It’s not news that nature is trying to survive amidst all sorts of natural atrocities caused by the climate crisis.
The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) reported nearly three billion animals – mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs – were killed or displaced by the bush fires in Australia in 2019-20. While that might seem far away from Ireland or very extreme, even on our own island, wildlife is endangered.
“We have lost 70% of our wildlife since 1970,” claims Mary Reynolds, founder of We are the ARK. “We have also lost 83% of our insects. It is a treacherous situation. There is a huge lack of connectivity with our wildlife. With each passing generation, they understand less and less of what Ireland used to be like and what wildlife lived here. But we can take control ourselves and restore nature and its sanctuaries.”
Mary Reynolds is a “reformed” internationally-acclaimed landscape designer who launched her career at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2002, the story of which was made into a 2016 movie called Dare to be Wild. She is a bestselling author, publishing The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture the Land and Ourselves in 2016 and We Are the ARK: Returning Our Gardens to Their True Nature Through Acts of Restorative Kindness in 2022.
After seeing the damage of landscape gardening to local wildlife firsthand, Mary ended her career as a landscape designer and went on to found the global movement We are the ARK, a practical groundswell movement that is shifting the gardening and landscaping game in nature’s favour.
What is an ARK?
An Ark is a restored, native ecosystem, a local, small, medium or large rewilding project. It’s a thriving patch of native plants and creatures that have been allowed and supported to re-establish in the process of natural restoration. Over time this becomes a pantry and a habitat for pollinators and wild creatures who are in desperate need of support.
Mary says, “Arking gives people hope by restoring our native community and it’s amazing to see how quickly a sanctuary can be created. The idea is to create a patchwork quilt of hope. For people to take back their power. People talk about trying to reconnect with nature. There is a lot of talk about ‘getting’ from nature, but not that much talk about how we can support nature. If we want to save the planet, we have to start with our own patch.
“We equate tidiness with care in our landscapes, but it removes chances of life. What we consider messy is where life systems are supported. It doesn’t take much for everything to get back into health and abundance. When native plants are present, wildlife comes back – nesting birds, a family of foxes – it changes how you feel about everything when you see it happening. It gives people hope again,” Mary explains.
Can farmers build an ARK?
Supporting farmers is key to helping our wildlife with so much agricultural land on the island. Mary grew up on a farm herself, so supports farmers in their efforts and knows that they are lacking financial support for their environmental efforts.
“Farmers are the guardians of our land,” says Mary. “Unfortunately, there is no support for them to protect nature on their land. They realise they won’t survive without pollination; they notice first that it’s disappearing. Farmers are being put under so much pressure and we need to support our local small family farms and buy produce at farmers markets or by buying food directly, if possible.”
There are many things that can be done on farms to help restore nature such as protecting woodlands and not allowing grazers in them, leaving a ‘hare’s corner’ in a field for wildlife to inhabit, and moving away from practises which could compromise the health of our soil.
“Regenerative farming [techniques] are becoming an understood solution, with more farmers doing it,” Mary adds.
How can people get involved?
We are the ARK’s website is a great resource of information for those looking to learn more and there is a section in particular for farmers. Mary’s most recent book is a blueprint for the We are the ARK movement and you can also join the Facebook group where the community shares advice.
If you can’t turn all of your garden into an Ark, Mary suggests giving half, or even just the boundaries, it’s all welcome and important.
For more tips go to wearetheark.org/