“Build it and they will come ” God’s words to Noah on building the Ark.
Rewilding our gardens and giving them back to Nature is the first important step we must take in recovering and restoring lost eco-systems which have slowly disappeared over time. The size of our land or garden doesn’t matter, but by giving our land back to Nature, we are giving it the chance to return to its original or natural state. We are also giving wildlife an opportunity to connect with its original habitat – the place it originally evolved. Most of the work will be done by Mother Nature herself making it very easy for us to throw in some small changes ourselves giving her the help she needs, and before long the journey from a neat and tidy but lifeless patch of land into a living Ark will be complete.
My own journey into rewilding began when three years ago after moving to a five acre property in South Kerry. The land was mostly laid to lawn although the house was built in the 1860’s and was home to many mature trees including two large oak trees near the house which were probably planted around the same time. A perimeter of mature woodland encircled the property. The large expanses of lawn had been meticulously taken care of and cut right up to the boundary trees. Cut so often there was nothing else growing except grass. The mature shrubs had been dead-headed and trimmed back to keep them looking “tidy”; And the old dry stone walls were attractive but lifeless. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly) there were very few birds on the property; it was “eerily quiet” considering the amount of trees there were. But I am grateful that the previous owners didn’t cut them down – especially the perimeter woodlands. Here there was hope as they had left the bracken, blackberry bushes, and old apple trees to grow freely. With so much grass to cut the first thing I did was let the largest section of the lawn grow out and do its own thing.
A few months later I liberated another large section of lawn . It didn’t take long before they began taking on a life of their own. All kinds of interesting things started growing there and most of it was unknown to me. It was time to buy some guidebooks. Some visitors would look shocked as they eyed the long grass now swaying freely in the wind. “It’s for the wildlife” I would tell them “they need wild places to wander around in and forage for food”. After rewilding those areas I was surprised at how pretty they looked the following Spring. They transformed into natural wildflower meadows, and they were attracting pollinators- butterflies, moths, bees and other insects.. And once the bird feeders went up the birds came too….lots of small finches at first, and then larger birds started swooping down for the peanuts on the ground. I used to joke that my property was beginning to look like Heathrow airport. Groups of pheasant wandered in from the woodland areas and then deer. They came for the tall grass but also the peanuts (I didn’t know deer ate nuts but I was on a learning curve) I watched with excitement as hooded cows, magpies, jays, robins, finches, collared doves, deer, foxes, shrews (in the stone walls) and little red squirrels all became regular visitors to my patch of land. The birds grew so loud in the Summer I would go outside just before dawn and sit there listening to an amazing orchestra of different bird song – even the pheasants would chime in with the odd squawk. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. The birds were now nesting in the trees all around the property and I watched as their numbers grew. As Summer gave way to Autumn berries ripened on trees and bushes and apples fell to the ground. There were far too many apples for us to eat but eventually passing deer and foxes found them and feasted on them (I didn’t know foxes ate apples either).
I’d left the last section of grass for our three dogs, and put wire fencing in front of the small stone wall to give them a defined space as there were no perimeter fences. I cut the grass less often in this area and gave the bees a chance to collect pollen from the clover, buttercups and daisies that appeared giving life to the grass and the soil. Without perimeter fences deer and foxes were able to travel unhindered across several property boundaries as they foraged for food. The foxes also found a nest of rats who had moved in to eat the bird seed and thankfully they were master hunters and were able keep their numbers down. Over a couple of years the natural eco-system buried beneath the surface of this property came back to life. I stopped trimming the shrubs and bushes and allowed brambles grow around them. Wildflowers, tree shoots, fungi, birds, ferns, insects small and large mammals all showed up to play their part in forming a new eco-system. The transformation happened so quickly and with so little effort on my part It was hard to believe this once silent and lifeless property was now a vibrant, thriving and complex patch of land.
Four years on this property is still evolving and changing. Recently I bought some yew, hazelnut and hawthorn trees – all native species and will plant them out in the wild grassy areas. I think they’ll look great. “Individuals can’t save the world alone. But, if millions of us work together to save our own patch of earth -then we really have a shot! How do we do it? With Acts of Restorative Kindness(ARK’s) Our own personal ARK is “a restored, native ecosystem. It’s a thriving patch of native plants and creatures that have been allowed to reestablish in the earth’s intelligent, successional process of natural restoration. Over time, this becomes a pantry and a habitat for our pollinators and wild creatures who are in desperate need of support. The ARK-building actions are within our control” Mary Reynolds “We are The Ark.” The Dawn Chorus (feat. Pauline Scanlon & The Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra)