A review of existing research on understanding rewilding behaviour by city residents in their gardens. We undertook a scoping review of existing literature on understanding intent-orientated, pro-environmental behaviours with a focus on rewilding in urban gardens.

For the attention of: Government policymakers at national, regional, and local level; Conservation organisations; Behavioural scientists; Urban designers, architects and landscape architects.

What is the problem: Urbanisation is increasing while global biodiversity is decreasing. Through ‘urban rewilding’ cities could help tackle this biodiversity crisis, while exploiting the many benefits of urban nature for residents. Private residential gardens, which cover one quarter of UK cities, should be a primary focus. We need to better understand rewilding behaviour in private gardens as an important first step towards influencing this behaviour. Small adaptations to private gardens can turn them into wildlife habitat, but understanding residents’ behaviour is critical to developing intervention strategies to enable this.

What was already known on this topic:  Behaviour is context specific and therefore more research is needed to better understand how to encourage residents to make adaptations, or refrain from detrimental practices for wildlife and biodiversity.

What we did and why: Our aim was to review the existing global literature on understanding urban-rewilding behaviour in gardens, as an important first step towards positively influencing such behaviour. The literature on urban rewilding in gardens is in its infancy with the first journal publication coming in 2009. Only 18 papers were published in peer-reviewed journals between then and June 2021. No single journal is dedicated to the topic of urban rewilding; with the 18 papers we found spread across 15 titles. We mapped this existing literature to assess the state of knowledge in the field. We then coded the literature, using an established behaviour model. Then we identified the capability, opportunity and motivation factors forming barriers and facilitators to residents engaging in rewilding activity in their gardens.

What our study adds: We mapped the existing research on understanding urban-rewilding behaviour in private gardens. We found an important body of work with implications for practice and policy to influence urban rewilding in many urban areas. From the behaviour model in the literature, we found that important elements for people were capability, opportunity and motivation factors. Our study shows that opportunity and motivation factors were most influential, and also particularly reflective motivation. However, we found the literature in this field is in its infancy. More research is definitely needed, not least in the context of London, where the next stages of our study will be focused. Understanding rewilding behaviour in private gardens is an important first step towards influencing this behaviour through practice and policy.

Implications for city policy and practice: Practice interventions should impart skills needed for residents to participate in rewilding, including an awareness of the biodiversity value of urban gardens, from an early age.

In terms of practice, projects should:

  • allow residents to participate at their own pace,
  • address concerns about time, space, funding and plant availability, and operate at community level,
  • highlight benefits of rewilding, including connecting with nature, educational value, creating a green retreat and helping the environment; and address concerns, including disliked species, health and safety fears and undesirable aesthetics,
  • show how rewilding can be compatible with residents’ functional and aesthetic preferences, and offer a trustworthy source to allay fears,
  • include residents with pets and different incomes.

Government should highlight the value of rewilding gardens. Policy interventions need to:

  • model rewilding in public spaces and around residential areas,
  • increase interaction opportunities with local wildlife.

Policy and practice should consider demographic factors, particularly the ethnicity-deprivation index.

For further information:

Rewild My Street. Resources and guidance for people wishing to adapt their homes, gardens and streets to encourage wildlife; and stop cities going grey

Wild Ways project: The Centre for Urban and Built Ecologies at the London Metropolitan University

Wild Ways study protocol: A study protocol to understand urban rewilding behaviour in relation to adaptations to private gardens

Full research article: Wild ways: a scoping review to understand urban-rewilding behaviour in relation to adaptations to private gardens by Siân Moxon, Justin Webb, Alexandros Semertzi & Mina Samangooei