Rewilding Les Fragnes

You’ve probably come across the term ‘rewilding’ as it’s a bit of a buzz word these days. And rightly so, especially in the face of climate change. This disastrous year of droughts, fires and floods seems to be hammering the message home into the even the hardest sceptic’s hard head that global warming is real and calamitous. We all need to do what we can, every single one of us, to protect planet A since there is no planet B.

Rewilding is a method of ecological restoration that is becoming increasingly crucial. Disrupting and polluting humans step back and leave an area to go back to nature. If the rewilding is successfully established then these areas need little to no intervention from people. Ecosystems and biodiversity will flourish.

At the beginning of this year we decided to rewild one of our fields. We call it Hidden Field, as it’s tucked away at the top of the small lake. It’s about a hectare or so in size. We told the farmer who takes hay cuts from our land of our intentions and he was supportive. I did, however, take the precaution of cordoning off the entrance to the field and putting up a ‘no tractors’ sign, just in case he forgot and was lured in by the sight of the grass and the possibility of creating a couple more hay bales!

So it’s been left to its own devices. The grass was never particularly lush which has enabled a host of little trees to start growing.

We’ve been helping the process by liberally scattering acorns, conkers, chestnuts, sycamore keys, apple pips, catalpa seeds and various others this autumn. I’ve also been planting some tree seedlings that Ruadhri and I have been growing over the last couple of years.

Rewilding on a grand scale requires the introduction of species of large herbivores to graze the area and keep nuisance plants down. We will have to rely on the wild deer in the area for that service. You might have noticed the animal paths criss-crossing the field in the first photo. However, they won’t tackle the endemic broom, or the brambles so we’ll have to go and cut those back by hand, at least until they become out-competed by the trees. There’s every possibility they’ll help themselves to some of my young trees of course, but I don’t think they’ll be able to eat them all! It’s a long-term project, and one whose progress I shall enjoy watching. Perhaps I’ll even get to eat an apple off this young apple tree one day!

We’re also rewilding a strip of land about ten metres wide at the edge of one of the hayfields, and we already have two small rewilded areas: one used to be part of the pig field, and the other is the old alpaca field we fenced off many years ago. Those latter areas are packed with trees now, mainly willow but other species are poking through and providing habitat for birds, insects and small mammals. They’re always welcome at Les Fragnes.