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Majestic country estate could become hub for wildlife project

PUBLISHED: 12:35 20 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:08 27 April 2018

Black cattle on the marsh in Somerleyton. Picture: Lord Somerleyton

Black cattle on the marsh in Somerleyton. Picture: Lord Somerleyton

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An initiative designed to help nature thrive could soon be rolled out on one of the region’s most beautiful countryside estates.

Members of the group who are trying to make Rewilding in East Anglia a reality. Picture: Lord SomerleytonMembers of the group who are trying to make Rewilding in East Anglia a reality. Picture: Lord Somerleyton

In keeping with a project that is already under way at Fritton Lake, the Somerleyton Estate is looking to embrace a process of restoration known as ‘rewilding’.

Rewilding effectively sees ecosystems left alone in an attempt to reverse damage cause by human interference and encourage habitats to flourish without disturbance.

The method has seen significant success across the country, including on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex where farmland has become profitable by allowing natural behaviour to occur among wildlife.

Flying the flag for rewilding on the Suffolk/Norfolk border is Lord Somerleyton, who insists this kind of land management is the way forward.

Herringfleet Mill, located on the Somerleyton Estate. Picture: Lord SomerleytonHerringfleet Mill, located on the Somerleyton Estate. Picture: Lord Somerleyton

“Rewilding means no intervention and the reintroduction of species in their natural habitats,” said Lord Somerleyton. “The crucial factor is allowing nature to dictate proceedings.

“There seems to be growing acceptance that this needs to happen and that it’s no longer acceptable to allow convenience and greed to dictate the way we treat our environment. The challenge is getting people to retrain their focus; what they see as mess - rough grazing - is actually much better for biodiversity.

“People have always manipulated nature and lots of money is spent creating certain habitats, but the question is do we let nature take its course?”

Lord Somerleyton has been working with Rewilding Britain, an organisation set up with the intention of making the strategy a widespread reality.

Rewilding sees ecosystems left alone in an attempt to reverse damage cause by human interference and encourage habitats to flourish without disturbance. Picture: Lord SomerleytonRewilding sees ecosystems left alone in an attempt to reverse damage cause by human interference and encourage habitats to flourish without disturbance. Picture: Lord Somerleyton

Their specialist advisor, Alastair Driver - a conservationist and environmental professor - paid a visit to Somerleyton Estate in February to assess its potential for becoming an East Anglian rewilding hub.

“Alastair is keen to find a home for a lowland rewilding project,” added Lord Somerleyton. “He came to meet our partner organisations, such as the Broads Authority and wildlife trusts, who we’ve been working with to produce a document that allows us to apply for a grant to take this forward.

“We agreed that, for rewilding to be effective, it must be incorporated into education. We’re going to be piloting safaris to get kids out onto the estate and gauge their level of interest.”

The search for rewilding sites

Fritton Woods, which is on the Somerleyton Estate. Picture: Lord SomerleytonFritton Woods, which is on the Somerleyton Estate. Picture: Lord Somerleyton

In his role at Rewilding Britain, one of Alastair Driver’s tasks has been locating areas that have the potential to take on the approach.

Recent searches have been focused on lowland sites - notoriously difficult to utilise for rewilding due to intense use of the land for agriculture.

However, in Somerleyton he has been fortunate enough to find a landowner who is passionate about the method and determined to promote it within his community.

“It’s very hard for us to find someone who owns lots of land and wants to embrace rewilding, so we’re reliant on enthusiastic individuals like Lord Somerleyton,” said Mr Driver

“When I visited Somerleyton, I was struck by the range of habitats. There’s woodland, wetland, heathland, lakes; starting rewilding in a place like that is going to produce an incredible amount of wildlife.

“There is a real desire from Lord Somerleyton to engage with the urban community, promote rewilding’s multiple benefits and take it further than anyone has before.”

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