Deviation from the natural way of things has become something that most of us are very accustomed to. For centuries, humans have been bending the land to their will by changing it and shaping it to suit their purposes.

Unfortunately, this has led to tremendously negative impacts on Britain's ecosystem and native wildlife. From incessant farming to acute grazing, immense land areas are exhausted and diminished of their past richness. Nature, like animals, does not tend to take forcefulness at the hands of humans well, and it has suffered greatly.

Just as with Natural Horsemanship, many landowners are answering the call to steer towards more natural ways of looking after and restoring their piece of the earth by taking steps that will encourage native plants and animals to return through rewilding.

As horse owners, we should understand the environmental impact of horses and where possible make small changes to contribute to the rewilding effort. Obvious impacts include overgrazing and compaction, along with the risk of water pollution due to poor pasture management and maintenance of ditches and appropriate disposal of horse manure.

Of course, many of us board our horses at liveries but that doesn't mean we can't start a conversation with the livery yard owner.

One incredible way rewilding can do this is with the increase in free-roaming equine grazing. However, the rewilding process is not one to jump into too quickly, as you need to have a good understanding and a clear plan to optimise the restoration's progress. Much like a proper training plan for developing a better relationship with your horse, you also need a proper plan for creating a better relationship with nature.

Look and Listen

When considering rewilding for your grazing fields, one of the first steps is to look and listen. You will need to look closely at your land, layout, features, vegetation and wildlife habits. You will want to examine your soil quality and closely evaluate hydrological features. Looking at the areas boarding your land is also important. It could be helpful to connect with your surrounding neighbours to discuss your plans and consider combining grazing areas for a more expansive, open space. The larger the area for rewilding, the better and easier it is to manage. Whilst analysing your space, be sure to keep detailed notes, like a journal, throughout the entire experience; this will help you plan and adapt methods more easily.

For good horse management make sure to research beneficial plant species and trees for horses and make sure you also know which ones to avoid.

Listening is also essential to the rewilding planning process. Speak to rewilding experts for advice, such as those from the Rewilding Britain charitable organisation that has helped to create a rewilding network across Britain. Collaborative rewilding is very beneficial. Several estates all over the UK have joined this endeavour, such as Elmore Court Estate in Gloucestershire, Bamff Estate in Perthshire, Bunloit Estate in the Scottish Highlands, Knepp Castle Estate many of which use feral horse populations to aid the restoration of their land.

On the Rewilding Britain website, you can see what other rewilding enthusiasts are doing to help you better formulate your strategy. Note down in your journal some future tactics and general goals.

Go With Nature

Some of the key aspects of a rewilding plan include:

  • reducing internal fencing,
  • re-establishing natural features back into the landscape,
  • deciding what grazing animals will be utilised,
  • establishing the most critical short-term interventions to kick-start the long-term ecological rehabilitation.

Some of the natural processes you will need to consider are tree regeneration, flooding regimes and natural grazing levels. Many of these things have been determined by humans for centuries which has constrained natural processes or prevented them altogether. For rewilding, it is essential to put nature back in the driver's seat again.

One way to help encourage natural processes to resume is to mimic them. Many native herbivores and predators to Britain are now lost, so methods, such as boar rooting or auroch grazing, no longer happen naturally. However, we can mimic these processes with pigs, combined with cattle, goats or even free-grazing ponies or horses. Determining which tactics to use is important and needs careful consideration to create a harmonic balance. There will be times where you need to help things along a bit, but the rewilding process tends to happen quite naturally when given conducive circumstances in which to do so.

Develop Natural Habitats

During rewilding, one key performance indicator is the increased presence and return of native bird species, insects, plants, fish and mammals. The reintroductions that can happen naturally are encouraged, but you can also take a step forward and reintroduce native species back into an area through translocation. For example, in Scotland and England, this has been accomplished with beavers, red kites, white-tailed eagles, water voles, red squirrels and pine martens. Those who wish to help with reintroduction and have suitable rewilding sites should be aware that for engineered reintroductions of species, you will need to seek expert advice, as some reintroductions require licenses and adherence to certain procedures.

To aid the more natural recovery of native species, we need to reduce grazing pressure on heavily grazed land parcels and help restore wetland habitats. The natural return of species shows that what you are doing is working and that the process is putting things back into a more natural order. Horse track systems, also know as 'Paddock Paradise' are one way that horse owners achieve this, benefitting horses and reducing the space needed for horse grazing.

Embrace the Wild

Rewilding through any means is bound to give you a few unexpected results. Some may be good; some may not be ideal, but the idea is that you will need to embrace the wild and the change that comes with it.

Things are bound to change, and honestly, that is the idea, so take the good with the bad and enjoy the ride. You may find that a type of wildflower may stop growing in one area but pop up in a different place, or you may be surprised with new plant species appearing for the first time.

There will be plenty of surprises on this journey.

If you have a rare or special natural occurrence on your land you wish to preserve, then do so during this process. As Rewilding Britain says, 'conserve the very best and rewild the rest'. Specific targets, like a certain number of new trees by a certain date, is not the way to look at rewilding, but it is good to keep track of what is happening with measuring and monitoring.

In conclusion, rewilding a landscape is a long-term journey that needs careful planning, a lot of patience and a bit of assistance. Increased free-roaming for horses, ponies, cattle, pigs, goats or sheep can add to the effectiveness of a rewilding scheme. Less pressure on grazing parcels can help them recover and allow for natural processes to resume once more. It would be best to start by getting well acquainted with your land, developing a good understanding of natural processes, and speaking to rewilding experts that can help guide you in the right direction.

This process does not happen overnight, but you will eventually see incredible results as natural and native species of plant life, animal life, and bug life starts to return and flourish where they once did before humans decided to dominate the land. It is crucial to embrace change throughout this process and allow nature to heal.

It is important to remember that you are not alone and that there is a whole Rewilding community and network that you can tap into for help and support. Nurturing a healthier environment for wildlife is an inspirational ambition and worth any scepticism or ridicule. Be brave and embrace the wild.

Have you considered the impact of keeping horses on the environment and if so what steps have you taken or considered taking? We'd love to hear your experience in the comments below πŸ‘‡