From our community-led water vole reintroduction project and Citizen Keepers raising large marsh grasshoppers, to working with young carers in Kingston and restoring a local nature reserve to be enjoyed by people with disabilities.

6. No space is too small to be valuable.

If urban rewilding is to succeed, we must begin looking at the very fabric of our cities. We must think about how we can transform individual components to support biodiversity. As densely populated places, demand for space in our urban areas is high. Few locations remain undeveloped or without a purpose (i.e. parks, car parks etc). While we may already be considering green roofs and walls, why not those small but potentially valuable spaces? Lamp posts, bus stop roofs (as in Utrecht), balconies and window sills could all support wildlife with some innovation. Just as we say in Rewilding Principle 3, everything and everywhere can play its part.

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