Waste to Wilderness — Wilding & Co. rewild the environment
QUEENSTOWN, AOTEAROA. What do wooden pallets, leftover from the construction industry, commercial food waste, and wilding pines have in common? They are the building blocks for our innovative and highly sustainable approach to reintroducing vital biodiversity to our environment.
The pallets form the basis of a modular planting system. They are planted with ‘pods’ of self-seeded natives, in a rich mix of compost from commercial food waste and green carbon waste from distilled wilding pines. The modules can be easily transported to their chosen location — where they are left to grow undisturbed. Each pallet is an ecosystem in miniature — providing just the right conditions for strong, biologically diverse plantings to flourish, just as nature intended.
We are learning more all the time about how critical biodiversity is to the continued existence of our natural world. Western farming and landscaping practices have greatly reduced biodiversity in our wilderness areas over many hundreds of years. But, the reintroduction of native plant species into cultivated areas is tricky: many of our native plant species are very susceptible to failure during replanting, and this makes traditional nursery-grown planting expensive and unreliable.
This is where Waste to Wilderness comes in: not only is it a highly sustainable model — it is easy, cheap, and effective.
Carbon colonisation of plants and a need for change
We believe humanity has become focused on the value of carbon at the expense of the natural diverse spectrums of plants found in healthy ecological systems.
Historically with the industrialisation of England, it became a popular status symbol to plant large gardens and landscapes with no food production capabilities as a sign of wealth.
The wealthy could afford to buy all their food and thus had no need for the peasant’s vegetable gardens, fruiting trees or wilderness for the hunting of animals.
This status-driven, gentrified landscape styling and plant choice then colonised the urban architecture of the western world, until today.
In the 21st century, this environmental segregation has expanded further into the ‘carbonisation’ of plants, making only massive monocultures of high carbon-sequestering trees ‘valuable’.
Waste to Wilderness (W2W) looks to re-focus our collective attention and once again value the development of diverse healthy ecologies, like those already nurtured by indigenous cultures around the world — those who live in harmony with their wilderness.
Barriers to a more diverse ecology
Using the current nursery-based planting systems, it is difficult to provide a broad-spectrum ecosystem of plants. The risk and costs of non-germination and complexity of managing multiple species make this model unviable. As a result, most nurseries focus on monoculture planting.
Many native plants are very susceptible to failure either during the replanting steps in nursery environments or due to environmental stresses and competition at the final planting site.
Combine this cost and complexity with an embedded mindset and value system that focuses on certain specimen trees, and you have the foundation of limited diversity in reforestation efforts.
Natural colonisation and succession
W2W works through the philosophies of natural selection and stewardship.
Healthy natural ecosystems have a cyclic relationship between the mature canopy and its seedling understory. Millions of seedlings sit in wait for the mature canopy to age and fall, while other plants are symbiotic with the mature canopy.
When a tree falls you have the burst of sunlight that allows fast-growing colonisers to protect the exposed sub-canopy and soils, then the process of natural selection begins where the fast-growing succession species are slowly overtaken by a few larger trees that, over time, replace the fallen high canopy trees. The cycle then repeats.
The initial goal of W2W is the ‘scatter effect’, where pockets of biological diversity are established alongside road networks, paper roads, railways, cycleways and pathways. These checker-board patterns of Eco Pallets will mature over time, generating their own mature forest edge and continuing the process of self-seeding into the surrounding landscape.
W2W working model
It may take tens or even hundreds of years for mature canopies to be disrupted enough to let the succession model start in a forest, and for seedlings to repopulate a disrupted environment. As nature does not know when a canopy will be disrupted, millions of seedlings cover the forest floor in wait for this unknown event.
The majority of forest floor seedlings and seeds lying in wait are lost to time. This means the forest floor can provide an infinite, diverse seedling supply for the W2W reforestation process.
Forest stewardship and positive human intervention
Our role is to enter the mature stands of natural forest and take thousands of forest floor ‘biopsy pods’ for replanting in our Eco Pallets. Each of these 10cm3 earth pods contains an unknown spectrum of seedlings, seeds, fungi, microhorizons, leaf litter and insects.
Ten 10cm3 ecology pods are then planted into a larger nutrient-rich 1m2 Eco Pallet planting module.
Via human intervention, we are able to stimulate the speed in which seedlings that may have never survived reach maturity, access nutrients, sun and space.
The diverse 1m2 Ecological Pallet Modules are then ready to be transported, as a complete ecosystem, to the desired planting location — without any disruption to plants throughout the nurturing and ultimate planting process.
Let nature do its thing
Over time, the natural succession of the seedlings in the Eco Pallet will play itself out.
Firstly, the faster-growing ‘disturbance’ succession species will quickly overtake the 1m2 area, generating a first stage protective canopy. This safe environment allows more fragile large canopy tree species to stay in a healthy nursery environment until the first stage canopy reaches maximum maturity. At this stage, the canopy breaks apart, allowing light into the protected ground canopy where the larger canopy trees lie in wait to extend upwards.
Understanding and valuing the outcomes of Waste to Wilderness
W2W supports natural selection. In each square metre of ecological space, the final mature ecological state is unknown at the point of planting. It may be a tree, several shrubs or even a large fern that thrives in any specific pallet module.
The critical goal is speeding up the expansion of a diverse native ecosystem, beyond existing wilderness environments — many of which are confined and under threat.
Over time, just as the wilderness provided to our forefathers, W2W will provide a peaceful protective environment experience, trees that can be selectively felled for wood, fruit-bearing plants for wild harvest, a greater range of birds and animals and plants that have medicinal or culinary uses.
What makes Waste to Wilderness so effective?
Waste stream integration
We use the commercial value of waste collection models to source and fund the collection of energy and structural resources required for the square metre pellet module. This is restaurant food waste (nutrients), property green waste (carbon) and wood transport pallets (the Eco Pallets movable structural platform).
Using the diversity of Nature itself
All the processes of seedling germination and natural selection happen within the wilderness environments themselves. This removes the cost and uncertainty of nursery germination processes and the costs involved in labour, land and storage.
There is a site silviculture licence to support the seedling germination environment, i.e. pest removal, and other supportive measures to increase ongoing seedling germination.
Once the wilderness seedling pods are planted in the transportable Ecological Pallets, there are no more handling steps for plant care. The seedlings start to spread their roots throughout the square metre pallet module, which can then be transported at any time to its final planting destination.
The Ecological Pallet modules are easy to transport, en masse, to their final destination. They can be quickly positioned and planted by one or two people with the help of a tractor. There is no digging of the soil; the Ecological Pallet is simply placed on the surface on top of whatever grasses or pastoral weeds exist in the location. The seedlings will then root through from the Ecological Pallet and the no-dig composting pasture layer into the undisturbed — and therefore healthier — soils below, reaching more nutrients and deeper water supplies, enabling maximum growth long term.
Reduced or no watering
The 10–20cm depth of pallet humus acts as a great water retention system. Unlike a single plant placed in the bare earth, the Ecological Pallet planting system comes with its own inbuilt soil protection and water retention system.
The Ecological Pallets have a dense woody humus layer and wilderness leaf litter layer that is far less susceptible to pasture weeds, compared to the exposed soils found with single planting models.
The square metre Eco Pallet also greatly reduces — and likely fully removes — any need for poisons like glycol sulphate (Round Up, or worse … Tordon) to be used around the plants, once planted, to ensure they are not overtaken by exotic grasses or other weeds.
‘Guaranteed’ strike rate
A significant risk of ‘single-plant plantings’ is the risk of plant death and loss of investment. The Ecological Pallet ensures a stable and undisturbed root system and the supply of all supportive fungi and microhorizons required for root nutrient uptake. The humus layer is full of worms and insects that help with decomposition and release of nutrients. There are up to 100 seedlings per square metre, so via natural selection, there is a very high chance of generating a diverse and naturally dense wilding ecological landscape.
W2W uses waste streams which are readily available from urban environments the world over, meaning the model could be introduced anywhere in the world.
Easy to understand
The methodology of plant rearing, planting and ongoing plant care have all been simplified into an easy-to-understand process. Not only can a broad range of people and organisations adopt the W2W Eco Pallet system, but it can be a valuable ‘plugin’ to existing operations to utilise waste streams, unused equipment (like tractors) out of harvest season, or back-hauling empty trucks requiring freight.
By tracking each pallet’s movement, in a similar fashion to tracking freight, people can follow the W2W Eco Pallets process from establishment, to transport, to its final specific planting location. This traceability can add additional value streams of carbon, blockchain and ecological value metrics to fund projects.
Significant cost savings
The combination of these simple unique factors allow us to provide plants at a cost that is up to ten times less than a single nursery seedling. Because nursery seedlings are grown to planting age via multiple handling steps, and then planted with a relatively complex ongoing plant growth and (toxic) weed management plan.