Being young & eager
and supported by agricultural policies of
the time, I maximised production through
intensification and tried to add value
through diversification, but my business
suffered from poor quality agricultural land
and a legacy of tiny fields by modern
When in the late 1990ís my manager
asked for more millions to recapitalise, I
decided enough was enough and started in the
process of letting go.
At that time it was the 450 cows, 11
farm workers and farm machinery that went,
and farming the land was given to a
I was accepting the fact that I would
no longer have the benefit of those (few)
bumper years, but neither would I have the
stress of loss.
I always had a desire
to restore the deer park around the main
house and agri-subsidies made this possible
in 2002, and it was this project that was
the catalyst to my eventual conversion of
1000ha of the estate over to a re-wilding
Today roads separate
our three huge fenced enclosures which are
managed as near as possible by natural
processes with the help of four principle
large herbivores Ė longhorn cattle, fallow
deer, Exmoor ponies and tamworth pigs.
Domestic analogues of the principle
species that populated our part of Europe
after the last ice age; the animals that
drove and shaped forest succession and
created the biodiversity before manís
I have always been an
avid natural historian, but had not realised
the wildlife potential of my own native
countryside until we started this project.
Eight years later our ecologist
friends are citing us as a paradigm of
landscape scale conservation, and the policy
makers have continued to support our
In places we assist nature by undoing some
of manís influence Ė one such project
will see several miles of canalised river
re-naturalised with old meanders reinstated
and drainage slowed.
There is no doubt in our minds that
this will benefit not just water quality,
but also those foolish enough to have built
on the floodplain downstream.
In time it will also
recreate long forgotten habitat for waders
and possibly an ideal environment for the
reintroduction of our lost native beaver.
Another project is the reintroduction
of the grey partridge and a commitment to a
wild game shoot.
Just a few years in and
with a very limited monitoring budget, we
have recorded 22 UKBAP Priority species and
dozens of invertebrate species of
With our third and final enclosure
only now starting its re-wilding, we are
hoping for and expecting a massive
enhancement of biodiversity.
We have plenty of
critics, mostly tidy-minded neighbours and
food production obsessives that feel that
somehow I am morally corrupt in letting
nature take control.
But I think and hope that we are
entering an era where everyone will be
expected to take responsibility of the
environment seriously, and those like me who
can make a big difference will re evaluate
their priorities and do what they can.
Now with a son of my
own I sometimes wonder what he will want to
achieve from this land.
I suspect that he will have no choice
but to follow this course that I have set,
and hope that he is content to measure the
landís productivity in terms of insect
biomass rather than grain and milk