Community rewilding incubator

How a community-led rewilding incubator could engage people in land management decisions as a beacon for other areas. 

Danny Gross21 Nov 2019

The problem 

Although most reforestation projects focus on tree planting, encouraging natural regeneration can be the most cost-effective way of drawing down carbon and restoring nature. Rewilding has the potential to deliver significant benefits in cutting emissions and supporting biodiversity, but there is not enough land available, rewilding is often controversial and accessing finance can be difficult.  

The challenge 

Current projects are mostly led by large landowners, far away from cities and with little community engagement. It can be unpopular with farming communities and there has not been enough work done to actively involve local people to gain support for rewilding. Where the community is involved it can be difficult to distinguish between these projects, and more traditional conservation initiatives (which are great, but often rely on intensive active management for particular habitats in a relatively small area).  

Could a community-led rewilding pilot on land close to where people live increase demand for rewilding near cities and showcase the potential of a "wildly different green belt"? 

The idea 

A community-led rewilding incubator which engages people actively in land management decisions and acts as a beacon for other areas. This approach would be ideal for sites strongly associated with the extractive industries (eg former coal mines).  

How does it work 

A community-led project delivered with expert partners 

Bring together community volunteers and a rewilding partner organisation to offer technical advice about suitable land, techniques for assisted natural regeneration and introduction of species.  

Democratic decision-making ensuring participants have a say in the running of project, agreeing management principles at the start, learning from technical experts, and making decisions on how best to use the land. This could be done using democratic decision-making platforms such as Loomio.  

Active participation with specific conservation tasks e.g. to protect tree seedlings and removal on non-native species.  

Spread the idea by hosting rewilding open-day courses for people from other communities, requiring them to teach the next cohort and spread it rapidly at low cost. 


Involving people from a local community by taking a participative approach to decision-making and active involvement in the project on the ground could build support locally. It could give local people a stronger sense of ownership and create a positive dialogue around rewilding. Making the connection between supporting nature and encouraging carbon drawdown could mitigate people’s sense of powerlessness in the face of climate change and the beauty of rewilding is that – in time - the project would not need much ongoing maintenance, unlike urban greening projects.

Using a test and learn approach and sharing learnings with others can multiply projects and return more underused land to nature. 

How do we know it works 

We don’t yet. If we had capacity, we would test various approaches: 

  • Willingness of people to get involved and/or contribute to a fund to purchase or lease land for this purpose. 
  • Research other funding options such as long-term leasing or stewardship models, public grants or private philanthropy 
  • Develop the decision-making structures and management principles.  
  • Gauge potential interest from owners of land for public benefit such as National Trust; Local Authorities, utilities, Oxbridge colleges etc. 

We have had early conversations with Rewilding Britain who welcomed the idea of a community rewilding incubator and who identified the need for greater community involvement if rewilding is ever to happen at scale. There is growing interest in rewilding and experienced consultants and researchers, along with conservation groups, who can advise on engaging people in rewilding projects. 

If you want to find out more about our thinking, do get in touch. 

Go on. Steal it. And let us know.