For the first time at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, visitors were able to experience the amazing rewilding impact that eco-engineers such as beavers can have on reversing the loss of nature in Britain and in boosting the beauty and biodiversity of our landscapes.
Beavers are natural rewilders. Their dams create nature-rich wetlands that support many other species and act as a carbon sink, while also reducing flooding risk by holding back storm water flows.
Yet, while these habitat-creating, flood-preventing animals are the beating heart of healthy river and wetland environments across Europe, in Britain we’ve been slow to welcome them back to our countryside after 400 years of extinction.
Beavers at the heart of the story
Landscape designers Urquhart & Hunt chose to make beaver activity the core of their garden at Chelsea 2022, revealing how this keystone species is pivotal to ecosystem restoration, and showcasing how rewilding can benefit nature, climate and people.
Designed for and in collaboration with Rewilding Britain, the garden showed a rewilding landscape in the south west of England, following the reintroduction of beavers.
Make your own garden wilder
Wonderfully wild features
Here are some of our favourite rewilding features of the garden:
- A flowing brook, beneath a glade of hawthorn, hazel and field maple.
- A pool dammed by beavers – with wood-sticks, woodchip and tree debris scattered around their lodge. These are constructed from debris removed from beaver sites as part of the beaver management process.
- A riparian meadow with rejuvenating alder trees, fed by water trickling from the beaver dam.
- A dry-stone wall built in a West Country traditional style using stone from a carefully managed iron-ore quarry in Exmoor.
- An old timber walkway, made from reclaimed oak planks and chestnut poles, leading across the wetland meadow to a viewing hide at the side of the pool.
- Native wildflowers, which mingle with grasses and marginal plants along the edges of the pool and stream.
- A soundscape giving a taste of a future landscape alive with nature, including the famous tail slap of the beaver, and the creature’s mewing. Listen to the soundscape online.
Native species only
The Rewilding Britain garden features exclusively native plants. Here are just a few of the important species chosen for their contribution to nature:
- Crack willow (Salix alba), vital in preventing riverside soil erosion and supporting over 200 species of invertebrate.
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), whose bright red berries are a favourite food for many birds in winter. The tree provides a habitat for 149 insect species.
- Alder (Alnus glutinosa), which supports at least 90 insect species. Its fruit is an important food source for goldfinches, siskin and redpoll.
- Devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis), providing an essential food source for the caterpillars of the marsh fritillary butterfly.
Unusually for RHS Chelsea Flower Show, in order to present as authentic a picture of a rewilding landscape as possible, native grasses are shown as one would see them in the wild, with their previous year’s growth and their pre-season seed-head remnants left on, together with the brown, former season’s dead foliage.
After the show the plants were donated to Lindengate charity, which has a suitable habitat (including a few ponds) where they will continue to thrive. They also run therapeutic garden programmes to support mental health, particularly with NHS and youth groups. The beaver hide will go to one of our Rewilding Network projects.
Thank you to our sponsors
Meet the designers
Urquhart & Hunt specialise in contemporary restorations of gardens within their wider landscapes, incorporating ecological rehabilitation and naturalised planting schemes. It is a studio dedicated to nature, alongside an impeccable design and fulfilment process.
“It is more pressing than ever for us as humans to reconnect with our own habitat, the earth, and work within the systems that hold us and give us clean air, waters, nourishment and our home,” say Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt. “This is our moment to bring this, in all its beauty, to visitors of the show.”
Give nature a chance of survival
Image credits: Main image and carousel © Jason Ingram; Artist’s impression © Airtight Group; U&H portrait © Dave Watts
DISCOVER MORE ABOUT REWILDING
Rebecca Wrigley, Rewilding Britain’s CEO, celebrates bringing a new aesthetic into the heart of the establishment.
We explore why we need these ecosystem engineers back in the UK, how they shape our landscapes, and why beaver reintroductions make sense in the right places.
An eco-estate on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, well known for its beaver project and abundant wildlife
Nature’s busy aquatic architect is a formidable tree feller, river changer and wetland creator