Ways of Wilding.
Sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean, crossing over England, Wales and into Europe, storm Dennis came on the heels of storm Ciara while storm Ellen is due in this weekend. The TV news no longer leads with stories of Middle Eastern war, disgraced public figures nor even upset politicians but shows aerial views of flooding and interviews with families and farmers absorbing the devastation to their homes and farmland.
Walking down our street at dusk, I hear the robin calling as she goes to roost in the Silver Birch tree outside our cottage.
She, the finches, tits, blackbirds and pigeons are all engaged in the business of city living. It is the same in the countryside, where animals and birds move around us, making the best of a not-so-good-job. But there are some places around the world and now in the UK where we humans have given way, admittedly mostly out of necessity, and are returning the land to those who were here before us.
One such place is the Knepp Farm in West Sussex. After years of intensive farming the Burrell family came to accept that modern farming methods on such heavy clay soil would never be fruitful. They began to wonder what would happen if … ? and then set out to record it. Isabella Tree’s book ‘Wilding The Return of Nature to a British Farm’ is the result. When first published in 2018 the book caused quite a stir. And Tree continues to stir, writing articles and giving talks wherever an audience is to be found. There are naysayers of course, and some of my dearest old farming friends in England are among them. But there is thought, and outcome, and more people willing to wonder ‘what if we …?’ The changes in the land, the flora and fauna and their habitat that has returned is already visible. So there is excitement and encouragement and a willingness to search out ways that we who care for such things can carry on, sharing and yet returning the land to those creatures to whom it first belonged.
This interview with Isabella Tree was recorded at Knepp Castle in August 2019. We took the train to West Sussex and, with equipment borrowed from Amirani Media, Isabella Tree and I sat down for an hour while she shared her passion, findings and hopes for the future of farming in the UK. The program was aired in September on KWMR.org the day before Isabella Tree spoke at the Point Reyes Book Store in Point Reyes Station, California.
During the last two weeks that England has been battered by two storms, one on top of the other the flooding damage to many towns and farms still continues. Strangely though, in West Sussex, where the county councils have incorporated some of the principles of Wilding in water management the damage has been considerably less. In Devon where beavers escaped into the River Otter and now in Cornwall where both Wildlife Trusts are monitoring the beavers’ behaviors, the creation of beaver lodges and dams has been seen to slow water runoff and thus lessening storm damage. Maybe there is something to letting nature take her course, and us our cue from her as we work and farm mindfully within her embrace.
On our little city terrace, we share space with those who come to call. In the mornings we feed the small birds who, sensibly, have not begun to nest quite yet. At night, ready to turn out the kitchen light I look out the window and see our Charlie, a big urban fox, doing his rounds. I like to think that they, all creatures great and small, are ready to help us if we could only find our way to let them.