Saving the Planet One Backyard at a Time

Small green spaces might hold the key to reversing the climate crisis

The climate crisis is a real, multi-pronged threat to our existence. It is hitting us in a series of waves. The first is global heating. The second is a health crisis led by pollution and pandemics and the third wave is the gradual collapse of biodiversity. The latter could lead to an extinction level threat. Although this is extremely concerning, there are cures - indeed there are a number of potential solutions. One of which could be right under our feet.


We estimate that there are over a billion gardens in the world. There are way more front yards, back yards, industrial yards, verges, parks and small green spaces. Each of these could provide a vital cure for our ever present environmental degradation. Through a new innovation called garden rewilding, gardens can now be turned into carbon capturing, biodiversity rich havens.

Garden rewilding solves multiple problems at once by:

  1. Storing carbon in the ground and reducing emissions

  2. Saving wildlife species

  3. Protecting plant life, providing habitats, food and medicine.

We need to adopt innovations like this quickly. Global heating is causing mass-migrations, life threatening storms and the collapse of vital ecosystems. According to a UN report, from 2000 to 2019, there were 7,348 major natural disasters around the world, killing 1.23 million people and resulting in $2.97 trillion in global economic losses.

By comparison, the previous 20-year period, 1980-1999, had 4,212 natural disasters, claiming 1.19 million lives and causing $1.63 trillion in economic losses.

Much of this increase, can be attributed to climate change. Climate-related disasters jumped 83 percent — from 3,656 events during the 1980-1999 period to 6,681 in the past 20 years. Major floods have more than doubled, the number of severe storms has risen 40 percent, and there have been major increases in droughts, wildfires, and heatwaves.

“Disaster risk is becoming systemic with one event overlapping and influencing another in ways that are testing our resilience to the limit. The odds are being stacked against us when we fail to act on science and early warnings to invest in prevention, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.”

At the same time, plant and animal species are disappearing at an ever faster rate due to human activities. Some countries, including the UK, have lost 50% of their animals in the last 50 years. We are on a trajectory to lose 40% of our plants in the next few decades. The more animals we lose, the more plants we lose. The more plants we lose the more oxygen, food and medicine we lose.

1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. 

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

75% of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. As a result certain governments are calling for 30% of their land to be wilded by 2030. We could achieve this by restoring wildernesses as well as by rewilding smaller green spaces. We will need to do both.

Rewilding is a form of environmental conservation and ecological restoration that has significant potential to increase biodiversity, create self-sustainable environments and mitigate climate change.

According to Rewilding Europe ‘Rewilding is a progressive approach to conservation. It’s about letting nature take care of itself, enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Through rewilding, wildlife’s natural rhythms create wilder, more biodiverse habitats’.

When nature is healthy, we are healthier too. We rely on the natural world for water, food and air. There is a growing realisation that connecting with wild nature makes us feel good and keeps us mentally and physically well.

In essence rewilding is an ecological infrastructure technology (with a small ‘t’) that can be applied to any size and type of land. Even though rewilding was first developed in vast national parks, you can just as effectively rewild your backyard.

Today the practice is called smaller-scale rewilding. Even though it is quite different to larger-scale approaches, garden rewilding shares a number of common principles. In essence, this new innovation is about the miniaturization of rewilding - like solar roof tiles are small scale solar panels and mini wind turbines offer a mass market approach to renewable energy.

Garden rewilding is a way for you to reimagine your garden as a space to build mini-habitats that store CO2 in the ground, attract wildlife and nurture key plant species. Using small trees, shrubs, scrub, plants, ponds, grasses and wildflower you can design a ‘wild’ mini-ecosystem which is as natural and biodiverse as a larger wilderness. And you can apply the approach to all kinds of small green spaces - including green roofs.

Garden rewilding has spawned a new trend in gardening which is called ‘wildlife gardening’. It teaches you how to recreate your garden as a place where you can actively save the planet a little every day by shaping the space for carbon storage and nature conservation. A place that you design for biodiversity not barbecues. Where you coexist with nature rather than chasing it away.

Garden rewilding might not attract wolves, bisons and bears. But it does attract bees, butterflies, birds, bats, bugs and an exciting array of small mammals. Discovering your first hedgehog can be just as exciting as spotting your first lion. I know which one I would prefer to find my child playing with in the back garden. And for thrill seekers there are foxes, snakes and badgers to attract.

If the ecosystem is designed correctly, it is quite self sustaining. By rewilding your garden, nature will work with you so that you spend less time hacking away at it and more time enjoying it. Goodbye lawn mowers, leaf blowers and pesticides. Hello garden safari.

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In larger-scale rewilding magnificent herbivores such as deer, elk, bison, longhorn cattle and wild ponies manage the vast habitats, while driving the forces of regeneration. Garden rewilding has figured out how to mimic the benefits of the herbivore with human hands and feet, plus a new generation of tools.

Garden rewilding is a new opportunity for us to help fix the climate crisis one small green space at a time. Done right, it could prove to be a vital grassroots, community based movement for this pandemic ravaged world.

Safari means ‘journey’ in Swahili. If we can persuade gardeners and owners of small green spaces to rewild their land, we can restore biodiversity across the planet. As we do this we will learn that ‘safari’ starts in our backyard. And by restoring nature we restore ourselves.


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