Inspirational conservationist Isabella Tree, author of best-selling book Wilding, was at Hay Festival to talk about the pioneering rewilding project on which her book is based.
In 1985, Tree and her husband, the environmentalist Charlie Burrell, inherited a farm in West Sussex. “For seventeen years we did everything good farmers are supposed to do but we were losing money hand over fist” Tree said.
Forced to accept that intensive farming on their land was economically unsustainable, the couple took a spectacular leap of faith and handed their 3,500 acres back to nature.
Managed with minimal human intervention, and with herds of free-roaming animals driving the creation of new habitats, their rewilded land slowly reverted back to the pre-agriculture landscape it once was.
Her book Wilding - the Return of Nature to a British Farm documents their journey “consciously looking for ways to work with the land, rather than against it” Tree said.
Biodiversity began to rocket, with rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies returning to the land. Burrell said, “When you let animals in to a landscape and you’re not managing them, you see extraordinary behaviours”. She gave examples of pigs diving holding their breath for two minutes underwater and jays planting 4000 acorns in four weeks.
The project has not been without controversy however, “I understand that rewilding can be a difficult concept to grasp if you’re used to an organised, managed landscape - it’s not very aesthetically pleasing. There were a lot of letters of complaint to our local MP”.
But, as Burrell went on to explain, “it’s about letting go, nature knows what to do, you just have to be brave enough to let it take its course”.
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