Image for The plan to create a ‘nature recovery site’ in every English county

The plan to create a ‘nature recovery site’ in every English county

A rewilding charity that launched in lockdown is buying up degraded land and restoring it to boost nature and create rural jobs

A rewilding charity that launched in lockdown is buying up degraded land and restoring it to boost nature and create rural jobs

Nature charity Heal launched in lockdown with a simple mission: raise money, buy land, rewild it. Three years and £5.25m later, it has taken its first step in an ambitious rewilding journey with the purchase of a 460-acre site near Bruton in Somerset.

Heal, the UK’s first registered charity set up to buy land for the sole purpose of rewilding it, is aiming to create a major nature recovery site in all 48 English counties, across 25,000 acres, by 2050.

The charity says its first site, Heal Somerset, will help tackle the nature and climate crises while creating jobs and working with local businesses. The reserve will serve as a blueprint for its wider plans.

“We have worked day and night over two challenging years to secure funding and to find this beautiful place for wildlife and for all of us, to show that together we can take fast, practical action to benefit nature, climate and people,” said Jan Stannard, Heal’s co-founder.

Stannard’s work in wildlife campaigning stretches back almost a decade in her home town of Maidenhead, where she co-founded the local conservation group Wild Maidenhead.

The former dairy farm in Somerset that is being reclaimed for nature. Image: Heal Somerset

Heal Somerset – a former dairy farm – is their first purchase. Crisscrossed by three tributaries of the River Frome, the site is home to miles of hedgerow, mature oaks and traditional stone farm buildings which the charity hopes to renovate. 

Heal also plans to introduce rare breed cattle, pigs and ponies in small numbers as ‘ecosystem engineers’, as well as developing a habitat mosaic of trees, scrub, grassland, bare earth and water. Around half of the site will be open to the public.


Heal founder Jan Stannard (left) with operations director Hannah Needham. Image: Heal Somerset

Funding for the project came primarily through affordable lending from Triodos Bank, which the charity plans to repay through donations and land sponsorship. People can sponsor nine sq metre plots of land for as little as £20, plus an annual upkeep fee of £3.

“Nature will only recover if it has more space to thrive and we join a growing number of landowners across the UK who are making that happen,” said Stannard. “The potential for nature to bounce back at Heal Somerset is huge. The process of rewilding has already begun and we expect to see visible positive changes within a couple of years.”

Main image: Niklas Weiss

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