In summer 2018 I judged a book by its cover and picked up Isabella Tree’s Wilding in my local library. It told the story of Tree and her husband facing dwindling income from their 3,500 acre Knepp Esate farm in West Sussex. In the mother of all pivots they set about returning the farm to nature. Knepp has become a beacon of hope demonstrating the speed with which life rushes back into an intensively farmed landscape. Wildlife turned a failing farm into a hub for conservation tourism, with foraging tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies, beavers and white storks.
In Ireland we have our own story of a landed estate returning to nature with Dunsany Nature Reserve. Under the stewardship of Randall Plunkett, 750 acres of the Dunsany Estate has become a nature reserve for wildlife.
Dreams of buying land for biodiversity now sit alongside the dream to build on it or farm it. In 2017, a year before Wilding put rewilding on the map, Brian O’Toole and Gilly Taylor bought 17½ acres near Redcross village in Co Wicklow “to gift back to nature”. As we begin to understand the changes we need to make to combat the climate and biodiversity crises, it is important to celebrate our wins along the way. There can be no downplaying the urgency with which we need to reverse catastrophic behaviour, but it helps if we can understand how quickly wounds heal when we stop harming the natural world.
This smallholding is already a win. In the nearly five years that have passed since Wildacres has been created, they have planted 10,000 native Irish trees, two kilometres of hedgerow, created nine wildlife ponds, a four-acre wildflower meadow, an apiary and a traditional Irish orchard. Wildacres is a social enterprise and they hope this year to welcome visiting groups for nature trails and sustainable honey tours. It is an opportunity to see (and smell and hear) land that had been heavily grazed by sheep bounce back in a few years of different management.
If you can't make it to Wicklow there is another way to put a little bit of Wildacres in your life. Taylor loves a wall calendar, "so that all the family can see the plans for the week". She looked more closely at her wildlife calendar and reckoned they could do better than a gloss printed version on virgin paper, so she picked 12 of the best pictures they have taken on Wildacres and wrote monthly nature tips. An Offaly eco printer (thefactory.ie) printed it on recycled paper using plant-based inks. Their inaugural Wildacres Wall Calendar is available from their online shop http://shop.wildacres.ie.