England’s Knepp Wildland shows what can happen when we love nature enough to leave it be. Over the last two decades, the 3500-acre West Sussex estate has been transformed from a working farm into a rewilding project where animals and plants are left largely to their own devices. Grazing animals such as cows, horses, pigs and deer help stimulate various kinds of vegetation, and the landscape has attracted (and is now home to) rare species such as nightingales, turtle doves, peregrine falcons, purple emperor butterflies and barbastelle bats. The proliferation of wildflowers attracts insects, which attract birds. Natural water courses have been restored. Carbon is sequestered in the soil; water and air are purified; and the flooding caused by agricultural water run-off is vastly reduced.
The estate’s owners originally used the land to farm products like maize, wheat and dairy using conventional agricultural methods (including pesticides) before completely shifting their mindset to one of regeneration and rewilding. They now use a passive approach without any specific goals or prescriptions and have established an ecosystem where nature is free to thrive; creatures roam the wilderness and eat when they please. One of the few examples of intervention comes in the form of certain animals being culled and their meat sold to maintain a balance of species, since there isn’t space for all natural predators on the site.
This “hands-off” philosophy has yielded sometimes unexpected results: species previously thought to prefer (or only thrive) in certain habitats have found their way to Knepp Wildland, raising questions about whether these creatures’ usual habitats are in fact the most ideal. As such, the project is an educational journey with nature as teacher.
To make ends meet (and to share the magic of rewilding), Knepp Wildland hosts animal safaris and glamping in yurts. Its owners say these “microadventures” bring in more funding than their farm efforts ever did. The site shows how, for a relatively low cost, using passive methods can enable unused or unsuccessful farmland to be restored to support established nature reserves.
Only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact. In a shining example of how drone technology can be used for good, drones are being employed to plant trees. Automating reforestation can be done at a speed 10 to 15 times faster than manual planting, and drones are able to access areas that can be dangerous or difficult for humans to get to (for example, forests recently burned by bushfires). Planting trees by drone can also be done at a fraction of the cost. The technology uses a combination of aerial mapping, pneumatics and ecological science to drop seed pods into the earth with accuracy and precision. Once nourished by moisture, these pods (which protect the plants from being eaten by wildlife) become the perfect environment for the seeds to flourish and grow into saplings. Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology also provides important information about the health of forest ecosystems.
Canada’s Flash Forest is one organisation doing this work. Between April and June 2021, Flash Forest travelled over 10,000 kilometres across Canada on a pilot program and planted 300,000 seed pods of 19 different species of tree. The organisation’s goal is to plant one billion trees by 2028. In Australia, drone reforestation is being carried out by Airseed Technologies, whose goal is to plant 100 million trees by 2024. Like Flash Forest, Airseed uses science as well as technology to ascertain which trees should be planted where, and in what numbers, to ensure biodiversity and tree populations that actually thrive. The firmness of the soil is tested and the drones are programmed to fire the seed with the exact right pressure depending on how deep into the earth it needs to be planted.
Regenerate Australia WWF
WWF’s wildlife regeneration program – which it is calling the largest and most innovative ever – is a huge, multi-pronged effort to protect and restore Australian habitats and ecosystems. It involves lobbying the Australian government to help safeguard our wildlife and wild places against climate change and other catastrophes.
These are the chief aims of the project:
Double the koala population in eastern Australia by 2050
With so many koalas killed and trees destroyed in the bushfires of 2019, WWF is working to rebuild and protect koala habitats. It is also planning to set up mobile vet services to help rescue wildlife in crisis, and to upgrade local animal hospitals. As part of this, it plans to eventually build a cutting-edge facility that doubles as a community wildlife education centre.
Plant two billion trees
Deforestation happened on a mass scale and at a staggering speed when we lost 12.6 million hectares of trees in the bushfires. A massive reforestation initiative is required to reverse the damage and restore essential ecosystems. WWF is working alongside traditional owners, landholders, local communities, farmers, businesses and governments to shift Australia from deforestation to reforestation.
Make Australia a renewables nation
Australia has massive potential as a provider of renewable sources of energy. Our country is home to some of the best sources of renewable energy globally, and we’re in a position to produce enough clean energy to power the whole country and then some (meaning we can sell some of this energy to other countries). If we were to become a renewables nation, we’d see an economic boost, reduction in emissions and the creation of tens of thousands of local jobs.
Use innovation to regenerate
This goal is about drawing from the large pool of ingenuity in Australia and working with a variety of innovators and businesses, not just with those in the environmental realm. It’s about challenging the idea of “business as usual,” dreaming big and bringing the regenerative economy into being with the help of future-focused businesses and start-ups.
Motivated by the deeply troubling fact that Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world, rewilding efforts involve using science and Indigenous ecological knowledge to protect the vulnerable species that remain and boost their numbers by restoring wild habitats.