Cotswold Life

Verg­ing on the ridicu­lous

‘It is one thing to watch a lion bring­ing down a wilde­beest on the telly, and quite an­other to bump into a hun­gry wolf on a coun­try walk’

- Con­tact adampotlic­k­ers@icloud.com @cotswold­hack Animals · Wildlife · Gloucestershire · Bear Grylls · Charles Wright · United Kingdom · Disneyland · David Attenborough · Surrey · National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty · County Fermanagh · Northern Ireland · Island of Ireland · Cotswolds · Suzuki Jimny · Chris Packham · Zac Goldsmith · Charles Burrell & Sons · Utopian · Attenborough · Upper Slaughter

I’m dis­ap­pointed with the Cotswolds. Our hills, which as a gen­eral rule are host to the most fash­ion­con­scious in ru­ral so­ci­ety, have fallen be­hind in cut­ting edge rus­tic­ity. The Glouces­ter­shire gen­try may boast the new Suzuki Jimny, if you can get one, monochro­matic coun­try kitchens and Schof­fel tweed jack­ets, but where are they when it comes to flora and fauna? Stuck in sub­ur­bia, that’s where.

The cur­rent bu­colic fad, for ex­am­ple, is re-wild­ing. Its aim is to turn the coun­try­side back to its nat­u­ral state, which in­cludes let­ting the land lie un­cul­ti­vated and re-pop­u­lat­ing it with, among other beasts, wolves, wild cats and bi­son. The idea is all the rage among left-wing ur­ban back­woods­men, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, ram­blers, trusta­far­i­ans and tele­vi­sion stars like Bear Grylls and Spring­watch’s Chris Packham who have all taken up the cud­gels. So too have wealthy land own­ers such as Zac Gold­smith, Sir Charles Bur­rell and his ap­pro­pri­ately named wife Isabella Tree. They be­lieve great swathes of Bri­tain should be re­turned to a me­di­ae­val Dis­ney­land.

This Utopian dream has been fed by a diet of po­lit­i­cally cor­rect na­ture pro­grammes and David At­ten­bor­ough box sets – even den­tists now run the wildlife DVDS while they drill – de­pict­ing the glo­ries of life red in tooth and claw with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion. How­ever, it is one thing to en­joy watch­ing a lion bring­ing down a wilde­beest on the telly and quite an­other to bump into a hun­gry wolf on a coun­try walk.

It is prob­a­bly the rea­son why the Cotswolds has tended to model it­self on Sur­rey rather than the Serengeti. Walls, fences, box hedge, herba­ceous bor­ders, mown lawns, elec­tric gates and in par­tic­u­lar trimmed verges dom­i­nate our land­scape. It would be a very cun­ning bi­son in­deed that thrived in Up­per Slaugh­ter.

Still, I for one don’t want to be con­sid­ered an old-fash­ioned fuddy-duddy stuck in the last cen­tury. And so I de­cided to re-wild my es­tate. Well, to call it an es­tate might be a bit of an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. Ex­clud­ing my small paved yard I have a ten-foot by three-foot skirt of grass in front of my house that is strimmed weekly by Gareth, my neigh­bour’s gar­dener. Some might even un­gen­er­ously call it a verge or, heaven for­bid, a bor­der.

In the early days of lock­down I fronted Gareth. “Kill the strim­ming,” I said. “Not even once a month?” he said hope­fully. “Never again” I said as I scat­tered a hand­ful of High­grove Wild­flower Meadow Seed mix­ture upon the land. My be­lief in re­turn­ing my plot to Mother Na­ture was en­cour­aged by the Na­tional Trust web­site. It claimed ‘rare sight­ings and un­char­ac­ter­is­tic be­hav­iours have been noted by staff dur­ing lock­down who say the ab­sence of vis­i­tors ap­pear to have em­bold­ened wildlife, with birds and mam­mals spot­ted ven­tur­ing out of their usual ter­ri­to­ries and wild flow­ers ap­pear­ing in the un-mown lawns.’

It is now Au­gust and I have to say I am dis­mayed by the re­sults. The Na­tional Trust re­ported that in Fer­managh, North­ern Ire­land, for ex­am­ple, a num­ber of species of or­chids started to ap­pear in grass­lands that would typ­i­cally get mown on a weekly ba­sis. Not on my land they didn’t. And then there were the re­ported badger fam­i­lies sup­pos­edly emerg­ing from their setts ear­lier in the day­time ‘to for­age for food or sim­ply en­joy some play­time in day­light’. Well, if they are muck­ing about on swings and round­abouts on my plot, I haven’t seen them. In fact, my re-wild­ing has so far only pro­duced a swathe of net­tles, dock­leaves and this­tles.

It is true that un­like Zac Gold­smith’s brother Ben, a Depart­ment for En­vi­ron­ment board mem­ber and co­founder of the Re-wild­ing Bri­tain char­ity, I didn’t re­lease red deer or wild boar on my ‘es­tate’ and so I wasn’t ex­pect­ing a menagerie to mag­i­cally ap­pear in the weeks that fol­lowed the fur­lough­ing of my land. But I did think I would do bet­ter than a soli­tary wood pi­geon, a dead rat and a cou­ple of feral mog­gies that are now en­joy­ing my scrub­land as cat lit­ter.

Still, I have no in­ten­tion of al­low­ing my ‘es­tate’ to re­turn to sub­ur­ban neat­ness. It may look like a bed of weeds but what I have lost in pre­sen­ta­tion I have gained in the in­verted snob­bery that comes with re-wild­ing. And so not only am I now up there with the well-to-do left wing eco-war­riors and the landed toffs, but as Sir Charles Bur­rell is re­ceiv­ing £400,000 a year in gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for do­ing bug­ger all to his land I am think­ing of ap­ply­ing for just such a grant too.

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