Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, working for a better future for wildlife and wild places in Hampshire and the Island. Phone: 01489 774 400 E-mail: feedback@hwt.org.uk Website: www.hiwwt.org.uk

During the last few years, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has been helping make the Isle of Wight even wilder, through the rewilding of two sites on the island: Wilder Nunwell and Wilder Little Duxmore. 

Rewilding involves restoring natural ecological processes to a landscape. Put simply, it is all about returning land and oceans to a more natural – or wilder – state. 

One of the main aims of rewilding is to create diverse and varied habitats, which can support a wide range of species. The higher the species diversity, the more species are present to carry out a wide variety of ecological processes – and the more complete an ecosystem will be. Good ecosystem function ultimately leads to more resilient habitats, meaning they are less vulnerable to challenges such as climate change. 

The Trust took on Wilder Little Duxmore in 2020 and it is now four years into being rewilded. Three years of ecological monitoring has also taken place and the results confirm that the site is becoming wilder and more variable in habitat: species diversity is increasing, soil condition is improving and habitats are diversifying. Notably, the field edges are quickly scrubbing up, a process that happens relatively rapidly on the island due to the lack of deer pressure. 

The Trust also monitors the sites rewilding progress through the use of survey bioindicators. This involves monitoring groups of wildlife which are particularly vulnerable to changes in their environment and are therefore quick to show changes in their numbers, diversity, composition and behaviour. Typical species include birds, bats, pollinators, earthworms and dung beetles.  

At Wilder Little Duxmore, fourteen new bird species were recorded on breeding bird surveys since the baseline in 2021, leading to an impressive 46 bird species in total. Eight new butterfly species have now been recorded since 2021. This makes a total of 26 for the site, including two species listed as Endangered on the Butterfly Red List: Glanville fritillary and wall brown, and two species listed as Vulnerable: chalkhill blue and small heath. A fantastic achievement. 

Whilst at Wilder Nunwell, two years’ worth of bioindicator surveys show promising results. Ten new bird species were recorded on the breeding bird surveys last year, making the total bird species count for the site an impressive 67 species. 

A key rewilding management technique is low intensity grazing, which is achieved by using a combination of livestock, including cattle, ponies and pigs. The animals grazing activity helps create a varied vegetation structure, which leads to the creation of microhabitats and increased suitability for species including reptiles and crickets. Over time, a reduction of the ruderal plants which currently dominate the land will also open up opportunities for wildflowers to colonise. 

Around 80% of the Isle of Wight is devoted to agriculture, and farming is an important part of the local economy and nature recovery network. By targeting rewilding on poor-quality agricultural land, the Trust can help provide huge benefits for wildlife, water quality and soil health with little impact on food production. The Trust will continue to work with partners on the Island to champion farming with nature.