Wilding, by Isabella Tree, is a book based on an experimental re-wilding of a 3,500 acre farm in West Sussex.
Forced to accept that the intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp was driving it close to bankruptcy, they handed the farm back to nature.
The results in terms of biodiversity, soil fertility and increased wildlife have been nothing short of astonishing.
This is a pioneering book describing a brave and far-reaching experiment. If we can achieve these results on a piece of intensively farmed, chemically fertilised, biologically sterile land situated under the flight path at Gatwick, with time and patience we can achieve them anywhere.
Books like this provide inspiration and reinforcement of the thought that given half a chance, nature will fight back and thrive.
What we do to our little six acre pocket of land on Skye will be much less impactful than the 3,500 acres at Knepp, and the soil, weather and environmental challenges will be very different, but to the local area of Sleat it will be just as important.
So many ideas and plans. We can’t wait to start.
We’ve been thinking of how best to build up the croft’s ability to support plants and wildlife. It’s pretty barren at the moment with limited biodiversity, having been left unused for many years as far as we can tell. It’s compacted grass, moss and rushes with a bank of trees to the Southwest and a very boggy area to the South. The soil levels are very thin.
What we can do is start working on the fertility of the ground by seeding nitrogen fixers like lupins and red clover, which will start the process of returning nutrients to the soil and slowly build up the biomass. Green manure.
We also need to get to know a local farmer who can provide manure from cows, pigs or horses that we can dig in or spread. Anything that increases the organic matter in the soil can only be a good thing. We’ll be aiming for full ground cover rather than bare, tilled soil with most of the land under tree or orchard cover, and raised beds for vegetable production.
Of course, once the trees are in and slowly shedding leaves the cycle will start and the soil depth will slowly and naturally increase.
I know that it’s going to be at least ten years until the trees and hedges will be established enough to really get going, but how satisfying will it be to know that the legacy we leave will be woodland and wildlife.