Guest blog – Heal, a new rewilding charity

Jan Stannard, @janstannard, is a Founder Trustee of Heal, @healrewilding, a new rewilding charity in the UK. She has a business background which comes in handy for wildlife campaigning. She is involved nationally in swift conservation, is co-founder of Wild Maidenhead, leading their Wild About Gardens Awards scheme, and she organised England’s largest amphibian ladder installation, a deeply glamorous project involving drains and a lot of muck.

Tranquil, quiet, beautiful: until about a week ago, those are the sort of adjectives most people would have used to describe being out in the countryside on a fine Spring day. But now, two other less familiar words are coming to the fore as we escape from lockdown into nature: solace and safety.

The hashtag #solaceinnature is trending on Twitter. For me, Wendell Berry’s phrase ‘coming into the peace of wild things’ describes better than anything the effect upon the soul of going into nature. Since life became surreal, like watching a sci-fi movie and being in it at the same time, the solace that Berry so lyrically describes is suddenly magnified. Anyone reading this is going to understand the antidote we get from the first chiffchaff, bee fly or brimstone. Nature’s disdain for this existential human drama is oddly comforting.

And at the moment, so long as you keep your distance, being out in nature is a way to feel completely safe.

So it’s struck me in the last few days that it’s the greatest irony to realise that even as we find safety in nature, nature isn’t safe from us. We are the greatest threat it has ever faced.

I reckon anyone signed up to Mark’s blog carries around a persistent, low-level anxiety about the state of nature, an anxiety that regularly morphs into rage or despair. I’ve realised that going out into standard, depleted British countryside is an exercise in noticing absence. I live in Maidenhead in the heavily trafficked and concreted M4 corridor and these days, I sometimes don’t bother with my binoculars on a walk because I know there won’t be much to see. When I first became involved in local wildlife work, I coined the phrase ‘just because it’s green doesn’t mean it’s biodiverse’, to try to get people see the problem.

A trip to Bulgaria in May last year was an object lesson in shifting baseline syndrome – the profusion of wildflowers and birds was at once both extraordinarily wonderful and profoundly depressing.

You know when the urge to do something becomes too strong to ignore? And then an idea turns up which will fix some important things. That must be the point Mark, Chris and Ruth reached when they set up Wild Justice. Me, I got the feeling about two years ago and the idea last July, when the cogs turning in my head suddenly meshed.

The cogs were many, some lifelong, some new: the State of Nature reports, the loss of swifts, the frogs and toads disappearing from our garden, the sparrows in London disappearing, reading Feral, reading Wilding, then visiting the Knepp Estate and hearing nightingales, cuckoos and turtle doves as if it was 1919 not 2019. The central cog is a love of nature. Since I was tiny, I loved all of it, tadpoles, ants, woodlice, worms, birds…. The tawny owl I made from an old sock was one of my finest moments in the Brownies.

How can you let something you love die, if you can do something to try to save it?

I knew more needed doing to reverse habitat loss and species declines. I saw a clear gap in provision and how to fill it. My idea could make a big difference if I could pull it off.  

And my mitochondrial DNA, bless it, carries an irrepressible tendency to cheerfulness and an innate sense of hope and optimism. I have a strong sense that if I apply myself to something that makes sense and believe there are a lot of other good people around to help out, we can fix stuff by cracking on together.

The gap that I spotted last year was for a dedicated, practical organisation at a national scale which could tap into the collective yearning to do something significant about nature recovery.

That’s how I came to set up a new rewilding charity called Heal. Our name is our purpose: heal the land, heal nature, heal ourselves. The last bit is central – the solace I mentioned right at the start. Never has the need to come into the peace of wild things been greater.

The existing conservation charities do an amazing job but I saw that Heal could be a strategic, not-for-profit ‘rewilding landowner’.  We would be the next level down from Rewilding Britain, who lead on supporting large-scale pioneering projects, talking to Government and briefing MPs, speaking at conferences, producing strategic reports like Rewilding and Climate Breakdown, and helping large landowners.

We launch today (30 March 2020) and we didn’t for one moment consider pausing because of the pandemic. Nature can’t wait and we have no idea what will happen now to the admirable Government aims to restore and create 500,000 hectares of new wildlife habitat. Our hope is that work will proceed steadily forward, but our fear is that a recession, or even an economic depression, will divert all thoughts towards just one species.

We now have six trustees and the inimitable Ted Green as our founding patron. We also have a young rewilders’ network called Heal Future, and are inviting applications for an advisory panel of ten 14-30 year olds, to be led by 26-year-old Hannah Needham.

Even though this Spring is, unequivocally, the worst possible time to be launching a charity, it could turn out to be the best of times for one focused on nature recovery. Rewilding isn’t just another type of land use; it’s become a synonym for hope. All is not lost, they say, something can be done. People need something good to focus on, to anticipate, to relish. The young are absolutely taken by the resurgence of nature when it’s given space to breathe. They know we are close to losing what a lot of us took for granted.

I’m also certain that material possessions will no longer have the same lustre after this force 12 on the Beaufort scale for pandemics passes. There won’t be the money for ‘stuff’ and many of us have more than enough already. Rapid economic growth is surely not a sustainable model in the face of the climate emergency and our ecosystems cannot withstand it. So the Heal team has the strongest belief that now is the moment when the charity was meant to begin.

We need to raise around £7 million from good people and good companies by 2022 for our foundation project. That money will be enough for us to buy about 500 acres/200ha of lower-grade land, chosen using Lawton’s principles and with reference to emerging Nature Recovery Networks. Imagine if we were surrounded by nature-friendly farmers with wildlife corridors stretching out in all directions to join up with other wildlife-rich habitats.

We will rewild the land and convert associated buildings into learning spaces, accommodation and staff offices. The site will be fully enclosed and around half the land will remain inaccessible except to staff and volunteers.

We want our foundation project to be in the English lowlands. Land in farther-flung areas is cheaper and has more potential for scale, but there need to be nature recovery areas everywhere, not just for reasons of biodiversity but so they are within relatively easy reach of large cities. After that we want to establish a series of Heal sites across the UK.

To inspire a direct sense of involvement in rewilding by ordinary people, we’ve come up with a really unusual idea called Heal 3×3. This links rewilding with people donating small amounts of money and the what3words global addressing system, which assigns three-word addresses to every 3m x 3m square on earth, in the form ///ground.ripe.closed, for example.

An individual donation of £20 will enable Heal to buy 3m x 3m of land. When a project funding target is reached and Heal acquires a land holding, the what3word addresses covering the area to be rewilded will be compiled. Each square will then be randomly assigned to a personal donor. People will be able to view the exact location of their square, or squares, by entering the what3words address into the what3words online map or free app for iOS and Android, using a map or satellite view. Though donors won’t own the land, we think this connection will give every supporter a strong sense of being part of a valuable and inspiring rewilding project.

When a site opens for visitors, donors will be welcome to visit and, if their square is in an accessible section, look out from paths over the area which contains it. And here’s the cream on the cake – we can program a drone with the what3words co-ordinates so that, for a further donation amount still to be finalised, photographs of squares can be taken and sent to the donor so that they can monitor the progress of the rewilding of ‘their’ square.

We don’t expect to raise all we need from the general public, certainly not in these uncertain times. We’re also seeking support from companies and charitable foundations. There are compelling reasons for companies to become involved with Heal, from corporate responsibility to employee engagement and sustainability. We’ll also approach the Government to discuss securing a share of the Nature for Climate Fund.

This work is both urgent and lifelong. Ted Green talks about thinking in ‘tree time’. Long after I’ve shuffled of this mortal coil, Heal will have created a network of sanctuaries in the UK where nature can flourish again and where people can go, to rest up, to find peace and to learn about our country’s amazing creatures, plants and trees.

I can’t wait to get cracking.


31 Replies to “Guest blog – Heal, a new rewilding charity”

  1. Unfortunately the problem is [great swathes of text removed] I look forward to your reply.

    Mark writes: your comment is completely off-topic and repeats your previous rants on cats. It’s almost as though when you see an important conservation initiative you write a pile of tosh to deflect attention from it, but that cannot possibly be the case, surely?

    1. No, indeed it can’t be the case. I will keep calling the frauds who purport to speak for nature when in fact they have a very different, hidden agenda what they are, Mark. Why have you “removed great swathes of text”? What are you scared of Mark? [rest of irrelevant rant removed]

      Mark writes: Rick, I believe in free speech but your rant is entirely irrelevant to the subject of this blog post. Your attempts at posting comments here are akin to fly-tipping your views – they are junk but more importantly they are in the wrong place. You’ve been warned, nicely. Your next attempt at irrelevance will simply be deleted without further comment – it’s just one click for me.
      You are of course welcome to post relevant, even if hugely flawed, views here if you can find a relevant post.

  2. This sounds really interesting. You say you will rewild the land but do you have a plan for how this will be done? Will it be a Knepp style project involving the introduction of livestock, or tree planting or just leave it alone. Perhaps an unfair question before you have launched but one you are bound to be asked by potential fundraisers.

  3. The Natural Capital Committee, one of the few environmental initiatives set up by this Government, have said that 250,000 hectares of ‘community woodland’ close to our towns and cities would generate £500 million value per annum. They also reccomended creating 100,00 has of new wetland. But look for a mention of either of these proposals by the major conservation bodies and you’ll be disappointed. Why ? I don’t know – but suspect a backward-looking adherence to landuse thinking that was put of date 30 years ago, kept a
    Ive only by the 1940s based obsession of the CAP with food production. Thevright place for green space is close to where people live, and its value to quality of life is far greater than primsry production of things like food and timber, exceeded only by resiliencevsuch as flood management. Rather than you having to buy land, I think we should be pushing for every hectare of green belt approved for development to bring with it 5-10 has for green space right there, where the people are, not in some far away cheap substitute.

  4. Your blog really cheered and inspired me. We need initiatives like yours ,ones that can inspire people on their doorstep to look at the local space around them and dare to dream that this can be improved. As someone with a wildlife friendly gardening business I have seen how small spaces can be transformed into the best possible space to encourage wildlife. There is so much we can do with a more enlightened mindset with the space around us. There will of course be many issues along the way that will come up ,not least making the difficult decisions of how to approach rewilding but for goodness sake let us at least try. I wish you all the best Jan and look forward to seeing your initiative get off the ground.

    1. I totally agree with Ros, Jan.

      Thank you for this heartwarming project and I shall certainly support you, skint tho’ I am.

      As you say, now, when we are low, is a good time to look to the future and especially get the kids involved.

  5. This grabs me in a number of ways. I like the idea that you are emphasising the future, whether that be environment, wildlife or simply, and most importantly, present young and future generations. Our conservation bodies are trying hard to develop landscape scale projects but can be constrained by their own history, making it difficult to break out into ‘different’ approaches; this might fit that gap.

    My possible concern is scale. 500 acres surrounded by fences of which 250 acres is unvisited is quite small in the wider scheme of things. How do you link a fenced area up with wider wildlife corridors.

    I do have to agree with Ian that there will be a lot of questions about your approach. I suspect that a lot of these will come from from your own organisation in any event. Dont be put off by the problems you will face. Dont forget a problem is simply a question for which you dont have an answer, ask the right questions and the answers will show themselves.

    Congratulations for such an interesting idea, I hope it works out for the sake of my, and other’s, grandchildren.

    1. Lovely message Marian, thank you. Yes, not the best time to be launching a charity but the support is already coming in which is heartwarming at this end! BW, Jan

    2. Hi Bob, astute comments. Lots of detail not possible to cover, but trying to find somewhere we can connect, eg nature-friendly farmers, near a nature reserve, all the sort of nature recover network stuff. Scale is entirely dependent on funding. We’d buy 5,000 acres not 500 acres if the land is for sale, is in the right place (and that is a multi-criteria thing) and we have the funds… And we are doing it for our not-yet-born grandchildren too. Finally, love your advice on how to deal with questions and challenges – you are spot on. Best wishes, Jan

  6. Jan this is brilliant. You couldn’t have picked a more auspicious day for the launch as this is my birthday, thanks for this wee treat! This definitely plugs a bit of a gap in terms of delivering ecological restoration and options for the public to be involved in it. The big Rewilding Britain type initiatives are vital, but as with Summit to Sea susceptible to political difficulties so it’s good to open up another front.

    I would love to see initiatives where people could raise cash and opportunities for rewilding by supporting waste reduction. Enormous scope for it, three billion quid spent each year on totally unnecessary bottled water and 12.5 billion spent on wasted food for starters. Speaking of the latter I noticed predictably that the NFU were raising concerns about HR taking land out of food production and potentially impacting upon our food security yet conveniently forgot to mention that a third plus of our food gets wasted. I hope you never lose any opportunity to raise this issue, if you look about six minutes into this video from Isabella Tree of Knepp she points out that the farming sector doesn’t like to mention the point about food waste – the rest of us really need to make sure that we do and not let them off with this –

    I have to say I’m also incredibly impressed that Ted Green is your founding patron. If I had a list of outstanding characters I’d love to meet he’d be pretty near the top of it. Isabella Tree also thinks he’s brilliant he gets a tremendous write up in ‘Wilding’. All the very best you seem to be of to a flying start already!

    1. The NFU never seem to mind taking land out of food production for solar or biofuels. The amount of elephant grass grown on high grade land in Lincolnshire is a gross waste of arable land.
      There is plenty of land to rewild and the NFU just talk compost.

      1. Exactly and they never seem to be up in arms about farmland sold off for development either – it doesn’t count as reducing food security when it means money for a farmer. On the farm I worked for in Suffolk a new hedgerow was indeed planted but that was because a) the farmer fancied the lady involved in the grant application for it so liked meeting her b) that aforementioned grant meant it wouldn’t cost him anything and c) it would provide screening he thought might make it easier to sell off the land for development. I really wish the conservation orgs were challenging the NFU about this upfront, the need to tackle food waste was highlighted in the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife. Piss poor they don’t.

      2. Hi Paul, we get that the NFU’s job is to support their community and we aim to have a constructive relationship wherever we can. If the shift away from meat eating continues because of human health data/planetary health/animal welfare (whichever of those is/are driving change) then land use will also change – we want to see that change be one towards nature recovery.
        Best wishes

    2. Les, happy birthday for yesterday and glad you liked your extra ‘present’! Time means I can’t type a long answer to your points: plug a gap – yes, we think we are and believe it will mean we succeed; food waste and other waste – yes, must be tackled (and I fear the pandemic will see a rise due to people stocking up); and Ted – yes, we’re delighted.

  7. I do agree with Roderick that this should be possible without land purchase – and could be a more sustainable model. Otherwise the risk is of you just setting up another form of ‘big landowner’ and relatively wealthy and exclusive club. Particularly when you say: “The site will be fully enclosed and around half the land will remain inaccessible except to staff and volunteers” – doesn’t that work against the objectives of getting widespread access and understanding of nature and how we can and should be living with it and joining it up across landscapes – not just in exclusive reserves? (Particularly for sites adjacent to urban areas and/ or less privileged populations). What we should be pushing for is changing govt. land management schemes to fund growing of native trees and ‘useful’ – fruit and vegetables, (with added ecosystem services – trees, wetlands and peatlands etc.), not sheep or crops for cattle food and biofuels. Plus creating new jobs for communities in ‘conservation land management’ and access and recreation compatible with that . My perspective is from southern end of Cairngorms and Angus Glens and thinking about different ways to manage glens and moorland. (and you can’t exclude people from land in Scotland anyway unless it’s your garden/ ‘curtilage’ or temporary Local Authority exclusion e.g. for safety!). Southern England is very different I’m sure – but the ‘inclusivity’ arguments surely still apply if you want to get people on board with restoration and healing etc. – and different (less ‘hard economic’) models. One of the most striking things I learned from listening to Isabella Tree talk about Knepp is how they now have about the same number of people earning a living from the same land area at Knepp as there were with ‘labour-intensive’ farming in the ?17th century I think. That includes the rented out properties/ small businesses I think but it shows the possibilities of job/ employment creation by a general move away from industrial/ intensive agriculture to more ‘people and nature – centred’ approaches that create new opportunities for incomes and local communities (as well as whoever owns the land) – and far more space for ‘nature’.

    1. I don’t think it has to be either or, we can have both or many models for acquiring and running land for nature. I also do believe that we have to get away from this idea that people’s (or more accurately some people’s) wants should always be given priority over conservation – for instance there are those who don’t like the sight of deadwood so it MUST be removed/hidden although it’s a necessary element of woodland and critical for biodiversity. If people don’t like what real woodlands are then should stick to parks. I think there are areas which should be kept inaccessible for people and that practice and principle needs to be evident everywhere including in reserves created near urban centres. Even if half their area is effectively off limits to people they’re still one hell of a lot better off re access to wildlife than they were before. There’s a hell of a lot of pressure to turn what little woodland we have into little more than woody parks that have been ‘tidied’ up and are full of ornamental plants with no bushes that scary people can be hiding behind. We need to be reversing that ‘philosophy’.

      1. Totally agree, Les. Humans are not the only species to consider, and they are the most destructive in so many ways.

        So much of the land is either concreted over or tidied up, as you say – let’s have at least some areas that are as natural as possible, to benefit all creatures.

    2. Hi Nonie, thanks for writing such a thoughtful and long response. I’ll take your points one by one but forgive me for keeping the answers brief.
      Land purchase – ownership means certainty about the future. Without that, no permanent use for nature recovery can be assured.
      Being a big landowner – there is a philosophical aspect to this but the nature of the owner would seem the thing, not the ‘big’.
      Wealthy and exclusive – not certain about either point, as this charity is about everyone, together. Lots of people are helping with small amounts and no-one is excluded from giving or (eventually) visiting. We will try to make as much provision for people with disabilities as possible, eg if land flat enough
      Fully enclosed – on whole sites, perimeter fencing makes sense for a whole range of reasons
      Half of land inaccessible – human presence is deleterious to wildlife and we would be criticised if the entire site was open, so this is also a ‘can’t win’ point, so we’re envisaging roughly 50/50 split but how that pans out depends on a multitude of factors, but the underlying driver is ecosystem recovery/health.
      Changing government schemes – not in our control and beyond our scope, and there are others campaigning at systemic level. We want to do what we can, within the system we have, as soon as possible, as there is an ecological crisis which can’t wait for system change.
      Inclusivity – we’ve had dozens of volunteers ask to help in the last few days so I think that’s early evidence of people being on board with our model/approach.
      Jobs – we’d expect the number of people per hectare multiple will go up. Totally depends on lots of factors.
      Hope that helps.
      Best wishes,

  8. Like the use of technology, drones, what3words etc, might grab more
    potential donors interest.
    Still, 7 million, phew.

    1. Hi Trapit,
      We love tech even as we love nature. Getting the former to benefit the latter seems like a good 21st century blend. I mentioned the £7m to someone I know who works in the City, and they said, ‘that shouldn’t be difficult’ – it’s all about perspective. Hope they are right…

  9. Agree that developers should do more for the privilege of making huge sums of money. They contribute to strain on infrastructure and resources and gobble up land some of which has high wildlife interest. Tthey should be paying a tax which goes to bodies like HR or donating land which goes towards the restoration of the countryside. The cost of land is enormous – land reform is something that would make money go further and speed up the acquisition of land. These things require progressive government action and/or pressure from the public.

  10. This is such a fantastic idea, and I can’t wait to see it progress. In terms of scaling it up rapidly, could we somehow make use of the enormous variation in land values between agricultural land and that with residential planning permission? Councils could enable communities to create sustainable housing developments outside the boundaries of the local plan’s designated land if they buy an additional 2 hectares per house for rewilding.

    So for a community development of 100 houses (built to passivhaus standards) with footprint of say 2 hectares, planning permission is only granted if 200 hectares is purchased for rewilding. Agricultural value £22k per hectare, let’s say the community pays £25k, total cost £5m. House construction cost £2000 per square metre (in line with the Stirling prize-winning Norwich development). Cost of 100x 80 sqm properties is £16m. Total cost to community £21m, £210k per house. House value in most of the southeast UK would be c.£400k, so total value £40m. Total benefit to the community is £19m, which could be reinvested in the rewilding project, buying more land etc. The original landowner makes £600k profit so is happy (they would never have got planning permission for a usual development).

    This would benefit the community residents enormously, the wider community through creation of the rewilded park, the original landowner, and should also help bring down house prices in the wider area if delivered on sufficient scale. The only people to lose out would be the existing poor-quality developers and profiteering land owners.

    1. Hi Dave, yes, land reform/other restitutional mechanisms would help deliver for nature but is way outside of our scope. Ten per cent net biodiversity gain is something. See replies to others as well on this point. Forgive brevity,
      Best wishes

    2. Hi Robert,
      Thank you for those first six words – fuel for the tired! You may have something here – you could campaign on it. Having chosen our path and done our plans, we have to stick to the knitting. This is the sort of thing that someone like FoE might be interested in.
      Best wishes and forgive such a short answer,

  11. I wish you all the luck in the world; at times it’ll make you want to give up and that has nothing to do with any nature’s fault.

    You’ll find that the rewilding is the easy bit, nature is logical, and you can’t second-guess anything about it, so don’t try. It does what it wants to do, and those in the media who spout on about rewilding really need to understand this.

    What you might find disturbing is the bureaucracy that you will encounter on this journey, especially if you’re not familiar with the bizarre workings of the charities protocol.

    On subsidies, don’t rely on them, have a base income stream and another secondary income, running beside it, which you can afford to lose or run at a loss (not charitable), I call it the Castle and Keep strategy.

    There are many grants to apply for but be careful, if you go for the higher tier land management you may end-up subsidizing the subsidy.

    Good luck, don’t take crap from people, your judgement will be better.

    1. Thomas, you sound like the sort of person I want to ring when the going gets porridge-y.
      Rewilding – yes, not simple but lots of others will have experience from which we can learn.
      Bureaucracy – true. If you know about this, and have any spare time, always a spot for an occasional advisor (!)
      Subsidies – absolutely. We are from business backgrounds, so keeping the lights on, paying people and having cash is familiar territory. Plan is for an income from courses and workshops (and there will be other things), particularly bridging the initial few years.
      Grants – we are waiting to see how the crowdfunding and corporate involvement goes and then will consider best strategy regarding grants.
      We try to see everything 360 degrees and call on people if we can’t. We also use the NASA/Johari ‘known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns’!
      Not much c**p thus far, but we know there will be some. We will need have a good supply of ‘bathroom tissue’ 🙂
      Best wishes

  12. Hi Roderick, there are multiple ways into this whole topic but what we would say briefly is that our aim is to be close(ish) to large populations. The ‘ish’ is because it will depends on what’s for sale when we have funds for a project (and the aim is a network). That said, others commenting elsewhere want us to buy in remote places because the land is cheap, so this is a ‘can’t please all’ topic. The 10% biodiversity net gain is positive in the planning system. Won’t be able to get into a discussion here simply because of time constraints, but that’s a least something in response, and thanks for looking at the blog.
    Best wishes

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