The wild is calling to me again. The years I spent amongst the hill of Skye were the perfect remedy, they gave me wild in abundance. The deer and eagles, ouzels and grouse. Jagged peaks and layers of purple hills stretching to infinity. Glorious.
Lately though I have been thinking much about ‘rewilding’. I detest the term and prefer habitat restoration but it amounts to the same thing. I love what they have done, indeed are doing, at Knepp and also the new kids on the block like Wild Ken Hill. I miss what I was doing in my previous job with beavers, water, trees, storks and red squirrels. The idea that we can have a countryside which not only produces healthy food for people but is also alive with insects, birdsong and creatures going about their business without interference is, to me, heaven.
I am writing this looking out over a shallow valley in Carmarthenshire. To all appearances it’s a rural idyl but scratch the surface and we can see that things are not as they seem. Behind the barn, to my left, lies about 300 acres of water, no, wait, it’s plastic. Plastic laid to nurture a crop of maize. Plastic that will be fragmenting and entering the ground. Fragments that will get smaller and smaller under they are entering plants and animals at a cellular level. In front of me is another 100 acres, recently slurried, then deep ploughed, then slurried again, this time from an umbilical with the tractor moving so slowly that it was almost imperceptible. I don’t think I have ever seen so much slurry applied to an area. It created runnels in the ground and formed a shiny cap on the soil. Then it was disced with the kind of machinery I’ve only ever seen in the East of England before. Now it’s greening over, not with grass but with wheat sown for whole crop silage. Behind me another 20 acres went under the plough a few days ago. A skylark was singing his glory to the skies there last week. Will he be there today when I go out? I doubt it, certainly any nest the pair may have had will have been turned under.
But (insert big sigh here) I’m a farmer at heart. I grew up on farms. My grandfather raised 5 daughters on 88 acres of grass. The hedges were big and bushy, yellowhammers called ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ from the hedge tops, warblers warbled from the willows down by the stream. Everything seemed to be in balance. Home though was very different. Acres of potatoes and oil seed rape. Wheat, barley, pigs in buildings. There were a few partridges and hares but not much else. At the time I loved it. Big machines, straw burning, diesel and dust. Now, well, not so much. Yes, we have to feed a lot of people, an awful lot of people, but I am beginning to think that it is at least as important to preserve, create, conserve and nudge the wild.