Mapping wildlife networks

As walkers, we would never underestimate the importance of a good map. Maps can lead us out into adventure and bring us home when we’re lost. They reveal the secrets of our surroundings, the routes we can follow and the hidden places, both wild and historic, that we might discover along the way.

But maps are also extremely important for wildlife, even though our natural neighbours will never use them for themselves: you’re not likely to see an osprey unfolding a map to plot the fastest route from the Gambia to Loch of the Lowes, or a hedgehog following the barked orders of a sat nav as it shuffles through gardens on its nightly feeding route.

A bird sitting up high in a tree, looking out

©Peter Cairns/2020VISION

For wildlife, maps are important for logging habitat – the areas of our countryside where birds, mammals and insects thrive. Just as with historic footpaths, wild places can only be protected if we know about them. By plotting every bit of wild habitat, from forests to bogs to scrub-covered former railway lines, we can see which areas are most important for our wildlife. We can protect these places that help nature, but we can also see where the gaps lie. 

Nature corridors

For nature to thrive in a landscape studded with cities and crossed by roads, connection is key. We have to safeguard the hotspots, of course, but we also need to link them together. Where we find gaps, we have to fill them, or our wild places will become isolated, fragmented, depleted. islands in an increasingly hostile sea.

The best part is, many of the solutions will bring as much joy to us as they do to our wildlife. Take a moment to think about your favourite places to walk, the routes that can’t help but put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. I imagine many of them are made special by their natural habitats, I know mine are. There’s a wooded valley, where a clear brook bubbles below the moss-coated boughs of oaks and birches, and a heathland where glistening oil beetles march across the paths and the mournful song of the woodlark drifts through the air.

A beetle walking on the underside of a branch

Oil beetle ©Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

These places have an indefinable and irreplaceable effect on us, boosting feelings of wellbeing and draining away stress. We know that spending time in nature is good for mind and body, there’s a host of research data to support the positive effects of time spent outdoors. But the best evidence is personal: the sense of peace found in a spring forest; the splendor of birdsong; the feeling of awe inspired by a wild mountain peak or the relaxing effect of sitting by a slowly flowing stream.

Close up photo of a plant with white flowers, beside a stream

Wood sorrel by a woodland stream (c)Tom Hibbert

By connecting the wild dots and creating a network that links nature reserves and other wild refuges with green corridors and stepping stones, we can make wild moments like this a staple of our everyday existence. Street trees and pocket parks will regreen the concrete jungles, filling morning commutes and weekend strolls with the joyous sound of birdsong. Road verges will bloom with wildflowers, carrying nature across the country like spring-scented arteries.

We are part of nature, and nature is part of us. It’s time to embrace our wild roots.

You can learn more about establishing a Nature Recovery Network in law on The Wildlife Trusts’ website


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