Become a guardian of nature! Learn to rewild with native plants

Posted on Categories Discover Magazine

You might have heard that our world is out of balance. Ecosystems that need native plants and animals to flourish are plagued by human development and invasive species. Many of our local green spaces like yards, parks, and porches are home to mostly introduced, non-native plants that do little to maintain a healthy regional biodiversity.

Want to restore native biodiversity? It’s possible, and the solutions are within reach: try rewilding your community with native plants. 

Mary Reynolds created the We Are The Ark project as a global call to action. “If you want to help nature, you’re going to have to start with your own patch of it. Start at home,” said Reynolds in a recent episode of Wild Hope, a series from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios.

Inspired by Mary’s call to action, Wild Hope partnered with SciStarter and StarNet to develop resources for libraries, classrooms, and communities to make native plant rewilding a simple, fun, and impactful citizen science endeavor.

Wild Hope: TV for impact 

What’s Wild Hope? It’s a series of free videos highlighting intrepid changemakers from every corner of the world of conservation and life science. Each episode of Wild Hope aims to inspire viewers to protect biodiversity –  the variety of living things in an area – and the HHMI Tangled Bank Studios team partners with SciStarter to showcase citizen science projects that correspond with the themes of different episodes, with the goal of galvanizing community action. 

“It’s amazing not only to feel inspired by these big biodiversity stories, but also to feel empowered to contribute to these movements,” said Alex Duckles, a Senior Producer for Digital Media and Impact at HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, in a recent webinar with SciStarter.

From gardener to guardian 

Reynolds, an award-winning gardener spotlighted by Wild Hope, was inspired to start We Are The Ark after witnessing destruction of the natural world in her community, in Ireland. She wants to help others restore native habitats for threatened animal species. 

Credit: Wild Hope

By embracing native plants, we can all give local habitats a chance to recover and thrive. 

Build your own ARK

Creating an ARK – an “Act of Restorative Kindness” – is easy… and makes an impact! Reynolds asks those who join her movement to restore half of their own land to a native state. This can be your backyard, your schoolyard, or some other community space you have access to.

“Start with working with the seed bank that is in the soil, and set those seeds free,” said Reynolds in the “From Gardener to Guardian” episode of Wild Hope. 

Activating those “weed seeds” is the first step to building the layers of an ARK. As participants add successive layers of native plants (and weed out invasives, ditch chemical sprays, and reduce barriers to animal movement), Reynolds recommends adding a sign declaring that the area is an ARK. 

This can be helpful so passersby don’t mistake the ARK for unkempt land, but it also spreads the word and champions rewilding efforts. “It gives them almost like permission, to celebrate what they’ve been doing,” said Reynolds

Citizen science to study your ARK

ARKs can be any shape or size. Once you create an ARK in your community, you can add it to the project map as part of a long-term citizen science effort. One day, researchers will  connect the dots with wildlife corridors, to study how ARKs contribute to migration. 

In the immediate term, you can use citizen science to assess your ARK’s impact on local biodiversity – the more variety, the healthier the area is. The We Are the Ark project, SciStarter, and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios invite you to monitor bees, butterflies, native plants, and more for scientists via the special ARK iNaturalist project. 

All you need to do is download the mobile app, and then we encourage you to take pictures of your ARK’s biodiversity as often as possible and upload them to iNaturalist. Learn more about this project on SciStarter. 

Programming to support the ARK in your neighborhood 

SciStarter, STAR Net, and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios collaborated on an Earth Day webinar about how libraries and other community organizations can play a role in restoring and protecting biodiversity.

“Unlike the climate change crisis, biodiversity loss solutions are local and in everyone’s hands,” said HHMI Tangled Bank’s Duckles, during the webinar. 

Libraries in particular can play a special role disseminating resources for rewilding, including guides about how to make the celebratory ARK sign. STAR Net created a number of these resources for libraries and community-based organizations, showcasing them in the webinar, with the hope of scaling rewilding efforts.

Credit: STAR Net

What are you waiting for?! It’s time to re-imagine what nature can be in our communities, and to work together to restore ecosystems that our native plants and wildlife can call “home.” Get started today on SciStarter.

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