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Rewilding with Wrendale

Posted in Artist Inspiration

When we lived in Newmarket, one of the ladies who worked for Bothy Threads, called Anna, was a serious Archers fan. If you dared talk to her while it was on, she got so cross. There was a period during Lockdown that they weren’t doing live recordings, but since it started again, I have to admit to listening to a few episodes. I think that because I mocked Anna about it so much, it has become my guilty secret! Anyway, if you do occasionally catch an episode, you will no doubt have heard about the ‘Rewilding Ambridge Project’.

Hannah Dale, the artist behind Wrendale, lives on a farm in Lincolnshire, with her husband Jack and family. The Dales have a rewilding project of their very own and here she tells Bothy Threads fans all about it…

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“Jack and I made the decision a couple of years ago that we wanted to manage our farm solely for the benefit of the environment and wildlife rather than for commercial gain. Our land is low lying and heavy and can be difficult to farm. It has never produced good yields and in the winter, some of it is permanently under water, making it very difficult to get a crop established if the weather is against us. Coupled with the fact that both of us are becoming increasingly distressed about the challenges facing the environment and the number of species that are facing extinction, we both felt that our land could be put to better use and that it was right to ‘give something back’.

Since then, we’ve been growing nectar and pollen rich plants that provide food for insects as well as seed for overwintering birds. We have stopped using all pesticides and chemicals on the land and keeping cultivation to a minimum to allow the soil to recover. We don’t cut our hedgerows back, allowing them to bloom and they are literally full of life all year round. We have been inspired by the ‘rewilding’ movement and in the long term this is what we’d like to do with the majority of our farm.

The biggest change, and our greatest challenge so far is the establishment of 50 acres of native mixed woodland. Sadly, the farm has largely been stripped of all the trees that would have once been there, so re-establishing some native woodland felt like a natural place to get a bit of a head start on our journey to ‘re-wild’ the farm. Late last year, we put up 7km of deer fencing to protect the saplings from the resident deer and rabbit populations. Deer numbers have exploded in recent years and they are particularly partial to the new shoots of trees and shrubs which can make establishment of new trees difficult. Then, in early March, 28,000 trees arrived and it was all hands on deck to get them into the ground.

We wanted to plant them by hand to give them the best start as well as making sure the overall effect looks as natural as possible. It was an enormous task – I think we underestimated the scale of what we had taken on and there were definitely a few ‘what have we done’ moments. We were very grateful to have the support from local villagers, friends and of course some of our Wrendale team and eventually after some very long days, all 28,000 were safely planted.

We can’t wait to see the woodland grow and the impact that has on wildlife and biodiversity in the area. Our next big project is restoring an area of wetland in one of the boggy areas of the farm – this has the potential to have a huge and rapid impact on biodiversity so we can’t wait to get digging!”

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I must say I imagined ‘rewilding’ as a more restful, spiritual activity. I thought you just stopped ploughing, chopping and fertilising and put your feet up to watch Nature take its course. I see now that it is a huge commitment involving a lot of hard work! Hats off to the ‘Dale Rewilders’!

Hannah’s source of artistic inspiration is the countryside around her, and this has no doubt prompted her to care for it in the best possible way. It means that the animals that she loves to sketch will be living there happily for generations to come.

View the beautiful kits from Hannah's amazing artwork