An interview with the founder of Citizen Zoo, the social enterprise that’s rewilding the UK and engaging communities in the process

Rewilding is an approach to conservation that lets nature return areas of land to a wild state. The process involves allowing ecosystems to restore themselves over time, so they can recover from degradation.

It is something that Lucas Ruzo is passionate about. His love for nature and wildlife started when as a young child living in Portugal, he would visit local markets with his grandmother. He saw a lot of wildlife, mostly parrots from Africa and South America, being sold illegally.

After studying zoology and conservation science, he founded Citizen Zoo, a not-for-profit social enterprise that works on rewilding and community engagement, along with wider nature conservation throughout the United Kingdom.

“It’s not just about preserving what’s left in a fixed state, nature is dynamic and ever changing. It’s about using the concept of rewilding and community engagement to restore and enhance nature and natural processes in the wild, and using the word itself to spark hope in many people about the future restoration of the natural world,” said Ruzo, who is part of the Young Champions of the Earth change-maker community. “Rewilding is working on positive restoration, which we find more motivating and more inspiring,” he added

Musonda Mumba, Head of the Terrestrial Ecosystems Unit at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said “It’s great to see such amazing drive and determination from Lucas as regards rewilding and restoration within London’s urban space. The resilience of cities, where most people will live by 2050, will certainly depend on the level of greenness for clean air, biodiversity and overall human well-being.”

UNEP spoke with Ruzo to find out more about Citizen Zoo:

What impact has Citizen Zoo had so far?

Citizen Zoo is working on numerous restoration projects around London, allowing urban parts of the city to rewild, by rebuilding vital habitats and functional ecosystems.

We work on species reintroduction projects with both mammals and invertebrates, and we work with schools and businesses to further conservation projects to help support our rewilding efforts financially and give people the opportunity to enhance their local environment. These groups also help spread news and hope about the potential of rewilding and of the importance in letting nature take a bigger role in defining its own narrative.

We recently led the WILD Kingston event attended by 800 people to inspire locals about wildlife around the city and organized the largest rewilding conference in the United Kingdom at the University of Cambridge, bringing together over 450 people and speakers to drive dialogue forward both locally and nationally.

Why is it important to involve young people in rewilding efforts?

It’s wonderful to teach young people about the natural world, they are such sponges for absorbing knowledge, they’re the future stewards of the planet and they have deep influence over their parents, for example as we have seen in the recent climate strikes, it’s phenomenal. This all ties into the work we do to change people’s behaviour to care about the natural world.

How do you go about rewilding urban spaces in London?

It starts first and foremost with a fantastic team and fantastic local volunteers. In practice, we do extensive habitat restoration and some species reintroductions to help restore functional ecosystems in degraded landscapes.

We also advise local councils about how to manage their green public spaces. It’s usually a challenge to translate research and policy into something that is relevant to practitioners on the ground.

We always try and invite policymakers and researcher to our sites, so when they are at the stage of deciding what to ask and what to write, we can inform that process.

Can you give an example of a restoration project by CitizenZoo?

Lucas Ruzo

One of our conservation projects is to rewild Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor in London. We have reintroduced a traditional way of conservation management that will benefit the local ecology and at the same time support its social heritage.

A vital part of this restoration project consists of restoring the traditional hay meadow management scheme through animal grazing. This technique has been used for hundreds of years and benefits the diversity of wildflowers.

What is your message for communities with an interest in rewilding?

Anyone can make a difference and we’re always looking for volunteers to help with projects of all shapes and sizes. If people go out and explore nature, they’ll understand the importance of having wild places full of diverse and abundant nature, and become much more inspired to act.

It’s also about rewilding people: it’s important to restore sites but people also need to be able to visit, explore and experience wildlife and nature in all its brilliant beauty.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021 – 2030 positions the restoration of ecosystems as a major nature-based solution to meet a wide range of global development goals and national priorities.

All photos courtesy of Citizen Zoo.

This interview originally appeared on the UNEP website.
Reprinted here (with minor edits) by permission.

See Citizen Zoo website.

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