Got a few spare acres of land?
Looking for inspiration as to how to put a few spare acres of land to best use? Well, look no further: pick up a copy of Field of Dreams by Bob Salisbury for a novel approach to land management. Nature will thank you for it.
Bob’s book details his 15 year journey on a Tyrone holding which he and his wife bought to build a new home. Astonished by the dismal lack of birdsong and nature in general at the new 17 acre farm near Seskinore, Co Tyrone, Bob and his wife set out to rewild the drab small holding into a natural paradise. It was quite a challenge as the farm had fields of rushes, bedraggled hedgerows and poor soils. And furthermore, apart from dabbling in maintaining the garden of their former home, the couple had no formal gardening or habitat restoration qualification or experience. Both had careers in education before moving back to Northern Ireland from the UK.
But how had the land become so bleak and lifeless in the first instance? The owners had rented it for decades to farmers for grazing cattle and sheep. As a result little care was given to given to practices which would enriching the soil or hedgerows for the generations to come. Drains gradually became blocked and heavy cattle grazed even in wet weather resulting into deep poaching of the soil. Lapwings, yellowhammers, curlews, bats and skylarks had all been common in the area in the 1940’s and 1950’s but were rare by the early 2000’s. “It was a rural desert when we arrived in 2003 with zero wildlife,” recalls Bob.
Compare the above to the biodiverse habitat that exists now. The farm (or the garden as Bob likes to call it) has developed into an oasis for beasts and birds. He has recorded over 60 birds and more than 12 mammals, including otters and hares. Bob points to a few vital additions: three lakes (linked by walkways), a wildflower meadow and a woodland. Certainly the project cost money but relatively little given the size of the area. By forgoing the price of a few sun holidays they were able to do all: buy all the saplings and wildflower seed they needed. Family members and volunteers sometimes helped with tree planting but a professional crew were also hired. The lakes were scooped out by a diligent local digger man and with drainage in place nature began to respond.
“Our garden has become a soap opera to be viewed every evening and morning, great story plots and amazing characters!” Bob chirps cheerfully. The family maintain a more formal garden and vegetable patch closer to the house – and while slugs still nibble at their cabbage it’s a price worth paying: without the slugs and greenflies, thrushes, hedgehogs and other creatures further up the food chain couldn’t exist – they all form part of a thriving ecosystem.
Bob is proud about their achievements: “We now have our own ‘bee-loud glade’ with a dawn chorus which in the spring and summer is truly spectacular. It is a question of changing the way we think about gardening and wildlife and taking action rather than wringing our hands and sitting back.”
Thankfully it’s not all work and no play: the larger of the three lakes becomes a swimming pool in the warmer months and the sloping lawn transforms into a plastic lined water slide for the grandchildren. As well as walking the land daily, Bob maintains a camouflaged bird watching shed so he can enjoy the wildlife in all weathers. It’s from this secluded vantage point that he has caught some of the most stunning photography that features in the book. The couple also have an orchard to enjoy rich autumnal fruits.
Bob’s story has captivated the imagination of people throughout the UK and ROI and the “gardens” have been the subject of many TV and radio appearances. The couple occasionally take guests but are conscious to minimize numbers to ensure their oasis remains wild. Of course the principles of rewilding apply to much smaller spaces – small but permanent water features such as submerged buckets or old baths will enhance biodiversity – you may get frogs and newts in due course! And by simply not cutting and strimming every corner of our gardens we can give nature a safe zone. Try it. “Field of Dreams” is available from all good bookstores.