Heal Somerset: turning a 460-acre nature-depleted site into a wildlife-rich place for everyone to enjoy
England was once a country brimming with wildlife, from bees and butterflies to birds and beavers. Within a few generations, everything has changed. Now, time spent in landscapes like the one pictured above brings this absence into awful focus. Where is the life? The landscape may be green but it's all but empty.
But there is something we can do, right now, to turn the tide. We can all work together to bring the life back into new places for nature and people.
Heal Somerset is one of those places, with an amazing potential to become a stronghold for wildlife. We need your help to make that happen faster and better.
Heal Rewilding, which owns the site, was set up in March 2020 as a new national charity tackling the nature and climate crises directly and urgently, with a single, powerful idea: everyone, together, raising money to buy land and rewild it. We need your support so that:
- Wildlife presence and abundance at Heal Somerset will recover more quickly
- Our local and regional communities can benefit from nature wellbeing projects
- The experience of visiting Heal Somerset is even more special and memorable
- More volunteers can join us for activities
- We can enable visitors with mobility issues to access nature at Heal Somerset
- Children can be awed, inspired and fascinated by nature so that they love it for life
You can make a donation to support the project or choose specific ways of supporting us. Further down the page we list 22 different options, from £20 to £90,000.
Visit the Heal Somerset website here: www.healsomerset.org.uk
Heal Somerset is bringing all these benefits for wildlife, climate action and for us:
- Nature recovery across a large area
- New wetlands, ponds and scrapes and land re-wetting
- Increased wildlife abundance and diversity
- Diverse, relevant and inclusive community projects to deliver transformative experiences for local and underserved communities
- Economic benefits to the locality from our work and visitors
- Job creation (five new roles already created based on site) and varied volunteering
- Climate change adaptation and ecosystem resilience/adaptation to climate change
- Free access for immersion in nature, for general wellbeing and nature-based social prescribing
- Sharing power with and involving young people and under-represented groups
- Collaborating with our neighbours for greater impact
The group of people who launched and now run Heal are all passionate about nature. We realised that rewilding isn’t just a new way of helping nature to recover – it represents hope, and hope is powerful in a crisis. We are creating a community of people taking meaningful action and using business principles to make things happen fast and effectively.
People love our work. Here are some of the hundreds of messages we've had:
“What a fantastic idea. So great that people like me can get involved without having to be landowners. Thank you for doing something wonderful.”
"Light in the darkness"
“Love this idea! Thanks for making rewilding accessible to everyone.”
“Brilliant idea. I'm very happy that I can contribute to a rewilding project.”
“Traditionally, rewilding has been the mission of large landowners in remote corners of the country, with the public left spectating from the sidelines. Not any more.”
"This gives me hope for the future. Thank you"
Our promises to our supporters are simple:
We promise to find sites where wildlife and habitats are hugely depleted, and create new nature reserves. This project, our foundation site Heal Somerset, is the first of the 48 sites we aim to transform. Our plans also include job creation, community spaces and ensuring that everything we do is equitable and inclusive.
We promise that at least half of the land at every site will be open for free, day and night, 50 weeks of the year, to give people time in nature, for the joy it brings and for their wellbeing.
We promise to keep the rest of the land closed for the benefit of wildlife, to give it sanctuary with minimum human presence (other than staff, scientists, small numbers of volunteers and companies who have sponsored an acre – more information on that further down).
Our vision and our promises really touched a chord, and the response to our work has been amazing and humbling.
Since our launch, we have raised nearly £1 million in donations and grants, built a following of over 17,000 people, signed up over 4,000 people to our monthly update Heal Highs, appointed the Heal Future Youth Panel, secured 20 business partners and 15 local community partners, held 22 national events live and online, and signed up more than 300 volunteers.
Our Heal Future Youth Panel
Some of our lovely Heal Helpers
While we fundraised and began searching for our foundation site, we spread the word about rewilding. We came up with the idea of World Rewilding Day in 2021, which has reached over 4.4 million people worldwide. We created the Big Green Hike to focus fundraising on nature, a fundraising day which has grown to involve 40 other nature charities.
By 2022, we had secured impact lending to finance our first rewilding site, which we bought at the end of December 2022. Heal Somerset is a 460-acre (186ha) ecologically depleted site located mid-way between Frome and Bruton. This is just the beginning – our vision is a Heal site in every English county.
Your support will help us transform Heal Somerset into a wildlife-rich place. As the land recovers, the way it looks will significantly change. At the moment, there are wide expanses of fields with grass growing but very few flowers, no scrub like wild rose, hawthorn, blackthorn except in hedges, and few trees. Scrub is one of the most important habitats for multiple species.
Gradually, the scrub species in our existing hedges will naturally begin to spread out into the fields, but we plan to speed this process up by planting scrub, especially brambles, some trees, particularly willow and protecting naturally regenerating trees with thorns.
We already have roe deer and fallow deer coming onto the site to graze. In addition, we will be introducing small herds of wild-living cattle, pigs and ponies who do the work that humans would do in many traditional conservation projects, such as mowing (grazing) and coppicing (browsing). We are not farming these animals for meat but treating them as ecosystem engineers.
Three tributaries of the River Frome run through the Heal Somerset site and their location is important as they feed water downstream. Beavers are likely to arrive, as they are wild-living and breeding in three locations close to our site. Their presence could have a huge impact on our rivers and ditches, helping to clean water and form new wetland habitats.
In the global ranking of ‘biological intactness’ (the health of our country’s nature), England is ranked 234th out of 240 global countries and territories. This is a key reason for our work focusing on nature recovery in England. The other key reason is public access, as 84% of the UK population is in England and nature spaces not only need to be free to enter but also reachable.
Our work directly contributes to the government’s goal of creating half a million hectares of new space for nature. Conserving the natural spaces that are left is still vital but is no longer enough. To combat biodiversity losses and climate change, dramatic change must happen. The UK Government’s stated aim is to return more land – an additional 500,000 hectares – to ‘wildlife-rich habitat’. Overall, the goal is 30% of the land in the UK for nature by 2030. Not only are we contributing by creating new spaces for nature but we are spreading the word, influencing others through our work to change the way they use their land at any scale, from garden to national park, whether privately, charitably or publicly owned.
The heady scent of meadowsweet, the pale blur of a flock of linnets rising, the unceasing hum of crickets: a hundred years ago, the smells, sights and sounds of the natural world were familiar to many. Now, almost all of our population is nature-deprived.
At the same time, wellbeing is declining, particularly mental health, with one in four adults and one in ten children experiencing mental illness.
There is a wealth of evidence linking exposure to nature to wellbeing. The body’s cancer-fighting responses rise, blood pressure falls and mental distress decreases. All of us, especially children, are spending more time indoors, which results in an alienation from nature and potentially a vulnerability to negative moods or reduced attention span. We want to change this.
An open morning at Heal Somerset for members of our local community
“Accessibility has always been a big focus for the team at Heal, even long before Heal Somerset became a reality, and is an issue very close to my heart as a wheelchair user. Being able to throw on a pair of wellies and go for a walk is a simple pleasure that can become a real challenge for people with limited mobility and is something that I sorely miss. Connecting to nature by being surrounded by nature is not something that is easily achieved with photos and videos, and I am really looking forward to being able to experience the full benefit of traversing Heal Somerset with my family and colleagues. I may even challenge them to an all-terrain wheelchair race (with the loser having to clean the wheels!)” – Alice, Heal team member
We have already begun understanding and connecting with our local and regional communities. This has revealed inequalities, underserved audiences, and a need for therapeutic nature programmes. Healing people is one of our top priorities and we want to work with our communities to do just that.
Our ambition is one of community empowerment. Where we work with communities and organisations supporting under-represented groups to build projects for transformative change. By doing so, we create ambassadors of the land and help people’s health, wellbeing and ultimately, happiness.
“Many individuals face obstacles when accessing nature, including economic and social barriers. Ensuring that everyone has equal access to natural spaces will strengthen communities and build social cohesion” – Asia from Frome Town Council
“Heal’s plan for an accessible nature barn would help our work and enable disadvantaged and vulnerable people to benefit from therapeutic programmes” - Zak Gratton from Froglife
Concept drawing for a community space converted from existing barns
An important way of involving people in our work is our novel and tangible land funding scheme, which we conceived and pioneered, called ‘Heal 3x3’. Anyone can fund a 3m x 3m square of our site for £20 and have the what3words address for their square, so they know exactly where it is and can visit online or in person.
Watch our volunteer-produced animation about Heal 3x3: ‘The Saving’
Heal Somerset is a blueprint site, producing new evidence, learnings and knowledge. These outcomes will inform work on our future sites and also be shared at no charge with other landowners running rewilding projects and any other organisations who would benefit from this information.
All of the activities within this project will have a positive impact on nature, both directly and indirectly, from pond creation to providing facilities for visitors and volunteers.
All our work is science and evidence-based. Your support for Heal Somerset will help us contribute to the evidence for nature-led recovery. At the start of rewilding, early interventions help repair or replace missing natural processes (years 1-5) to get the land to a point where nature can take care of itself (year 6 onwards). We are stopping doing things to the land that previously impacted wildlife and habitats, like the removal of trees and hedges, grass cutting, applying manure and chemicals and non-natural densities of livestock.
From year 6 onwards, we will continue to care for our ecosystem engineer herds, to monitor ecosystem changes and, if required, to adapt our management in light of new findings like the arrival of new species.
Heal’s name is its vision: heal the land, heal nature, heal ourselves. This is your chance to join us in making our vision a reality, at Heal Somerset and beyond.
We need a lot of help!
Below is a list of projects that we have planned to transform this nature-depleted site. To support us, you can choose from two options:
1. Donate to the project as a whole. This gives us the freedom to allocate your funds to the projects below in a way that works for us. To do this, simply donate via this Projects for Nature page.
2. Support a specific project from the list below. If you're interested in funding (fully or partially) one of these projects, contact the Heal team to discuss the details.
Each element below is standalone but contributes to the Heal Somerset project overall. The costs range from £20 to £90,000. If you are a business or philanthropic sponsor, we can provide a full breakdown of costs, and reporting to fit your requirements, commensurate with the scale of the funding.
Click on each option to reveal more information about the project or visit the Projects for Nature page on the Heal website.