Farm pioneers mixture of ‘rewilding’ and sustainable agriculture

An agricultural company introduces beavers and, in addition to planting crops, "transforms" part of its land into a plan that it hopes other landowners could follow.

The Wild Ken Hill project on the Norfolk coast is transforming around 1,000 acres of farmland and forest back into nature, including the introduction of beavers into a large enclosure to help restore forested wetlands.

The family farm continues to grow plants such as wheat, barley and sugar beet for another 2,000 acres, using “regenerative” farming techniques that maintain the soil, cut out insecticides, and provide food and habitat for wildlife.

And they are actively managing a third area of ​​pasture wetlands next to the wash to support wildlife, and have raised the water level by about a foot over 500 acres to help birds such as lapwings, curlews and spoonbills.

Project manager Dominic Buscall said the program would offer a number of benefits that support nature, protect against coastal flooding, create jobs and volunteer work, and give people better access to green spaces.

Beavers released into an enclosure in the countryside (Wild Ken Hill / PA)
Beavers released into an enclosure in the countryside (Wild Ken Hill / PA)

When grasslands, shrubs, and trees grow on former farmland, it will help store carbon to tackle climate change, while farming practices elsewhere on the farm also reduce carbon emissions from the soil.

The system is also economically viable as it reduces dependency on agricultural subsidies that expire after Brexit and enables the company to diversify into small-scale ecotourism, he said.

Mr Buscall said: "What is unique about what we do is the tripartite model that is really scalable for the UK and answers many important questions.

"We still produce food – healthy food without insecticides and have expanded our organic area – but we also actively manage the site's existing protection interests.

Agriculture on unproductive land (Wild Ken Hill / PA) has been discontinued.
Agriculture on unproductive land (Wild Ken Hill / PA) has been discontinued.

"Then we take our marginal, unproductive arable land and say:" Let us leave it to nature because it makes no sense to cultivate it conventionally or commercially. "

To help rebuild the country, leaving the land for natural processes to return, the team placed beavers in a fenced-in area where they colonized trees, built dams, and created ponds that promote other wildlife.

Two women were introduced before the closure and it is hoped that men can be brought in later in the summer.

"They are wonderful animals, we are very excited about what they do on site and we believe that people will be very interested in them," said Buscall.

From next year, they will also introduce animals to graze the land like in a natural landscape, bring in wild cattle, ponies and pigs and leave deer that have already been found in the area.

Saure Heide at Wild Ken Hill (Wild Ken Hill / PA)
Saure Heide at Wild Ken Hill (Wild Ken Hill / PA)

Some conifer plantations are also removed to create forest clearings.

The entire project is part of the Countryside Stewardship program run by Natural England to pay farmers for the nature-friendly care of land. Buscall said this was "the best way to speed up reconstruction in the UK."

He said: “Wild Ken Hill shows that a balanced combination of sustainable agriculture and reconstruction benefits both the environment and the bottom line of farmers.

"Our model also cuts polarized debates on reconstruction and agriculture – we need both and they can work together harmoniously."

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