As a farmer I’m very used to cycles. By cycles I don’t mean the two wheeled type you see racing down the high street (you do see the occasional farmer on a bike) I’m talking about life cycles. As I write this, we (West Lodge) are at the start of not only another farming calendar cycle with crops yet to be planted and beasts to move indoors for the winter, but a new, exciting (well we think so), business cycle too.
Visitors to the farm will have seen the many structural additions we have made in the last few years with reference to the indoor adventure barn, new shop entrance, retail space and other alterations around the farm park. For the past five years the focus for myself and the management team here at West Lodge has been to make it work. (It being the family business)! Making it work is much easier said than done when one is also having to deal with life’s challenges along the way. My father, Tony had a stroke just as we began building the Adventure Barn, thankfully he survived but he was forced to take a back seat in the building process.
That fact that we have managed to achieve everything we set out to do – keeping afloat and moving forward – has been a minor miracle. Regular visitors at the farm are always asking us “What’s next on the agenda”?………. Let me explain.
We have always been interested in the countryside, nature and our relationship with it. In fact, it has always been our driving force in everything we do – getting people out in the countryside, enjoying the simple pleasures the countryside brings and hopefully feel some ownership of it.
However, the way in which we (West Lodge) affect the landscape and the wildlife within our countryside, is something we really feel we can improve on.
In our hearts we are farmers. We rear cattle, graze sheep and grow crops. We’ve always intended to farm in a way that is in harmony with nature; Having tall hedgerows full of berries for the birds, planting woodland in unproductive areas, sowing wildflower meadows etc. Until recently, we’ve thought we’d made a pretty good job in farming in harmony with the countryside, however I was then introduced to the book “Wilding” by Isabella Tree. After reading this book I realise that our efforts aren’t quite good enough.
Make no mistake, what we do is good. We have turtle doves returning to our farm every spring, many red listed species of birds inhabit our hedgerows, rare butterflies and bats fly overhead, but the book Wilding has changed my view of our potential. It’s made me rethink how we will look after the farm in the future and produce our food in an even better way. The approach though, as farming goes, is quite radical and one I’m still trying to get my head around.
What is Wilding?
Wilding is about conservation in its purest sense. Very little work is done by humans during the process. We don’t mow wildflower meadows at certain times or keep clearing scrubs or develop rides in woods. What you do is put livestock that represent the herbivores that roamed free on this land over 2000 years ago and let them do the work for you.
This would mean you would see pigs and cattle in the woods and deer in the fields around our farm. You would also see trees starting to grow in the middle of the fields and brambles too. For me as a farmer that is the radical part. Letting land go back to nature no trimming, cultivating or seeding.
Now the only problem for us here at West Lodge is that we want all of our visitors to go into the woods and walk through our nature trails; being at one with nature – enjoying the fresh air and open space – without being threatened by a pig or cow etc. I know from taking visitors around the farm on our tractor trailer rides that a few people have phobias about cows and the idea of stumbling across a cow in the middle of a wood may give them nightmares. But don’t be alarmed it’s all in the plan.
What we are planning will involve a great deal of preparation to get it right. This is the idea of writing this blog, to set out our stall and take you along with us. The walks to the woods will still be there, so too will some fencing. On other parts of the farm a lake will be re-instated and tracks for trailer rides and buggies created. The immediate farm park area will stay separate. The walks will allow you to have aerial views of how the deer, cattle and pigs move to find foraging areas throughout the farm. We’d like you to see the effect that the wilding will have on the farm firsthand.
To do this we will need help. You will be introduced to a number of like-minded people (and friends of ours) along the way.
It’s important to know what you have before you start changing things and we’ve been lucky enough to have had the farm surveyed for wildlife by some experts in their field.
Griff Warrilow has been surveying birds on the farm since early 2000. His work has helped inspire us to take the next step and you really couldn’t meet a more pleasant and enthusiastic ornithologist (Birdie). Along with him, our local conservationist Nigel Lingley has been surveying Butterflies and recruited others to help with moths and insects to see what we have. The findings have been impressive, but I believe that what we’re planning will take it to another level. Griff, Nigel and no doubt many others will be needed to help with input and also monitor the effect that the change in direction will have.
Let’s hope it’s good!
Thanks for taking the time to read my first blog. I do hope to keep this updated every few weeks so keep checking in: ) I’d really like to hear your thoughts so please feel free to comment below.