It’s rare to read positive news about nature these days. February’s headlines featured the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, accusing humanity of waging a “senseless and suicidal” war on nature that’s accelerating the destruction of life on earth. And that was just the latest in a long line of warnings that, if our species wishes to change its future, it has the mother of all projects on its hands.
The good news is that more positive headlines are, in fact, starting to appear. Jaguars are returning to Argentina, for example, while Britain is now welcoming a new generation of beavers, and all the benefits they bring in terms of biodiversity and natural flood defences – 400 years after the animal was hunted to extinction here.
These isolated cases may seem insignificant given the scale of the threat, but they’re just two examples of rewilding, an increasingly powerful conservation method in which people give nature a helping hand in reversing the impact of past mistreatment. The rewilding movement is currently sweeping across the world. And its successes show how much can be achieved by organisations too small to even employ project managers.
Take Rewilding Britain, for example, a 12-strong team of part-timers that’s calling for 30 per cent of Britain to be undergoing nature restoration and rewilding by 2030. The success of such goals depends on the government, local authorities, landowners and community groups all pulling together.
Rewilding Britain plays a key role in enabling and advocating for that connection. And it has a varied project workload: from publishing a recent report into woodland restoration, for example, which fed into a government consultation on national tree strategy, to crowdfunding the launch of the Rewilding Britain Network – a decentralised hub where the nation’s rewilders can share expertise.
Rewilding Britain faces a challenge common to grassroots projects: as a small, lean part-time operation that’s attracting national interest, how can it manage the demands of the issues it’s tackling, with limited time and resources? Its method was to take a step back, establish clarity on what it’s doing and why, and tailor its resources accordingly.
“Sometimes in the voluntary sector there can be a temptation to jump into taking action,” says Richard Bunting of Rewilding Britain. “Hopefully by taking a more holistic approach, we can avoid being unfocused, burnt out and over-stretched, and direct our efforts where we can have the biggest impact.”
Bunting stresses how the team at Rewilding Britain has embedded a simple, clear process for managing projects: setting the aims and objectives of what they’re trying to achieve; developing and implementing a clear strategy; monitoring and evaluating its success; and finally learning any lessons.
“Within all that, it’s about having that understanding and communicating the solutions as well as the problems,” says Bunting. “What’s the action that needs to happen to make that solution work? That’s a really useful way of bringing about change.”
Focused yet flexible
Bunting is a former journalist turned nature advocate who has seen first-hand the success of rewilding initiatives: the return of red squirrels, pine martens, golden eagles, wood ants and rare bees and butterflies. He explains how at the heart of Rewilding Britain’s projects is a sense of hope and optimism, and a focus on solutions that everyday people can actually influence – something he feels is critical when so much news around the climate is understandably bleak.
And to support that, it’s important to balance the strategic and focused approach to project management with an openness and flexibility to tackle or embrace new situations as they unfold.
“Every charity will find itself getting buffeted by the unexpected,” Bunting says. “Equally, opportunities come along and you want to help or take advantage. So, I’m a big fan of being open-minded and pragmatic. Suddenly there’ll be a policy change from government, a new consultation or a big international event, and we need to have the space and agility to respond, even though we hadn't planned for it.
“I’d say it’s 70–80 per cent trying to stick to our agenda, and leaving the other 20-30 per cent for the unexpected. We try to tailor what we do in the most effective way, while having regard to all that is happening in a broader context, where there’s unplanned, unexpected developments that provide both challenges and opportunities.”