A pyramidal orchid growing in Palmer Park

Council Reinforces Commitment to Rewilding as Scheme Grows to 50 Hectares

  • Rewilding areas in Reading now cover over 50 hectares across 58 locations
  • The practice allows the Council to restore, reclaim and protect natural habitats and species

THE AMOUNT of land in Reading adopted as conservation wildflower and grassland areas for rewilding has reached more than 50 hectares.

Fifty-eight different locations across the town have been set aside over the past years since Reading first started rewilding to enhance the town’s biodiversity, which has expanded over time to areas of Prospect Park, Palmer Park, South Whitley, Whitley Wood Recreation Grounds and Kings Meadow.

The Council’s ongoing commitment to rewilding is outlined in a report being presented to the Council’s Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure Committee (HNLC) later this week.

Now in its fifth year, the Council’s rewilding project began in spring 2020, initially along larger highway verges, with the cutting of those verges altered to allow wildflower species to establish and grow. The policy of reduced and altered mowing schemes, along with enhancement and the additional reseeding of wildflowers when possible, has expanded despite some challenging weather conditions over the last few summers. The Council remains committed to the programme due to its success and benefits.

Embracing rewilding allows the Council to restore, reclaim and protect natural habitats and their native species by encouraging wildflowers to grow on previously mowed and manicured areas. Creating new, wildlife-rich habitats and reversing the decline in Reading’s biodiversity is positively affected by the return of habitats for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. As well as increasing biodiversity in Reading, the increase in wildflowers allows residents more opportunities to engage with and appreciate nature. For many, the visual displays provide a real uplift for their area.

The Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, and the town is working towards its ambitions for a carbon neutral Reading by 2030. The Council’s rewilding project is contributing to those efforts by helping to absorb and store carbon in the ground.

The policy has been well received by residents appreciative of a more biodiverse environment, with positive feedback received throughout the trial growing into local involvement from volunteers arranging their own neighbourhood rewilding. Several groups saw the benefits early on and organised to create large areas of wildflowers in Waterloo Meadows, and establishing the Newtown Community Garden between Cumberland and Amity Roads.

Last month residents took to Facebook to share images of orchids growing in Prospect Park and praised the results of the rewilding project.

Karen Rowland, Lead Councillor for Environmental Services and Community Safety, said:

“This is a really positive story for Reading’s residents, and I’m delighted that what started as a small trial in 2020 has become such a successful, large-scale plan covering over 50 hectares – the equivalent of more than 100 football pitches. Despite the relatively small footprint of Reading, we are continuing to look to expand the programme where such efforts are practicable.

“For such an urban and densely populated town like Reading to be able to set aside and cultivate that amount of land to focus on enhancing biodiversity is testimony to the positivity residents have to tackling the climate emergency. The amount of dedication put in to understanding the right conditions for rewilding to work in different parts of the borough are well worth it, when we know just how much residents enjoy those efforts. We are still learning how to adjust our maintenance routines of these areas to the varied challenges of drought and excessive rain which are becoming increasingly common factors.

“However it is fair to say that the project, along with our wildflowers, is blooming, and it is great that residents are engaging so positively with this policy which stands to benefit everyone in the borough.”

The success of the rewilding scheme is set to continue, with the report recommending the continuation of the current programme, and the Council seeking to recruit a Senior Technical Officer to lead on the rewilding project. It is also trying to identify other areas which may benefit from being included in the scheme.

The full report going to a meeting of HNLC on Wednesday 10 July can be found here on our website.