Q. Were you able to conduct some monitoring under the previous regime allowing a direct comparison between common place agriculture and then a rewilded approach? Or did the monitoring only begin once the livestock was taken off?
A. We have used our first year as tenants as our baseline year. We were unable to access the land prior to taking over management responsibility.
Q. A year ago I remember the beginnings of discussions with Historic England to marry up the parkland heritage at Sharpham with a rewilding vision. How have those discussions gone and is there still a tension of visions there?
A. Following a series of discussions and iterations of our management plan, Historic England have endorsed the final plan. We are aiming over the five years of our agreement (Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship) for a holistic parkland restoration plan that balances the heritage needs and the ecological needs.
Q. In terms of understanding grazing pressure. Have you been able to deer fence the estate or monitor the number of deer grazing across the estate?
A. We are looking to keep our domestic stock in with our fencing, rather than wild stock out. We have been gathering stealth camera images of the approximate numbers of wild deer, and this may formalise into a monitoring programme that our trainees can engage with.
Q. What type of pigs are you looking at? Also any evidence of wild boar in your area?
No wild boar. Most likely they will be Hungarian mangalica.
Q. Are you bringing in other livestock this year to graze? If so what breed and at what stocking level?
We are in the process of deciding the stocking density, although know the levels will be low. We are in the process of converting the holding to organic, and so the stock must be registered organic. We also know the breed should be a native breed at risk to ensure their survival. We have a herd of belted galloway cows in our adjoining holding and hope to move some of these across when the holding is stock proof. We also hope to have ponies.
Q. Are you excluding grazing during any part of the growing season to enable flowers to seed to kickstart the initial regeneration phase of wilding?
A. Our stocking densities will be low, and so we expect to have sufficient space to not have them graze all the flowers, and select the preferred areas. This will create a mosaic of grazed pasture, and should mean we do not need to remove them during the growing season. We may need to exclude stock in the wettest months (January).
Q. Can you explain what is good about tussocky open ground?
A. Structure! Structural diversity is critical for biodiversity at every aspect and at every scale. Within the tussocks there will be micro-climates and habitat niches where typically invertebrates will be fulfilling part of their lifecycles.
Q. What has been the reaction/relationship with your neighbouring farmers? Were they onboard beforehand or has their view changed over the last 12months? Do you see neighbours changing their practices yet or being tempted to rewild their land?
A. We have been approached by a number of local landowners about our work, and with an interest in rewilding. We are active in our community in presenting our work, and hopefully inspiring others, and are involved in the ELMS test and trial (new round of rural subsidy) with neighbouring farmers and so there is a dialogue. As the withdrawal of single farm payments rolls out, some owners of the less profitable land around us may begin to look at alternatives and so it is important for us to have a local profile.
Q. How do you feel about having to pull the ragwort?
A. During these early years of restoring the parkland we accept there are more active levels of intervention, and diplomatically we feel pulling ragwort over this time is acceptable (aside from the impact on the populations of cinnabar moths that live on them). We don’t anticipate needing to do it for more than a few years.
Q. Does the estate have any problematic invasive species?
A. Not that we can think of.
Q. What are the public access situations at Sharpham rewilding? Covid permitting, can people just come and walk through?
A. This is an important question for us. Over this past year we have seen a massive increase in people walking through the holding. We have a national cycle track (tarmac) and numerous footpaths and permissive paths. We are delighted that people can walk through the holding and enjoy the transformations, and we encourage them to must keep to the footpaths in order to allow the wildlife space to thrive. The impact of dogs both on stock and on wildlife can be significant and we encourage responsible dog ownership control while talking the land.
Q. How do Ambios plan on engaging with the users of Sharpham Estate to encourage a greater connection with the ideas behind rewilding?
This will happen in numerous ways. Our National Lottery Heritage Fund project Sharpham: Wild for People has a series of education and public events funded including guided walks, school visits and an annual bioblitz (24 hour wildlife survey). This allows us to engage different audiences in the early stages of our rewilding. In order to sustain the positive impact rewilding has for wildlife, it is also important that local people benefit too. They hopefully will enjoy the wildlife and landscape transformation and we are actively looking at ways that the diversified rural business we run (nature conservation training) has positive financial impacts in our community. For instance we know that there are a number of groups (e.g. universities) wanting to come and study/engage with rewilding Sharpham. We do not have anywhere for them to stay at our farm. There is however a campsite in our local village, and pubs that could cater for these groups. The funds from these trips flow into our community, meaning the benefits spread. As we enter into rewilding, we are acutely aware of our role in our community and want to ensure the benefits cascade widely. We hope our partners can innovate ways to benefit and engage different audiences (Sharpham Trust = rewilding mindfulness retreats) + others too. We feel rewilding Sharpham will continue via these means as much as through our own endeavours.