Setting up Wild4Good, a community rewilding network

A group of thinkers and do-ers in Sussex wants to get a local rewilding bandwagon rolling

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by Chris Sandom, Harri Tan, Claudia Gray, Daniel Ingram

How can rewilding reverse the decline of nature in Britain? What new plants and animals might we have in our local areas if we rewild our world? What benefits would they bring and what problems would they cause? What does a rewilded landscape, seascape or urban park look, sound, and feel like? Is it safe and desirable?

These are big questions. To help tackle them, we are setting up the Wild4Good network of rewilding community groups. The purpose of these groups is to allow local people to answer these questions and enact rewilding in a way that is right for their regions. We are Rewilding Sussex, the first group in the Wild4Good network, and we want to tell you our story, encourage you to join us or inspire you start your own rewilding journey somewhere else in the country.

So how did Rewilding Sussex begin? Rewilding has been described by Dr. Paul Jepson as active, controversial and happening’, and suggests it is coming to signify an unsettling – a desire to shake-up the present and shape future’ (Jepson 2015). So who better to engage at the start of this adventure than with the bright young minds of tomorrow, students? Rewilding Sussex started with lectures to the biology students of the University of Sussex and our first members came from this course. Their enthusiasm, ideas and energy have driven us forward.

Next we needed inspiring ambitions, and we developed them through a series of conversations and discussions at our local pub, the Park Crescent. Fortnightly, we’ve gathered to discuss what rewilding means, what animals we’d love to see back in Sussex, how they might benefit nature and people and what the challenges might be. To help stimulate the discussion we tried to track down the feral wild boar population in Brede High Woods, went on a safari at the rewilding project at Knepp Estate, saw beaver and wolves at Wild Wood wildlife park and explored our local Hollingbury nature reserve in search of bats, but finding orchids. 

We’ve run stalls at Sussex Nature and Brighton Science Festivals, both highly enjoyable opportunities to share our ideas and hopes with excited children and their families. One of our members, Harri Tan, has written his undergraduate dissertation on the potential for beaver, lynx, pine marten and red squirrel reintroduction to Sussex. Through these adventures, our group has come to settle on two goals: 1) engage the people of Sussex in rewilding; and 2) develop the partnerships, obtain the licenses, and help in the reintroduction of keystone species missing from Sussex, starting with the beaver.

We have picked up a great variety of members, including researchers from the local universities, artists, designers and conservation professionals. Partnering with local artists and designers has been particularly exciting and has led to the development of the pivotal feature of our 2015 calendar: Rewilding: Re-discovering nature in the Valley Gardens and Brighton Biosphere”, supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots’ Grant.

For this project, we have partnered with the University of Brighton and the Onca Centre for Arts and Ecology gallery as part of their Navigating Change’ program. We are bringing together ecology and design students to co-create ideas to encourage more local biodiversity, inspire people to get outside more regularly and teach people about nature. We have hosted a series of introductory talks, brainstorming sessions and practical workshops. The unique and innovative design installations will be exhibited at the Onca Gallery between the 28th of September and 18th of October 2015. Please drop in for a visit, everyone is welcome.

We’re really excited about achievements so far, particularly the designs the students have created this summer. They range from Wild Games’, a sports day inspired by animal and plant interactions, to an Urban Wild Park’ that brings wild nature into the heart of the city and gives the public access to the tree canopy. But we have big ambitions for the future, engaging the people of Sussex in rewilding and working towards the reintroduction of beaver. We would love to have your help. If you would like to join us or want some advice about setting up your own group please send us an email or follow us on Twitter @RewildingSussex.

[reference Jepson, P. 2015. A rewilding agenda for Europe: creating a network of experimental reserves. Ecography.]